Nigerian dons back legal action in US against junta

March 23, 2001

Nigeria's university community has welcomed legal action in the United States against three of the country's former military rulers.

Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalaami Abubakar are being sued for alleged human rights abuses in a civil action.

"We live in a global village where perpetrators of crime against humanity should be punished," said Mike Ikhariale, professor of constitutional law at the Lagos State University. "We hope that the US law court may assist in dealing with leaders who looted the nation's treasury and violated the rights of the people."

The action, in a court in the eastern district of Michigan, has been brought by a number of Nigerians based in the US, including medical student Owens Wiwa, brother of the executed human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. They are demanding $420 million (£294 million) in compensation and punitive damages.

According to lawyer Kayode Oladele, the action is based on allegations of torture, wrongful death, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, inhuman degrading treatment, violation of the right to life, liberty, personal security, peaceful assembly and association, assault and battery and infliction of emotional distress.

Mr Oladele said: "If the damages claimed are won, the defendants' identifiable assets in the US may come under the courts' authority."

Mr Wiwa is seeking compensation for the extra-judicial murder of his older brother. "General Abubakar was army chief of staff when my brother was tortured and hanged in 1995. He should face the law court for murder," he said.

The lawsuit was filed when General Abubakar was at Chicago State University attending a seminar on "Democracy and Governance in Africa". During the seminar, the general was presented with two copies of the court papers by lecturer Kienuwa Obaseki, an event that was recorded by closed-circuit television. Evidently unclear of their significance, General Abubakar accepted them and said: "Thank you, sir."

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