NIGERIA in partnership with other African countries is taking
immediate steps to restore Sao Tome and Principe government of
President Fradique de Menezes, Vice President Atiku Abubakar said
yesterday. International protests against the coup have continued to
mount with the United States, the United Nations and Portugal, the
island's former colonial master, condemning it.
Neighbouring countries led by Nigeria were the first to ask for the reinstatement of the deposed democratically-elected government. Soldiers over-threw President de Menezes, Wednesday, while he was in Abuja attending the sixth Leon Sullivan Summit.
Vice President Abubakar vowed that Nigeria would restore power to the democratically-elected civilian government in that country. He did not, however, reveal whether Nigeria would apply military might.
Receiving the Ambassador of the Republic of Niger, Moussa Elhadji Ibrahim, in Abuja, the vice president warned the masterminds of the coup d'etat not to tamper with the lives and property of Nigerians resident in Sao Tome. Responding to request made by the Nigerien ambassador that Nigeria should fulfill President Obasanjo's promise to assist his country with fertilizer, Vice President Abubakar said President Obasanjo had approved the request.
Diplomats in the capital of the small West African island state said
they were working with civic and religious groups to seek the release
of the ministers, who were being held in difficult conditions,
according to family members. Major Fernando Pereira, the new strongman
in the former Portuguese colony, said on Portuguese radio yesterday
that the ministers would be released only after adequate security
conditions are in place, possibly last night.
It will be
responsibility for what could happen to them if we free them now. Some
outside opportunists could take advantage of the situation and try to
threaten the ministers, he said. The coup-makers arrested most of
the 14-member cabinet of Sao Tome shortly after launching the coup in
the early hours of Wednesday. Only Foreign Minister Mateus Meira Rita,
who was on a visit to Portugal, escaped arrest.
The prime minister, Maria das Neves, was later taken to hospital after
suffering a mild heart attack following a shoot-out at her home, and
President de Menezes was stranded in Nigeria where he was attending an
international forum at the time of the coup. Yesterday, relatives of
the detained ministers said male and female cabinet members had all
been forced to sleep in one room Wednesday night. Education and
Culture Minister, Fernanda Pontifece Bonfim, was reportedly taken ill
We want at the very least to try to obtain the
release of the three women ministers, who are finding this situation
very difficult to cope with, a diplomat said. Twenty-four hours
after the power grab in the country of 140,000 people, the capital,
Sao Tome, was calm, with people going about business as usual and the
main market functioning normally. The airport remained closed,
however, stranding several groups of tourists on the twin-island
Meanwhile, Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano, the current
head of the African Union (AU), was scheduled yesterday to join talks
with President Olusegun Obasanjo and De Menezes in Abuja. Sao Tome and
Principe is located in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of
Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, and the two countries are
closely linked by a joint oil exploitation pact. The islands, mired in
poverty since independence in 1975, sit atop a potential oil bonanza
estimated at over a billion barrels of crude. But for now, Sao
Tome's average annual income per person is 280 dollars and the
country is heavily dependent on foreign aid. An aide to De Menezes
said he was in crisis talks in Abuja early yesterday with key members
of his entourage. De Menezes met Wednesday with Obasanjo to discuss
how to bring back normalcy to that country, a member of the
deposed leader's entourage said in Abuja.
De Menezes' spokesman, Guillaume Neto, said he would return home
only if his security was assured, dismissing rumours in Sao Tome that
De Menezes would be accompanied to Sao Tome by a contingent of
Nigerian troops. The return must be voluntary and orderly,
said. De Menezes is cool and calm and he believes that the problem
in his country could be solved through dialogue. He was trying to
solve that problem before coming to Nigeria on Tuesday,
added. Meanwhile, the Taiwan Foreign ministry said Taipei was keeping
a close eye on the situation in Sao Tome for fear rival China could
sabotage the island's diplomatic ties. Sao Tome is one of 27
countries to recognize Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its
territory waiting for reunification by force if necessary. Africa is
one of the few battlegrounds where Taiwan and China have engaged in
diplomatic tug-of-war for decades.
Meanwhile, the vice president has reiterated the commitment of Nigeria to the bilateral agreement between her and Romania. He made the remark when he received the Romanian Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Emil Rapcea, who visited him, assuring that the country would honour the proposed establishment of an agricultural tractor assembly plant and the manufacture of MIG 29 military jets in Nigeria.