Human Rights Watch urges Nigeria’s new president to take concrete steps to address problems

May 30th, 2011 - 4:54 am ICT by BNO News  

ABUJA, NIGERIA (BNO NEWS) — Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to take immediate and concrete steps to address problems such as violence, corruption, and impunity.

Jonathan took the oath to assume office as the country’s third democratically-elected president on Sunday. He was sworn in during a lavish inauguration ceremony which was attended by several African presidents and other foreign dignitaries, including a U.S. delegation.

Human Rights Watched said Jonathan should focus in particular on large-scale violence, endemic corruption, and a lack of accountability for abuses. The presidential elections, for example, were followed by riots and sectarian killings in April which left more than 800 people killed in northern Nigeria.

“The profound challenges facing Nigeria are, at their heart, human rights problems,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Jonathan presidency should place human rights, and long overdue reforms, at the top of the administration’s agenda.”

Inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence have claimed more than 15,700 lives since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999. Government security forces are widely implicated in serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture, according to Human Rights Watch. The ruling elite has reportedly squandered and siphoned off the nation’s tremendous oil revenues, while neglecting basic health and education services for the vast majority of ordinary citizens. Those who commit these abuses are rarely held accountable.

The presidential elections in April were the fourth general elections since the end of the military rule 12 years ago and followed the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2010. The elections in April were hailed as the country’s fairest to date.

But despite the progress in the elections, there were still widespread allegations of vote buying, ballot-box stuffing, and inflation of results, most noticeably in rural areas of southeastern Nigeria. Violence linked to party primaries, campaigns, and on the election day itself, left at least 165 people killed since November 2010.

Earlier this month, Jonathan appointed a 22-member panel to investigate the causes and extent of violence linked to the elections. Past administrations have set up similar committees and commissions of inquiry in response to previous outbreaks of communal violence, but the reports are usually shelved and their findings ignored, Human Rights Watch said. In Jos and surrounding communities in Plateau State, in north-central Nigeria, at least 1,000 people were killed in communal and sectarian violence in 2010 alone.

“Committees and panels aren’t going to break the cycle of violence,” Dufka said. “Federal and state authorities should address the root causes of the violence and ensure that those who orchestrated and committed these crimes are brought to justice.”

Dufka added that the basic needs of Nigerian citizens should come first. “President Jonathan should reverse the failures of Nigeria’s past leaders and get serious about the country’s lawlessness and corruption,” Dufka said.

Between independence in 1960 and 1999, Nigeria produced only two elected governments - both were overthrown in military coups. Nigeria’s military ruled the country for nearly 30 of its first 40 years of independence. However, in 1999, Nigeria made a transition to civilian rule. The 1999 elections, which brought a retired general, Olusegun Obasanjo, to power, were blighted by widespread fraud.

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