Cablegate: Nigeria: When Doves Fight

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

191113Z Dec 03




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: POLOFF and Economic Counselor met on
December 1 with Femi Falana, former president of the
Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and
well-known international human rights lawyer, to discuss the
internal battle for power within the CDHR. CDHR executives
have accused Falana and former CDHR president, Beko
Ransome-Kuti, of hiring a faction of the vigilante group
O'odua People's Congress (OPC) to ransack CDHR's headquarters
in mid-September. That action sprang from problems allegedly
centering on infighting among current and former organization
leaders, a 300,00 USD grant from the Ford Foundation, and the
personalities and political aspirations of Ransome-Kuti and


2. (SBU) On September 17 forty armed members of the Gani
Adams faction of the OPC ransacked CDHR's headquarters in
Ikeja, Lagos. In their wake, the OPC thugs destroyed office
and audio/visual equipment, confiscated bank statements and
other financial documents, damaged the interior of the
building, and stole personal and organizational funds. The
attackers also beat a staff member about the head, sending
him to the hospital for several days. Police were called to
quell the violence and arrested several OPC members. CDHR
secretariat members allege that Femi Falana was on hand to

coordinate the release of the vigilante members. Four OPC
vigilantes returned to CDHR headquarters to stand guard until
CDHR executives had them removed by the police. In a press
statement, CDHR's secretariat alleged that former CDHR
presidents Ransome-Kuti and Falana had hired the OPC thugs to
enforce the firing of the CDHR secretariat by a
self-appointed Caretaker Committee composed of Ransome-Kuti
and an associate.


3. (SBU) CDHR has been embattled for some time, but
dissension came to a head in May 2003. On May 10, CDHR
delegates from the various state branches met for their
Annual General Conference (AGC) in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti, Falana's
home state. The AGC attempted to elect three officers to
two-year terms as provided in the organization's
constitution. The Lagos State branch, headed by Falana, sent
40 delegates who were not AGC voting members, allegedly in an
attempt to sway the election in his favor. Falana's faction
contested the re-election of the secretary-general and
reportedly rioted at the conference, destroying property and
harassing delegates, when it became apparent his candidate
would not be elected. The AGC immediately adjourned and
reconvened May 31 in Benin City, Edo. Similar events ensued
and Falana's faction reportedly attempted to confiscate the
ballot box. Members of Falana's faction also assaulted
delegates and allegedly poured acid on a CDHR member of the
Edo State Branch. Police were brought in to restore order.
The second AGC was able, however, to elect the current
secretary-general, president, and vice president of the


4. (SBU) CDHR executives allege that Falana sought the
assistance of Ransome-Kuti to contest the election.
Ransome-Kuti had dissociated himself from CDHR in 1995
because he was not allowed to run for re-election after seven
years as the president. In 2003 Ransom-Kuti returned and
designated himself and an associate as members of a Caretaker
Committee, deriving his authority from the "inconclusive"
election outcome. In this capacity, Ransome-Kuti attempted
to run CDHR's activities and finances. CDHR executives
allege that on July 10 Ransome-Kuti led a group of 40
militants to invade CDHR headquarters and hold a meeting of
the Caretaker Committee. Police came to disperse
Ransome-Kuti and his supporters. He tried again doing this
on July 25 and September 5 and met the same response. On
September 6, officers from the Ikeja Division of the Nigeria
Police Force reportedly cautioned Ransome-Kuti against
further action and implored both parties to settle their
disputes in civil court.

5. (SBU) In a recent meeting with POLOFF and Economic
Counselor, Falana denied association with the violence
surrounding the CDHR. He stated that his linkage to the
violence was "an afterthought" and proceeded to discuss the
May conferences and place the blame on Ransome-Kuti. Falana
substantiated many of the CDHR executive's assertions in
regards to the candidates he supported, but dissociated
himself from the violent behavior of the Lagos State Branch
members. When asked by POLOFF if he saw irony in human
rights activists' assaulting members of a human rights
organization, he shrugged his shoulders, gave a broad smile,
and claimed that he was out of the country at the time.

--------------------------------------------- -
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (SBU) Femi Falana acted as CDHR president from 1997 to
2001. He also served as vice president from 1995 to 1997.
As a human rights lawyer, Falana has been active in many
organizations. He is the president of the National
Association of Democratic Lawyers and is secretary-general of
the African Bar Association. He is now advocating for the
GON to sign the protocols of the African Court of Human
Rights and the African Court of Justice. Falana is also
trying to organize a West African Bar Association for ECOWAS
countries. Under the Abacha regime, he was often arrested
for his outspokenness on human rights. In 1995, Falana was
one of the lead attorneys defending Ogoni environmentalist
and playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa, and his eight Ogoni comrades.
In recognition for his work, he received the 1996 American
Bar Association's International Human Rights Award. In 1999
he was an Alliance for Democracy gubernatorial candidate for
Ekiti State and again in 2003 under the National Conscience
Party, but was unsuccessful both times. CDHR executives have
criticized Falana for attempting to use the CDHR to advance
himself as a political candidate. The organization claims to
be non-partisan.

7. (SBU) Beko Ransome-Kuti, founding CDHR president from
1989 to 1995, is a medical doctor. He serves as executive
director of the Centre for Constitutional Governance and is
treasurer of the Fasheun faction of the OPC. At CDHR's
founding, Ransome-Kuti was also the organization's landlord,
having provided it a building in Anthony Village, Lagos.
When he was not elected president for an eighth year,
Ransome-Kuti reportedly evicted CDHR from his premises
without notice, stating that he had the right "to vote the
organization out of his property."


8. (SBU) The O'odua People's Congress (OPC) is a Yoruba
vigilante group that provides security through intimidation
and extortion. It, too, is fractured and cyclically in and
out of favor with the police. Modiu Abudu, a spokesman for
the Fasheun faction of the OPC, told POLOFF that the CDHR
executives had written a letter to the OPC requesting help to
resolve the dispute. The OPC held a meeting with the key
personalities involved and Abudu remarked that it was not
until he arrived at the meeting that he realized how many
CDHR members were also OPC members. Of the 22 members who
attended, 19 were affiliated with the OPC. "I realized that
we were having our own convention instead of the CDHR's,"
Abudu remarked. Abudu confided that neither Falana nor
members of the CDHR executive are OPC members. However, in
previous conversations with POLOFF, CDHR executives expressed
affinity for the OPC and downplayed many of its human rights
abuses that Post has documented in previous Human Rights

9. (SBU) COMMENT: CDHR is rife with intrigue and turmoil.
Its battles with former presidents who have their own agendas
reflect the larger society, which is not averse to violence
as it strives to define itself by any means possible.
Corruption and power positioning is widespread in Nigerian
society, and this part of the human rights community is no
exception. The CDHR's unabashed use of and membership in the
OPC is unfortunate since the OPC has been involved in mob
violence and extra-judicial killings. We advise that USG
agencies rethink funding of CDHR programs until its internal
disputes are resolved. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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