Writers put new pressure on Nigeria

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The Independent Online
Doris Lessing and William Boyd, the novelists, and Wole Soyinka, the Nobel prize- winning Nigerian playwright, are leading a new British-based campaign to keep Nigeria out of the Commonwealth.

The Ogoni Freedom Campaign was announced yesterday in London to mark the first anniversary of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the executed Ogoni oil protester.

The international outcry over Mr Saro-Wiwa's death led to Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth. Later this month, Commonwealth ministers will visit the West African country to assess whether it has made sufficient improvements to its human rights record to justify re-admission.

Tim Nunn, chairman of the new campaign, said: "The conditions are not right for a re- instatement of Nigeria into the Commonwealth. Conditions for the Ogoni people are not improving, they are deteriorating."

Mr Saro-Wiwa, along with eight friends, was executed after a trial by a tribunal appointed by the Nigerian military government. He had angered the Nigerian authorities by setting up the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, which campaigned against oil exploration in the Niger delta by Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company.

As international protests began yesterday to mark the anniversary of the executions, Mr Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa, said: "My father had the opportunity to live comfortably outside Nigeria but he did not. He chose to live the path that he knew would lead ultimately to his death."

The Ogoni Freedom Campaign is particularly concerned about the fate of the Ogoni 19, a group of oil protesters held in jail in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Two of the men are reported to have almost lost their sight, living in squalid conditions.

Ledum Mitee, who shared a prison cell with Mr Saro-Wiwa for more than a year, said the 19 could soon die. "The indication is that the Nigerian dictatorship is feeling that the international pressure is dying down," he said.