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A human rights commission appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo has concluded that three of Nigeria's former military rulers were personally liable for extrajudicial killings perpetrated while they were in power.
LAGOS, 12 January (IRIN) - A human rights commission appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo has concluded that three of Nigeria's former military rulers were personally liable for extrajudicial killings perpetrated while they were in power.
Its report, published on Wednesday after a delay of more than two years, recommended that all three men be banned from holding high office in the future.
One of those fingered by the report, General Ibrahim Babangida, is widely believed to be lining up a bid to succeed Obasanjo as elected head of state in the 2007 presidential elections.
The other two former military rulers criticised by the commission, General Muhammadu Buhari and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, also remain influential figures in public life.
Although those targeted by the commission tried to impede its work and prevent the publication of its findings, these were finally released on Wednesday by a coalition of pressure groups called the Civil Society Forum.
The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission was set up by Obasanjo soon after he was elected in 1999 to probe more than three decades of human rights violations from 1966 to 1999. Nigeria was under military rule for most of this period.
The panel, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, completed its work in 2002. However, its report was never officially published and its recommendations were never implemented as a result of a court ruling a few months later that the commission was unconstitutional.
Justifying its decision to publish the Oputa Panel's report, the Civil Society Forum said in a statement that this court ruling "did not foreclose the publication of the findings of the Commission by individuals and non-governmental organizations for the benefit of the Nigerian people."
The Oputa panel called for an investigation into Babangida's alleged role in the 1986 assassination by letter bomb of Dele Giwa, the founding editor of Newswatch magazine.
Babangida came to power in a bloodless coup in 1985, a year before the murder. He ruled Nigeria until 1993, when he was deposed by another military ruler, the late General Sani Abacha.
The commission also found that Buhari, who overthrew a civilian government in 1983 and was in turn toppled by Babangida, should be held "accountable" for the 1984 execution by firing squad of three suspected drug traffickers.
The executions were carried out on the basis of a military decree promulgated by Buhari long after the offences were allegedly committed, the report said.
"We recommend that the General tender an unreserved apology to the families of the deceased," it concluded.
The commission also made a case against Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha on his death in 1998 and returned Nigeria to elected government in 1999.
It said Abubakar's government should be held "accountable" for the 1998 death in custody of Moshood Abiola, the politician and businessman who won the 1993 presidential elections that were annulled by Babangida.
The Oputa panel recommended that all three former military rulers "be considered to have surrendered their right to govern Nigeria" since they had refused to honour subpoenas to appear before the commission to respond to accusations made against them.
Indeed Babangida filed a lawsuit challenging the commission's powers and won a ruling voiding its existence.
Babangida, who backed Obasanjo's bid for power in 1999, is now warming up a bid for the presidential nomination of Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007.
Buhari meanwhile is a key opposition leader. He was the main challenger in Nigeria's 2003 presidential elections, which kept Obasanjo in power for a second four-year term .
Abubakar meanwhile has repeatedly acted mainly as a top-level envoy for Obasanjo, mediating on his behalf to try and end conflicts in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sudan.
Obasanjo is also a former military ruler. The retired army general previously held power from 1976 to 1979, when he handed over to an elected civilian government.
However, elected governments have governed oil-rich Nigeria only for 15 years of the 45 years since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.
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