Human Rights Watch names Nigerian party officials

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ABUJA, Oct 18 (Reuters) Human Rights Watch named four members of Nigeria's ruling party today who it said should face criminal investigation over their role in sponsoring armed thugs to rig elections.

Nigeria held elections in April but political violence and vote-rigging were so widespread that international observers described them as ''not credible''.

President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to power through the tainted polls, has promised electoral reforms but Human Rights Watch said this was not enough to stop violence.

''If President Yar'Adua is serious about reform and his stated commitment to the rule of law, he will begin by launching vigorous investigations and prosecutions of the officials behind these criminal acts,'' the rights group said in a statement.

It named People's Democratic Party members Peter Odili, the former governor of oil-producing Rivers state, Lamidi Adedibu, a political kingmaker in Oyo state, and brothers Chris and Andy Uba, who have played a dominant political role in Anambra state.

''There is more than sufficient evidence to launch criminal investigations ... that would be far more useful than yet another set of recommendations from an electoral reform panel,'' Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said at a news conference.

The four politicians could not be reached for comment.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and top oil producer, returned to civilian rule in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous army dictatorship.

Human Rights Watch, in a report published last week, said Nigeria was a ''hollow semblance'' of a democracy where corrupt politicians backed by unelected ''godfathers'' used hired thugs to win and abuse public office.

Odili, who lost immunity from prosecution when his eight-year tenure as governor ended on May 29, has been trying to obtain a court order preventing anti-corruption police from investigating him.

Rivers state's annual income ballooned to well over 1 billion dollars during his time in office thanks to rising oil prices, but Human Rights Watch says the windfall was squandered and stolen. The group also blamed Odili for violence plaguing Rivers.

''He was a pioneer in sponsoring and arming gangs to rig elections. They have now got out of control,'' said Chris Albin-Lackey, Human Rights Watch researcher on Nigeria.

Gang fighting in the Rivers state capital, Port Harcourt, killed dozens in August and the city is under a night curfew.

REUTERS RSA RAI2036

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