Babangida gives a date for handover

NIGERIA'S military President, Ibrahim Babangida, pledged yesterday to install a democratically elected president on 27 August, writes Richard Dowden.

Earlier this week General Babangida's government annulled presidential elections. 'We shall install a democratically elected government on 27 August for this country,' General Babangida told reporters in Abuja, the federal capital, after briefing senior military and police officers on the outcome of a meeting of his top military-civilian council.

His remarks, ahead of an address to the nation, heralded the end of 10 years of military rule.

Nigeria was plunged into a political crisis on Wednesday when the military government cancelled results of the 14 June presidential election between Moshood Abiola and Bashir Tofa, which gave victory to Mr Abiola, the Social Democrat leader.

Apart from reports of a few barricades of burning tyres, Nigeria remained superficially quiet yesterday. It was people's fear of the military government rather than a willingness to accept continuation of its rule that kept them off the streets. 'We are distraught, distraught,' said one Lagos resident.

But he said that most people were busy discussing the future - and the past - or listening to the radio. There is no tradition of civic protest in Nigeria beyond the spontaneous riot. Strikes and civil disobedience have resulted in fierce repression by the authorities and there has been no time to organise mass action since President Babangida's announcement on Wednesday.

The government-controlled radio has failed to report that Mr Abiola had decided to challenge the government head-on and proclaimed himself president- elect on Thursday night. Mr Abiola, a millionaire publisher, urged the international community to back him against the military regime. 'The people of Nigeria have spoken,' he said. 'They have loudly and firmly proclaimed their preference for democracy. They have chosen me as their president for the next four years.'

Under immense internal and external pressure President Babangida had threatened action against countries interfering in Nigeria's internal affairs. Britain and the US have imposed measures against Nigeria and condemned the decision to halt progress towards democracy.

Letters, page 15

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