IRIN West-Africa Update 290, 98.9.8

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

tel: +225 21 73 54 fax +22521 63 35 e-mail irin-wa

IRIN-WA Update 290 of Events in West Africa, (Tuesay) 8 September 1998

NIGERIA: Nigeria probes former regime

The Nigerian government has launched an investigation into widespread theft of public funds by officials under the former military government, media reports said yesterday (Monday). The BBC said it is believed that hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen by officials of the previous administration of General Sani Abacha, who died suddenly in June. Nigeria's new military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, was quoted as saying an investigation into public accounts had already uncovered large sums of money. "I can confirm that routine audits and investigations of various accounts in the office of the National Security Adviser and other government departments are ongoing," he said at a news conference in the capital, Abuja. "They have achieved appreciable results."

Abacha's national security adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo, was reportedly arrested in August and forced to repay US$ 250 million he had allegedly stolen. Abubakar said that others under investigation had also repaid funds, which were now being kept in a special Central Bank account. "This administration is committed to restoring transparency, accountability and profitability to the affairs of government," he said. Foreign governments had also helped in the investigation, Abubakar added.

Government appeals to exiles to return

Meanwhile, Abubakar also told the international and local media that all Nigerian exiles were free to return home. Nigerian television quoted him as saying he wanted to "reiterate our call on those Nigerians who are currently in self-exile to return and join in our efforts towards democratisation and the economic renaissance of our country".

"I hope after all that, they will not find another excuse not to come home," Abubakar said. He said he had withdrawn a prosecution order issued against Wole Soyinka, Africa's only Nobel literature laureate. Like others who fled Abacha's rule, Soyinka has rejected being called a "self-exile".

AFP reported that the former information minister, David Mark, had returned from exile at the weekend.

Press demands release of remaining detainees

Meanwhile, Nigerian journalists at the news conference asked Abubakar to release their colleagues imprisoned by Abacha, AFP, reported. Among the imprisoned journalists is Niran Malaolu, who was jailed for his alleged part in a December 1997 coup attempt against Abacha.

AFP said reporters at the news conference, who included some recently freed by the new government, had also asked Abubakar to lift all media restrictions and the requirement that journalists register with the authorities each year. The dispatch also noted that Abubakar's relationship with Nigeria's press had improved over that of his predecessor, with Abubakar often speaking to reporters on first names terms.

CORRECTION: Update 289

Yesterday's Nigeria report said Abubakar had released hundreds of thousands of political prisoners. The item should have said that thousands of political prisoners had been released.

SIERRA LEONE: New army recruitment policy

Sierra Leone's government will recruit men and women from every province, district and chiefdom to strike a "geopolitical balance" within the country's reconstituted defence force, AFP reported yesterday. The news agency cited unnamed sources at Sierra Leone's defence headquarters as saying that recruitment would be on a quota system. New recruits would have to be between 18 and 25 years old, well educated and in good health. Humanitarian sources in the capital, Freetown, told IRIN they were encouraged that Sierra Leone was tackling the problem of its "delinquent" security forces.

Last week, President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced that defence forces would number less than 5,000, of whom some 20 percent would be drawn from the old army. A Freetown source said public confidence in the army could only be improved by the stringent new measures, after nearly 10 years of coups and failed military governments. "People are particularly pleased that the army is going to be small," the source added. A senior Western security observer noted that recruiting new troops could only be the start of any army reform process. "Sierra Leone has to build up a cadre of trained officers and non-commissioned officers. This takes a number of years," he said. "ECOMOG will certainly have to stay on in Sierra Leone and help with this process for the foreseeable future," the source added.

The Nigerian-led West African intervention force, ECOMOG, is still battling remnants of Sierra Leone's ousted military government, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), in northern and eastern Sierra Leone.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Government expels three Spanish doctors

Three Spanish doctors detained by border police in Equatorial Guinea were expelled from the country last week, AFP reported yesterday. The news agency quoted Spanish radio as saying police arrested the three on arrival on 28 August from Madrid for carrying "suspect" baggage. However, the radio said the doctors had large bags needed for a medical mission to the interior of the country.

AFP quoted Equatorial Guinea's minister of foreign affairs as saying the police had acted correctly in making the arrests and would do so again in similar circumstances, whatever the origin of the suspects. The agency said that the expulsions represented a new low point in the relationship between Equatorial Guinea and its former colonial power. Recently, Equatorial Guinea has repeatedly asked Spain to shut down its 'Radio Exterior' service, claiming it supports opposition views. Spain has refused to comply.

BENIN: New electoral commission appointed

Benin's parliament unanimously passed a law at the weekend calling for a new National Electoral Commission, AFP reported yesterday. The 23-member commission will be made up of three chosen by the government, 15 by the national assembly, four magistrates and a representative of the government's Human Rights Commission.

Selection of the 15 national assembly members will take into account the assembly's political makeup. The electoral commission will be set up 60 days before each poll and will have 60 days to report, AFP said. Legislative elections are slated for March 1999.

NIGER: Torrential rains

Torrential rains in Niger led to seven fatalities at the weekend, bringing to 17 the number of such deaths over the past month, news agencies reported. 'Camel Express Telematique' (CET) said five people died in the capital, Niamey, and two boys were drowned as they returned from fields with their mother, in the southwest.

CET said the rains had made some 20,000 people homeless and floods had also caused extensive damage to roads, bridges and the water supply system in Niamey and other towns. AFP said several hundred hectares of crops had also been destroyed.

WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS & UNDCP discuss regional drug problems

Officials of the 16 member states of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and representatives of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) are meeting in Banjul, The Gambia, to discuss new concerns about an increase in drug trafficking and abuse in the region. Participants said that the inter-ministerial meeting was aimed at putting into place a plan of action adopted by ECOWAS heads of state aimed at fighting drugs more effectively.

Kamoyo G. Mwale, Chief Technical Adviser of the UNDCP for West Africa, told IRIN that the main concern in the region was the increasing exports to Europe and north America of cannabis, the main drug of abuse in the sub-region. According to UNDCP documents, although South Africa and Malawi were believed to be the major producers of marijuana in Africa, production is widespread in large parts of West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana.

"There is also concern about the emergence of heroin and cocaine passing from South America and Asia through West Africa," he said. Mwale said an increase in heroin abuse had also been recorded, notably in Cape Verde, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire. The 7-11 September meeting in Banjul will also follow up on recommendations made at a meeting of national drug law enforcement agencies in Africa held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in April.

"All the coordinators from the 16 countries are meeting to see what can be done in the sub-region to fight this scourge," Mwale said.

Abidjan, 8 September, 1998 19:00 gmt


[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel: +225 21 73 66 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail: for more information or subscription. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this report, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the Web at: or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to - mailing list: irin-wa-updates]

Date: Tue, 8 Sep 1998 19:13:30 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa Subject: IRIN West-Africa Update 290, 98.9.8 Message-Id:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,