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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK


Nigeria returns to Commonwealth

General Abubakar was praised for Nigeria's return to democracy

Nigeria is set to return to the Commonwealth on 29 May - the day on which the country's new civilian government assumes power - ending three and a half years of isolation for Africa's most populous nation.

Barnaby Mason reports: "The lifting of Nigeria's suspension became inevitable"
Nigeria was suspended from the 54-nation body in November 1995 when its head of state, Sani Abacha, refused to commute death sentences on nine minority rights activists, including author Ken Saro Wiwa.

The Commonwealth subsequently drew up plans for a range of other sanctions, but none was put into effect, partly because of splits within the Commonwealth itself.

Last year, Nigeria began a return to democracy, prompting the Commonwealth to look at its reinstatement. This February, presidential elections ended 15-years of military rule.

'Immediate recommendation'

The eight-nation Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), set up to investigate human rights abuses in member states with military governments, unanimously decided on Thursday to lift the suspension.

CMAG chairman and Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge said: "CMAG decided to immediately recommend to Commonwealth heads of government that Nigeria's suspension from membership of the association be lifted."

[ image: Obasanjo: Due to take office in May]
Obasanjo: Due to take office in May
Mr Mudenge said the group was "convinced" that Nigeria had met all the conditions for the sanction to be removed.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku will now send a letter to all member governments asking them to agree to end the suspension on 29 May, when President-elect General Olusegun Obasanjo is scheduled to take office.

The decision to recommend lifting Nigeria's suspension, was welcomed by the country's foreign ministry as "a vindication of the efforts of the government to make Nigeria take its rightful place in the international community."

The move also appears to be another step towards Nigeria's rehabilitation into the international community after many years as a pariah state under a succession of military rulers.

'No more military regimes'

CMAG said despite deficiencies, Nigeria's February elections had been free and fair. The group also praised the present military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar for his "clear commitment" to introducing a civilian government since he came to power last year.

He had also been instrumental in "restoring Nigeria's standing in the Commonwealth and wider international community", CMAG said.

General Abubakar organised a series of polls which culminated in the election of General Obasanjo.

Mr Mudenge said as a result of Commonwealth efforts, there were no more military regimes among its members, but there was still a need to monitor human rights.

"Now that we have successfully seen off military regimes we are looking at other aspects ... and seeing how we can promote them and monitor them," he said.

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