Nigeria sinks deeper into political crisis: Military regime reluctant to give up power amid political squabble

NIGERIA'S worst political crisis in a decade is deepening, with diminishing prospects of Ibrahim Babangida's military regime honouring its pledge to hand over power to an elected civilian government on 27 August.

The latest proposal to defuse the crisis, an agreement by the two military-backed parties to form an interim government, was rejected on Thursday by the winner of last month's annulled elections, the Muslim millionaire Chief Moshood Abiola. 'An interim government will be a hostage to the military establishment,' he said.

Sources close to Chief Abiola said that if an interim administration was formed, he would announce his own cabinet, presenting a Zaire-like scenario in which the country has two rival governments.

Gen Babangida and his ruling National Defence and Security Council were expected to reconsider the proposal early next week.

Already officials of Chief Abiola's Social Democratic Party (SDP) who negotiated the deal were coming under pressure to renounce it. They said they had agreed to the interim government only because otherwise the military would dissolve the parties and extend military rule. Behind the interim government proposal were the leading lights of Nigeria's political elite, such as the former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Dasuki, the Sultan of Sokoto, spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims. Their priority has been to avoid the outbreak of violence by convincing the military to return to the barracks rather than to secure Chief Abiola's inauguration as Nigeria's first elected president from southern Nigeria.

So far, Chief Abiola and his supporters are having none of it. The Campaign for Democracy pressure group called on Thursday for a new round of protests and for a boycott of any new election. The campaign sponsored anti-military demonstrations last month in south-western Nigeria, home of Chief Abiola's Yoruba people, in which up to 100 people died.

(Photograph omitted)

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