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Friday, October 16, 1998 Published at 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK

World: Africa

Soyinka upbeat on Nigeria's future

Wole Soyinka speaking at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos on Friday

Nigeria's best known political dissident, the poet Wole Soyinka, says the country has turned the corner towards democracy.

Hilary Andersson: Soyinka's return a victory for both the government and the opposition
Mr Soyinka was speaking in Lagos in his first public address since returning from four years in exile on Wednesday.

"The era of subterfuge is over," he said. "The people have been denied the right to a part in the national state for too long."

The Nobel literature laureate criticised the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha.

Mr Soyinka fled Nigeria in 1994 after being forbidden from travelling by Gen Abacha, who died suddenly in June.

[ image: General Abubakar: Pledges handover to civilian rule in May]
General Abubakar: Pledges handover to civilian rule in May
His return to Nigeria is seen as an expression of confidence in the promise by the country's military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar to restore democracy.

Addressing cheering university students and academics, Mr Soyinka urged Nigerians to push for political changes which would allow the country's four main regions to collect and distribute their own revenues.

'We need to repair the cracks'

The poet, speaking in Lagos, compared the country to a house riddled with cracks.

He said: "If the house we occupy develops cracks we have a number of choices.

"Our choices are governed by the level of deterioration ... and not all of them need tearing down the building."

He said centralisation was the bane of Nigeria and called for a national conference which would give self-determination to the country's many ethnic groups.

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