NIGERIA: Dawn of a new era

NIGERIA: Dawn of a new era

Within three days of his inauguration, President Olusegun Obasanjo had
suspended contracts awarded by the former military regime, retired nearly
100 officials from a service viewed as one of Nigeria\’s most corrupt and
ordered Nigerian embassies to process visa applications within three days.

Obasanjo suspended on Monday all commercial contracts, licences, awards
and appointments made since January and then set up a seven-member panel
to review them. The panel is headed by Christopher Kolade, former managing
director of Cadbury Nigeria, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)
reported on Tuesday.

Obasanjo also approved the retirement of 99 officers from the Customs
service, while embassies were ordered to process visa applications within
72 hours of their submission. State-owned Radio Nigeria reported that
Obasanjo was concerned visa delays were making the nation lose business

These moves followed an inauguration pledge to stamp out corruption and
ensure good governance, which civil society leaders said they would make
sure he remembered.

\”I will give the forthright, purposeful, committed, honest, and
transparent leadership that the situation demands,\” Obasanjo said as he
was being sworn in. Promising to tackle corruption head-on at all levels,
he said there would be \”no sacred cows\”.

It was \”a very bold speech\”, Nimi Walson-Jack, executive director of the
Port Harcourt-based Centre for Responsive Politics, told IRIN on Monday.
Nevertheless, he said, \”We are going to remind him at every turn of what
he has promised.\”

Obasanjo said his economic priorities would be to improve the oil and
agriculture sectors, which would include ending the crisis in the
oil-producing Niger Delta.

Niger Delta

A critical test for the government is how it handles resentment in the
Delta over the region\’s neglect and impoverishment. Demands for more
autonomy and a larger slice of the oil revenue that flows from the six
underdeveloped southern states have been backed by attacks on oil
installations, demonstrations, and clashes between communities in
land-ownership disputes.

On Sunday, clashes broke out in the Delta between Ijaws and Itsekiris
around the Escravos River, just south of the town of Warri and news
organisations reported more than 100 deaths.

`The Guardian\’ quoted an official of Chevron – a US oil company – as
saying that Western and Nigerian oil firms evacuated people by helicopter
from the area, which is near Chevron\’s Escravos oil export terminal. Warri
seaport was closed, `The Guardian\’ said, adding that 150 soldiers from the
army\’s 20 Amphibious Battalion were sent to the troubled area.

In his address, Obasanjo acknowledged the seriousness of the Delta problem
and stressed the need for dialogue. He said a bill would be prepared
\”within weeks\” to increase from 3 percent to 13 percent the share of
revenue earned from the region that is ploughed back in development

But Delta activists say the increase is too little too late. They want
half of all revenue earned from the region to be returned to the local
communities who, they say, should control its spending.

\”Will the Delta accept 13 percent? The answer is no,\” Brisibe Annie of
Niger Delta Wetlands Centre, an environmental NGO, told IRIN. \”There are
six states in the Delta and they are all supposed to share that 13 percent
– what kind of development will that bring?\”

Obasanjo\’s chief spokesman, Onyema Ugochukwu, told IRIN: \”The problem of
the Delta is one of neglect over a long period. Obasanjo will show the
Delta people that someone cares. It is not a question of percentages now.\”

The Delta produces most of Nigeria\’s oil, but is one of its poorest
backwaters and Delta activists such as Annie want more than to know
Obasanjo cares.

For them, democracy means that the bill has to be debated in the National
Assembly – which includes representatives from the oil-producing states –
before it is passed. \”The next step for the federal government is to
dialogue properly with the people of the Delta,\” Annie said. \”We want a
renegotiation of this issue.\”

Obasanjo on Thursday inaugurated the Assembly – made up of a 109-seat
Senate, whose speaker is Evan Enwerem, and a 360-seat House of
Representatives presided over by Ibrahim Salisu Buhari, according to news

Obasanjo addressed both houses on Friday, after which the assembly was
expected to begin confirmation hearings for his ministerial nominees.

A major challenge for the new government will be subordinating the armed
forces to civilian authority since the military have ruled Nigeria for all
but 10 of its 39 years of independence.


Religion is another issue likely to retain Obasanjo\’s attention. The
militant Muslim Brotherhood, for example, wants an Islamic state.

