Generals still call the shots in Nigeria

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A MILITARY-CONTROLLED civilian administration appeared to be the compromise worked out between the country's two political parties and General Ibrahim Babangida to defuse Nigeria's political crisis. Since annulment of the 12 June presidential elections, protests have resulted in up to 75 deaths.

President Babangida's ruling National Defence and Security Council was scheduled to meet in the capital, Abuja, today to debate the compromise reached late on Wednesday. The agreement appeared to exclude Chief Moshood Abiola, the candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who was reported to be well ahead in the polls until they were scuttled.

An SDP spokesman, Femi Oredein, maintained that Chief Abiola still expected to be sworn in as president, but that appeared increasingly doubtful as early reports came in from Abuja about the nature of the deal. Officials from both the SDP and its sole rival, the National Republican Convention (NRC), said the military would select a committee of both SDP and NRC members and government officials to choose the new administration.

The streets of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, remained quiet yesterday after the deployment of troops following two days of violent anti-military protests, in which, according to the independent daily newspaper the Guardian, up to 75 people died. On Tuesday, security agents detained the leading human-rights activist Beko Ransome-Kuti.

Many Nigerians were clearly disheartened by the news that the SDP and the NRC had cut a deal with the military. 'We thought our worst nightmare was ending, only to awake to see that it has just begun,' said one newspaper editor.

The agreement to choose a government by committee would contradict Gen Babangida's pledge to hand over to an elected civilian administration. It would also force a difficult decision on the British and US governments, which have called for an elected civilian government with no interference from the armed forces.

The compromise, if approved at today's meeting in Abuja, would cap a bizarre chapter in Nigeria's 33-year post-independence history, 23 of them under military rule. The presidential elections, the first in a decade, were the result of a carefully orchestrated, and thrice-delayed transition programme with two army-created political parties and two candidates known to be close to Gen Babangida.

Early results showing Chief Abiola to be ahead are said, however, to have sparked fears among senior military commanders that his close links with human-rights campaigners might lead to investigations into corruption in the army and government.