Nigerian parties banned by new ruler

LAGOS - Nigeria's new military ruler yesterday said that he was dissolving nearly every democratic institution in the country and replacing them with military commanders. General Sani Abacha, who took power on Wednesday, said in a radio address that he was banning existing political parties, the National Electoral Commission and state and local governments.

His speech was a crushing blow to people who had hoped he would institute moves toward democracy. He ordered striking unions, which have paralysed much of the country since Monday, to return to work. 'This regime will be firm and decisive. Any attempt to test our will will be decisively dealt with.'

General Abacha, who helped engineer military coups in 1983 and 1985, said civilian administrators and a civilian federal council would be established some time later, with a new constitution. Though he said Nigeria would some day get a democratic government, he gave no timetable. General Abacha, appearing to placate the pro-democracy forces that have challenged the military government, said he was lifting bans on outlawed news organisations but warned them to be careful about what they reported. He would 'look into' fuel-price increases that have all but shut down Lagos.

Even before his speech, there was strong international condemnation of General Abacha's decision to replace the civilian head of state, Ernest Shonekan, who had been installed by the military regime in August.

The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and the acting US State Department spokeswoman, Christine Shelly, said that their governments were considering tough sanctions.

Nigeria has been in turmoil since the previous ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, ignored the results of the 12 June presidential election that he had promised would return the country to elected government. The US, Britain and the European Union imposed limited sanctions.

General Babangida apparently perceived that the winner of the ballot, the businessman Moshood Abiola, would pose a threat to the privileged position of the military. The voiding of the election spurred a series of sometimes violent protests.

For months, General Abacha was said to be disgusted by General Babangida's handling of the election and many leading Nigerians said there is evidence that he forced General Babangida to step down in August. General Babangida named Mr Shonekan, a close supporter, as his successor.