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Commonwealth Urges Leniency on Former Nigerian Leader

July 19, 1995

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ A delegation from fellow Commonwealth nations urged Nigeria on Wednesday to rescind harsh sentences given to dozens of government opponents.

Government spokesmen indicated the appeals had some effect, hinting that the sentences would be reviewed.

Nigeria should put a stop to ``the depressing and self-perpetuating cycle of coups, arbitrary arrests and state executions which have scourged Nigerian society over three decades,″ said a delegation statement.

Gen. Sani Abacha’s government announced on Friday that 40 of 51 suspects had been convicted of participating in a plot to overthrow the government, which took power in a bloodless 1993 coup.

The defendants’ names and sentences were not disclosed.

The Lagos Press newspaper reported Sunday that President Olusegun Obasanjo was sentenced to life in prison and that his former deputy, Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’auda, was sentenced to death.

Another Lagos newspaper, This Day, said 13 others received death sentences.

On Monday, the Clinton administration accused the military government of denying the defendants fair trials. Those concerns were echoed on Wednesday by Canada and Japan.

A government spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested that Nigeria’s highest legislative body, the Provisional Ruling Council, might review the sentences.

The Commonwealth delegation _ made up of former Canadian Foreign Secretary Flora MacDonald, former Zimbabwean Chief Justice Enoch Dumbutshena and Neville Linton, formerly of the Commonwealth Secretariat _ said the trials were ``held in secret and without benefit of free choice of counsel.″

The Commonwealth is made up of Britain and former British colonies.

More than 115 people went before firing squads after the last three coup trials in Nigeria. Obasanjo is already serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted of failing to inform authorities of a coup planned against Abacha.

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