The following is a complete transcript from the HOPES ON THE HORIZON Nigeria story:
NARR: The Benin model for achieving democracy was duplicated in many countries across Africa, with varying success.
I sing the praises of the River Niger whose waters flow through West Africa.
NARR: In neighboring military-run Nigeria, there were fears that such a conference would break up the nation British colonialism had put together.
CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI Human Rights Lawyer
Nigeria is not one single nation; its a nation of nations. We have Yoruba nation, we have Ijaw nation, we have Igbo nation, we have Hausa nation, we have Fulani nation?
NARR: There were more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and the country was split between two competing religions. Conflict over Nigerias vast oil resources intensified division. Already, a million Igbos had died in a brutal civil war begun in 1967 when Igbo leaders tried to declare the oil-rich southeastern region as the independent nation of Biafra.
The military led by northern officers held the nation together, and in the years since had come to dominate Nigerian politics. But the cost had been high massive corruption and the oppression of minorities in the oil rich delta area of the River Niger.
SAM AMADI Human Rights Lawyer
The national conference has a way of redesigning Nigeria and the powers who control Nigeria do not want Nigeria to be reorganized. The problem with Nigeria is, as Nigeria runs today, inefficient and corrupt, it favors the power cabal.
NARR: In the 1990s, a growing human rights movement would fight to end military rule and raise the issues of how resources and power are shared in Africas most populous country.
OUMOU SANGARE (not captioned)
NARR: In August 1990, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, issued a bill of rights. Their lands in the Niger Delta held vast oil reserves. They called upon Ibrahim Babangida, Nigerias sixth military ruler, to give them control of the oil.
OMO OMURIYI Advisor to President Babangida
Babangidas fear was obvious. Nigeria was so much dependent on oil. Anybody who talked about attacking oil, you are attacking Nigeria, you are attacking the military. You are attacking everybody.
NARR: Nigerias military government had long exploited the countrys oil reserves, enriching themselves and foreign oil interests at the expense of local populations.
CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI
Ogoni people are just half a million people out of a country of one twenty million. Between 1956 and 1993, half a million people of Ogoni, contributed, $38.4 billion dollars into the coffers of Nigeria. And what have they got in return, they got 95 percent unemployment, hopelessly devastated environment.
NARR: Led by acclaimed writer Ken Saro Wiwa, MOSOP demanded a new Nigerian constitution that would give the Ogoni and other ethnic groups authority over their land and resources.
KEN SARO WIWA Leader, MOSOP (Archival)
We must seek a formula which allows all ethnic groups in Nigeria to achieve self determination and self respect. This matter of self-respect is important.
CLEMENT NWANKWO Founder, Civil Liberties Organization
What Ken Saro Wiwa was doing was raising consciousness on the issue of the different people within the Nigerian federation because there was so much power and so much resources focused in the center, focused in the hands of the military.
MOSOP had an agenda to reclaim its homeland. The Human Rights community had an agenda to push the military and win civil political rights. So the two groups felt at this juncture we have a common enemy the military.
NARR: General Babangida had come to power in 1985 promising to respect human rights, reform the failing economy, and turn power over to a democratically elected government by 1990. Instead, he had solidified his own power and postponed the election.
In the wake of MOSOPs petition, a coalition of journalists, lawyers and students formed what they called a Campaign for Democracy, and pressured Babangida to honor his promises.
OLISA AGBAKOBA Leader, Campaign for Democracy
Babangida was a coward. So what he would do would be whenever we engaged him, he moves back, you engage him, he moves back, you engage him, he moves back. Until he had nothing to do, because he had reached the end of the runway.
NARR: Finally, on June 12, 1993, voters in Nigeria were presented with two candidates from the political parties sanctioned by the government: Bashir Tofa, a Hausa Muslim from northern Nigeria, and Chief Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim from the South.
AYESHA IMAN Womens Rights Activist
What turned the table in Abiolas favor is that he was seen to be more tolerant. One of the things Tofa had done, he talked about having a jihad for Muslims. OK, now Abiola was a Muslim but he was clearly a much more tolerant Muslim.
NARR: Preliminary returns showed that Abiola had won a stunning victory. For the first time in years, Nigerias many groups had agreed on a candidate who they believed might fairly represent them all.
But once again, President Babangida went back on his word.
I called up the Presidents office. And they faxed to me this unsigned document, undated document, no letterhead, no official stamp, unsigned by anybody known at all annulling the presidential election.
AYO OBE Vice-President, Civil Liberties Organization
It was now quite naked and glaring that the military just did not want to go.
NARR: With news of the annulment, people took to the streets. A dangerous political crisis overwhelmed the country. The winning candidate, Abiola, fled abroad, in fear for his life. The unity that had made the election possible began to crumble, as ethnic and regional tensions were re-ignited.
