Lekan Akinosho a.k.a Scoro 8Monday, August 2, 2010
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he period of 1988 and 1999 in Nigeria was a turning point for democratic struggle as human rights organizations played a fundamental role in mobilizing pro-democracy efforts, which culminated in civilian democratic rule. During the period under review, Nigerians experienced severe violations of human rights typical of military dictatorships, such as suspension of civil and political rights. The agents of the regimes subjected the people to incessant attacks and gross abuse. "It was a decade of political crisis which saw the whole country militarized. It was also a period characterized by state repression in different forms, including judicial and extra-judicial killings and assassinations, arbitrary arrests and detention, kidnapping and torture among others" . These atrocities were combined with high levels of corruption and fiscal irresponsibility. In line with the yearnings and aspirations of other African countries of the 1980s, political struggles in Nigeria were needed for the institution of the ideals of democracy, rule of law and human rights. In the words of Momoh and Adejumobi, "the 1980s in Africa, like most other parts of the world, were characterized by a wave of democratic effervescence in which there was a groundswell of popular resistance to autocratic rule, which the state was forced, in most cases, to concede political space and to liberalize the political arena through initiating Transition to Civil Rule Programs" . This goal of political fervor was characterized by the catch phrase "democracy and good governance".

The goal of this chapter is to define democracy, democratization, human rights and civil society within the context of this study. I shall also be looking at the political history of Nigeria within the perspective of military and civilians, the origins of Nigeria's students' movement, and the origins of Nigeria's human rights organizations.

Definition of Democracy, Democratization, Human Rights and Civil Society

The principles of liberal democracy, which is often seen as a model for democracy in present day Africa, are rooted in the slogans from the French revolution of 1789 of "liberty, equality and fraternity" which built on the ideas of classical democracy of ancient Greece. This, Darah notes, was the prelude to modern liberal democracy. However, he continues, "because this ancient principle of egalitarianism threatened the interests of the emergent European bourgeoisie, they supplanted classical democracy and its French variant" with the liberal version.

Many scholars have expanded on the concept of liberal democracy. One of such scholars is Georg Sorensen, who building on Robert Dahl's work, defines democracy in terms of "competition, participation and liberties" . In the view of Larry Diamond:

Democracy is instrumental to freedom in three ways. First, free and fair elections inherently require certain political rights of expression, organization, and opposition, and these fundamental political rights are unlikely to exist in isolation from broader civil liberties. Second, democracy maximizes the opportunities for self-determination, for persons to live under laws of their own choosing. Third, it facilitates moral autonomy, the ability of each individual citizen to make normative choices and thus to be, at the most profound level, self-governing. Consequently, the democratic process promotes human development (the growth of personal responsibility and intelligence) while also providing the best means for people to protect and advance their shared interests.

Democracy can also be seen as a type of institutional arrangement whereby people acquire power for legislative and administrative purpose. According to Tchabale Zacharie, "We talk of democracy when power is in the hands of a sovereign people entrusted to an entity other than the sovereign and can be withdrawn by the people. The essence of democracy is therefore the right of the people to appoint and control the government of the society". Without free, fair, and regular electoral competition, government cannot be held truly accountable to the people. Apart from periodic election, democracy allows people to express themselves and able to check and contribute to the activities of governance. In the world of today, democracy has become a popular concept in every contemporary discourse. It is now a word that resonates in people's minds and springs from their lips as they struggle for freedom and for a better way of life.

While the liberal model emphasizes electoral competition (transition), in this paper, democracy is seen fundamentally as entailing participation. Popular participation in turn is seen as the empowerment of the people. It means participation in all spheres of political and economic life, including meaningful participation in the important development of the environment in which they live.

Democratization is a process whereby a political system becomes democratic or, transforms an institution to conform to democratic norms. Sorensen notes, "The process of democratization is a lengthy one which involves different phases, including the preparatory phase, the decision phase, and the consolidation phase" . This is what Sorensen refers to "democratic deepening" . The three model propounded by Dankwart Rustow is very useful in the transition toward democracy. The model has a background condition, which is national unity before the actualization of the stages . According to Rustow, national unity simply indicates that "the vast majority of citizens in a democracy-to-be… have no doubt or mental reservations as to which political community they belong to" . When there is national unity, there is national consciousness that allows for good democratization as people become aware that they have a role to play in nation building.

