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Saro Wiwa

Nigeria executes 9 activists; world outraged

November 10, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Charles Hoff and wire reports

LONDON (CNN) -- Nigeria's military government executed playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights activists Friday morning, turning a deaf ear to international appeals for clemency.

The world responded swiftly and scathingly to the executions, and many countries, including the United States, Germany and Austria, recalled their ambassadors to discuss how to respond.

The United Nations Security Council was discussing Liberia when a representative broke in to read aloud a wire service report on the executions. The United States and European Council members immediately condemned the action; the Nigerian representative, in turn, called them meddlers.

"This heinous act offends our values and darkens our hope for democracy in the region," said American Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright. (64K AIFF sound or 64K WAV sound)

President Clinton responded by recalling U.S. Ambassador Walter Carrington for consultations, according to the White House. The president also banned the sale and repair of military goods and services to Nigeria and asked Albright to begin consultations on appropriate U.N. measures to condemn the actions.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organization, had asked that either President Clinton or Vice-President Gore personally intervene on behalf of Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Nigerians. The president personally phoned the Nigerian leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, last month to ask for clemency for 40 civilian and military officials condemned to death. The death sentence of the 40 officials was later commuted.

White House Assistant Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs Brian Cullin told CNN that neither the president nor the vice-president personally contacted Abacha before Friday's executions took place. Gerald LeMelle, deputy executive of Amnesty International, told CNN that the Clinton administration has been better than previous administrations on human rights issues, but that its response to the situation in Nigeria was "tepid and slow."

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the United States might consider additional diplomatic steps to express its disapproval to the executions.

Saro-Wiwa, 54, and the eight others put to death were charged with murdering four men last year. They were recently convicted and sentenced to death. Throughout, Saro-Wiwa maintained that he was being framed for criticizing Abacha's regime.

Several countries, including Nigeria's former colonial ruler, Britain, and South Africa have supported calls for Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth. "If the Harare principles mean anything, I do not myself see how Nigeria can stay in the Commonwealth until they return to democratic government," said British Prime Minister John Major.

John Major

"If the Harare principles mean anything, I do not myself see how Nigeria can stay in the Commonwealth until they return to democratic government."

-- British Prine Minister John Major

In Brussels, the European Union condemned the executions, and said the 15-nation bloc would re-consider its relations with the oil-rich West African nation.

The AFP news agency reported that shortly after news of the execution trickled in, the International Finance Corp., a World Bank agency, canceled a $100 million loan to Nigeria, attributing it to the government's failure to enact certain economic reforms.

Saro-Wiwa came into conflict with the ruling junta when he campaigned on behalf of the half-million Ogoni people living in Nigeria's oil basin in the South. About 80 percent of Nigeria's income comes from oil exports. Saro-Wiwa however took on the powerful oil industry, charging that it had polluted and destroyed the region's land and wildlife.

Manhood Abiola's daughter

Environmental group Greenpeace said they were horrified by the executions, and accused Anglo-Dutch giant Shell Oil -- the first company to extract oil from Ogoni land four decades ago -- of having "blood on its hands." Shell said it deeply regretted the executions.

The daughter of Nigeria's jailed opposition leader, Mashood Abiola, told CNN in London that the world failed Saro-Wiwa. The Nigerian people deserve better treatment, Wura Abiola said. "We must come together and ensure that it doesn't happen again," she said. "Nigerians must begin today. These lives must not have been lost for nothing." (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

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