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Threat of jail to curb press in Nigeria

NIGERIA'S military government yesterday banned publications from five media houses shut down last month, and imposed a 10-year prison term or a fine for anyone convicted of publishing falsehood or rumour.

The ban affects the Concord publishing house owned by Chief Moshood Abiola, the winner of the June presidential elections which were annulled. On Sunday, police arrested four senior editors of TELL magazine, including Nosa Igiebor, the editor-in-chief, and Onome Osifo- Whiksey, the managing editor.

Announcement of the military decrees against the press came after General Ibrahim Babangida postponed an address to a joint session of the National Assembly in which he was expected to unveil plans to deal with Nigeria's worst political crisis since the 1967-70 civil war.

In the speech, rescheduled for today, President Babangida was expected to say whether he would remain in power and what form his proposed interim administration of civilians and security forces would take.

Delay of the speech came after prominent politicians from northern Nigeria, including backers of the interim government plan such as Adamu Ciroma and Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, issued a statement urging the military 'to ensure that no principal member of the present administration participates in the new government. This is to reassure Nigerians that the government has no interest in perpetuating itself.'

The interim government is the latest plan by the ruling National Defence and Security Council to deal with Nigeria's political crisis, sparked when Gen Babangida annulled the elections. He had promised to hand over power to a civilian government on 27 August, the eighth anniversary of the coup that brought him to power. In recent days, however, several northern state legislatures and the pro-military lobby group, the Association for a Better Nigeria, have urged Gen Babangida to remain in office.

Last week, most of south-western Nigeria, including the cities of Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta, was paralysed by a three-day general strike called by the Campaign for Democracy to force the military government to return to the barracks and to inaugurate Chief Abiola.