German foreign minister, Mr. Klaus Kinkel, and former president Richard von Weizsäcker have called for the immediate release of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the former head of state of Nigeria. In 1979 Gen. Obasanjo became the first military ruler in Africa to keep his promise to hand over power to an elected civilian government.
On October 1st last year, Gen. Obasanjo had been convicted in a secret military tribunal of coup plotting. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and has since been held in custody under detrimental conditions. His conviction was solely based on statements by an alleged co-plotter which later turned out to have been made under torture.
In an appeal to be published in New York on the first anniversary of Gen. Obasanjo's conviction, Mr. Kinkel demands that the military regime in Nigeria sets free all political prisoners and respect human rights.
Mr. von Weizsäcker made his call in a letter addressed to Nigeria's military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, commending Gen. Obasanjo as "a non-violent proponent of democracy and reconciliation". Mr. Obasanjo heads the advisory council of Transparency International (TI), the international NGO targeting corruption, which has been campaigning for Mr. Obasanjo's release ever since his arrest in March 1995.
TI national chapters in 60 countries have asked their governments to protest against Gen. Obasanjo's detention and in an appeal supported by Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias TI has asked its network of supporters from parliaments, companies and NGOs to call for Gen. Obasanjo's release.
The intervention of the German foreign minister and Mr. von Weizsäcker have been welcomed by Peter Eigen, TI's chairman. "Gen. Obasanjo must not be forgotten in a Nigerian prison," he declared. "The calls for his release from these internationally respected leaders will command serious consideration by the Nigerian authorities," he added.
Mr. Eigen hailed the retired General as a symbol of transparency and good governance. "Not only his own country, but the whole of Africa is in dire need of his guidance and his leadership qualities. He could play a substantive role in mediating efforts to end violence in Rwanda, Burundi and Sierra Leone," Mr. Eigen said. "Above all, it is in Nigeria with its severe problems of corruption that his personal integrity is needed," Mr. Eigen added.
Mr. Kinkel made his remarks in a book with contributions from leading politicians and friends of Obasanjo to be published by the Africa Leadership Foundation in October.
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