Choosing Democracy in Nigeria?
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PHIL PONCE: In a televised speech last night Nigeria’s leader said he would end military rule next year.
ABDULSALAM ABUBAKAR, Head of State, Nigeria: It is clear that Nigerians want a country where fairness, justice and equity are not mass slogans but principles put into timely and indiscriminate practice. Nigerians want true democracy which must be based on a sound democratic foundation to ensure fulfillment and sustenance.
PHIL PONCE: Fifty-six-year-old General Abdulsalam Abubakar has been in office for just six weeks. He was named to succeed General Sani Abacha, who suffered a fatal heart attack last month. Abacha’s five-year regime was denounced worldwide for repeated violations of human rights, especially the public hangings of nine people in 1995. Nobel Prize-winning author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others had protested environmental damage they said was caused by oil exploration.
The activists adamantly denied the government’s charges they had murdered four men. A few days after taking office, the latest military ruler promised elections and said he’d release political prisoners, including wealthy businessman and opposition leader Moshood Abiola. By most accounts, Abiola won elections held in 1993. But the military annulled those elections and imprisoned Abiola in 1994. His release was supposedly imminent two weeks ago when the 60 year-old Abiola suffered a fatal heart attack while meeting with American diplomats. His death prompted Nigerian students to stage violent demonstrations. Many believed Abiola had actually been poisoned.
An autopsy done by an international team of pathologists later confirmed Abiola died because of heart failure. His supporters said the issues went beyond his death.
ABRAHAM ADESANYA, Nigerian Opposition Leader: Abiola is not the primary objective we are fighting for, he’s just a symbol of what we are fighting for. And what are we fighting for? True democracy in this country, true federalism, justice, fair play, and the observance of the rule of law, and we will continue until we succeed.
PHIL PONCE: Nigeria has been ruled by the military for all but ten years since independence from Britain in 1960. About twice the size of California, it’s Africa’s most populous country with more than one hundred million people and extensive oil reserves. Divisions between Nigeria’s 250 tribes–combined with government corruption–have led to instability and poverty. Even though it’s one of the world’s largest oil producers–Nigeria has to import gasoline. In his speech last night, General Abubakar set a date for his nation’s return to civilian rule.
ABDULSALAM ABUBAKAR: After all necessary consultations, government has decided that the election of a civilian president will be held in the first quarter of 1999. The new elected president will be sworn into office on the 29th of May 1999.
PHIL PONCE: The general also called for new political parties in Nigeria and asked that international groups monitor the elections to ensure fairness. Abubakar also called for internal reforms, including the release of political prisoners, changes in the prison system, and an end to corruption and mismanagement of public money. After the speech, there was calm in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.