Nigeria's Military Drafts Parties

NIGERIA is trying to do something very few African nations have managed to pull off: start a two-party democratic form of civilian government. But a snag has arisen that could spoil the plan.

Nigeria's military rulers have turned down every bid by the civilians to form political parties. Military leader Ibrahim Babangida, who seized power in 1985 from another military leader, has rejected the applications of more than a dozen political associations trying to get government approval as one of Nigeria's two new parties, under a seven-year transition to civilian rule.

The would-be parties are ``hired by moneybags'' - under the influence of a small number of rich Nigerians - General Babangida said over the weekend.

So, he announced, the military government will create two civilian parties - and lay down its own ground rules on how they are to be organized. The two parties are to be called the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention. And the military will dictate the parties' ideologies.

Critics charge that the plan amounts to instant civilian parties, created by the military.

An early test of public acceptance of the plan could be the local elections scheduled for December. They are supposed to be the first party-contested elections Nigeria has had since 1983.

In 1979, the military handed power over to a civilian government, but then took power back in a coup after the 1983 elections.

In the past, parties have tended to form around ethnic or religious groups. Babangida is trying to avoid that. He also has banned those who have been elected to past governments from running again - an attempt, he says, to wash away the corruptions of the past.

But the banning did not block past politicians with money from trying to gain influence through the new political associations vying to become one of the two approved parties.

The effort to form two new parties is a key part of the transition to civilian rule by 1992. The switch from military to civilian rule was originally scheduled for next year. But it was postponed when Babangida said the transition was more complex than originally assumed.

Nigerians, including the military leaders are anxious to avoid the massive corruption that featured prominently in past civilian regimes.

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