|AllAfrica News: Latest|
|All Africa, All the Time.|
The lawyer for a group of Nigerian villagers seeking to sue a multinational corporation for alleged human rights violations received a chilly reception at the US Supreme Court Tuesday.
Paul Hoffman, a California appellate lawyer, endured a relentless barrage of blunt questions from the bench about whether a similar lawsuit could be filed in any other country in the world. "I don't know if this precise case could be brought," Mr. Hoffman finally conceded.
"If there is no other country where this suit could have been brought ... isn't it a legitimate concern that allowing the suit itself contravenes international law," Chief Justice John Roberts asked. The exchange came during an hour-long oral argument in a potential landmark case that could set the contours of corporate liability under an unusual 223-year-old American law.
The so-called Alien Tort Statute allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in American courts for alleged violations of international law. Rather than filing their case in Nigeria, lawyers for the villagers decided to bring their fight to the US courts under the Alien Tort Statute. There is just one problem. It is not clear that the enigmatic statute permits lawsuits against corporations.
A federal judge in New York allowed a portion of the suit to move forward, but a federal appeals court threw the entire case out. The Supreme Court agreed to take up the appeal.At issue in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (10-1491) is whether international corporations may be held responsible in an American courtroom for allegedly aiding and abetting human rights abuses that take place in a foreign country.
Lawyers for Royal Dutch Petroleum maintain that the statute only permits lawsuits against individuals who personally perpetrate human rights violations, rather than the corporation that employs them. The appeal stems from a 2002 civil lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 residents of the oil-rich Ogoni region of the Niger River delta.
The residents charge that from 1992 to 1995 Royal Dutch Petroleum and its subsidiaries aided and abetted the Nigerian military in conducting a campaign of terror and intimidation through the use of extrajudicial killings, torture, and other tactics to protect the oil company's operations from the grassroots opposition of the Ogoni people. The company has denied involvement in atrocities. Normally, such a suit would be filed in Nigeria, where the events took place, or in the Netherlands or the United Kingdom where the corporate subsidiaries are based.
But lawyers for the villagers decided to base their suit on the Alien Tort Statute which permits non-US citizen "aliens" to sue other foreign residents for egregious violations of international law such as genocide, extra-judicial killing, torture, and slavery. The Alien Tort Statute was adopted by the first Congress in 1789. It was largely ignored for nearly two centuries, but since 1980, lawyers have been trying to establish it as a vehicle to fight human rights abuses around the world.
At first, foreign plaintiffs went after individual foreign torturers and abusive officials. But since the late 1990s, the trend has been to target deep pocket corporations doing business in countries ruled by oppressive governments. According to one analyst, 120 lawsuits have been filed in US courts against 59 corporations for alleged violations in 60 foreign countries.
Although four members of the high court's conservative wing expressed significant skepticism about the tactic of charging corporations under the ATS, not all justices were openly opposed to the concept. Justice Stephen Breyer hypothesized about a group of incorporated criminals operating as Pirates, Inc. Would they be immune from a civil lawsuit under ATS, he wondered.
oil spill in Ogoniland
"Yes, the corporation would not be liable," Appellate lawyer Kathleen Sullivan replied. She said the lawsuit could seek to seize the ship the pirates had used to carry out their illicit piracy, but the ATS would not permit a litigant to seize the corporate assets of Pirates, Inc. Justice Elena Kagan asked what would happen in an ATS lawsuit if the French ambassador to the US was assaulted by a corporate agent. "Would we say that the corporation there cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute," she asked.
There is no internationally-accepted norm concerning corporate assaults on ambassadors that would govern the case, Sullivan said. But she added that the ambassador would not be without recourse. He could use the ATS to sue the individual who carried out the assault, she said.
Sullivan said ATS lawsuits must be based on violations of the law of nations. "There is no country in the world that provides a civil cause of action against a corporation under their domestic law for a violation of the law of nations," she said. Sullivan's point is counterintuitive to many Americans who understand that corporations have long been subject to liability under US law. But the ATS operates under international law, not US domestic law, she said.
Violations of international law are crimes that are so egregious and universally condemned that a perpetrator could rightly be classified as an enemy of mankind. The Obama administration is arguing the case on the side of the Nigerian villagers and against the coporations. Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the justices that the ATS should be viewed as a reflection of US domestic law which permits lawsuits against corporations.