In the northern town of Zaria, its leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, told IRIN:
\”The system governing us does not see the reality – that Africans are
religious. In Nigeria, we as Muslims feel that to belong to a country
called Nigeria we should not keep our religion aside. We must have our
beliefs respected.\”

Zakzaky accepts that not every Nigerian is a Muslim or wants to be guided
by Islamic precepts. \”We agree,\” he said, \”but at least the majority are,
which means it is not entirely impossible.\”

Fabian Okoye of Human Rights Monitor, a civil liberties group, told IRIN
Zakzaky\’s group \”poses a serious challenge to the establishment in the
north\”. Okoye said: \”They believe the kind of society they have,
sanctioned by mainstream religious leaders, is ungodly and repressive.
They believe the system needs to be uprooted.\”

Zakzaky told IRIN that his movement had been labeled a security threat,
\”and to those in authority, yes we are. But I am not a security risk to
the people of this country\”.

Foreign relations

Obasanjo\’s government will also come under scrutiny from the outside. He
said he would make sure Nigeria plays a constructive role in the United
Nations, Organisation of African Unity, Commonwealth and other
international bodies.

On Sierra Leone, he said: \”We shall endeavour to ensure a quick resolution
of the crisis by dialogue and diplomatic means, by increasing activity on
the second track of peace and reconciliation.\”

Foreign reactions included that of the European Union (EU) which has
restored cooperation broken off in 1995 following the hanging of nine
Ogoni activists. As a result, Nigeria could soon get 330 million euro
granted before the executions, the EU said, quoted by PANA.

SIERRA LEONE: Agreement on safe access for aid workers

Sierra Leone\’s government and rebels have agreed at peace talks in Lome to
guarantee \”safe and unhindered access\” so that humanitarian assistance can
be delivered effectively, according to a joint statement issued on

A spokesperson for Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN) reacted
with cautious optimism to the statement, telling IRIN on Friday: \”if the
statement means what it says then it is a positive development\”.

The statement said the two parties were aware that \”the protracted civil
strife has created a situation whereby the vast majority of Sierra
Leoneans in need of humanitarian assistance cannot be reached\”. Aid
agencies have said that nearly two-thirds of the country remains

Implementation committee

The government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) also undertook \”to
establish with immediate effect, and not later than seven days, an
Implementation Committee\”.

The committee will comprise representatives from the government, the RUF,
civil society and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). It
is to be chaired by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in coordination with
the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone,
Francis Okelo.

The Implementation Committee will assess the security of routes to be used
by humanitarian agencies and disseminate information on such routes to the
humanitarian agencies. It will also review complaints that may follow the
implementation of this arrangement to establish \”full compliance\”, the
joint statement said.

Okelo highlighted the importance of taking urgent steps to address the
acute humanitarian situation in the whole country as the rainy season
begins, according to a UNOMSIL press release on Thursday.

Release of POWs and noncombatants

In a joint statement on Wednesday the two sides agreed to \”the immediate
release of prisoners of war and non-combatants,\” and a committee was
established to implement this decision.

The first meeting of this committee took place on Thursday at UNOMSIL\’s
headquarters in Freetown. It was chaired by the UNOMSIL Chief Military
Observer, Brigadier Subhash Joshi, and included participants from the UN
mission, other UN agencies and NGOs, according to a UNOMSIL press release.

The aim of the meeting was to \”evolve the detailed modalities of securing
such release\”. During the meeting it became clear, according to the
statement, that this task also involved intermediate steps to help
integrate individuals into society.

While there will be a relatively small number of prisoners of war, there
will be a large number of detainees, including children, unfamiliar with a
\”normal family unit\”, UNOMSIL said. It is also essential for adequate
provisions to be made for trauma counselling and general medical treatment
apart from the day-to-day requirements prior to reintegration with their
families, the press release added.

A subcommittee met on Friday to work out a detailed analysis of what is
required to fulfil this role, it said.

Road blocks

ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukulade told IRIN on Tuesday
that a ceasefire that started on 24 May was threatened by a roadblock
which a group of about 12 rebels had set up at a key junction on the main
road to Masiaka, some 50 km east of Freetown.

Olukulade said the rebels had mounted the roadblock after the start of the
ceasefire and had, therefore, \”committed a violation, details of which had
been reported to UN military observers\”.

