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Nigeria awaits army's move

SHOULD I stay or should I go is the question many Nigerians hope the President, General Ibrahim Babangida, will answer today when he is scheduled to address a joint session of the National Assembly to unveil his plans to end the country's worst political crisis in 23 years.

The speech follows three days of strikes in south-western Nigeria called by the Campaign for Democracy to pressure the eight-year-old military government to relinquish power on 27 August to the winner of the annulled 12 June presidential elections, Chief Moshood Abiola. Pro-democracy activists and some sections of labour, including Nigeria's biggest oil workers' union, have threatened further strikes if the military does not give way.

The crisis, the worst in the country of 90 million people since the 1967-70 civil war, has crippled Nigeria's weak economy and prompted thousands of people belonging to ethnic minorities to flee major cities for their home regions.

General Babangida's National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) has ruled out an Abiola presidency and has instead proposed an interim government comprising politicians and top officials of the security forces that would hold new presidential elections next year before handing over to an elected government in December 1994. Nigerian press reports yesterday suggested Gen Babangida would step down before 27 August, the day he had promised to relinquish power, but other analysts said he had not yet made up his mind. The military has already delayed a scheduled return to civilian rule three times.

A proposal for an interim government, drawn up by a military-appointed committee, recommended that the new administration maintain a strong presence for the security forces, which have ruled Nigeria for 23 of its 33 years of independence. Press reports and political analysts said the ruling NDSC would be dissolved and that a National Defence Council and a National Security Council would take its place.

The committee's proposal suggested that real power would remain with the NDC and the NSC. 'The Interim Governing Council shall be headed by a civilian to be called Head of State and Chairman of the Interim National Government,' it said. 'The powers of the Head of State as Commander-in-Chief will reside in the NDC and the NSC.'

An army statement yesterday said a parade planned for today in honour of Gen Babangida's 52nd birthday - which falls tomorrow - had been postponed indefinitely, AFP reports.