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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria Commonwealth ban lifted

General Abubakar was praised as a "true patriot and statesman"

Commonwealth leaders have agreed to lift Nigeria's suspension from the organisation on 29 May, the day on which the military will hand over power to a civilian government.

The BBC's David Jamison: "Nigerians are now pinning their hopes on their new leader"
Nigeria was suspended from the 54-nation body in 1995 after it executed nine minority rights activists, including the writer, Ken Saro Wiwa.

However now that the country has begun its return to democracy, Commonwealth heads of government have agreed to end Nigeria's isolation, said Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

The BBC's Rageh Omaar: "Nigeria has come a long way"
He said: "I am delighted that an unfortunate episode in Nigeria-Commonwealth relations will now come to an end and that Nigeria is resuming its rightful place in the Commonwealth."

"This fresh start is a victory for democracy, a victory for Nigeria - and a victory for a fundamental principle of the Commonwealth," Chief Anyaoku added.

'Saddening' isolation

BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle says many Nigerians found their country's isolation by the international community a deeply saddening experience. He says they will see the return to the Commonwealth as a decisive step in the right direction.

[ image: Chief Anyaoku said Nigeria's fresh start was a
Chief Anyaoku said Nigeria's fresh start was a "victory for democracy"
The Commonwealth was prompted to look at Nigeria's reinstatement after the country embarked on its return to democracy last year - culminating in February in presidential elections to end 15 years of military rule.

In April, the eight-nation Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), set up to investigate human rights abuses in member states with military governments, unanimously recommended that the suspension be lifted.

Chief Anyaoku then sent a letter to all member governments asking them to agree to lift the suspension on 29 May, the day on which the military regime formally hands over power to newly elected President General Olusegun Obasanjo.

A Commonwealth spokesman said that all member governments had indicated their consent.

'Deep commitment'

Chief Anyaoku also praised outgoing military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar for "the determination and deep commitment" he had demonstrated in the transition to democracy.

"History will remember him (General Abubakar) as a true patriot and statesman," the Commonwealth secretary-general said.

[ image: General Obasanjo is due to take power at the end of May]
General Obasanjo is due to take power at the end of May
The Commonwealth remained ready to assist Nigeria in consolidating its democracy, Chief Anyaoku said in a statement.

The Commonwealth secretary-general is expected to attend the inauguration ceremony of the new Nigerian president in the capital Abuja.

Our correspondent says the return of Nigeria to the Commonwealth and to the wider international community marks a significant break with many years of harsh military rule during which Nigeria was treated as a pariah state by the West.

However the end of military rule is not necessarily the end of Nigeria's problems, according to our correspondent.

He says the country is undergoing a severe economic crisis partly because of the low price of its main export, crude oil, and crippling social problems, such as widespread corruption, still need to be addressed.

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