The first is the preparatory phase, which is the breakdown of the nondemocratic regime that contains prolonged political struggle. This is the phase where individuals, groups, and classes challenge the none democratic rulers for a better society on issues like equal society, a better distribution of wealth, the extension of rights and freedoms . The second phase, referred to as the decision phase, is the beginning of the establishment of a democratic order. This phase is where many countries that are in transition toward democracy are stuck in the early phase of the decision step, having made some moves toward democracy but not completing the transition . The third is the consolidation stage, where the new democracy is further developed, and democratic practices eventually become an established part of the political culture . This last stage is a long process and very difficult to achieve by many countries even by advanced democracies.

However, democracy is a learning process and there can never be total perfection no matter how democratic is the country. The consolidation stage of democracy must continue through reforms to improve democratic quality in order to achieve the broad base and durable legitimacy that marks consolidation . The quality of democracy as discussed by Larry Diamond and Leonardo Morlino should be freedom, the rule of law, accountability, responsiveness, equality, participation, transparency, competition and the effectiveness of representation . If democracy is not consolidated, it becomes fragile and gives room for the continuation of authoritarianism.

Whereas when we talk of human rights, a conception that draws heavily from the philosophy of John Lock, the focus of this paper will be on civil liberties such as freedom of the press, assembly, association, religion, and respect for the rule of law. After World War 11, international human rights were codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). However, the origin of human rights can be held to be traceable to the creation of man and the right to life accorded him by God while the inherent nature of these rights is one of the many qualities that God has given to man . However, as Osita Eze argues, "Any inquiry into the concept of human rights is bound to generate controversy as to its exact meaning, its material scope and its relevance to social organization and change" . Human rights are universal as they belong to all in every human society. These rights are not predicated on colour, culture or ideology. They do not differ with geography or history, political or economic system or state of societal developments. Human rights are rights and not merely aspirations or assertions of the good. To call them 'rights' implies that they are claims 'as of right' on the society, and not against the society. The idea of rights implies entitlement on the holder in a moral order under a moral law to be translated into and confirmed under the legal order of a political society .

It is therefore not surprising that the liberal conventional conception of human rights has remained individual oriented and centered. It is also predicated on a fragmentation of rights into the political, the economic, the social and the cultural. "Adherence to the concepts of human rights and democracy had since been recognized as a veritable means of achieving peace, stability and development in the world. At present, efforts are being intensified by various individuals, regional and international organizations as well as non-governmental bodies to internationalize and globalize the campaigns for promotion of human rights and democracy with a view to eradicating all forms of oppressive regimes in all human societies" . I therefore argue that the tenets of democracy and human rights are complementary concepts, of which the objective is the attainment of a better society where everyone can achieve his or her potentials without any constrain or hindrance under a rule of law and political order.

Civil society is seen as a public ethical community of free and equal citizens under a legally defined system of rule. Larry Diamond defines civil society as the realm of organized social life that is open, voluntary self-generating, at least partially self supporting, autonomous from the state, and bounded by a legal order or set of shared rule . Sometimes it is hard to separate civil society from the state, as the state and civil society are often intertwined. However, when we look at civil society that should be autonomous, there is that need to separate it from the state and political parties and make it vibrant without interference or control. It is distinct from "society" in general in that it involves citizens who express their interests, passions, preferences, and ideas, exchange information, achieve collective goals and make demands on the state. All this allows to improve the structure and functioning of the state, and to hold state officials accountable .

The emergence of civil society is inextricably linked to the interrelated changes in the modern-legal rational state, the economy and the forms of social organizations. The idea of civil society came as a way of facilitating the growth of private enterprise, and to help ensure that the state does not suffocate the economy. The middle class that emerged out of the success of capitalism came to serve as counter-hegemonic force on state power . As the concept of 'democratic governance' has become increasingly prominent in the literature on development, the buzzword 'civil society' has become a key element of the post military zeitgeist in the developing world. As increasing attention is paid to popular participation, transparency, accountability, and reducing the size of the state, the important role of civil society can no longer be ignored . Civil society is viewed from this perspective as a conglomerate of voluntary associations not only seeking to influence the state, but also championing the cause of its members either for political or economic goods. Some of these associations represent social movements, which enjoy broad popular support and arise out of social and political participation.

