After meeting Nigeria's military leaders last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that Abiola's release was imminent, and that he had given up his claim on the presidency -- Abiola was presumed to have won the 1993 elections before being imprisoned by General Sani Abacha, who died last month. The military leadership had refused to release Abiola while the prisoner claimed the presidency. But with Abiola, like Abacha, removed from the scene by a heart attack, Nigeria's new military leaders will have an easier time making their planned transition to civilian rule.
The heart attack that killed Nigeria's leading political prisoner Tuesday makes it easier for that country's military leaders to hold new elections -- but the circumstances of Moshood Abiola's death will raise suspicions. "When a political prisoner collapses and dies of a heart attack during a meeting with U.S. officials, questions are bound to be asked," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "An autopsy will be important to clear up doubts over whether he was assassinated." The Nigerian government has indicated it will allow Abiola's family to appoint a doctor to represent it at the autopsy.