Corporations were subject to civil suit in 1789 and they still are under domestic US law, he said. Some analysts have suggested the case represents something of a reprise of the Citizens United case in which the court's conservatives ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to engage in political speech.
But Citizens United was not discussed during the oral argument. During a second hour of argument, the high court heard a similar case, Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority (11-88), examining whether the Torture Victim Protection Act could be enforced against an organization in addition to an individual who allegedly carried out acts of torture or extra-judicial killing of a US citizen.
The issue arises in the case of Azzam Rahim, a US citizen of Palestinian heritage who died while being questioned by security officials on the West Bank. Mr. Rahim, a successful businessman in Dallas, was picked up by Palestinian security officials while on a visit to his boyhood village on the West Bank. Two days later his body was delivered to his family. It was bruised and included cigarette burns and broken bones, suggesting he had been tortured prior to his death.
Rahim's son, Asid Mohamad, filed a lawsuit in federal court in the US against three Palestinian officials, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He charged that his father had been subjected to torture and extrajudicial killing in violation of the 1993 Torture Victim Protection Act. A federal judge and a federal appeals court panel dismissed all charges against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. The judge said the TVPA was only enforceable against individuals personally responsible for Mr. Rahim's torture and death. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether the lower courts were correct that only individuals may be sued under the TVRA, or whether organizations may also be held liable.
Decisions in both cases are expected by late June.
Forty-five years after proclaiming the breakaway Republic of Biafra, former rebel-leader Emeka Ojukwu was this week given a state burial by the Nigerian government.
It is unusual that the president of a country attends the funeral of a man who tried to engineer that country's breakup. But Ojukwu is being hailed as a hero today because many in Nigeria simply believe the man had a point. Many Nigerians are unhappy with the way their country has turned out. And some, just like Ojukwu in the 1960s, are now questioning the viability of the state in itself.
In 2005, the CIA published a report warning that Nigeria, the seventh most populous country in the world, could disintegrate within 15 years. At the time, that prediction was dismissed by most Nigerians as baseless alarmism. But recent events have prompted a re-evaluation of that gloomy forecast.
The funeral of Dim Ikemba Ojukwu, attended by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan (right). Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP
The northern-based Boko Haram Islamists are currently wreaking havoc in Nigeria, ramping up their terrorist attacks and demanding that Sharia law be implemented throughout a country where roughly half the population is Christian. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, while southern Nigeria is largely Christian. Boko Haram have said that those originally from the south who are now living in the north should return to where they came from or face death. In response, some southern leaders have threatened retaliation against the northerners living in their region.
Nigeria is currently experiencing a surge in ethnic animosity fuelled by the sectarian violence, which the central government has been incapable of quelling. President Goodluck Jonathan recently described the present situation as "worse than during the [1967-70] civil war". In January, Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said that Nigeria is "already progressing towards a defacto break up."
Nigeria is the result of a 1914 British colonial decision to lump together more than 250 ethnic groups, differing in culture and social structure. In 1967, the eastern part of the country, dominated by the Igbo ethnic group, announced secession under then Colonel Ojukwu after a pogrom of Igbos living in the north. But the central government eventually battled the breakaway republic into submission at the cost of more than 1 million lives.
That laid to rest any ideas of dividing Nigeria at the time, but today a growing number of voices are saying that a breakup would be the best solution for the people living in its territory. "What's the point of keeping the country together when it is clearly not working? Only the northern elites wants one Nigeria, and that's because their region lacks natural resources while there is plenty of oil in the south," a friend of mine from the south told me recently.
"If Yugoslavia and Sudan could break up, then why can't we?" he added.
Many Nigerians from the south feel the north, where education levels are much lower, brings precious little to the nation's table in terms of resources and human capital, yet its elites consume a huge chunk of the national budget due to their political influence.
Why not engineer a peaceful breakup and let new nations build more functional political entities with rulers who share the same values as their citizens? It sounds simple enough.
But on reflection, the belief of a breakup improving things is based on false premises. The first of these is that there is a viable configuration under which Nigeria could split today in a peaceful manner. In reality, a simple north-south divide or even a north-east-west divide simply won't fly.