Although the rebels allowed people to pass, it was unacceptable, Olukulade
said, for ECOMOG troops to have to go through a rebel checkpoint to get
food and provisions to units on the other side. ECOMOG was concerned,
Olukulade added, because rebels were using the checkpoint to spy on its

On Wednesday, Olukulade told IRIN the roadblock had been removed. \”It was
removed on Monday,\” he said. \”However we are concerned that there are
further checkpoints in other areas.\”

SENEGAL: Fresh Fighting in Casamance

Senegal\’s Armed Forces Ministry said on Monday that the army had launched
a \”mopping-up operation\” against separatist rebels near the southern town
of Ziguinchor.

The operation allowed the army to locate and destroy firing positions
considered a threat to the local population, intercept columns of armed
rebels and secure tourist routes leading to Cap Skirring, some 60 km
southwest of Ziguinchor.

The weekend before, heavy weapons fire had erupted near Ziguinchor, the
main town in the southern area of Casamance, where government troops have
been battling separatist guerillas for years, sources told IRIN on Monday.

An NGO source told IRIN two civilians were killed and some 15 people
wounded in the fighting between the army and the Mouvement des forces
democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) which followed a recent sweep by
Senegalese forces near the border with Guinea Bissau, according to news

CHAD: Troops return home

Troops Chad sent last year to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to
back the government of President Laurent Kabila have returned home.

Chadian Communication Minister Moussa Dago told IRIN on Monday that: \”The
bulk of the contingent arrived in Sahr (south-western Chad) since
yesterday\” while the rest had left Bangui, capital of the Central African
Republic (CAR), on Sunday night and were expected to arrive in Chad by

Dago said the troops numbered about 2,000.

The withdrawal, which began on 26 May, followed an April peace accord in
Sirte, Libya, between Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that
provided for the replacing of troops from nations involved in the conflict
with a neutral peacekeeping force.

LIBERIA-SIERRA LEONE: Accusations followed by offer to help

Accusations and denials of troop build-ups along the border between
Liberia and Sierra Leone were followed this week by a announcement that
Liberian President Charles Taylor planned to help bring peace to Sierra

Last week, the Liberian government denied allegations by ECOMOG that it
planned to attack Sierra Leone.

On Monday, Star radio in Monrovia said Taylor had shelved plans to attend
Saturday\’s presidential inauguration in Nigeria after reports of troop
movements on the Sierra Leone border. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel
Chris Olukulade told IRIN on Tuesday that there had been any troop

However, on Thursday, Liberian Deputy Information Minister Milton Teahjay
told IRIN Taylor was going to Lome on Friday in support of the effort to
bring peace to Sierra Leone.

Teahjay said Taylor aimed to \”work collectively and constructively with
President Gnassingbe Eyadema to help bring the crisis in Sierra Leone to
an end\”.

GUINEA: HRW calls for protection for Sierra Leonean refugees

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) to take immediate steps to protect Sierra Leonean
refugees in Guinea by moving them inland.

The refugees live in camps close to the Sierra Leone border. In the past
three months, Sierra Leonean rebels have often attacked the camps,
killing, mutilating and abducting dozens of people, Guineans and refugees,
HRW said in a statement on 31 May. In one attack on 22 May, 11 civilians
were killed, HRW said.

\”The brutality and the frequency of these attacks is simply atrocious,\”
said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW\’s Africa Division.
\”Refugee camps are supposed to be a safe haven, but these camps in Guinea
are a magnet for attack.\”

A UNHCR source told IRIN that UNHCR had thus far relocated around 10,000
of the Sierra Leoneans.

Around 50,000 people need to be moved to the two new sites some 70- 100 km
from the border where the refugees are being housed. The relocation, begun
on 12 April, was suspended from 21 to 25 May while work was being done on
the second site, the source said.

However, there are only four weeks left until the rains make roads in the
area impassable, according to the UNHCR source. \”It\’s a race against the
clock for our field staff,\” he said.

TOGO: Government urged to free human rights detainees

The Federation internationale des Ligues de Droits de l\’Homme and the
Organisation mondiale contre la Torture have appealed to the Togolese
government to release four human rights campaigners.

