Nigeria's military ruler keeps his promise, resigns Civilian fills in

course is unsure

August 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Ending months of speculation, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria resigned yesterday and a new interim civilian leader was sworn in after eight years of military rule.

Ernest Shonekan, 57, a Harvard-educated businessman, was appointed by General Babangida to head an interim government in Africa's most populous country. He had been chairman of the Transitional Council, a group created in January by the military authorities to oversee Nigeria's return to democracy.

But Mr. Shonekan's commitment to democratic rule is questioned by the political opposition and even by some neutral analysts. They cite his virtual silence and acquiescence in General Babangida's decision in June to annul Nigeria's first multiparty presidential elections in nearly a decade.

The 32-member interim government consists almost entirely of either close friends or longtime political allies of General Babangida and will rule by military decree. By any accounting, the body falls far short of General Babangida's oft-stated promise to transfer power to an elected civilian government on or before Aug. 27, the anniversary of the bloodless coup he led against the previous military dictator in 1985.

General Babangida, 52, kept Nigerians waiting virtually until the final minutes of his reign before formally announcing his intention to resign. And it wasn't until after a lavish brass-band military parade in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, that the general revealed that Mr. Shonekan would succeed him.

In a brief acceptance speech, Mr. Shonekan said his main task was to hold a new presidential election and turn the government over to a democratically chosen head of state.

"Our task has not been made easier by the events of the past weeks, which have gone a long way in undermining our national economy," he said.

He added: "We also need to assure our foreign partners that Nigeria's commitment to the important elements of the new world order, particularly democratization, should not be in doubt."

General Babangida, by voiding the elections, plunged Nigeria into crisis, touching off civil unrest and the flight of tens of thousands of people back to their ancestral homelands out of fear that civil war would erupt.

On Wednesday and yesterday, there was a civil disobedience campaign here in Lagos and in nearby Ibadan, two of the country's largest cities, and in several other towns in Nigeria's southwest, a region dominated by the Yoruba ethnic group. People were urged to stay home to avoid being confronted by the military, which has been known to use force against protesters.

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