Mandela guns for Nigerian dictator

ROBERT BLOCK

Johannesburg

The extent to which President Nelson Mandela has dedicated himself to bringing down Nigeria's military ruler, General Sani Abacha, was made clear yesterday in two short sentences. "Abacha is sitting on a volcano," the President told Johannesburg's Sunday Independent. "And I am going to explode it underneath him."

The interview, which was also broadcast on the BBC World Service, was the latest sign that Mr Mandela - stung by criticism that he did not act forcefully enough to stop Nigeria from executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority-rights activists - was now going after Gen Abacha with guns blazing.

It represented a complete about-turn by Mr Mandela, who only a few weeks ago had urged the world not to push the Nigerian military regime into a corner.

Mr Mandela vowed that South Africa would press ahead with its campaign for "strong actions", including oil sanctions, against Nigeria to ensure that democracy was attained in "the shortest possible time".

"What we are now proposing are short and sharp measures which will produce the results Nigerians and the world desire. We are dealing with an illegitimate, barbaric, arrogant, military dictatorship which has murdered activists, using a kangaroo court and using false evidence," he told the newspaper.

At the same time, he rejected criticism by Nigerian opposition leaders and intellectuals that South Africa was to blame for Saro-Wiwa's death. Instead he criticised the Nigerian resistance for being weak and ineffectual, and said the outcome of his campaign to break Gen Abacha ultimately depended on the Nigerians themselves. "It is of no use for Nigerian leaders to shout from abroad and not to ensure that the fires of resistance are burning inside of Nigeria," Mr Mandela said.

He drew direct parallels with the experience of his African National Congress (ANC) fight against successive apartheid governments. "We did not give in because international opinion would not have been mobilised if there was no vigorous and effective resistance movement inside the country. That is what is lacking in Nigeria, and Nigerian leaders that are blaming South Africa and its president are merely diverting attention from their weakness; from their failure to do what all democrats do - to ensure that there are prominent leaders inside the country who are prepared to face the music, and to challenge Abacha."

Mr Mandela also lashed out at the Shell petroleum company for its decision to go ahead with a $4bn (pounds 2.5bn) gas project in Nigeria, despite worldwide calls for the project to be shelved. He said he told Shell executives in Johannesburg last week that South Africa expected the company to suspend the project as a mark of protest.

"And when they hesitated to do so, I warned them that we are going to take action against them in this country, because we can't allow people to think in terms of their gains when the very lives of human beings are involved. That is the extent to which I have gone in this regard."

Mr Mandela has threatened to call for a boycott of Shell in South Africa. Following the meeting, Shell South Africa placed full-page advertisements in the South African press, defending its human-rights record in Nigeria.

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