The four are Nestor Tengue, Francois Gayibor and Brice Santanna of the
Association togolaise pour la Defense et la Promotion des Droits de
l\’Homme (ATDPDH) and Antoine Koffi Nadjombe of the Amnesty International\’s
Togo chapter.

They are accused of providing Amnesty with information on human rights
violations in Togo which the government has denied.

GHANA: Japan donates US $16.5 million

Japan\’s government this week donated US $16.5 million to Ghana to support
its structural adjustment programme, according to news organisations. The
money will reportedly be used by Ghana to import machinery, spare parts
and industrial materials.

Fuel prices up by 15 percent

Fuel prices in Ghana have been increased by 15 percent. Ghana Broadcasting
Corporation (GBC) radio said the new prices, were announced on Tuesday.
They are (per litre): premium petrol, 855.56 cedis; diesel, 822.23 cedis
and kerosene, 600 cedis. Liquid petroleum gas now sells at 920 cedis per
kilogramme. The cedi exchanges at about 2,500 to the dollar.

BURKINA FASO: Committee of elders to investigate impunity

President Blaise Compaore has set up a committee of elders to look into
unpunished political crimes committed in Burkina Faso since independence
in 1960, news organisations reported.

The committee comprises ex-presidents Sangoule Lamizana (1966-1980), Saye
Zerbo (1980-1982) and Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo (1982-1983), eight
traditional and religious leaders and five resource persons. It has 45
days to submit its findings.

The appointment came in the wake of a report released on 7 May by an
independent commission which found that independent journalist Norbert
Zongo had been the victim of a political killing.

Zongo\’s body was found along with three others in his car on 13 December
in Sapouy, about 100 km from the capital, Ouagadougou.

GUINEA BISSAU: Delivery of humanitarian aid delayed

The delivery of humanitarian supplies to Guinea Bissau was stepped up last
week after delays linked to the closure of the border with Senegal during
much of the month of May, according to humanitarian sources in Bissau.

\”The closure of the border and confusion over whether the border was open
or closed at a particular point in time has exacerbated delays in the
delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance,\” a humanitarian source
told IRIN.

\”The implications are particularly severe for the agricultural sector with
the imminent arrival of the planting season.\” the source added.

For example, some 75 mt of seeds had been stuck in Senegal, the United
Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) in
Guinea Bissau said in its most recent report, which covers the period from
18 to 31 May.

According to the report, Senegal\’s Minister of the Interior told the UN
Resident Coordinator in Dakar that the border would be open for
humanitarian assistance. As a result, two trucks carrying FAO agricultural
supplies arrived in Bafata on 29 May, OCHA said.

The border\’s closure also delayed the arrival of health supplies.

Meningitis vaccination campaign

In spite of the difficulties, health, civic education and food aid
programmes continued. For example, a nationwide vaccination campaign
against meningitis covered more than one million persons, 95 percent of
the population, as at the end of May, OCHA reported.

Airport closed to commercial traffic

Meanwhile, the continued closure of Guinea Bissau\’s airport to commercial
traffic prevented many aid workers from entering the country due to the
limited number of seats available on the twice-weekly United Nations
flights, according to OCHA. Carriers reportedly experienced difficulties,
including technical problems.

NIGER: Commission proposes presidential system

A consultative committee set up by Niger\’s military government has
proposed a system in which power is shared by a president and prime
minister. This \”semi-presidential regime\” is part of a draft constitution
the committee approved this week. Niger\’s people are to vote on it at a
referendum whose date is yet to be set, sources told IRIN.

Meanwhile, news organisations reported this week that Niger\’s former
defence minister, Yahaya Tounkara, had been placed under house arrest
after calling for an investigation into the death of ex-president Ibrahim
Bare Mainassara, shot in a coup on 9 April.

COTE D\’IVOIRE: Refugee ID cards

Refugees in Cote d\’Ivoire are to receive identification cards under a
programme launched on 25 May in Abidjan. According to the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office for Cote d\’Ivoire, the cards
will be valid for a year and will be renewable.

Blaise Cherif, UNHCR\’s resident representative in Abidjan, told IRIN
shortly before he travelled to camps in western Cote d\’Ivoire to explain
the measure to refugees there that Cote d\’Ivoire had around 196,000
refugees, according to official figures.

Over 95 percent are Liberians.

Abidjan, 4 June 1999, 19:55 GMT

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