"Nigerians think of themselves as being Africa's potential first superpower," saysTIME's Jack White, "but they behave like a banana republic." The evidence: though the 100-million-strong nation craves acceptance on the world stage, the Lagos regime of General Sani Abacha has in recent weeks killed or jailed a group ofNigeria's foremost proponents of democracy.The most prominent political prisoner is former head of state Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. Today, Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi told TIME editors in New York that Abacha "will not be oblivious" to numerous international appeals to spare Obasanjo's behalf, including one from President Clinton. But White says the dictator is just practicing public relations. And he doesn't expect the pressure to increase: "People could understand the injustice in South Africa, because whites persecuted blacks. Nigeria is three times as big, with infinitely more wealth and importance, but it's blacks on blacks."