Nigerian President-elect Obasanjo meets with High Commissioner for Refugees

Press Releases, 25 March 1999

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo today discussed future collaboration and the plight of refugees in Africa when the President-elect visited the UNHCR office in Geneva.

Ogata congratulated the President-elect on the results of elections that brought most welcome democratic changes to Nigeria.

The meeting was also "a vital opportunity to share our dismay over the continuing mayhem in Sierra Leone," Ogata said afterwards. She recalled her recent mission to West Africa, during which she spoke with civilian victims of rebel atrocities.

The President-elect blamed economic deprivation for many of Africa's refugee crises, and urged that initiatives to prevent and resolve conflicts should go hand in hand with steps to address poverty and injustice.

Obasanjo emphasized the importance of "strong and moral leadership" in resolving Africa's problems. He pledged to support UNHCR when he takes office in May of this year, saying his good offices would always be available to the High Commissioner.

Ogata commended Nigerian-led efforts to restore peace in several West African countries. She expressed hope that nations in the region will continue their pursuit of peace, warning that "a backslide in many areas would be catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to leave their homes and many more could be chased into exile."

Obasanjo, one of Ogata's informal group of advisors since 1994, was never able to participate as he was imprisoned for over three years by military regimes in Nigeria. The group of eminent persons from different backgrounds counsels the High Commissioner on a range of policy matters.

Ogata intervened with authorities in Lagos on several occasions between 1995 and 1998 in an effort to secure Obasanjo's release, but the retired General was never allowed to leave the country.

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