Lenient measures for Nigeria

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The Independent Online
Commonwealth ministers yesterday agreed a softly-softly statement on Nigeria, intending to nudge the regime towards democracy, writes Steve Crawshaw. Theoretically, the agreed statement was to be an iron fist in a velvet glove. But the velvet was more obvious.

A special "action group" of eight Commonwealth foreign ministers, meeting in London, spelled out the terms of Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth last month, and announced possible future measures to be taken against the military regime.

Britain was "quite content" with the statement, officials said. "Everything now depends on the Nigerians. They must show that they are serious about moving towards democracy."

The group agreed that five ministers should visit Nigeria, perhaps next month, "to pursue dialogue with the Nigerian government at the highest level". The group is due to meet again in April "to review progress".

Options still on the table, and listed in the statement, include freezing the assets of Nigerian leaders and their families; action to prevent new investment, and "partial trade embargoes, for instance oil sanctions".

Stan Mudenge, the Zimbabwean foreign minister and chairman of the group, emphasised that yesterday's declaration had been adopted unanimously. But this was because the statement represented, in effect, the lowest common denominator. Those who signed up included the representatives of Malaysia and Ghana. Both countries failed to vote for a recent United Nations motion critical of Nigeria.

Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth last month, one day after the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. But there is little enthusiasm for following that action, even though Nigeria has shown little desire to change. An opposition protest in Lagos this week was banned, and dispersed by riot police with tear gas.