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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK

World: Africa

Soldiers 'too close for comfort' say MPs

Nigerian soldiers: A tendency for coups, MPs believe

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

Nigerian parliamentarians have called on the government to move military barracks away from the presidential villa and parliament building in the capital, Abuja - because of the tendency of Nigerian soldiers to stage coups d'etat.

Nigeria elections
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a motion which argued that Nigeria was a coup-prone country, and that it was not possible for MPs to concentrate on their work when the soldiers were, as they put it, too close for comfort.

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The removal of the soldiers was necessary to strengthen democracy in Nigeria, members argued.

They said they were unhappy with a situation where a group of over-ambitious soldiers need only walk across from their barracks to State House or the Parliament Building in order to sack the democratically elected government.

Some members went even further, arguing that no military barracks should be close to any city centre in Nigeria and even that all barracks should be moved to locations close to the country's borders.

The new civilian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has not yet responded to the legislators' demands.

But after only a month in power he has already shown how seriously he takes the potential threat from the army by dismissing about 150 senior officers.

Accommodation crisis

However, the House of Representatives has another reason for wanting to see soldiers moved out from the centre of the capital, Abuja. The presence of so many senior army officers has made it impossible for MPs to find accommodation of their own in the city.

Most have spent the past few weeks living in hotels where they complain they are unable to lodge their families or entertain guests. The departure of the soldiers would go a long way to solving Abuja's accommodation crisis.

Nigeria only returned to civilian rule in May when the military stood down after more than 15 years in power.

Since independence from Britain in 1960, there have been six successful coups d'etats as well as several unsuccessful coup attempts.

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