Nigeria Waits to See If Military Allows Vote Two Political Parties, Both the Creation of the Ruling Regime, Are Contesting the Elections

Article excerpt

NIGERIANS are on the threshold of a transition to democracy, but they have come this far and been turned away before.

One question dominates this country's politics: Will President Ibrahim Babangida keep his promise to hold elections on June 12, or postpone the transition for the fourth time in three years?

General Babangida, who took power in a military coup in 1985, reaffirmed this week that the armed forces were committed to handing over power Aug. 27, calling skeptics "choristers of the military-will-not-go tune."

But a military decree issued in April increased the powers of the Army-backed National Electoral Commission to put off the presidential polls, worrying some proponents of democratic rule.

Nigeria's Committee for the Defense of Human Rights called the measure "part of the grand design for perpetual clinging on to power by the military."

"If anything the decree has confirmed people's cynicism about the whole transition program," said Niyi Akintola, a lawyer and former politician.

The military decree followed word that the government planned to lift Nigeria's domestic fuel price subsidy, which brings the price of gasoline down to a little more than 10 cents a gallon, on June 1. But with tensions running high before the polls and the possibility that the move would cause riots, the government backed down and said it would postpone lifting the subsidy.

Another decree on May 6 declared it an act of sedition, punishable by death, to disrupt the government or the "fabric of Nigeria." The decree came shortly after a scathing attack on Babangida's rule in the local press by former head of state Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, and after renewed calls for a national conference to decide the future of the federation of Nigeria.

Two political parties are contesting the presidential elections - the National Republican Convention (NRC), which is slightly right-wing, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is slightly to the left. Both are creations of the Babangida regime, which banned all previous political groups in the 1980s and promised to foster a new breed of civilian politicians free from the corruption of the last civilian regime from 1979-83.

But with little difference in ideology or tradition to distinguish the two parties, money, patronage, and clan loyalties remain the criteria for election. Many Nigerians regard the two parties as artificial, and the large number of young people who have never known a general election are cynical about their choices.

Last December, Babangida annulled the results from earlier presidential primaries because, he said, the use of an open ballot led to blatant vote-rigging.

Fresh conventions at the end of March produced two Muslim candidates, both close to Babangida, both wealthy businessmen, and both without direct government experience. …

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