Election Commission Says Vote To Be Held Despite Court Ruling
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Election officials said today that Nigerians will vote for president as planned despite a court injunction blocking the balloting because of charges the campaigns were corrupt.
The court ordered the postponement late Thursday after a pro-military group asked that President Ibrahim Babangida stay in power four more years. It is widely believed the president controls the court system.
But the chairman of the National Electoral Commission, Humphrey Nwosu, said the vote aimed at ending military rule will take place Saturday.
″The election will be on,″ he said in a telephone interview. He said the court can’t stop the commission from holding an election.
It was unclear today if another arm of Babangida’s government will step in to further cloud attempts at civilian rule in Africa’s most populous black nation.
Babangida seized power in 1985, promising democracy and an end to corruption, which has deepened over the past decade. Soldiers have ruled this west-central African nation of 88.5 million people for 23 of its 33 years since independence from Britain.
Meeting late at night Thursday, the Abuja High Court, second only to the Supreme Court, issued an injunction preventing the National Electoral Commission from conducting the elections pending a final decision on a lawsuit brought by a group called the Association for Better Nigeria.
Better Nigeria claims the two candidates - handpicked by Babangida - are too corrupt to rule and that Babangida should stay in power for four more years.
Justice Bassey Ikpeme ruled that the association’s claims of campaign irregularities by the country’s two political parties were justifiable.
″With the evidence before me, the planned election can no longer be free and fair,″ Mrs. Ikpeme said. ″The National Electoral Commission is hereby restrained from going ahead with the said election.″
Her ruling came hours after the electoral commission announced the end of the one-month election campaign.
Babangida canceled results of the two primaries, claiming widespread fraud and vote-buying. He then chose two Muslim millionaire friends to run in the election, popular publisher and self-styled philanthropist Moshood K.O. Abiola and little-known banker and industrialist Bashir Tofa.
Babangida’s enemies accused him of manipulating events so he could continue to run Nigeria behind the scenes even if he yielded power as scheduled on Aug. 27.
The president also had been accused of instigating chaos as an excuse to hold on to power.
Rivalry between the politically dominant Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, whose oil wells generate more than 80 percent of government revenue, regularly explodes into sword-slashing battles that kill thousands. More than 5,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes last year. Since then, Nigeria has suffered unprecedented strikes, a plummeting currency, increasing crime and poverty.
The military’s backers, led by the Association for a Better Nigeria, had warned there would be chaos if soldiers don’t control Nigeria.