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Nigeria Plans a Murder : An ethnic hero faces execution for slayings committed by others

The Nigerian government is threatening to commit murder. An innocent man, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent environmentalist, is sentenced to die for slayings he didn’t commit. Shame on President Sani Abacha. He should commute this death sentence and free all political prisoners to show that reform is possible even though democracy in Nigeria appears dead for now.

Saro-Wiwa dared to fight on behalf of his Ogoni people. This poor minority group has protested nonviolently against monstrous pollution by oil companies in its petroleum-rich region and has sought compensation. Certainly giving the ethnic group a share of the oil profits that keep the West African nation wealthy would seem fair.

Saro-Wiwa has been convicted of murdering four moderate Ogoni leaders who disagreed with his views. In fact, they were killed by an angry crowd at a 1994 rally at which Saro-Wiwa had been expected to speak. He was clearly not involved, but the government accused him of setting the tone that led to the murders. He was arrested, held incommunicado for nearly eight months and convicted of murder, without due process, by a special military court. The United States and Britain have strongly indicated their displeasure. The Commonwealth, of which Nigeria is a member, may consider sanctions if Gen. Abacha, who presides without benefit of election, refuses to commute the sentence.

Nigeria is quickly losing any semblance of respectability. If Saro-Wiwa is martyred, it can expect to become an international pariah, like South Africa before democracy took root. Saro-Wiwa must be spared. Democracy must be restored.

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