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Laws and Regulations

Decree One of 1984, the first decree promulgated by the military officers who overthrew the civilian regime of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari in 1983, left the institutional framework of the judiciary largely intact. However, it established a parallel system of military tribunals with sole jurisdiction over certain offenses, such as coup plotting, corruption, armed robbery, and illegal sales of petroleum. A 1991 decree amended Decree One by providing that only sitting or retired civilian judges could preside over tribunals hearing nonmilitary cases.

The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree of 1984 (Decree Two) allows the Government to detain without charge persons suspected of acts prejudicial to state security or harmful to the economic well-being of the country. When invoked, Decree Two suspends the detainee's civil liberties and precludes judicial review. Many citizens consider Decree Two to be the main threat to their basic freedoms, because the judicial ouster clause encourages arbitrary detention and fails to define what constitutes acts under the Decree's purview. Decree 11 of 1994 authorizes the PRC Vice Chairman or the Commissioner of Police to detain persons for up to 3 months without charge.

Decree 12 states that "no act of the federal military Government may henceforth be questioned in a court of law" and "divests all courts of jurisdiction in all matters concerning the authority of the federal Government."

In June 1996, in response to the report of a UN fact-finding team sent to investigate human rights and the transition process, the Government announced the repeal of Decree 14 of 1994, which had effectively suspended the right of habeas corpus by forbidding courts from hearing cases demanding that the Government produce in court those detained under Decree Two. However, despite this repeal, the Government still retains full legal authority under Decree Two and Decree 12 of 1994 to detain citizens arbitrarily and dispense with habeas corpus challenges, and the Government regularly defied court orders to produce detainees.

In June 1996 the Government also amended the Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree of 1987 to remove members of the armed forces from the membership of the tribunal and allow for a right of appeal to the Special Appeals Tribunal. Military personnel convicted of coup plotting do not, however, enjoy the right of appeal to the Special Appeals Tribunal, and the decree remained silent regarding appeals for civilians convicted of coup plotting, but all indications are that the decree does not apply to them.

The June 1996 changes came in the wake of the international outcry after the November 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who were convicted of murder by the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal (which included a military officer) and denied the right of appeal.

Although there is a large and vibrant independent domestic press that is frequently critical of the Government, the Government also owns or controls many publications. All newspapers and magazines are required to register with the Government under the Newspaper Registration Board Decree 43 of 1993, and Minister of Culture and Information Walter Ofonagoro threatened to close newspapers not registered with the board. The registration fee is about $3,000, and the registration process requires editors to provide their home as well as office address. Although no newspaper had registered by the end of 1997, the Culture and Information Minister regularly threatened to close unregistered newspapers. The regime has, at various times, shut independent newspapers for offenses, but there were no known cases of papers being prosecuted for failing to register.

Sources and Resources

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Created by John Pike
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Updated Sunday, May 24, 1998 3:41:27 PM