* Union, opposition leaders arrested in Nigeria

Issue 

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) has reported that Milton Dabibi, general secretary of the ICEM-affiliated Nigerian oil and gas workers' union PENGASSAN, has been arrested in Lagos and is being held incommunicado by the State Security Services. Amnesty International has also reported that three more human rights activists have been detained. Dabibi was detained on January 25. The news first appeared in a Nigerian newspaper on February 14, and his arrest has been confirmed by the ICEM. No charges have been brought, nor have the authorities acknowledged that he is in custody. Dabibi joins the general secretary of Nigeria's other major oil and gas workers' union, NUPENG, Frank Kokori, in detention. Kokori was detained by the military regime in September 1994, following the oil workers' strike in the summer of that year. Kokori is in Bama prison, in northern Nigeria, where he is said to be "wasting away". Nigeria's oil and gas unions have been subjected to severe repression by the military regime ever since the 1994 oil strike. In letters to Nigerian chief of general staff Oladipo Diya and federal minister of labour and productivity Alhaji Uba Ahmed, ICEM has demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Dabibi and Kokori. ICEM also called for an end to government intervention in the running of trade unions, the unfreezing of the unions' bank accounts, the lifting of the ban on the deduction of union dues and the reinstatement of oil workers dismissed for participation in the 1994 dispute. ICEM warned it reserved the right to take all necessary measures, including an oil boycott, in order to ensure the restoration of full trade union rights in Nigeria. Amnesty International has also reported the arrest on February 14 of human rights activists Chief Gani Fawehinmi, lawyer and president of the opposition National Conscience Party (NCP), Femi Falana, president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, and Femi Aborisade, a leading member of the NCP. All three, all former prisoners of conscience, are being held incommunicado and without charge. Gani Fawehinmi challenged before Federal High Court the constitutionality of the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal which sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni prisoners to death in October. The tribunal is due to try 19 further Ogoni on the same murder charges. The NCP has been campaigning for the release of its leaders and in protest at local government elections to be held on a non-party basis on March 25. On February 13, the government promulgated a military decree making it a criminal offence to "undermine, prevent, forestall or prejudice" the government's much-criticised three-year transition to civilian rule. The decree empowers the head of state, General Sani Abacha, to set up a special tribunal outside the normal judicial system to try offenders. The 19 Ogonis smuggled a letter from their jail cell in early February appealing to the Commonwealth for help. They are being held in harsh conditions in Port Harcourt prison, housed in severely overcrowded cells which hold dozens of inmates. There are no beds and they must sleep on the floor. Family visits are allowed only once a month, and the prisoners must pay for their food. The Ogonis report they are malnourished and sick. Supporters of the military regime have issued threats against Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka in posters plastered throughout Lagos. Soyinka is a leader of the National Liberation Council of Nigeria.