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6 Get Death Penalty for Plotting Ouster of Nigerian Leader

April 29, 1998| From Times Wire Services

JOS, Nigeria — A week after Gen. Sani Abacha became the only candidate for Nigeria's presidency, his military junta on Tuesday sentenced Abacha's former right-hand man and five others to death for plotting to overthrow him.

A seven-man military tribunal, which has been sitting in secret here in the central town of Jos, said 30 people had been tried for treason. Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya is the most prominent figure now facing execution by firing squad. Others include Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa and Maj. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju, both former Cabinet ministers in the military government.

When the trial began, Diya, 54, insisted that he had been framed. On Tuesday, he was not permitted to say a word.

Shackled in leg chains, Diya and the other defendants stood before the military tribunal's presiding officer, Maj. Gen. Victor Malu, who announced the verdicts and sentences.

Government critics have said the army is using the alleged plot to eliminate potential threats to Abacha's leadership. The military says it has evidence proving that Diya had amassed a small army of loyal troops by the time his plot to overthrow the regime was discovered.

Malu, a veteran commander of the West African ECOMOG peacekeeping force, said that four people were sentenced to life imprisonment for participating in the plot and that 14 were released. The rest were sentenced to terms of between two and 14 years.

After the opening day of the trial, reporters were barred from the courtroom during the two months of testimony. Human rights groups had urged that the proceedings be opened to the public.

It was not clear if the defendants will be allowed to appeal. The sentences must be ratified by the Provisional Ruling Council. No date for the executions was set.

The case developed strong ethnic undertones because the key members of the accused--and all those sentenced to death--are from the southwestern Yoruba tribe of detained presidential claimant Moshood Abiola.

Abiola, the presumed winner of a 1993 election, has been among those detained since 1994 for supporting his claim to the presidency. Dozens of other opponents have also been detained.

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