Forty Sentenced in Nigerian Coup Plot Trial
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ The government concluded its secret trials of former military ruler Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and 50 others on coup-plotting charges Friday and said it has convicted 40 of them.
The trials were condemned as unfair by governments and human rights organizations worldwide. There have been many unconfirmed reports that some of the suspects had already been sentenced and executed, as has been the case in some past coup trials.
Obasanjo was among those where were convicted, a government spokesman indicated. The government only made public the names of those who were acquitted.
The government alleged it had foiled a plot planned for March to overthrow military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha, who took power in a bloodless coup in November 1993.
Critics have said there was no coup plot and that Abacha simply wanted an excuse to round up opponents to silence them. Monitors from the British Commonwealth are currently in Nigeria to investigate abuse allegations.
``We are extremely concerned that they may be sentenced to death and hastily executed,″ said Melissa Crow, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Human Rights Watch-Africa.
A government spokesman, Brig. Gen. Fred Chijuka, told a news conference in Lagos on Friday that 40 suspects had been convicted and sentenced. He refused to give details about the sentences, but they are believed to range from the death penalty to various prison terms.
Chijuka said seven people were acquitted and released Thursday and an eighth person was being held while his case was appealed. Three others were out of the country when the trials began, including the son of the head of Nigeria’s 30 million Muslims.
Chijuka gave only the names of the 11 who were freed or out of the country _ not those who were convicted.
``It means that all others whom you know and who are not among the 11 names given are part of the 40 who have been sentenced and their sentences passed to the (government) for confirmation,″ Chijuka said.
When asked about Obasanjo, he would only say: ``He appeared before the tribunal. You can make your conclusions. If he is not among the 11 either freed or among the three who fled the country, then he is among those sentenced.″
There has been speculation in Lagos for more than a week that Obasanjo received 25 years in prison for allegedly concealing information of the coup plot.
About 117 people were executed by firing squad in connection with the last three coup trials in Nigeria.