Abiola was reported at least as having made a speech. He was reported by the BBC and I am told that in fact this never happened. OK, as having made a speech calling not on all the Nigerians who voted for him, but on the Yoruba heartland to support him because the South would not be cheated, OK. So that immediately meant that everybody in the North said, we voted for you too, and if all youre considering is the South, why should we continue fighting. That was a real pity... because I think there was a national groundswell immediately after the annulment.
NARR: The Campaign for Democracy continued the fight to shut down Babangidas government, as the protests increasingly became a southern affair, centered in the Yoruba city of Lagos.
The Campaign for Democracy and its Wahala, and its problems, suddenly fell on my shoulders. Absolutely, I didnt look for it. It just came. And I figured out we had to organize. Money, logistic to carry on the campaign. My window blind was shut for three months. Me and my troops to show you the tension of the time we consumed 67 bottles of brandy, I remember it clearly. Because everything was so tense. Everybody was so alive, and from there we ran, the street protests, the sit at homes, everything.
It was then that the ville morte type of campaign that you stay at home was decided upon. We said that we dont want people to go on the streets and get killed. But we will see if the army can force people to go to work and to carry on as if nothing has happened.
NARR: Streets and businesses emptied quickly, leaving the economy in a perilous state. Finally, President Babangida had no choice but to step aside on August 27th.
But the victory was short-lived. The interim government he set up continued to ignore the results of the June 12 election and ethnic tensions mounted.
So that created the opening that brought in General Sani Abacha.
NARR: Sani Abacha, a career military officer, was Chief of Staff under the interim government. Taking advantage of the chaos in the country, he declared himself President of Nigeria.
GENERAL SANI ABACHA (Archival)
The two political parties are hereby dissolved. All processions, political meetings, and associations of any type, in any part of the country, are hereby banned.
NARR: Hopes that Abacha might honor the results of the June 12 election faded quickly. Instead, Abiola was jailed for treason after declaring himself President. Abacha then imprisoned scores of journalists, lawyers, and military officers, accused of plotting against him. And in 1995, he moved against Ken Saro Wiwa and MOSOP.
Conflict over the Ogoni demands for a bill of rights had escalated into anti-government demonstrations, in which four Ogoni chiefs were killed. Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other members of MOSOP were charged with their deaths.
KEN SARO WIWA (Archival)
There is no possibilities whatsoever that I or MOSOP would ever have planned any such action.
NARR: Defending Ken Saro Wiwa, Chief Fawehinmi and other leading human rights lawyers faced an uphill task. Two of the star witnesses later swore before a federal court that they were paid by the military and powerful oil interests to lie against Ken Saro Wiwa. The evidence was ignored by the military tribunal.
CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI Lawyer for Ken Saro Wiwa
By June Ken said, Gani, they have made up their mind to kill me, dont let us sanction this illegality by your presence. You must withdraw. We came to the conclusion that we must abide by what Ken Saro Wiwa said.
NARR: On October 31, 1995, Saro Wiwa and the others were sentenced to death. Human rights activists planned to bring their case before the Commonwealth Heads of Government who were meeting in Auckland, New Zealand.
We had decided in the CLO that the democratic space in Nigeria was shrinking so much that we would have to internationalize our struggle for democracy. For that reason we had decided that we would send a team to the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Auckland, New Zealand. And that team was being led by Olisa.
Mandela was there. So we told him direct, What is your response to Ken?
NELSON MANDELA President of South Africa (Archival)
We are in constant touch with Nigerian leaders on this questions. And we prefer to take a position.
Everybody was quiet. The only man who mentioned Ken directly after the Maoris had done the Hacka, you know, to open the ceremony, was Prime Minister B________ of Canada. And that it was a big shame and that he was here to take a position.
CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI
We were having a meeting of the National Conscience organization here, and ehm ... and when the when somebody ran to ... to us at the high table that Ken had been killed, I said, what do you mean. He said it has been announced, 7 oclock that they had been murdered, that he had been hanged. I mean, I just became numb, I became absolutely numb, I mean psychologically dead.
CLEMENT NWANKWO Human Rights Lawyer
We didnt understand that General Abacha was going to go ahead and carry out the execution. So it was for us quite a huge shock and I think its of the biggest regrets of the human right movement that we did not pursue the Ken Saro Wiwa defense.
In response to developments in Nigeria, the Commonwealth Heads of Government with the exception of the Gambia and Solomon Islands agree to suspend Nigeria from membership of the Commonwealth, pending ...
Kens death marked the beginning of the real closure, the isolation, EU cut off, you know support for Nigeria, the Commonwealth cut off support, they began to distance themselves and they began to see the points we were making.
