In one of the strongest moves yet to force former military dictators to account for their crimes, three generals who are among the most powerful men in Africa have been threatened with imprisonment if they fail to appear before Nigeria's human rights commission.
The three men facing the commission, which is known as the Oputa Panel, are Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalam Abubakar. The current defence minister, Theophilus Danjuma, has also been threatened with six months' imprisonment.
The Oputa Panel – modelled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission – has been sitting for nearly a year and has heard testimony covering human rights abuses dating back to Nigeria's first military coup in 1966.
The current leader, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who recently came to power in an election in 1999, gave evidence to the panel earlier this year. He was questioned over an arson attack on The Shrine – the Lagos home of the late singer, Fela Kuti – which took place while he was a military head of state in the 1970s.
Late on Wednesday night, Justice Oputa, who chairs the commission, read a ruling live on television in which he stated that "failure to answer a summons made by the commission is an offence punishable by six months' imprisonment".
The three former dictators, especially General Babangida, are still very powerful. General Babangida supported the militarily-manoeuvred civilian election of President Obasanjo in 1999 and is widely tipped as a candidate for future civilian office. General Buhari took power in a 1983 coup and was overthrown in 1985 by General Babangida. General Abubakar led a military transition government after the mysterious death of General Sani Abacha in 1998.