FORMER President Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria has fulfilled his commitment to step down and return his country to civilian rule.
Under him, Nigeria has made tremendous strides toward democratic renewal. We now have 593 democratically elected state assemblies and state governors. At the national level, we have a democratically elected National Assembly, the equivalent of Congress, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The last step of this transition is the election of a civilian president, which suffered a setback because of the nullification of the June 12 election.
Following this development, a broad-based national committee consisting of the representatives of the two political parties (the National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party) and the government recommended the formation of the interim national government as the most viable stop-gap arrangement until a presidential election is held to complete the transition program.
The interim national government was duly constituted following rigorous negotiations and consultations between the outgoing military government and the two political parties, the elected state governors, and elected members of the national assemblies. Thus not only does the government represent the whole spectrum of Nigerian society, it has democratic foundation.
The government will oversee the administration of a presidential election by the end of March 1994. It will work closely with the National Assembly, whose legislative powers have been fully restored during the transition period.
According to the new head of the interim national government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, the new government's priority is to promote national reconciliation. Its existence will end on March 31, 1994, after it conducts local government elections scheduled for December and the presidential election, and then hands over power to a democratically elected president.
The government will put in place a concrete mechanism for the solution of our political problems. It will employ the principle of dialogue and consultation to widen our margin of tolerance and reconciliation. The new government will also ensure accountability and transparency in all matters, wage a war against corruption, and lead by example.
It is abundantly clear that the new interim national government has broad-based support among the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. It is not a continuation of the military administration.
This is amply demonstrated by some of the decisions and actions it has taken, such as the release of journalists and politicians detained under the military administration, improving relations with the press, emphasis on national reconciliation rather than confrontation, the recent successful negotiations with labor unions, and changes in the upper echelons of the military.
But perhaps the most important decision taken by this government, which distinguishes it from the former military government, concerns Nigeria's troop withdrawal from the ECOMOG, the peacekeeping force set up by the Economic Community of West African States in 1990 to help end Liberia's civil war.
The decision to withdraw Nigerian troops was taken in view of improved climate for peace in Liberia and the need to redirect resources toward economic recovery in Nigeria.
Chief Shonekan, however, has indicated that Nigeria will continue to honor its international obligations.
I hope that the American people and their government will encourage and support the interim national government in this march toward the completion of the democratic process in Nigeria. The limited sanctions imposed by the US against Nigeria over the cancellation of the June 12 election should now be removed.
This not only would ensure unhindered bilateral relations, but it would also contribute to the sustenance of the existing national consensus in Nigeria, which is essential to peace, stability, and democracy in the country and indeed in the whole of Africa. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by amil to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.