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Elections in Nigeria Canceled

June 11, 1993

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ A Nigerian High Court canceled presidential elections late Thursday, less than two days before the polls that were expected to give Africa’s most populous country its first civilian president in a decade.

The transition to civilian rule promised by President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida is already three years overdue.

The Abuja High Court ordered the National Electoral Commission to scrub the Saturday elections after a group calling itself the Association for a Better Nigeria asked that Babangida stay in power another four years.

Nigerian newspapers have speculated that Babangida is behind the association, led by wealthy businessman Arthur Nzeribe. Retired judges have also charged that the president controls the court system.

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. The National Electoral Commission is hereby restrained from going ahead with the said election,″ Mrs. Ikpeme said.

Her ruling came hours after the electoral commission announced the end of the one-month election campaign of Democrats and Republicans, styled after U.S. politics.

They have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Nzeribe, who was disqualified along with 22 other presidential candidates after last September’s presidential primaries, said he could prove that vote- buying had occurred.

Babangida canceled results of the primaries, claiming widespread fraud and vote-buying, then chose two candidates for the election.

The president seized power in 1985, promising democracy and an end to corruption, which has grown worse in the last decade.

Soldiers have ruled this west-central African nation of 88.5 million people for 23 of its 33 years since independence from Britain.

The president lifted a ban on party politics in 1989, then reimposed it to create the planned two-man race, saying the country’s parties were divided on the same tribal, ethnic and religious lines that brought down previous civilian governments.

Babangida had chosen two of his millionaire friends to run Saturday, popular publisher and self-styled philanthropist Moshood K.O. Abiola and little-known banker and industrialist Bashir Tofa.

Babangida’a enemies suspected him of maneuvering events so that even if he yielded power as promised on Aug. 27, he could continue to run Nigeria behind the scenes.

Earlier Thursday, attention was focused on Tofa’s controversial call two years ago for a Muslim ″jihad″ against Christians. Newspapers carried Tofa’s belated response on their front pages Thursday.

Tofa had used the word jihad and the dailies quoted him as saying Thursday, ″Jihad means a struggle. Jihad is not when you take sword and start fighting a war.″ Tofa is a Muslim, as is Abiola.

But in a country where relations between Muslims and Christians are often tense, and ethnic and religious differences led to a civil war in 1966-1971, the remarks caused a furor.

Christians and Muslims comprise most of this former British colony’s population, with each claiming to be in the majority.

Muslims traditionally dominate politics here, stirring resentment among Christians who dominate the economy except for the oil wells, which produce 80 percent of government revenue.

Bloody confrontations between the two religions erupt often in northern Nigeria.

The oil wells are in the south, and their corrupt management by the government has spawned new secessionist calls, evoking memories of the 1966-1971 civil war. About 250,000 people were killed before government troops put down a rebellion by southeastern Ibos wanting to create the country of Biafra.

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