Lagos at standstill as millions join democracy strike: Nigerians in other areas ignore call for three-day stay-away

MILLIONS of people in south-western Nigeria gave a massive no-confidence vote to General Ibrahim Babangida's government yesterday by observing a strike called by the Campaign for Democracy to demand the inauguration of Chief Moshood Abiola as president and an immediate end to military rule.

The strike effectively shut down the south-west, home of Chief Abiola's Yoruba people and the centre of the nation's business activity. The action took place as the ruling National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) met to consider a proposal to form an interim government made up of politicians and top officials of the security forces to take over by 27 August, the day Gen Babangida has promised to relinquish office.

In most of the rest of the country, however, the call for a three-day stayaway went largely ignored. The Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerije, described the stayaway as a failure, saying it was 'a highly localised action, with a highly localised result'. The success of the strike in southwestern Nigeria, he said, was due to 'psychological intimidation unleashed on the people of Lagos by a few unpatriotic elements'.

But the success of the strike in Lagos, which affected government offices and transport services, represented a setback for the military regime. Government spokespersons and the Police Inspector-General, Aliyu Atta, had urged the city's residents on Wednesday to ignore the protest and report for work as usual. Heavily armed police were stationed at bridges, key intersections and at the international airport, as police helicopters patrolled the skies.

The normally congested streets of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial centre, and the city of Ibadan were virtually deserted as shops and markets were closed and residents remained at home to show support for the pro-democracy movement and out of fear that the protests could spark violence. Anti-government protests last month erupted into violence that claimed up to 100 lives.

'Reports are that it has not been as effective in the north as in the south- west, but it is only starting, and support may pick up,' said Olisa Agbakoba, head of the Civil Liberties Organisation and one of the pro-democracy campaign leaders. 'We can only use moral persuasion, we cannot compel people to comply.'

Campaign organisers described the three-day strike as the beginning of a series of protests leading up to the military's scheduled withdrawal to the barracks. The 50,000-strong National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers announced on Wednesday that it would shut down Nigeria's vital oil industry if the military failed to respect Chief Abiola's election victory.

The Babangida government's decision to annul the 12 June presidential election, considered by Nigerian and foreign observers to be the country's freest ever, has drawn international condemnation. Britain, the US and the EC have imposed limited sanctions and have threatened to take further action if the military does not hand over power.

Leading article, page 17

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