Civil society is therefore, seen as the unarmed organized civilian populace, which includes peasants, commercial farmers, artisans, labourers, as well as professionals such as medical doctors, lawyers and journalists, and businessmen. It is often argued that the survival of democracy is linked to a vibrant civil society, which leads to democratic empowerment. The democratic empowerment of people must be achieved through the building of a civil society that embraces in its institutions and practices a wide range of human rights, but especially civil and political rights. For workers, it would involve the right to organize a union and protest, and for the citizens in general, it might be the right to form political parties and demand for their rights as citizens. "When civil society functions well, it can champion government reforms, confront corruption, advocate respect for human rights, and promote and defend democratic processes and institutions" .

To illustrate the strategies used by social and political human rights organizations in Nigeria, I shall be using the eight-stage model of Bill Moyer. Attention will be focused on the ways in which these organizations "expand on [their] success, focus on other demands, promote new issues, and most importantly, move beyond reform to social change. A number of tasks are required to ensure that the victory remains a reality and that it serves as a launch-pad for expanding the success to new levels and areas" . This eight stages model enables activists to identify the particular stage their social movement has reached, celebrate successes achieved by completing previous stages, and create effective strategies, tactics, and programs for completing the current stage and moving on to the next. As they follow this process, activists are able to develop strategies to achieve short-term goals that are part of the long long-term evolution of their ultimate objective.

There are several steps that social movements should take to maintain momentum and cohesion in their movement towards democratization. These steps include, but are not limited to, the movement playing a watchdog role, guarding against backlash, capitalizing on the power and momentum gained by their achievements, focusing on meeting other demands of their supporters, promoting the new social consciousness, raising new issues and finally building and maintaining these cultural and structural changes.

First, the 'watchdog role' spoken of means the movement engaged in a struggle for democracy and must ensure that governments stands up to its responsibility to the people by providing the political goods, and if the government fails to do so, the movement must speak out and defend the tenets of democracy. A movement's successes act as a wake-up call to the established political and social order of the country. The increased social-political pressure from outsider groups vying for change to the established order causes conservatives or right wing elements to launch vigorous counter-attacks to roll back the gains made by the movement. Second, guarding against backlash either from the inside of the movement or the outside of the movement is important to maintain the movement's integrity. Damage control also stops negative propaganda, and aids in the proselytizing of the movement's main message to other outsider groups sympathetic to the cause. Third, the movement needs to capitalize on the power and momentum it has created to expand the goals that have already been achieved with the objective to complete the transition (decision) stage. These follow-up efforts are primarily carried out by professional opposition organizations and by activists in the reformer role. Fourth, the movement needs to focus on achieving other demands that are strategically appropriate towards their overall objectives. These include the rule of law, institutional performance and functional democracy. Fifth, promoting new social consciousness, new issues, and new social movements is important in maintaining the freshness of the movement.

Last, social movements need to go beyond merely achieving specific and immediate reforms, though these are indeed important. Social movements also need to consciously build towards fundamental philosophical and structural changes. This task can be accomplished by increasing the awareness of people and empowering them to become life-long agents of change. Citizen-based democracy creates ongoing grassroots action organizations and networks, broadening the analysis, issues, and goals of all social movements. Such movements advocate alternatives and a cultural worldview or paradigm shift develops consistent with the transformation from the growth and prosperity era to an era of ecological sustainability and justice .

Political History of Nigeria: Military and Civilians

The British colonized Nigeria when it was given the political and economic mandate in the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 during the scramble and partitioning of Africa. It became known as Nigeria in 1914, when Sir Frederick Lugard, the first colonial governor-general, merged the protectorate of Northern Nigeria, the colony, and protectorate of Southern Nigeria into the country it is today. The name Nigeria came from the words "Niger- Area". Nigeria gained flag independence on October 1, 1960, from the British colonial rule and became the Federal Republic of Nigeria on October 1963. As it is well known by political historians, Nigeria had one of the longest military rules in Africa that was characterized by coups and counter coups. As described by Rotimi Suberu and Larry Diamond, "Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and one of the world's most deeply divided societies, has trodden a complex, turbulent and contradictory political trajectory since gaining independence from Britain in 1960" .

