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Saturday, April 25, 1998 Published at 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK

World: Analysis

Nigeria: General Abacha's era of dictatorship

General Abacha: hopes of free and fair elections have been dashed

The collapse of Nigeria's planned presidential elections and subsequesnt tension of the parliamentary elections comes as little surprise given the country's recent history.

A report on corruption, published in July 1997 by the Berlin-based organisation Transparency International listed Nigeria as the most corrupt nation in the world.

The most recent military coup occurred in November 1993, following the annulment of presidential elections in June that year.

General Sani Abacha, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, took power. He annulled the organs of state, banned political parties and dismantled the democratic structures.

Return to democracy delayed

International pressure forced General Abacha to announce a three-year timetable for the transition to democracy in October 1995, but the plans were plagued by repeated delays.

Local elections held in March 1997 were five months later than planned. Only five political parties were registered of the 15 who applied.

[ image: Opposition groups say the political process has been manipulated]
Opposition groups say the political process has been manipulated
The successful applicants appeared to be puppet parties of the regime.

Parties had six weeks to register, and in that time had to enrol 1.2m members with 40,000 members per state, and provide photographs and signatures of each member.

In July last year, the Nigerian commission responsible for the transition to democracy announced that Presidential elections would be held on August 1, 1998. A handover to civilian rule is due to occur by the beginning of October.

According to BBC correspondent Miles Warde, despite Nigeria's poor democratic record in recent years, people can choose from eight or nine daily newspapers representing every position in Nigeria's political make-up.

Attacks on General Sani Abacha's military government can be searing.

BBC correspondent Hilary Anderson says many Nigerians are disillusioned (2'42'')
Abacha says Western-style democracy isn't always suitable in Africa. Issues cause division, he says, when it is consensus that is needed.

In an attempt to tackle the government's image problem, representatives even approached British publicist Max Clifford in 1997.

'Coup leaders' verdict due soon

The Abacha regime could soon face a further PR disaster.

A special military tribunal will deliver its verdict on Wednesday on 16 army officers and 10 civilians accused of participating in a coup in December 1997.

If they are found guilty, the 26 face the death penalty.

It was a military tribunal which ordered the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine other activists in November 1995.

It was the reaction to this as much as to democratic failings which made Nigeria unpopular in the world community.

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