In the winner-takes-all mentality that pervades modern-day Nigerian society, no ethnic group will want to accept the role of "second fiddle" in a new entity: we would be talking of at least six, maybe even 10 new countries. How many would be able to survive? Are conflicts between them not inevitable, such as between Ethiopia and Eritrea? The post-Yugoslavian states could count on the EU for help. Post-Nigerian states would have no such luxury.
Secondly, the idea of unity even within the same ethnic group is overly idealistic. There are sub-groups and sub-groups of sub-groups within each of Nigeria's tribes. Take away a common enemy to unite them and chaos could ensue.
There would also likely be a battle for control of the oil, which is mostly located in the southern Niger Delta region. This could spark a long-lasting Congo-like conflict.
Nigeria's political scene today is controlled by men commonly referred to as "godfathers," a handful of rich and powerful figures who hand-pick candidates for all the significant political offices in the country, ensuring their victory through bribes, threats and, if necessary, murder.
When their "boy," as such a protege is called, gets into office, he repays his godfather for the "investment" made in him through bogus contracts and a host of other means. He is also obliged to turn a blind eye to any criminal activity that his godfather, or those he protects, might commit.
This system functions in all areas of Nigeria – north and south alike. So what would the creation of new countries change? Secession will not alter the situation of the average Nigerian.
Fingering religious or ethnic differences as the root of Nigeria's problems oversimplifies the situation. The most immediate problem is the godfathers' stranglehold on power. The people of Nigeria will not know freedom until they can unite against this menance and the corruption it brings, much as they did in forcing the British colonialists to relinquish power five decades ago.
Otherwise the outcome of a breakup would simply be smaller, weaker nations governed by systems no less corrupt and dysfunctional than today.
Remi Adekoya was born and raised in Nigeria. He is the politics editor of Warsaw Business Journal, an English-language weekly in Poland, The Guardian UK. He has also worked for the Polish weekly Wprost and has had his articles published in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza and Foreign Policy
"President Jonathan said that the achievements that set Ojukwu apart and which had made him subject of “edifying posthumous commentaries”, though undeniably solid were far from personal. “They were solid altruistic achievements of a man whose life epitomized love and self sacrifice. For only such love could explain his preference for the great risk involved in the leadership role he assumed in his lifetime to the privileged background into which he was born,” he said. Recalling how Ojukwu sailed to leadership limelight and how “he reluctantly accepted the role that perhaps most critically defined his place in the history of our country”, the president also noted how the late Biafran leader, “despite his reluctances, he acquitted himself quite historically, heroically while fulfilling that role, not withstanding the difficult odds that stood against his side” during the civil war. “We are also aware of how after the dust of hostilities had settled, he became strong advocate of a united Nigeria. All these governed by the same ideals of justice and fairness to all which were the hallmark of his vision as a patriot of humanists,” the president said." - Vanguard
DIM CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU'S BURIAL IN NNEWI FROM LEFT: FIRST LADY, DAME PATIENCE JONATHAN; PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN; SON OF THE LATE DIM CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU, EMEKA JNR, AND GOV. PETER OBI OF ANAMBRA, AT THE BURIAL OF DIM CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU AT NNEWI, ANAMBRA, ON FRIDAY (2/3/12). NAN
•President Jonathan, his wife, Patience, and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu Jnr, paying their last respect to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu at Nnewi.
IKemba's 10-year old daughter pays respect to his late father
Ikemba's wife and First Lady (far right)
"Mourners gathered Friday in Nnewi, a city in Nigeria's eastern Anambra state, for the funeral and burial of Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who led Biafra during the three-year civil war. His body lay inside a closed gold coffin draped in the Nigerian flag with an officer's black dress shoes, cap and sword laying atop it. Soldiers stood guard by a man who once rejected the idea of a united Nigeria, a multiethnic nation now home to more than 160 million people." - Associate Press
Ogbonnaya Onu (left); Emeka Anyaoku; Prof. Wole Soyinka, Haliru Mohammed; and Onyebuchi Chukwu, at Ojukwu's funeral rites
Jerry Rawlings (left); Ike Ekweremadu; Namadi Sambo, Sullivan Chime at the funeral rites for Ojukwu
Chief Jim Nwobodo (left), Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Gov. Godswill Akpabio and Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe at the funeral rites
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Jnr.) introducing his sister to Patience Jonathan during the funeral rites in Abuja
From right, Enugu State governor, Mr Sullivan Chime; Vice-President Namadi Sambo; Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; former Ghanaian head of state, Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha, during a national inter-denominational funeral programme for former Biafran warlord, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, on Thursday. On the front row are members of Chief Ojukwu’s family.