Nigeria's post-independence political history may be demarcated into five broad moments. The first phase began from October 1960, which was the period Nigeria attained independence, and elected Tarfawa Balewe, as the prime minister. However, this ended on January 1966, when the military overthrew the civilian government in a bloody coup that ended the first republic. The second moment started on January 1966, which saw the 13-year military regimes of Generals Aguiyi Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Muritala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, and ended on September 1979, when the military handed power to the civilian. The Second Republic, which was the next phase came again with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the elected civilian president on October 1979 and was terminated by a military coup on December 1983. The fourth phase, which spanned 15 and the half years from 1984 to May 1999, included the military governments of Generals Mohammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sanni Abacha and Abdusallam Abubakar. The current moment that is the fifth is the civilian democratic rule that started under Obasanjo.

Describing the period of the military rule, Abayomi Ferrira said, "The overt motives are the political sing- song that tells the world that the coup d'etat has succeeded, at least, to the point of having armed control of the national broadcasting houses. Usually, the plotters condemn the politicians as inept and corrupt; a catalogue of poor economic and social program performance by the previous power is rendered; these are the colonial elements that sensitize the populace who in neo-colonial Nigeria, are denied the basic rights of modern man. The proclamation usually ends with general promises to salvage the country from decadence, which the overthrown politicians, civil or military have imposed on helpless citizens" . Ferrira points out this radical propagandizing by the new insurgents as a way of maintaining confidence for the new movement as well as the ability of the movement to legitimize its actions . As argued by Cyril Obi:

The military in power was a complex political network driven by two logics: the central control of power over resources, and the control of state power by a small group led by the Commander in Chief. Both logics were antithetical to the notions of sharing power and popular consent. After seizing state power in 1966, the hegemonic faction of the military elite became highly politicized, but more fundamentally, it militarized politics and society. The military as a more cohesive national institution in the absence of a counterweight in terms of national cohesion in civil society, was able through its capture of state power and resources to establish an authoritarian form of governance .

The political instability cannot be blamed on the military alone as other explanation for it is the so- called "political class' who have been greedy, opportunistic, lacking any commitment to democracy, or even to civilian rule, and always ready to conspire with elements of the military to seize power. It sees democracy as means to an end, rather than an end itself. It is believed that the way these politicians plunder the country, like the military, when in power, and their ability to loot or share the spoils of office, always make it easy for the military to seize power. It is also obvious that the British colonial tradition or legacy laid the foundation for exploitation, manipulation, contradictions, divide and rule in the colonized territories that have been maintained by the indigenous bourgeoisie in Nigeria. As described by Obi, "The Nigerian political elites are product of Nigeria's tumultuous political history" . The opportunism of the political elite and the ways it has often manipulated political structures and processes to promote selfish and narrow ends is well known. Two issues are however fundamental, the deep divisions within the elite along personal, ethnic, religious, and factional lines, and the lack of a clear vision or common ideology for a broad social project .

In Nigeria, parties have been building on ethnic lines, which lead to bitter struggle for power. There has always been bitter rivalry between the ruling party and the opposition in the accusation of riggings and electoral manipulations. In the words of Remi Anifowoshe, "if we regard the electoral institution and process as a game, we can conceive of it as being made of rules. To attempt to impose the norms and regulative rules on the competitive model is to create the conditions for stress, violence and stability . This was what happened in Nigeria in 1965 election in which the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group wanted to dominate the political space and the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria resisted violently in what various chroniclers of events of that period have described as a moment of the 'Wild Wild West'. As part of the stratagems to punish what was perceived as betrayal, "operation wetie" was adopted as an effective punitive weapon against those considered quislings. This crisis later culminated in the first military coup of 1966 in Nigeria. It was also the ethnic killings of the Ibos in the Northern cities of Nigeria in 1966 that made the military governor of the then Eastern state of Nigeria, Colonel Emeka Odumegwu- Ojujukwu, to declare the Republic of Biafra. This led to a bitter civil war in Nigeria from July 1967 to January 1970 in which an estimated two million Ibos died. The political class has traditionally resorted to the use of the police, security services and ultimately depends on the armed forces for political survival and relevance. They have been decisively referred to as supporters of "Any Government In Power" (AGIP). This was the case in the second republic and the same pattern during the so-called third republic under General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sanni Abacha.

