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Nigerians Call for Release of Niger Delta Separatist Leader

The trial of Nigerian separatist leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari resumes Thursday after it briefly adjourned Wednesday because of the absence of the trial judge. Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, has been detained since November 2005 pending his trial for treason. He comes from the oil-rich Niger delta region, and militant groups there have been demanding his release.

Also this week, several eminent Nigerians and civil society groups demonstrated to call for Dokubo Asari's release. Human rights activist and lawyer Chief Gani-Fawehinmi is one of those calling for Dokubo-Asari’s release. He told VOA the solution is to address the root causes of the problems in the Niger Delta.

“You cannot solve the problem through the repression of the leaders. The federal government did it during the time of the first leader of the Niger Delta in 1966; that did not solve the problem. The repression did not solve the problem in the Niger Delta. The federal government murdered Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995 November. That did not solve the problem of the Niger Delta. So arresting and detaining and charging Dokubo Asari cannot solve the problem of the Niger Delta. So the only way out is to address the problem of the Niger Delta from the root causes,” he said.

Fawehinmi identified the root causes of what he called the Niger Delta problem to be deprivation, sharing of oil revenue, health, educational, infrastructural development, and youth unemployment.

“Let us look at the Niger Delta as the middle of the crisis of Nigeria. The crisis of Nigeria is bad, and to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian people, we need to address the call for a sovereign national conference so that we will start to talk about restructuring Nigeria,” Fawehinmi said.

He rejected the federal government's suggestion that Dokubo Asari poses threat to national security.

“To the best of my knowledge, Dokubo has never, never, been involved in hostage taking. It was after his arrest that hostage taking became evoked in the Niger Delta. And we have to look at the hostage taking problem vis-à-vis the leadership of Niger Delta, the governance of the Niger Delta,” he said.

Fawehinmi is also among eminent Nigerians who have called on the federal government to honor Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the presumed winner of Nigeria’s June 12, 1993 presidential election. Abiola died in prison in 1998 after being jailed by General Sani Abacha for insisting on reclaiming his mandate.

Fawehinmi said the election of Chief Abiola symbolized many things in the Nigerian society.

“There are three dimensions to Abiola’s legacy. The democracy dimension because he really sacrificed his life for the emergence of democratic process in Nigeria. We must also look at Abiola’s legacy from the standpoint of poverty alleviation. The third aspect of his legacy is the manner of June 12 election that became the freest fairest election in the history of this country,” he said.

Fawehinmi said the April 2007 Nigerian election was condemned because it did not measure up to the election of 1993. He said he supports the protest against the election of President Yar’Adua.