Ojukwu's son and wife Biaca
Emir of Kano Ado Bayero, Jerry Rawlings
The late leader of Nigeria's breakaway Republic of Biafra received final honors Friday from a nation he once fought bitterly against in a war that saw 1 million people killed.
Mourners gathered Friday in Nnewi, a city in Nigeria's eastern Anambra state, for the funeral and burial of Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who led Biafra during the three-year civil war. His body lay inside a closed gold coffin draped in the Nigerian flag with an officer's black dress shoes, cap and sword laying atop it. Soldiers stood guard by a man who once rejected the idea of a united Nigeria, a multiethnic nation now home to more than 160 million people.
Okeke Ngozika Theophilus, a 77-year-old poet who remembered Ojukwu from childhood, said he came to give his last respects.
"Like every other hero, including the kings of England, they were buried. I have come to accord him a bye-bye," he said "On my own in 18 months I will be as old as him. I am watching how I will be buried myself."
Soldiers load the coffin with the late Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu in an ambulance in Nnewi, Nigeria on Thursday, March 1, 2012. The city where Ojukwu lived is preparing for the burial of the civil war leader at his home here on Friday. Nigeria's 1960s civil war, between the federal government and Ojukwu's breakaway Republic of Biafra, killed 1 million people.(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Ojukwu died in a London hospital on Nov. 26 after a protracted illness following a stroke. He was 78.
His funeral, already once delayed, has seen a revisioning — or at least a remembrance — of Nigeria's bloody civil war in a country where an almost collective amnesia about the event still exists. President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly mentioned Ojukwu and his legacy, something previous unheard of. Ojukwu's coffin also has been transported around the country under a military honor guard.
For his family, that honor means a lot after seeing much of the family's wealth confiscated at the end of the civil war and Ojukwu living in exile for more than a decade."He was a passionate man who wanted very much to leave his footprints in the history of his country," his brother Lotanna Ojukwu said.
The roots of Biafra came from a 1966 coup in Nigeria, a former British colony that had gained independence only six years earlier. The coup, led primarily by army officers from the Igbo ethnic group from Nigeria's southeast, saw soldiers shoot and kill Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northerner, as well as the premier of northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello.
The coup failed, but the country still fell under military control. Northerners, angry about the death of its leaders, attacked Igbos living there. As many as 10,000 people died in resulting riots. Many Igbos fled back to Nigeria's southeast, their traditional home.
Ojukwu, then 33, served as the military governor for the southeast. The son of a knighted millionaire, Ojukwu studied history at Oxford and attended a military officer school in Britain. In 1967, he declared the largely Igbo region — including part of the oil-rich Niger Delta — as the Republic of Biafra. The new republic used the name of the Atlantic Ocean bay to its south, its flag a rising sun set against a black, green and red background.
The announcement sparked 31 months of fierce fighting between the breakaway republic and Nigeria. Under Gen. Yakubu "Jack" Gowon, Nigeria adopted the slogan "to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done" and moved to reclaim a region vital to the country's finances.
Despite several pushes by Biafran troops, Nigerian forces slowly strangled Biafra into submission. Caught in the middle were Igbo refugees increasingly pushed back as the front lines fell. The region, long reliant on other regions of Nigeria for food, saw massive food shortages despite international aid.
The enduring images, seen on television and in photographs, show starving Biafran children with distended stomachs and stick-like arms. Many died as hunger became a weapon wielded by both sides.
Nigeria's Igbo people have since been largely marginalized in the country's politics, despite being one of the nation's top ethnic groups. Many hope for that to change in the upcoming 2015 presidential election, as there's been discussion about the nation's ruling party picking an Igbo as its candidate.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.
