LETTER:We must not neglect Nigeria

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The Independent Online
From Ms Elizabeth Mckean

Sir: Monday 12 June marks the second anniversary of the annulled presidential elections in Nigeria. Since then, many opponents of the military regime have been arrested, including the elected President, Chief Abiola. A constitutional conference, supposedly set up to steer Nigeria back to civilian rule, voted in April for indefinite military rule. Hardly surprising, as most of the conference members were appointed by the regime.

There is increasing concern about the risks of Nigeria descending into conflict. Political, religious, economic and regional tensions are rising and have prompted observers to express their concerns. The respected US organisation TransAfrica has warned that Nigeria is flirting with civil war. Meanwhile, the Nigerian government disregards international human rights law and remains vague about transferring power back to civilians.

Time and again the international community has ignored similar tensions and warnings of impending conflict. When we have responded it has been with too little, too late: Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda have shown this only too clearly. Similar neglect of Africa's most populous country could, in the words of the Rev Jesse Jackson, result in a disaster "50 times worse" than Rwanda.

The June European Council meeting provides an opportunity for Britain to take a leading role in discussing this issue and agreeing action to prevent conflict in Nigeria. After all, when he was in Cape Town, the Prime Minister spoke of the need for "an entirely new effort at preventive diplomacy" in Africa. There is no more deserving case for our efforts for preventive action than Nigeria.

Yours faithfully,



London, WC1

9 June