Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Alleged Coup Exposes Jagged Rift in Nigerian Military Abacha's Regime May Be the Most Repressive of This Country's 25 Years of Military Rule

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Alleged Coup Exposes Jagged Rift in Nigerian Military Abacha's Regime May Be the Most Repressive of This Country's 25 Years of Military Rule

Article excerpt

WORKMEN have been sprucing up the execution grounds outside Kirikiri maximum-security prison in Lagos, Nigeria's business hub. The weeding and refurbishing may be routine, but it doesn't do much for the serenity of a group of officers inside, who are under arrest for allegedly plotting to topple the government last month.

Nigerians say the coup scheme, whether real or a government invention, exposes jagged rifts in the armed forces. If those divisions come to the surface, the country's most powerful institution, and Africa's most populous state, may be in for a jolt.

Coups are nothing new for this oil-rich nation. Nigeria's military has ruled for 25 of the past 35 years. It has launched nine coups, five of them successful, since independence from Britain in 1960.

It looked like Nigeria was edging back from military rule in June 1993, when civilian businessman Moshood Abiola appeared to win a landslide victory in the presidential elections.

But strongman Gen. Sani Abacha refused to accept the victory, annulling the elections. He took power in November 1993 and arrested Mr. Abiola when he declared himself president on the anniversary of the elections. Mr. Abiola has been detained ever since.

In protest, union members shut down key sectors of the economy in a series of strikes last summer. And support for Abiola's release has even come from Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who visited Abiola in his cell last week.

General Abacha's regime may be the most repressive this country has endured in 25 years of military rule. Democrats and dissidents have been arrested, the media muzzled, and rule of law suspended. Observers worry that the political crisis is unleashing dangerous tensions between Nigeria's many ethnic and religious groups, which could gnaw at the ties that bind this diverse nation.

The stakes are getting higher. In recent days government leaders have said their security reports implicate former ruler Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the country's elder statesmen, in the supposed putsch. General Obasanjo has been under arrest since March, but until now authorities had refused to specify the reason for his detention. …

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