Disappointment in Nigeria

October 07, 1995

NIGERIA WILL be more isolated in the world community than ever. Hopes had been raised that its dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, would use the 35th anniversary of independence on Oct. 1 to grant reforms leading to democracy. He used the occasion, instead, to stonewall.

Rather than implement the 1993 election by bringing Chief Moshood K. O. Abiola out of prison as interim president; rather than institute speedy and fair new elections; rather than hand over to caretakers, General Abacha claimed power for three more years.

General Abacha made one concession to his critics in Africa, the Commonwealth of Nations and the United States by commuting the sentences of some 40 alleged coup plotters sentenced to death or long prison terms. He did not free them, but at least spared execution. Mr. Abiola was specifically kept in prison. Two newspaper groups were allowed to resume publishing.

With some 100 million people, ethnic diversity, a tradition of education, a record of commercial and intellectual achievement and abundant oil among other resources, Nigeria should be Africa's greatest country. It is, instead, plundered by rulers, with power restricted to military officers of Muslim religion and northern tribe, and much of the entrepreneurial flare pushed into criminal activity.

The only way to harness Nigeria's resources to uplift its people is to respect their will and to share power through democratic formulas, ending the paranoia of frightened rulers. Armed insurrection is no answer, if Liberia and Sierra Leone are to be taken as examples. Disintegration of the huge country is the danger into which General Abacha leading his country. It would not be a solution.

The world community should keep up the pressure on Nigeria's rulers to give way gracefully to the will of their people.

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