Abiola rejects plan for 'proxy military rule' in Nigeria: Officers fear investigations of human rights abuses and charges of corruption

CONFRONTATION loomed between Nigeria's military government and the unofficial winner of last month's aborted presidential election as Moshood Abiola yesterday rejected plans by the military and members of his own party to set up an interim civilian government.

Mr Abiola accused the President, General Ibrahim Babangida, of attempting to establish 'military rule by proxy' and accused senior members of his Social Democratic Party of 'splitting from the people' for agreeing to the interim government. His statement came a day before senior armed forces commanders were to meet General Babangida in the capital, Abuja, to debate the compromise deal which is an attempt by the military to negotiate a safe exit after ruling the country for the past 10 years.

Declaring that 'the people's vote is not negotiable', Mr Abiola told reporters and a delegation of state party chairmen yesterday that the army's reasons for cancelling the polls and attempting to set up a new government without him were bogus.

'There cannot be two sunrises in one day,' he said. 'It never happens, even in Africa.'

Today's meeting will discuss a compromise worked out with the two parties General Babangida created that would see a hand-picked interim civilian government take power on 27 August, the day the military has pledged to return to the barracks, in an attempt to halt a worsening political crisis over the cancellation of the 12 June presidential elections.

Key officers who support the cancellation of the election were said by Nigerian and foreign military sources to fear that Mr Abiola would succumb to public pressure and launch investigations into the charges of corruption and human rights abuses by the army.

Senior executives of Mr Abiola's Social Democratic Party had agreed last week effectively to abandon him in return for saving their jobs. The deal came after General Babangida threatened to dismiss all elected officers, including the House of Assembly and Senate members, governors and local councillors, if they did not agree to the options on offer: new elections or an interim government.

General Babangida has promised to end military rule on 27 August.

Cries of sell-out by Abiola backers have split the fragile party, however, with a number of top officials demanding an Abiola presidency in an administration that would assign a junior role to the rival National Republican Convention.

Core opposition to Mr Abiola comes from General Babangida's inner circle - the Security Adviser, Lieutenant-General Aliyu Mohammed, the Security Co-ordinator, Brigadier-General Halilu Akilu, and the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Salihu Ibrahim. They are backed by powerful division commanders, many of whom have held political office.

But other close aides, reportedly including the Defence Minister, Sani Abacha, believe the latest manoeuvres could threaten their plans to retire comfortably and have done irreparable harm to the image of the armed forces. Most junior officers and the ranks, whose morale is low and service conditions poor, are believed to have voted heavily for Mr Abiola and to oppose any extension of General Babangida's rule. Mr Abiola's campaign to gain the presidency has support from unlikely quarters, such as Sokoto, seat of the Islamic Caliphate and home of the Sultan, symbol of northern power and the spiritual leader of the nation's Muslims.

Leading article, page 19