Abiola resigned as military calls the tune on democracy: The winner of June's aborted election has become increasingly isolated, writes Karl Maier in Lagos

Karl Maier
Friday 26 November 1993 00:02 GMT

WITH the face of a tired, beaten man, Chief Moshood Abiola, the winner of Nigeria's aborted presidential elections last June, resorted as is customary to a proverb to describe his dilemma: 'When the music changes, the dancer must step to a different tune.'

The new tune came with the bloodless coup d'etat by General Sani Abacha on 17 November against the military-backed interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan. Initially, some of Chief Abiola's supporters hoped that General Abacha would sweep away the interim government, honour the 12 June election results, and become the saviour of Nigerian democracy. It was not to be. All political parties and elected institutions were dissolved.

Chief Abiola, a Muslim millionaire, was until the coup a rallying point for pro-democracy activists and symbol of the yearning of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria for their first elected president.

The coup, which brought to power Nigeria's seventh military ruler in 33 years, has left Chief Abiola increasingly isolated. He met General Abacha on Monday, and the next day watched his running mate in the 12 June elections, Baba Gana Kingibe, join the 11-man 'provisional ruling council' as Foreign Minister.

Chief Abiola, who usually has something to say about everything, made no comment on Mr Kingibe's acceptance to serve a military government.

Yesterday General Abacha included Mr Kingibe in his new cabinet, that also includes a leading pro-democracy campaigner, lawyer Olu Onagoruwa, as Attorney General, and Alex Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian, an independent daily newspaper, as Interior Minister.

Four members of the last cabinet, including the former oil minister, Don Etiebet, and former finance minister Aminu Saleh were also appointed yesterday.

The make-up of the provisional council, and the appointment of a Yoruba military man, Lieutenant-General Odalipo Diya, as its number two, has demonstrated General Abacha's deftness. Many Nigerians have resigned themselves to the new military regime, preferring it to fresh elections which they believe would spark violence and would be won by a northerner.

The pro-democracy movement, headed by the Campaign for Democracy that made its stand on the 12 June elections, is reeling. 'June 12 is blown to pieces,' said Olisa Agbakoba, president of the influential Civil Liberties Organisation.

It was perhaps his late-night escape to London in early August during the height of the crisis over former military president Ibrahim Babangida's decision to cancel the June polls that cost Chief Abiola respect among many Nigerians. While he lobbied for support in Britain, the United States and Europe the pro-democracy movement had no leader.

Although he was the first Nigerian politician to win significant support across ethnic divisions, Chief Abiola was always seen by most people as the champion of the south- west.

Today there is an air of defeat in his Lagos mansion adorned with pictures of himself with world leaders and Nigerian politicians. Chief Abiola continues to meet his supporters, but their numbers are fewer than during the early post-election days. 'Don't give up hope yet,' he told a telephone caller, without passion.

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