NARR: But Abacha was not stopped. Although he promised to hold democratic elections by October 1998, he stepped up violence against opponents, jailing, assassinating or driving them into exile.
That September 1997, the military created five new political parties. Each chose General Abacha as its presidential candidate.
You tell us that you want to be presidential candidate on the platform of five political parties. That was what tripped me; that was what blew my mind. I said, No, you cannot be or even if you can be, well give you a fight.
NARR: With Nigerias oil money at his disposal, Abacha paid for a Two Million Man March to support his presidential bid. The proposed march would be held in the capitol city of Abuja in the middle of the country.
Militant youth members of the United Action for Democracy, a new coalition of pro-democracy groups announced a counter march. It would be held in the southern city of Lagos.
OLISA AGBAKOBA Leader, United Action for Democracy
The next day in the office a paper was coming out of the fax machine and I was following the trail, Five Million Man March, five million I say Jesus these boys have killed me, where are we going to find five million you know because is best if you cant do something not to expose yourself. I said Jesus Christ my first thought was how are we going to pull this off. How are we going to save face? Five million!
NARR: On March 23, 1998, the two marches got underway. In Abuja, tens of thousands of paid supporters gathered on behalf of General Abacha.
ARCHIVAL YOUNG MAN
We are convinced that Sani Abacha is the best material we have right now to lead this country to a better ground.
Im proud to be a Nigerian.
NARR: 300 miles away in Lagos, pro-democracy demonstrators without money or logistical support faced police opposition.
And thank God that the security service at the time, their brain was very small. It was also the circumstance of the encounter that gave it its impetus. So, you have people like Abubakar Kasav, the commissioner of police in Lagos at that time, saying that anybody who would approach the square, Yaba Square would be dealt with with maximum force. So people like that, you know it was brewing, it was brewing, the great encounter
AYO OBE President, Civil Liberties Organization
So we were approaching Yaba bus stop. We were all supposed to approach from three different directions. I can remember, those of us who were coming from Surulere were expecting sort of a marching force of about 200. When it got to about ten to three and we didn't see this crowd gathering, the people who were supposed to have been collected, Olisa said, Look, we are the chief hosts of this party. We cannot afford to be late at the venue of the party, so we should go.
ARCHIVAL CROWD (singing)
All we are saying ...
Today, because they dont know what they wanted, they are only interested in ...
As they got there, the crowd that was already there was being dispersed by the mobile police. They were saying that they should run, everybody should run. And of course it was impossible for Olisa, who had come down from the vehicle, to start running, because he was the leader of the show. And so he was walking forward, and, of course, the police now took that as defiance, and one of them took his rifle butt and smashed Olisa in the face.
So it was in that context that the five million-man march lost its significance with them from the point of people, that was not the issue. It became the fact that it could be held at all, that was the thing, the fact that it could be held at all. No one counted five million, we didnt have five million but it was the symbolic thing.
It unleashed in people the realization that we have the power to challenge. We don't have to just accept this thing that is being done to us in our country, lying down.
They dont know what Freedom is. Freedom is essential.
NARR: UAD began to plan a series of rolling demonstrations in Nigerias major cities against Abachas self-succession plans. Senior politicians who had been quiet began to speak out. But the showdown with Abacha never came. On June 7, 1998, just ten weeks after the protests in Lagos, he died of a suspected heart attack.
He really represented the worst of the military, and once he died, it was clear to the Nigerian people that the military could not in any way represent anything positive. And I think the military got the message and agreed on the need for a quick relinquishing of power.
NARR: All political prisoners were released, apart from Abiola, who still insisted on his 93 election victory. Then barely a month after Abachas death, Abiola, also died of an apparent heart attack.
His death cleared the way for new Presidential elections in the spring of 1999. The Nigerian people elected Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba and former Nigerian head of state, as president. He was Nigerias first democratically elected president in twenty years.
People are going to really feel challenged and indeed incensed if the military should dare to rear its head in the political arena again.
NARR: The transition to democracy left unresolved the issues raised by Ken Saro Wiwa. The new constitution ignored widespread ethnic demands for greater autonomy and control of resources. And although Nigeria is a secular nation, the constitution seemed to allow majority Muslim states to operate under Islamic law or Sharia.
The challenge actually is whether we can hang together, that I think is the real challenge that is now facing this country. I dont know whether we can. We see all the fights: the question of application of the Sharia in the North, the resuscitation of the Biafran spirit in the East, and the dislocation of the people of the Niger-Delta.
So, at one level, these are challenges that Obasanjo will require to handle very carefully. Otherwise, theres a volcano erupting inside the core of the earth of Nigeria and no amount of constitutional government and no amount of curfew can keep that in check if it begins to boil.
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