Nigerians Wary as Military Delays Transfer of Power

MANY Nigerians reacted with alarm yesterday to the announcement that the military will hold on to power eight months beyond its originally promised departure date.

Head of state Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida said Tuesday evening he needed extra time to engineer an election process free of corruption. He suspended presidential primaries in September in response to charges that candidates were trying to buy votes at the polls.

But many Nigerians, including Olisa Agbakoba, president of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization, are skeptical. The eight-month delay "confirms an issue all along: a hidden agenda to perpetuate military rule," he says.

Mr. Agbakoba says General Babangida may even follow the example of Jerry Rawlings, the military dictator of Ghana, who earlier this month ran successfully as a civilian presidential candidate. But Babangida, he says, "is not popular." Students may demonstrate, he warns.

In his speech Tuesday evening, Babangida, in military uniform, said: "I want to assure you that this administration will not stay a day longer than is necessary."

After holding the country in suspense for a week, Babangida announced that the presidential election would be pushed back from Dec. 5 to June 12, 1993, and the transfer of power would move from Jan. 2, 1993, to Aug. 27, the eighth anniversary of the coup that brought Babangida to power.

The plan calls for the two legal civilian parties, both of which were established by Babangida, to nominate a presidential candidate in congresses in each of the 30 states, plus the capital district, Abuja. That means 62 presidential candidates will be nominated. One candidate from each party will then be elected at national party conventions.

Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to show critics that he still intends to transfer power, Babangida said the civilian National Assembly that was elected in July will be sworn in Dec. 5 and will gain some legislative power Jan. 2, the original dates of the election and transition.

Babangida added that on Jan. 2 the Armed Forces Ruling Council would be replaced by a National Defense and Security Council, and the Council of Ministers would be replaced by a civilian-chaired Transitional Council.

Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerebe, Nigeria's only woman senator-elect, says the plan "is a recipe for chaos."

"It will be easier to rig now," she says, contending that candidates can now buy off delegates instead of trying to buy off the public. Ms. Bucknor-Akerebe says she favors going ahead with presidential elections according to the original schedule.

Many Nigerians blame the military, which has been in control for more than seven years, for the current economic crisis in this, Africa's most populous nation.

Standing in front of a small roadside stall selling food and household items, G. M. Olose, a Nigerian driver, says that living costs have risen far beyond what a common worker earns. "It's better for him [Babangida] to go, since the economy is getting worse," he says.

Tessy Ajarah, a businesswoman sitting outside the same stall, adds that her main concern now is not how power is transferred, but to whom.

But not everyone is unhappy with military rule in Nigeria.

Sitting on a work bench behind his tiny roadside shoe repair stall here, Musa Kundim says: "As I see it, with one military ruler, nobody messes up. With civilian government, anyone does what they like."

Allen Onyema, a Nigerian corporate lawyer, says many business leaders favor military rule. But, he adds, sitting next to his parked car, "I prefer civilian rule. There are checks and balances."

Samaiola Aleyideino, a recent college graduate in math and business, says "from the business point of view, [military rule] provides more stability. But maybe it deters growth." Foreign investors, he adds, "aren't afraid of civilian governments," but they worry about arbitrary actions by military regimes.

Another Nigerian driver, Dotun Oloukun, leans out of his car on the side of Allen Street, a major thoroughfare. "It's a sad situation," he says. "Most of our leaders are bankrupt of ideas."

A hotel porter here says: "I support the military going out in January. But I'm a common man. What can I do?"

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