Documents have surfaced on how global rights group, Amnesty International, wrote letters to military dictators and high-handed Presidents demanding the release of several persons who are now key members of today’s government.
Some of the personalities who AI intervened on their behalf include: President Muhammadu Buhari, All Progressives Congress stalwart, Bola Tinubu; a minister designate, Festus Keyamo; and a former Governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba.
Others include: Buhari’s Political Adviser, Senator Babafemi Ojudu; Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria, Bayo Onanuga; and several others.
In its 1986, 1987 and 1988 annual reports, AI lamented that Military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, had detained Buhari alongside his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, without any charge following a bloodless coup on August 27, 1985.
In a letter dated July 21, 1994, and addressed to Abacha, AI declared Tinubu and five other senators as “prisoners of conscience” having been detained by the military administration for several weeks.
In the letter, AI expressed concern at the “continued remand in custody of Ameh Ebute, Chief Polycarp Nwite, Onyeka A. Okoroafor, Abu Ibrahim, the Reverend Dr Maconyemechi O. Nwulu and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, calling for their immediate and unconditional release on the grounds that they are prisoners of conscience, detained for their non-violent political activities and criticism of the government.”
The rights group called for a halt to the “prosecution of all those, whether in detention or currently released on bail, who have been charged with treasonable felony or other political offences and who would become prisoners of conscience if convicted and sentenced to prison terms.”
The charges against Tinubu and the five other senators were later withdrawn.
In the case of Keyamo, who was an activist and protégé of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), AI asked the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo to release him unconditionally.
Keyamo, the leader of Movement for the Actualisation of the Future Republic of the Niger Delta, was probably detained for his public call for a wider autonomy for the Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria.
This followed President Obasanjo’s public explanation in late December 2002, of why he refused to sign a bill that would have given Nigeria’s coastal states a percentage of revenue from offshore oil.
AI noted that Keyamo was being held incommunicado in detention without charge at an unknown location and was denied adequate food, clothes, and medical assistance.
In a letter addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sule Lamido; Attorney-General of the federation, Kanu Agabi (SAN); and Inspector-General of Police dated January 28, 2003, the rights group said Keyamo must be released immediately.
In the letter, AI, “asked the authorities why he (Keyamo) has been arrested and detained without charge; called for Festus Keyamo’s current location to be made public; called for guarantees that he would not be tortured or ill-treated while in detention; and that he be released unless he is promptly charged with a recognisable criminal offence.”
Incidentally, none of those who AI fought for have spoken up against the government amid several allegations of rights abuses by the current government.
AI’s office in Colorado, Maitama, has been witnessing protests from pro-Buhari groups in the last five days.
The protesters have criticised AI for being too critical of the Buhari government, adding that the rights group should leave Nigeria if it cannot support the President.
* The PUNCH