Police raid rights seminar

October 17, 1997


AN UNEASY calm prevails at the University of Jos, Nigeria, in expectation of possible violent student reaction to the arrest of a number of students and civil rights activists.

University authorities called on the police to mount security check-points at the campus gates after armed soldiers raided a seminar run at a hotel by university lecturers and lawyers for students aiming to become defenders of the rule of law and human rights under the military regime.

The workshop was sponsored by Human Rights Africa, whose president, Tunji Abayomi, was recently hounded into detention for nine months without trial.

Sina Odugbemi, HRA's research officer, who escaped arrest, said: "The hotel manager informed me that some people wanted to see me as coordinator of the programme.

"To my surprise, the place was besieged by about 60 security men, half of whom were in uniform. At one point, Dr Abayomi was dragged out like a criminal. It was like a raid on gangsters. The security boss ordered the students to stand up, pack their files and leave the conference."

After being interrogated by security agents for two days, 45 students and human rights activists who were accused of plotting to destabilise the military regime of General Sani Abacha were released.

However, Dr Abayomi, Busuji Alade, Francis Abayomi, Charles Oriaku, former University of Jos student union leader, some officials of HRA, and one other student, are still being detained.

Reliable sources reveal that they might be kept in police custody for some time as Dr Abayomi recently incurred the anger of the military when he invited Elizabeth Pognon, chairman of neighbouring Benin's constitutional court, to Nigeria.

Ms Pognon was accused of obstructing the extradition of a university lecturer accused of importing illegal arms into Benin for potential use inNigeria.

Muazu Nuhu, a student leader and organising secretary of Community Action for Popular Participation, condemned the arrests.

He said: "At this time, when the whole world is going through a democratic process, we feel highly embarrassed by the witch-hunting tactics of the present administration.

"The students have the right to seek knowledge outside the universities. The attitude of the administration shows that it has no vision at all. Every citizen is constitutionally free to attend my students' workshops or conferences."

Lecturers and students were among pro-democrats and human rights activists attending a second separate meeting in Lagos simultaneously disrupted by armed soldiers.

The anti-crime squad set up by Colonel Mohammadu Marwa, the Lagos state military administrator, stormed a farewell reception for Walter Carrington, the outgoing United States ambassador.

The reception had been organised by human rights organisations made up of lawyers,students, university lecturers and members of other liberal professions.

Under the pretext of searching for a lorryload of arms and ammunitions "smuggled" into the reception area by "dissident elements", armed soldiers cordoned off the home of Ayo Adebanjo, the veteran human rights activist who was hosting the reception.

Security agents broke down the door and chased away guests at gunpoint, including members of the diplomatic corps such as Mr Carrington and George Nene, South African ambassador to Nigeria.

"This incident is unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic relationships between Nigeria and the committee of nations," said Ibrahim Idrisa, a final-year law student at Lagos State University.

"From the point of view of international law, Nigerian security agents have failed to adhere to the principles of diplomatic immunity.

"This disgraceful incident will further compound Nigeria's pariah status within the committee of nations at a time when Nigeria is desperately canvassing for integration with the Commonwealth," he said.

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