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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria's military purges gather pace

The new civilian president is purging the military from the top down

Nigeria's new President Olusegun Obasanjo has announced a second round of dramatic purges of the armed forces, relieving 93 more officers of their posts.

Government Spokesman Doyin Okupe explains the criteria used to retire all these officers
A list published on Thursday retires all soldiers who held political posts in the last 14 years under any of the three previous military regimes, with immediate effect.

Many of them served as ministers or as military governors of the 36 states which comprised the Nigerian Federation.

It follows the forced retirement of around 50 leading members of the former military regime's provisional ruling council since President Obasanjo was sworn in less than two weeks ago.

Sacrifice for democracy

A presidential statement said the dismissals were made with regret and aspersions were not being cast on the integrity of the officers.

Nigeria elections
It went on to say that they were necessary to provide a clean break with the past and had to be seen as some of the sacrifices that are to be made "to ensure the survival of democracy in Nigeria" and the permanent subordination of the Nigerian military to civilian rule.

Those affected by the shake-up include Mohammed Abdallah, the former military chief of staff under General Sani Abacha, whose strong-armed rule turned Nigeria into an international pariah and held up democratic reforms until his death 12 months ago.

Another of those retired was Major-General Patrick Aziza, who presided over a military tribunal that sentenced Obasanjo in 1995 to life in prison - later commuted to 15 years - on charges of plotting to topple late dictator Sani Abacha.

[ image: As a former general President Obasanjo knows the military well]
As a former general President Obasanjo knows the military well
According to the BBC's Nigeria correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, President Obasanjo is sending a clear message that any soldier who is tempted to take a post in any future military government, will be putting their career in jeopardy.

On taking office, President Obasanjo said he wanted a new war on corruption, and replaced the heads of the army, navy and airforce on his first day.

Within days, the newly-elected civilian president sacked allegedly corrupt customs officials and suspended contracts signed by the previous military government.

The BBC's Barmaby Philips: The speed of the purge is breathtaking
The military has ruled Nigeria for all but 10 years since independence from Britain in 1960.

Presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said that from now on "it is expected that the...military hierarchy will focus on the...preparation of its officers and men to meet their constitutional responsibilities to the nation".

Abacha money recovered

Nigeria has published a list which reveals that more than $1bn has been recovered from the late military ruler Sani Abacha.

It was signed by the previous military regime just before they handed over power to civilian rule at the end of May, and was published this week in the official government gazette.

It said that more than $760 million had been recovered from Sani Abacha's family and a former minister had returned about $20m.

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