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Wednesday, December 2, 1998 Published at 10:40 GMT

World: Africa

Era of coups over - military leader

Nigerians do not yet enjoy full human rights, says UN envoy Sorabjee

Nigeria's military ruler has told his fellow soldiers to be prepared to relinquish power for ever once a civilian government has been installed next year.

In a strongly-worded address to the armed forces and police, General Abdulsalami Abubaker said coup-making had long ceased to be fashionable and had undermined the cohesion of Nigeria's army.

"Whatever might have been the merits of military interventions in earlier years, there is now overwhelming evidence that the coup-maker no longer enjoys any acceptance," he said.

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"It is not in the national interest to continually intervene in the business of political governance."

Since Nigeria's first coup in 1966, the country has been ruled by soldiers for all but four years.

BBC Lagos Correspondent Barnaby Phillips says the message behind General Abubakar's address was that Nirgeria was no longer an international pariah, but that if the army were to intervene again, it could expect to be isolated once more by the rest of the world.

Under the transition timetable, local elections on Saturday are to be followed by state elections in January and national assembly and presidential elections in February. General Abubakar says he will hand over power on 29 May.

Envoy praises changes

General Abubakar's address came only hours after a UN special envoy to Nigeria, Mr Soli Sorabjee, praised him for his sincerity and seriousness in planning to restore the country to civilian rule.

Soli Sorabjee: "Encouraging signs"
Mr Sorabjee said Nigeria's government was improving its attitude to human rights but stressed much still needed to be done.

Mr Sorabjee was speaking at the end of a nine-day visit to Nigeria, on the basis of which he is to make a report to the UN Human Rights Commission.

Mr Sorabjee, invited to Nigeria by General Abubakar, said he had noticed a change in the country's political atmosphere, and that during his stay he had been able to meet whoever he wanted and go wherever he pleased.

The special envoy said the Nigerian Government's willingness to accept criticism was in stark contrast with the Abacha government, which did not even allow Mr Sorabjee to visit the country.

Our correspondent says that the generally positive tone of Mr Sorabjee's remarks will come as a fillip to the Nigerian Government.

Ayo Obey: Pitfalls will make it difficult
However, many of the repressive decrees which the military has used to rule Nigeria are still in place, despite government pledges that they will soon be repealed.

The president of the Civil Liberties Organisation said General Abubakar was creating "pitfalls" for any incoming civilian government.

"By rushing through his transition and trying to do things like enforce a constitution on the country and so on, instead of leaving these things for a civilian government ... it's going to be quite difficult," said Ayo Obey.

Borders to close for poll

Barnaby Phillips: "A stark contrast with the previous government"
General Abubakar has also signed into law four decrees paving the way for the planned transition and guaranteeing the independence of the electoral commission.

On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls in local elections, the first in a series of votes due to culminate in a presidential election next February.

The Nigerian Ministry of Internal Affairs says the country will close its land borders from 1200 local time on Friday to prevent what the ministry called fraudulent politicians bringing in aliens to vote in the election.

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