Nigerian military unveils new plan to retain power

AN INDEFINITE extension of military rule and the installation of a hand-picked civilian interim government are the key elements of President Ibrahim Babangida's plan to deal with Nigeria's worst political crisis in a decade.

Human rights groups rejected the move. One top official of the Campaign for Democracy, Olisa Abgakoba, called yesterday for non-violent protests and urged Western governments to consider wide-ranging sanctions, including a boycott on Nigerian oil, to pressurise the military regime to hand over power to Chief Moshood Abiola, winner of the aborted 12 June presidential elections.

Gen Babangida announced the interim government proposal on Saturday after meeting officials of Nigeria's two-army backed parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democrats (SDP), whose presidential candidate was Chief Abiola.

The military's proposal to hold fresh elections on 14 August was untenable, Mr Abgakoba said.

The composition of the new administration and its tenure are to be decided by a committee headed by Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu and comprising officials of the two parties and senior military and security officers, including the intelligence chief, Brig-Gen Halilu Akilu, the National Security Adviser, Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed, and Brig John Shagaya, commander of the 1st Mechanised Division in Kaduna.

The plan would effectively replace the largely powerless seven-month-old civilian 'transition council' with the new interim government on 27 August, the date the military had promised to hand over power to an elected civilian administration. The interim government's brief would be to oversee local elections in December and later a new round of presidential polls. Real power would remain with the ruling National Defence and Security Council (NDSC).

'We should . . . see the interim government as a consensus arrangement for concluding the transitional agenda of this administration, which was disrupted by the imperative need to nullify the 12 June presidential elections,' Gen Babangida said. 'The option of an interim national government should be seen for what it is. It is an interim measure and must to that extent be seen as part of the overall conception of the transitional agenda of this administration.'

Chief Abiola had previously rejected an interim government, claiming that it would 'be a hostage to the military establishment'. A faction of his SDP headed by General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, the former chief of staff, has supported the interim government plan.

Human rights groups described the move as evidence that Gen Babangida was carrying out a 'hidden agenda' to retain military rule.