To comprehend the root causes of the political instability in Nigeria, we have to focus on the basic realities of human existence in Nigeria. The enrichment of the leaders and impoverishment of the majority of the people has been a problem. In all sectors of the Nigerian economy, those who arrange and supervise the commercial and financial transactions earn the greatest amount of wealth. Among those earning the highest amounts of wealth, the ones with the most lucrative incomes are those who politically, administratively and managerially control the commercial and financial transactions or serve as the political brokers of these, using their patron -client networks. These are the real leeches of the Nigerian economy and polity. As noted by Camillia Sandbakken, "[r]ent-seeking through patronage and corruption has been a salient feature of Nigerian politics since independence, and has been exacerbated by petroleum wealth. Under Babangida and Abacha, corruption became 'the art of government itself'. Some estimate that 'over $110 billion has been stolen from the national treasury' since independence" . This kind of scenario impoverishes the majority, it has always created resentment, confusion, and insecurity at all levels of the economy and political system. In general, when political historians analyze the history of Nigeria in context, we must conclude that the worst political upheavals in Nigeria's history, and the greatest threats to the country's corporate existence, have occurred under military, rather than civilian rule.

Origins of Nigeria's Students' Movement

In determining the factors responsible for the success of democratization in Nigeria, it is inevitable that one has to underline the immense contributions of the students at that time and posit that the history of Nigeria is not complete without an account of the historic role played by the students. The involvement of the students' movement predates independence as it was actively involved in the process of decolonization. Between 1925 and 1952, the politics of decolonization was dominated by the activities of West African students studying in Britain. Organized under the umbrella of the West African Students' Union, the students actively campaigned against continuous colonial economic exploitation, political repression, racism and the development of social inequality in the West African sub-region. They established a powerful news magazine with the title 'WASU'. In it, they articulated the political and cultural concerns of the Africans at home. In addition, they undertook public enlightenment sessions such as discussion groups, public lectures and conferences designed to influence political thinking within the British political parties and spur activism at home.

Apart from WASU, the 1944 King's college strike remains a memorable milestone in the struggle of Nigerian students. The strike had nationwide political repercussions, which was due to over-reaction of the British colonial government. The students went on strike because of "bad food and unhealthy accommodation" . Rather than attend to their legitimate demands, the colonial authorities arrested the entire body of striking students. The political parties and trade union swiftly denounced the high-handedness, which was by then actively involved in the struggle for decolonization. This, therefore, spurred the students into determined political activism towards independence. When the then Tafawa Balewa government wanted to sign a defence pact immediately after independence with Britain in 1961, the University of Ibadan students protested against it, arguing that this would allow Britain to have a military base in Nigeria. The vehement opposition posed by the students led the government to abandon the idea.

There have been other notable struggles by the students but the most important turning point was the 1989 anti-SAP protest, when Nigerians could no longer tolerate military government, which they saw as an aberration. Then the civil society was very weak. Furthermore, the government had suppressed any form of labour movement by hijacking the unions, thus, undermining the influence and power of union leadership. State sponsorship of labour programs and activities led to unaccountability in the rank -and- file of labour unions, and made the labour centre a veritable channel of patronage. The only group that could speak out then was the students' movement, which stood out as the only credible [mouthpiece] of repressed Nigerians. In order to silence the student's opposition and criticisms, the government promptly outlawed and banned any form of student's activism and movement in 1986. The students' movement did not recognize the purported ban and refused to accept any idea of banning a democratic organization committed to democracy and good governance. In 1978, the Obasanjo- led military government made a similar move by banning Nigerian Union of Students (NUNS), but the organization came out stronger, with its current name, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

What is evident is that an attempt to silence the students' movement was not only unsuccessful but also allowed for a stronger and more sympathetic body of supporters. The success of the students' movement can be attributed to its vibrancy, especially within the organization structure and student cadres who were thoroughly grounded in Marxist perspective and anti- imperialist thought that gave the movement its philosophical and political momentum. The agenda for the students' movement was democracy and good governance. On the national level, the government was pursuing the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which was part of the policies of International Monetary Funds (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) that allowed the government to commercialize education and removal of social subsidies like health and other services, which the students saw as a right but not a privilege. It was described as a wild goose chase and there was no commitment to democracy as promised by Babangida. The combination of basic living conditions when joined with a lack of freedom takes on a life of its own. These galvanized the students under the auspices of NANS to protest against SAP in May 1989. The effects of the protest made the government to come out with a transition program that would lead to democracy and the election of Chief M.K.O.Abiola as the Nigerian President in 1993 that was annulled.

