Democrats unite against Nigerian regime

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The Independent Online
Oslo (Agencies) - Nigerian pro-democracy groups said yesterday they had decided to join forces under an umbrella organisation to oppose Nigeria's military government.

At secret weekend talks in Oslo and Johannesburg, 13 organisations agreed to call themselves the United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN) and voted to strive peacefully to restore civilian rule in the west African country.

"We, the pro-democracy organisations . . . unanimously agreed to work together under a common platform, United Democratic Front of Nigeria, to effectively harness and facilitate our activities toward the restoration of democracy in Nigeria," the UDFN said in a statement. The meeting was chaired in Oslo by Nigerian dissident Wole Soyinka who won the Nobel literature prize in 1986.

"The main point is that the military regime's opponents must speak with one voice, especially in political matters," Mr Soyinka told the Norwegian state radio network NRK.

Nigeria was thrown into political turmoil after the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida annulled a democratic presidential election in June1993, won by Chief M K O Abiola.

The Babangida administration imposed an interim government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan with General Sani Abacha as vice president. Gen Abacha seized full power in November 1993 and restored full military rule.

President-elect Abiola has been in detention since June 1994 on charges of treason for claiming his mandate.

"Abacha's rule has been characterised by institutionalised anarchy, corruption, economic decline and gross human rights abuses. Therefore, the limited sanctions imposed on Nigeria by the US and the European Union have not been effective in forcing Abacha and his regime to bow to the wishes of the people . . . or to respect the basic standards of international behaviour," the UDFN statement said.

The group set out 10 resolutions rejecting what it called the Abacha dictatorship, calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, the implementation of an oil embargo and for all governments and financial institutions to halt debt rescheduling and new loans to Nigeria.

The UDFN will reassemble in eight weeks "somewhere in west Africa" to write the group's formal constitution, said a spokesman at the Norwegian Council for Africa, which hosted the secret talks.