Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Human rights abuses in Ghana and Nigeria

By Ben Mensah

Amnesty International, the London-based organisation which monitors incidents of human rights abuses worldwide, has released its latest annual report. Covering the period January to December 1984, the report reveals horrible cases of human rights abuses in many countries, two of which have been reported below.
The dictatorial image of the deposed Buhari/Idiagbon regime has been emphasised in the latest report of Amnesty International, in which Nigeria has been listed as a country where prisoners were executed within days of being sentenced, leaving little or no time to appeal or petition for clemency.

Sierra Leone and Cameroon were similarly cited for starving prisoners to death, but it was Ghana where Amnesty International expressed concern about a long list of abuses of human rights by the military regime of Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings.

These abuses range from the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, detention of people on political grounds, disappearance of at least one detainee, unfair trial procedures and judicial and extrajudicial executions by the security forces.

In the year under review, Amnesty International investigated the cases of over 30 political prisoners and adopted five of them as prisoners of conscience. Fourteen other prisoners whose cases were taken up for investigation were members of the Armed Forces held on suspicion of involvement in attempts to overthrow the government. They included Samson Nyame Bekyere, an army corporal, and Private S.K. Amponsah-Dadzie, both of whom were released after the overthrow of the government, but were detained again immediately afterwards.

The report further noted that after recommendation to the Ghana government to bring the public tribunals to internationally accepted legal standards with a composition including at least one legally trained officer, the government in 1984 introduced an appeals procedure.

Amnesty International however noted that there were no safeguards to ensure that the composition of the Appeals Tribunal was different from that of the tribunal of first instance. Moreover, it remained unclear which court had jurisdiction over which offences.

Amnesty also had reports that prisoners, and particularly those in military custody, were ill-treated. For example, Victor Agbewali, a civilian, was reported to have suffered serious damage to his eyesight as a result of being beaten when he was detained at Gondar Barracks.

President Shehu Shagari who was himself detained throughout 1984 and was only given some measure of freedom when he was placed under house arrest by the new Babangida regime.

Another political detainee, Corporal George Mamale, was reported to have been threatened with summary execution during interrogation by a senior member of the government. He was suspected of involvement in a coup attempt and had been extradited from Burkina Faso.

By the end of 1984 he was not known to have been tried or released. Amnesty International recorded that at least 25 people were executed by firing squad during 1984 and 16 sentenced to death by Public Tribunals, but in a society where a lot of these abuses were perpetrated under the cover of darkness, it is most probably that the figures recorded by Amnesty International may only be a tiny fraction of the real toll.

Amnesty reported that most prisoners of the Buhari era were tried by tribunals using procedures which fell short of internationally recognized standards of fairness.

But even more gruesome was the very high number of executions carried out by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Amnesty International recorded 111 or possibly more people who were executed after they had been convicted by tribunals which did not permit any judicial appeal. The regime was also condemned for its retro- active decree which was invoked to detain hundreds of former politicians and traders associated with the government of former President Shehu Shagari who was himself that detained throughout 1984 and was only given some measure of freedom when he was placed under house arrest by the new Babangida regime.

Concern was also expressed about the transfer of the trial of a criminal offence from an ordinary court to a special tribunal for political reasons. This was the case of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician known for the political content of his songs who was detained on suspicion of attempting to export currency unlawfully. This case was transferred from the High Court to a special tribunal established under Buhari's decree 7, Exchange Control Decree. As a result, Amnesty Inter- national called for his release or retrial before a court whose procedures met internationally recognised standards.

Again in November 1984 there were newspaper reports that the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, General Tunde Idiagbon, had ordered the execution of any prisoners under sentence of death who had no right of appeal or whose appeals had been rejected. Even though the authorities later explained that General Idiagbon had no authority to issue such orders, Amnesty International subsequently received reports governors in at least two states ordered the execution of such prisoners. that Fifty-five condemned prisoners were subsequently alleged to have been executed

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