Storm in Nigeria

August 22, 1993

Nigeria is the giant of Africa. Nigeria is a bastion of education and sophistication. Nigeria is leading the West African operation to restore civil society to Liberia. But Nigeria has trouble ruling itself. Its main obstacle is a military dictator who promised to restore democracy and went half-way and now won't follow through.

The stakes are rising. It may be Nigeria, not smaller Liberia, where civil war threatens life and the pursuit of happiness. The Nigeria Labor Congress told its 3.5 million trade-union members to strike this coming Friday if President Ibrahim Babangida has not handed over power by then, the day he long promised for the turnover.

The senate, elected last year as part of General Babangida's phase-in of democracy, then demanded he hand power to the legislative chamber. This was after the general promised legislators he would step down if his military advisers so advised, which apparently they have not done.

The government suspended 16 publications for holding the president to his promise. Some are owned by K. O. Abiola, the businessman who almost certainly won the election for president in June before the government abolished the count, an election limited to two candidates pre-approved by General Babangida.

Canada has suspended military aid programs to Nigeria, joining the United States and Britain in mild sanctions. The beleaguered strong man has lately promised to hand over power to a mixed civilian-military group of his own choosing. That won't do. Nigeria is too big, too oil-rich, too diverse, too talented to be run as a personal fiefdom. General Babangida has summoned into being the winds of change that are howling round him. He must go.

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