How does Amnesty International persuade a government to change
its ways? In a gripping personal account, Jonathan Power tells
Prospect magazine about the week he spent in Nigeria,
brokering with former Amnesty-backed political prisoner Olusegun
Obasanjo recently returned to power after the death of General Sani
Abacha, Nigeria’s military president from 1993 to 1998. The climate
in Nigeria changed dramatically after Abacha’s death.
‘It’s a different world,’ another Amnesty worker explains to Power.
‘People feel free. Fear has gone.’ But there is one catch,
according to Power: ‘When trouble erupts in ethnic disputes there
are often reports of army and police abuses.’ As Power met with
other human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they
agreed that while Obasanjo has given the people political freedom,
they still live under the tyranny of the police.
Amnesty Nigeria, started in 1968 by missionaries living in the
eastern town of Calabar, now has a membership of as many as 5,700.
They fought hard against Abacha’s military regime, so there is
great hope that Amnesty Nigeria can help end this abuse.
Power and his team sat down with Obasanjo to discuss the past and
present human rights abuses, but stumbled on several roadblocks.
While Obasanjo said he respects Amnesty, he still thinks like a
soldier, which hurts the organization’s chances of ending military
abuse. While it appears that Power and his colleagues face defeat
in their immediate goals, they are still hopeful for gradual
change. Concludes Power, ‘An organisation begun 40 years ago in the
mind of a Catholic, English lawyer of Jewish descent, has taken
root in darkest Africa itself.’