One of the best things about the passing of Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is the kind of tributes which the news of his passing has elicited across the country. The former leader of Biafra has enjoyed the distinction of being eulogised across the political, ethnic and religious spectrum. From every part of Nigeria, Nigerians, high and low, prominent and ordinary, old and young have stepped forward to honour him with moving tributes. For a man whose life was defined by the role he played in the turbulent three years of the Nigerian Civil War, a man for whom the prefix “rebel” was once de rigeur, this was quite an achievement. The praise is also very well deserved because the life of Ojukwu exemplifies what can happen when principled courage meets patriotism. Here was a man who went to war out of conviction but who also, out of conviction, decided to stop fighting and come home to contribute to achieving the purposes for which he went to war, this time through civil and democratic means. The Eze Igbo Gburugburu was indeed a rare man who without giving up his principles, made peace with his enemies and joined hands with other patriots to seek solutions to the challenges of nationhood.
For me, and I am sure many other Nigerians of my generation on the Biafran side who are old enough to remember the cataclysmic events of the Civil War which largely defined our youth, the wave of tributes triggered by Chief Ojukwu’s passing has evoked a sense that things have come full circle. Many young Nigerians do not know that the Nigerian Civil War was one of the most tragic landmarks of the 20th century, a conflict whose horrendous human suffering inspired the founding of one of the most important humanitarian organisations in the world, Medecins san Frontierres (Doctors without Frontiers). In all, an estimated one million persons perished in the war; some estimates cite double that figure.
The response to Ojukwu’s passing has, simultaneously, recalled the nightmare years of war and also acted as a balm of healing for those deep pains of yesterday. The memories are many. I remember helping my mother and a collective of other women in Port Harcourt cook for Biafran soldiers, making “dry packs” of preserved foods to feed soldiers at the war front. I remember my father, a Brigadier in the Biafran Army and head of the Biafran Organisation of Freedom Fighters (BOFF) in his uniform. I remember young men relatives, friends, and neighbours – who waved goodbye as they went off to war – and never came back.
It is against this background that one can best appreciate the balm the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Ojukwu’s death. The man whose name some saw as a symbol of division has, in death, done so much to unite Nigerians. That is the spirit that I want us to celebrate and share with our children. It is the positive spirit of renascent Nigeria, a spirit that acknowledges the problems and the pain, yet refuses to give up on the shining possibilities of a brighter future. It is the spirit that refuses to be defined by glib negatives, a spirit that insists on doing the difficult but necessary work of building a strong foundation for a better future, even as we learn from the mistakes of the past. It is this kind of spirit that inspires hope for Nigeria. It is the spirit of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Thank you, Ikemba, Eze Igbo Gburugburu, thank you for sharing your strong but resilient spirit with us. Thank you for teaching us how to fight and how to make peace while standing strong. Thank you, Bianca for being there till the end, thank you Odumegwu-Ojukwu family for your great gift to Nigeria. And thank you Nigeria for celebrating and honouring our remarkable brother and son.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the present Nigerian minister of finance and co-ordinator of the President's Jonathan economic team.
In a report published Feb 29, Standard & Poor's (S&P) Ratings Services examines the progress of Nigeria's overhaul of its banking system (see "Strong Regulatory Action Proves Its Worth For The Nigerian Banking System"). After more than two years of central bank support, Nigeria's commercial banks are again engaging with the domestic economy. Nigeria now has fewer, but larger, banks, with better corporate governance and regulatory oversight. In Standard & Poor's Ratings Services' view, however, the sector needs a longer regulatory track record before we stop considering corporate governance and regulatory oversight to be among its key risks.
In 2009, eight of the country's 24 banks had to be rescued after weak risk management and corporate governance lapses caused nonperforming loans (NPLs) to rise to more than a third of total loans across the banking system. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) responded strongly, removing executive teams from failed banks, fully guaranteeing the interbank market, and setting up the Asset Management Company of Nigeria to purchase a large proportion of nonperforming loans from Nigerian banks. It also set up sizable intervention funds to support credits to the real economy. Finally, it is facilitating a series of mergers between failed banks and their stronger competitors.
As a result of the CBN's efforts, the industry and its regulation have improved significantly. Fewer, larger institutions have emerged following a succession of mergers triggered by the sharp rise in NPLs. In our opinion, risk management--particularly in higher-risk lending such as foreign currency loans and retail--and access to low-cost funding will be the key differentiators affecting banks' performance going forward.
In our view, long-term success for Nigerian banks will chiefly depend on them enhancing their risk management, improving their governance, diversifying their loan portfolios, and securing their funding profiles.