Nigeria holds difficult talks on ending army rule
ABUJA, June 14 (Reuters) - Nigeria's new military ruler General Abdulsalam
Abubakar held lengthy talks with political leaders in his first effort to
rescue the country's chaotic plan to end years of army rule, official sources
Political sources in touch with participants described the meeting as
Abubakar's most challenging task since taking power following the death of
dictator Sani Abacha last Monday.
The talks began at 7.00 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Saturday and were continuing well
into the early hours of Sunday.
The sources said this reflected the difficulty of finding common ground between
politicians for and against the cancellation of widely criticised elections
already held under Abacha's plan to end army rule.
Four of five legal parties want new elections before a promised handover of
power to civilians on October 1.
Abubakar has pledged to stick to the plan without referring to a date. ``They
are going over results of elections already held. My party delegation at the
talks has sent for detailed results of recent elections,'' said a party
official in the capital Abuja.
Also attending the meeting are officials of the National Elections Commission
(NECOM), some of whom have admitted privately that they had been powerless to
stop Abacha's aides manipulating elections in their efforts to ensure the late
general's continued hold on power.
The Commission has already conducted local, state and national elections -- all
won with commanding margins by the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) which
is denounced by opponents as the army's proxy party.
UNCP was the first party to offer Abacha a platform to stand for presidential
elections unopposed. All the other four parties subsequently did the same,
making presidential elections scheduled for August 1 a non-event until Abacha's
sudden death from a believed heart attack.
Leaders of all the parties, with the exception of the UNCP went into the
meeting saying they would demand a rerun of state and national assembly
elections which they say were grossly marred by official manipulation.
``Four of the five parties want cancellation of all elections already held,
except those for local governments,'' said Barnabas Gemade, chairman of the
Congress for National Consensus, one of the four.
UNCP leaders vehemently oppose any poll re-run, saying it could delay the
army's handover and further cast doubt on the troubled transition.
``I think the government should not tamper with existing structures,'' said
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the UNCP chieftain in eastern Imo state and chairman
of the party's national mobilisation committee.
Iwuanyanwu, a publishing tycoon, told Reuters that cancellation of elections
already held ``will create more problems, create delays and create doubts in
the minds of many people as to the intentions of the government, especially as
far as democratisation of Nigeria is concerned.''
Gemade said the parties had not yet taken a position on whether the military
should extend their stay in power beyond October 1 in order to conduct new
elections. But he said he believed an extension would be acceptable as long as
the military left the political scene this year.
Nigeria, an oil-producing West African nation of 104 million people, has been
ruled by the military for all but 10 years since independence from Britain in
Fwd by Amos Babalola.