Just two days after Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in a Port Harcourt prison in an act described by John Major as judicial murder, Britain and Nigeria's other main trading partners resisted pressure for an oil embargo against the military regime that executed him.
In London, the son of the executed writer called for a boycott of Nigerian oil exports. Arriving back in Britain yesterday from the New Zealand summit, Ken Wiwa quoted his father as saying: "Nigerian oil is what sustains the Nigerian military dictators, enabling them to survive."
Mr Major announced a complete British arms embargo on Nigeria, but implicitly acknowledged that the significance of such an embargo will be largely symbolic. The policy on defence sales is already "highly restrictive".
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told BBC TV News last night: "Britain has taken a step in the right direction but we must go further. I want John Major's government to raise to the UN the case for oil sanctions on Nigeria. We should set them quotas on the sale of oil and cut those quotas every time they fail to meet a deadline to restore human rights and democracy."
Shell said yesterday that it had no intention of pulling out of Nigeria, despite threats of an intensified international protest campaign. The company's production of about 300,000 barrels a day in the country represents 14 per cent of its worldwide production of crude oil. Shell said it was still interested in going ahead with a pounds 2.7bn gas investment project, even though the World Bank said it would withdraw its backing for the scheme. However, after Mr Major said he wanted to get in touch with Shell over its planned project, Shell said it would make a decision before the year end over whether to proceed. A Shell International spokesman said: ``We will not take any sudden or unconsidered action. We have a major commitment to the people of Nigeria and the Niger Delta.''
Saro-Wiwa had led a campaign of self-determination for the 500,000-strong Ogoni minority in Nigeria, and he and eight other members of his movement were sentenced to death for the murder of four pro-government Ogoni chiefs, after a trial condemned around the world as a travesty.
The subject of sanctions was hardly discussed during the Commonwealth leaders' weekend discussions at the luxury New Zealand resort of Millbrook, near Queenstown.
The leaders returned from their weekend retreat with a package which spells out what Mr Major called the "ladder of measures" which may be used to keep member countries on the democratic straight and narrow. The package is applicable not just to Nigeria, but to any other country which appears to breach certain norms.
Foreign ministers of eight countries will form an action group, to deal with "serious or persistent violations" of those norms. Nigeria faces expulsion from the Commonwealth within two years unless it undertakes its own reforms.
The Nigerian Foreign Minister, Tom Ikimi, said today that the Commonwealth's decision to suspend his country was discriminatory, unjust and "threatened the very existence of the Commonwealth." The organisation had given itself an "unlimited mandate" for interference in member states. Speaking to journalists at Auckland airport before he left New Zealand, Mr Major indicated his reservations about imposing sanctions on Nigeria: "Would they cause worse unemployment, worse poverty, worse starvation than is already suffered?" However, the Nigerian human rights activist, Innocent Chukwuma, also speaking in Auckland, said of the oil industry: "The proceeds are going into private accounts. It doesn't even get to the people."
By far the biggest importer of Nigerian oil is the United States, but White House sources yesterday said that the US had no plans to enforce any unilateral oil sanctions against Nigeria, though it would be prepared to contemplate participating in United Nations actions to put pressure on the Lagos regime. The European Commission said yesterday it will suspend development co-operation with Nigeria and recall its head of delegation.
Sanctions dilemma, page 10; Mandela under fire, page 11; Leading article, page 20; Lord Melchett, page 20; The Commonwealth after Nigeria, page 21; Miles Kington, page 21
`Lord take my soul'
Saro-Wiwa`s executioners needed five attempts before they succeeded in hanging him, according to newspapers in Lagos.
"Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues," were reported to be his last words. At one point, Saro-Wiwa is said to have asked: "Why are you people treating me like this? Which type of country is this?" Only hours after the death sentences were upheld, nine coffins were moved to Port Harcourt prison.
The junta apparently wanted the executions to take place immediately but found that Port Harcourt, which had held no executions since Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960, did not have the equipment. On Thursday, executioners were flown to Port Harcourt from the northern city of Sokoto to await their task.
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