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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK

World: Africa

Commonwealth sets conditions for Nigeria

Chief Moshood Abiola: four years in detention

Chief Abiola's daughter, Dr Wuru Abiola, talks to the BBC
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Anyaoku, says he has made it absolutely clear to the new Nigerian military ruler, General Abubakar, that his country will remain suspended from the Commonwealth until all political prisoners are released.

He said there also had to be free elections to produce a credible government.

However, Chief Anyaoku, speaking in London after visiting Nigeria, said he had detected a new mood in the country and believed these changes would come about.

Speculation that the remaining political prisoners will be freed shortly was boosted when Nigeria's highest ruling body, the Provisional Ruling Council, met to discuss visits by Chief Anyaoku and by the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Expectations at a peak

[ image: Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku visited Abiola]
Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku visited Abiola
Before his departure Mr Annan announced that the government had agreed to the releases, including that of Chief Moshood Abiola, the man presumed to have won the 1993 presidential election.

All major political decisions have to be ratified by the ruling council, which meets infrequently and only when essential.

The BBC Lagos correspondent says expectations are now at a peak among Nigerians that Chief Abiola's time in detention is soon to end.

Lagos Correspondent Hilary Andersson on the next steps
Chief Anyaoku said he believed that General Abubakar would make an "important and convincing" statement to the nation once widespread consultations were complete - possibly coinciding with the end of the one-month period of mourning for his predecessor, Sani Abacha, next Wednesday.

'No further obstacles'

[ image: Kofi Annan said Nigerian leader Gen Abubakar agreed to the releases]
Kofi Annan said Nigerian leader Gen Abubakar agreed to the releases
Chief Abiola has been detained by the military government since 1994 after the results of the 1993 poll were annulled.

Mr Annan said Chief Abiola had agreed not to press his claim to the presidency - a condition set by the government for his release.

The BBC correspondent says that if the government believes this, there are no further obstacles to freeing him.

Supporters wary

Chief Abiola's supporters have complained that any agreement he has made while in detention has been made under duress, and that once Chief Abiola is freed, he can do what he likes.

Abraham Adesanya: "Cheering news"
But Abraham Adesanya, who is a leading figure in the National Democracy Coalition, Nadeco, was encouraged by the news that Chief Abiola may be released shortly.

"If all the political prisoners are released and the correct things are done - well, it means a bright future for Nigeria," he said. "The correct things are that Abiola should be made the head of the government of national unity and reconciliation."

[ image: Abiola was assumed to have won the annulled 1993 elections]
Abiola was assumed to have won the annulled 1993 elections
Before leaving Nigeria on Thursday, Mr Annan made it clear that the intention of the agreement was not to exclude Chief Abiola from running for the presidency again.

"I hope that when the release comes, it will be unconditional and [Abiola] will be able to participate in politics and run for election as he so chooses," Mr Annan said.

Mr Annan and Chief Emeka were allowed to visit Chief Abiola in a safe house in Abuja on Wednesday - the first independent international figures to see the detained leader in two years.

Quoting Chief Abiola, Mr Annan said that he was not naive enough to expect to leave prison and walk into the presidency.

US delegation to visit

US State Dept Spokesman James Rubin: "facilitate transition to democratic government"
Following the agreement on the release of prisoners, the United States is to send a high-level delegation to Nigeria - continuing international moves to encourage the restoration of democratic civilian rule.

The US State Department welcomed the agreement, which it said could be a key step in the transition to civilian government.

State Department Spokesman James Rubin said the American delegation would meet Nigeria's new leader, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, on Tuesday.

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