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Nigerians Riot, Hide and Wonder if Revolt is Worth it With PM-Nigeria, Bjt

July 7, 1993

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ When people here say the roads are bad, they don’t mean potholes. They mean thugs with clubs looting everything on wheels. They mean crowds cradling rocks and jamming overpasses, waiting for motorists.

Lagos, a violent urban nightmare even on its best days, has slid into something resembling insanity.

Human rights groups have called a general strike this week to pressure the military dictatorship to recognize the June 12 presidential elections it voided. Tens of thousands of people are determined to enforce it.

Men, women and children are staging battles with police, who are shooting back. But the unrest has left many others cowering in schools and hospitals, afraid to stay home or set foot outdoors.

The riots commence at 7 a.m. Shops and banks stay closed, and only the most foolhardy cabbie picks up a fare.

After sunset, the masses disperse. The brutal boys who man the barricades pull the tires, railroad ties, rocks and scorched trees from the roads and go home. Motorists race to their destinations.

The riots broke out Monday and got bigger and meaner on Tuesday. At least 11 people were reported killed the second day.

Among the deaths: A cab driver burned to death when he tried to crash through a human barricade and killed a youth; a rock-thrower shot by police; and two officers beaten to death by rioters.

The federal government gave the Lagos state government 24 hours to restore order and said the army would reinforce the outnumbered police.

Most blame the dictator, Gen. Ibraham Babangida, for allowing things to get so bad in this city of 1.3 million, the largest in Africa’s most populous nation.

Babangida organized the June 12 presidential elections that were to return this nation of 88.5 million to civilian leadership after a decade of military rule, then annulled them four days later.

But others fear the dark side of this pro-democracy movement. They say the violence only helps Babangida, who many accuse of fomenting chaos to find an excuse to stay in power.

On Tuesday, families crowded into tiny Jolad Hospital to find safety while thousands jammed a highway overpass outside, hurling rocks at the approaching police on the deserted freeway below. The police responded with tear gas and gunfire.

″Do you think this helps?″ said Francis Adesina, 38, holed up in the waiting room with his pregnant wife and three children. They were joined by a man who staggered in with a gunshot wound in the arm.

″Sometimes I’m sorry I’m a Nigerian,″ Adesina said.

The protests were the first serious unrest since June 16, when Babangida abruptly voided the election results, claiming they were rigged.

According to unofficial results, the vote was won by a one-time Babangida ally, business tycoon Moshood K.O. Abiola, who has now denounced the general.

On Tuesday, Abiola said Babangida gave Nigeria’s two legal political parties an ultimatum to accept new elections on July 31.

If not, Babangida would dissolve all the democratic institutions set up last year, including the parliament, and replace them with an interim administration.

While the standoff continued, people like Mike Godwin, 32, left his little house and rushed his family to what seemed like a haven: the Jolad Hospital.

Instead, he found himself, his wife and two little girls diving to the floor as gunshots popped outside the door.

″I support the strike,″ he said breathlessly. ″We’re for a democratic style of government. But we don’t want shooting.″

Others viewed the violence as a grim necessity. The hospital’s chief physician, Dr. R.D. Olafpido, patched two bullet wounds Tuesday and mended three bones broken at the barricades.

″When all is said and done, we’ll see that it was necessary for people to stand up to their rights,″ he said quietly, holding the X-ray of a cleanly broken ankle up to the light.

″Be careful,″ he added. ″The roads are bad.″

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