UK presses Nigeria over secret trial of ex-leader

Britain again expressed concern yesterday at the situation in Nigeria, where the former leader Olusegun Obasanjo and more than 20 other military and civilian figures are being tried secretly by the military regime of General Sani Abacha, writes Edward Poultney.

The Foreign Office said consultations were taking place with the Commonwealth, the European Union and others after appeals for action against the regime. The US and Russia have both criticised it. Reports that the military tribunal has begun to sentence the detainees have not been confirmed. Gen Obasanjo is the only military leader to have restored democracy to Nigeria, returning it to civilian rule after elections in 1979. But the military seized power again in 1983 and Nigeria has been ruled since then by generals. The deteriorating situation raises questions about its Commonwealth membership.

The Abacha regime has shrugged off protests so far, but diplomatic sources said suspension from the Commonwealth could help to increase domestic pressure on the generals.