Nigerian repression `ignored'

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The Independent Online
NIGERIA'S MILITARY rulers have hoodwinked the international community into believing that they are committed to a return to civilian government, one of the country's leading dissidents warned yesterday.

Beko Ransome-Kuti, released in June after three years in detention for alleged treason, warned of the potential for a fresh descent into violence, saying General Abdulsalam Abubakar had already rejected the reforms which would have to precede any transition to democratic elections.

"All the avenues seem closed. I am very pessimistic about the future" he said in an interview with The Independent.

Dr Ransome-Kuti accused western governments of failing to apply sanctions and turning a blind eye to the continued repression in Nigeria for selfish commercial reasons. "They are not concerned about the interests of civilians. As long as their business links are looked after the rest of us can go to the devil," he said.

Prospects for an international oil embargo on Nigeria are remote, in view of American opposition. But Dr Ransome-Kuti said an embargo is the only way to force genuine reform. Limited sanctions were imposed on Nigeria following the execution of the writer and human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995, but these are being applied only half-heartedly, said Dr Ransome-Kuti.

The death last month of Moshood Abiola, Nigeria's best- known political prisoner and the presumed winner of 1993 elections was no accident, said Dr Ransome-Kuti, who himself came close to death in jail.

"I blame the military. Abubakar's government could have released him long before. The death was too beneficial to them to be just an accident. They feared his agenda."

Dr Ransome-Kuti believes the generals are creating the impression that they will relinquish power to lull the international community into complacency. "What we are seeing is a reprieve."

He said General Abubakar is clinging to the discredited constitution fashioned by the former dictator General Sani Abacha and had ruled out Opposition demands for a national conference to pave the way to increased autonomy for rival ethnic groups. Dr Ransome-Kuti said the "apparatus of repression" is still fully in place.

Dr Ransome-Kuti, a brother of the late Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, suffered a series of debilitating illnesses during his solitary confinement for three years. He had been convicted of treason for human rights work on behalf of other political prisoners. He was isolated and denied medical attention or visits until he went on hunger strike. "Even then my daughter was allowed to visit only for a few minutes once a month, surrounded by guards."

Dr Ransome-Kuti is returning to Nigeria this weekend after medical treatment in Los Angeles and London. He intends to regroup human rights and opposition activists, and he is resigned to the possibility that he could be re-arrested. But he fears further violence "There are a lot of angry people around. Eventually, they will want to vent that anger," he said.