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Thursday, March 4, 1999 Published at 11:31 GMT


World: Africa

Nigeria frees coup plotters

President-elect General Obansanjo was detained for three years

Nigeria's outgoing military government has granted state pardons to 95 people jailed for allegedly plotting coups against the former leader General Sani Abacha.

Vice-Admiral Mike Akhigbe said that all those involved were to be released "immediately".


Barnaby Phillips reports on the late night meeting of the Provisional Ruling Council
"We believe in the spirit of national reconciliation and therefore we want to leave our ugly past behind," Admiral Akhigbe said at the end of a meeting of the ruling military council in the capital Abuja.

After General Abacha's death in June 1998, the Nigerian military government - led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar - tried to ease political tensions by freeing many political detainees and embarked on moves to restore civil rule.

Nigeria elections
The BBC Correspondent in Nigeria, Barnaby Phillips, says the releases became inevitable following the victory of former General Olusegun Obasanjo in last Saturday's presidential election.

Mr Abasanjo had himself been convicted of coup plotting and was detained for three years. He always maintained his innocence. Some of those being released were jailed with him.

He told his party on Wednesday that "no Nigerian who should not go to prison will go to prison under my administration".

Abacha deputy included

The most prominent of the prisoners pardoned is General Abacha's former deputy, Lieutenant-General Oladipo Diya. He had been sentenced to death but that was later commuted to life imprisonment.

The 95 also include

  • Niran Malolu, editor of a Lagos newspaper the Diet
  • Major-General Abdulkareem Adisa, ex-Works Minister
  • Major-General Tajudeen Olarenwaju, former Communications Minister
  • Colonel Lawan Gwadabe, ex-state governor.

The government said charges against one officer, Colonel Ibrahim Yakassai, were still being investigated.

Coups 'faked'

Since the death of General Abacha, Nigerian newspapers have said the coup plots were faked by the dictator's security agents in order to get rid of his opponents.

Those detained at the time included not only army officers but also journalists from opposition media and pro-democracy activists.

Some of those imprisoned have since died in jail. They have now been pardoned posthumously.

Charges against people on a wanted list from a bloody coup attempt in 1990 have also been dropped.





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