Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Obasanjo warns Nigeria of alleged military coup plot


President Olusegun Obasanjo warned citizens of Africa's most populous nation yesterday to "remain constantly alert" and protect civilian rule from "unpatriotic elements" in the wake of an alleged military coup plot.

In his Easter message to the nation, the 66-year-old leader did not say how -- or by whom -- Nigeria was being threatened. The speech came a week after the government opened an investigation into what presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo said were "serious security breaches" by some army commanders and civilians.

Officers have privately characterized the threat as a plot by opposition-leaning Muslim Hausa-speaking officers from northern Nigeria to overthrow Obasanjo. Dozens of army members have been interrogated and some reportedly detained.

Obasanjo urged Nigerians to "remain constantly alert and ready to thwart any attempt by unpatriotic elements to breach the peace and security of our nation."

"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom and we must continue to uphold our collective resolve to strengthen and protect the sanctity of our democratic institutions," Obasanjo said in his speech.

Among the suspected plotters is Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the jailed former deputy to the late dictator General Sani Abacha. Al-Mustapha was hurriedly transferred from a Lagos prison last week to another facility in the capital Abuja amid fears he might try to escape.

In his speech, Obasanjo assured his continued "personal commitment" to the government's socio-political and economic reforms, adding "we shall not be distracted from our purpose by those who do not mean well for Nigeria."

Nigeria is regularly named one of the world's most corrupt nations. Critics have accused Obasanjo of targeting his anti-corruption drive against political enemies while turning a blind eye to graft in his own administration.

"The future of this country clearly lies in our continued adherence to democratic principles," Obasanjo said.

Troops in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer and the fifth biggest provider of US oil imports, have been restricted to official duties since last week, with all vacations canceled, army spokesman Colonel Chukwuemeka Onwuamaegbu said on Thursday.

Obasanjo, a Christian from the south whose 1999 election victory ended 15 years of military rule, has faced stiff opposition from northern Muslims, the group that has long dominated Nigeria's military.

Outbreaks of ethnic, religious and political violence have killed more than 10,000 people since Obasanjo, himself a former military ruler, was first elected. He was re-elected last year in a vote dismissed by opposition parties as rigged.

Nigerian oldiers have staged six military coups and numerous failed attempts independence from Britain in 1960.

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