Origins of Nigeria's Human Rights Organizations

The origins of human rights organizations can be traced to late 1980s but the real struggle for democracy and good governance is linked to the student struggle of 1989 when some eminent Nigerians led by Dr. Beko Ransome-kuti, Femi Ojodu, lawyers Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana, Clement Nwankwo, Osagie Obayuwanna and others, started the idea. Numbers and membership was a problem; fortunately, they were able to recruit cadres from the student movement after the 1989 students' anti SAP protest. With this, they were able to create strong institutional structures, with narrowly defined mandates and internal staff structures as well as program plans. Their commitments were to challenge the government human rights abuses, ensure the termination of military rule and restoration of democracy.

The first human rights organization was the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), which was established in 1987, with its mandate on the defence and expansion of human rights and civil liberties. The pioneer president was Olisa Agbakoba, and what CLO does is to investigate human rights abuses and campaigns through litigation, publications and communications on behalf of people whose rights have been abused. It reports on prison conditions, police brutality and publishes annual reports on human rights situation in Nigeria. The organization has been very active on human rights education and seminars on rights issues. It produces a monthly journal called 'LIBERTY'.

The Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) was formed in April 1989, in response to the detention of the indefatigable and committed trade unionist, Femi Aborishade, who was held under the obnoxious State Security Detention of Person, under Decree No. 2 of 1984, set up by General Mohammadu Buhari, the then Head of State of Nigeria. Late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti was the first president and its activities include rendering legal aid and assistance to indigent victims of human rights violations, human rights campaigns and education encompassing workshops, seminars and publications. It produces a monthly newsletter called 'VICTIMS' and annual reports on human rights violations in Nigeria.

Constitutional Rights Projects was set up in 1990, under the leadership of Clement Nwankwo. The organization's aims are to ensure that Nigerian legislation conforms with international standards; to monitor institutions whose activities impact on the rights of citizens; and to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses. The research staff carries out research projects and the litigation staff is responsible for the legal cases. It has conducted campaigns, held seminars and addressed the issues of application of bail and freedom of expression, the administration of justice, and police practices. It publishes a journal and a newsletter in addition to a number of full-length human rights reports .

Following the national students' protest of May 1989, there was a conscious effort to coalesce and end military governance in Nigeria. These organizations alongside NANS, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA, Lagos Branch), and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), later formed the coalition known as the National Consultative Forum (NCF), in 1990. Frontline activist and lawyer, the late Chief Alao Aka- Bashorun, led the NCF at inception. The NCF in the second quarter of 1990 dared the military regime of Gen. Babangida, by organizing a public meeting; the 'National Conference' to debate the future of Nigeria. The conference attracted a wide representation from across a broad spectrum of Nigerian society. Feeling threatened, the military regime on the eve of the conference, announced that the meeting was illegal and that all those who attended it risked a five-year jail term. Despite this, and the sealing of the site of the national conference by the agents of the military regime, many were at this venue of the historic conference. The organizers of the conference were picked up for questioning by the police, which led to the abortion of the conference.

1990 and 1991 saw the emergence of more human rights organizations such as the Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Funds (GFSF), and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Following the aborted national conference organized by the NCF, the forum transitioned into an organized political movement, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), on November 11, 1991, under the leadership of late Beko Ransome-Kuti, and late Chima Ubani, as the General Secretary. It had 13 founding affiliates' organizations that included the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), National Association of Nigerian students (NANS), National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL), Women in Nigeria, (WIN), and Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).

The aims of the CD were many. Primarily they wanted the restoration of the sovereignty of the Nigerian people to self-determination: the right to choose a system of governance, who should govern them and the process through which they would be governed. Second, they wanted the right of the people to form their own parties without interference, as well as the termination of military rule. The fourth goal was the replacement of imposed transitional agencies including the immediate establishment of impartial electoral bodies. While the last two aims encompassed the respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law and the abrogation of decrees, and the sixth, the termination of economic policies that have caused the people hardships, poverty, disease, hunger, unemployment, retrenchment and illiteracy . Whenever reference is made to the history of human rights organizations in Nigeria, it must be emphasized that people like late Chief Gani Fawenhinmi and late Dr. Bayo Kumolu-Johnson played fundamental roles in the quest for democracy and good governance.