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The Government of Nigeria during 1998 went from an authoritarian dictatorship to a transitional government that at year's end was in the process of implementing a program of democratic transition to democratic civilian government in the first half of 1999. For the first half of the year, the Government was dominated by General Sani Abacha, and committed serious human rights abuses systematically in order to retain political power. In June Abacha died and was succeeded by General Aboulsalami Abubakar, who launched a program intended to restore decentralized constitutional democracy in the form of a federal republic. Formally, the Government remained a military dictatorship.

The presumed winner of the annulled 1993 Presidential election, chief Moshood Abiola, died of natural causes in July on the eve of his expected release from prolonged detention on charges of treason. However, during the second half of 1998 the Government conducted a broad national discussion of constitutional issues, on the basis of which it then prepared to promulgate a new constitution based closely on the suspended 1979 Constitution, which prescribed a democratic federal state. In August the Government formed an Independent National Election Commission (INEC), which swiftly relaxed restrictions on the formation and operations of political. The December elections for local government officials, although marred by scattered violence and local irregularities, were generally free, fair, and open, and the INEC improved its electoral procedures following the local elections.

During the last months of the Abacha regime, the Government continued to enforce its arbitrary authority through the federal security system (the military, the State Security Service (SSS), the national police, and other national and subnational regulatory and law enforcement agencies). The PRC continued to control and coordinate these diverse forces. The security forces continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses; however, during the latter half of the year, following Abubakar's consolidation of his authority within the armed forces and the PRC, human rights abuses by the security forces diminished significantly.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and the United States' fifth largest oil supplier. Nigeria's crucial petroleum sector provides the government with over 90 percent of all foreign exchange earnings and about 60 percent of budgetary revenue. It offers investors a low-cost labor pool, abundant natural resources, and the largest domestic market in sub-Saharan Africa. However, it also suffers from an autocratic military government, inadequate infrastructure, confusing and inconsistent regulations, and endemic corruption.

Security forces commit extrajudicial killings and use excessive force to quell antigovernment protests as well as to combat crime, resulting in the death or injury of many individuals, including innocent civilians. Security forces torture and beat suspects and detainees. There are many reports of sexual abuse of female suspects and prisoners by security forces. Prison conditions remain life threatening; many prisoners die in custody. The Government repeatedly engages in arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. Security services routinely harass human rights and prodemocracy groups, including labor leaders, journalists, and student activists. The Government also infringes on citizens' right to privacy.

Security forces commit extrajudicial killings and use excessive force to quell antigovernment and prodemocracy protests and civil unrest. Credible reports by domestic human rights groups indicate numerous deaths of suspects in the custody of security forces. These reports are consistent with other credible accounts of abuse, including the use of torture to extract criminal confessions. The Government seldom holds security forces accountable for their use of excessive, deadly force or for the death of individuals in custody. The Government's inaction fosters a climate of impunity in which these abuses flourish. Widespread violent crime has prompted a proliferation of supplemental security forces, including state organized paramilitary forces, personal security teams, special squads, civil-military task forces, and quasi-governmental vigilante groups. Security forces employ roadblocks and checkpoints where extortion, violence, and lethal force are common. Accounts of security officers shooting at individuals who refused to pay bribes, comply with security orders, or who simply appeared "suspicious" have resulted in numerous deaths and injuries.

Violent crime, practiced by persons in police and military uniforms, as well as by ordinary criminals, is an acute problem throughout the country. For the most part, the Government neither acknowledges nor denies that security force abuses occurr, and has left perpetrators unpunished. Those security force officials who are punished faced, at the worst, dismissal from service and, more often, demotion or a "stern reprimand."

Security forces sometimes turn against each other, and as many as 80 people were injured and 1 policeman was killed in the northern city of Kano in April 1997after fighting broke out between soldiers and policemen. Reportedly, the clash was caused by policemen arresting off duty soldiers suspected of marijuana possession. In May 1997 a confrontation between Federal Aviation Authority security agents and members of the Air Force Presidential Task Force turned violent as members of the two security forces fired on each other. Although no one was killed, a third security force (the police) had to intervene to end the shooting.

Corruption is rampant at all levels of government in Nigeria. This corruption facilitates narcotics trafficking and money laundering and hinders counternarcotics efforts. The government continues to conduct publicity campaigns against corruption but has achieved few concrete results. There is no concerted government effort to eliminate corruption. As with money laundering and narcotics trafficking, Nigerian decision-makers appear to view drug addiction as "somebody else's problem," and a crime having little impact on Nigeria. The Government of Nigeria denies the existence of significant domestic drug abuse and continues to portray Nigeria's narcotics problems as the result of demand in the US and Europe.

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Updated Saturday, December 18, 1999 10:11:19 AM