The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said yesterday that he hopes for a tough stance on Nigeria, including "actions that go well beyond rhetoric", when Commonwealth leaders meet in New Zealand next week.
Mr Anyaoku said he did not want to prejudice the outcome of the discussions at Auckland. But he described the anouncement this week of the death sentence on the Nigerian writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, as "part of the unfolding tragedy" in Nigeria, and appealed to Nigeria's leader, General Sani Abacha, to save Mr Saro-Wiwa's life.
Mr Anyaoku, a former Nigerian foreign minister, said: "Democracy and development are not alternatives, but rather two sides of the same coin."
Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, said he hoped that the Commonwealth conference would "indicate the very strong values that are necessary to be upheld if Commonwealth membership is to be seen as something which is appropriate".
Wole Soyinka, the Nobel prize-winning Nigerian playwright, has called for the threat of "withdrawal of diplomatic relations and severe economic sanctions" against the military government. There have been calls for the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.
In practice, it is likely that the carrot will be more in evidence than the stick. The Commonwealth's hands are tied, because, as officials point out, it is "not a rule-based organisation". Even South Africa was never kicked out but left of its own accord.
Nigeria is by no means the only Commonwealth offender against human rights. As Mr Anyaoku acknowledged yesterday, in presenting the 1995 Commonwealth Report, Sierra Leone and Gambia also remain under military rule, "with all the consequences for internal tension and human rights".
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