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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria to probe human rights

The death of political prisoner Moshood Abiola sparked riots last year

The new Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has set up a panel to investigate human rights abuses over the past five years.

The panel, to be chaired by a retired supreme court judge, Chukwudifu Oputa, will investigate killings and other violations up until the end of military rule last month.

The panel members are charged with establishing whether human rights abuses were part of "deliberate state policy or the policy of any of its organs, or institutions".

The panel has also been given responsibility for recommending how past injustices can be redressed, as well as suggesting ways to prevent future abuses.

'Mysterious deaths'

Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth as a result of a series of political assassinations, and was only reinstated after the death of the former military ruler, Sani Abacha, last year.

[ image: Ken Saro Wiwa - spokesman of Ogoni people]
Ken Saro Wiwa - spokesman of Ogoni people
In 1995, the minority rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa and eight others were killed.

President Obasanjo himself was among dozens of people imprisoned for an alleged coup plot against General Abacha.

The panel is also to investigate the "mysterious deaths" of several public figures, including Kudirat Abiola, the wife of Chief Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of Nigeria's annulled election in June 1993.

She was shot in her car in Lagos in 1996. Her killers have not been found.

Chief Moshood Abiola died last year in government custody, apparently of natural causes.

Correspondents say it is not clear what action the government will take against those found to have committed such crimes.

But with the allegations laid mostly at the door of the military, the government's action will show how determined it is to deal with the military's past actions.

Anti-corruption measure promised

Mr Obasanjo also promised to introduce an anti-corruption bill to parliament within two weeks.

"This administration will not under any circumstances condone corruption or protect corrupt officers," he said in his first parliamentary address since his inauguration on 29 May.

He also pledged to cut government spending and slash jobs in the bloated civil service.

"We simply cannot sustain this level of expenditure," he said.

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