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    Next Saturday, August the eleventh, the Nigerian people will be electing a civilian President. It?

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    Next Saturday, August the eleventh, the Nigerian people will be electing a civilian President. It will be the last of a series of elections held over the past month, to chose two Houses, a Federal parliament and governors and legislatures for the nineteen member states. All this is in preparation for October the first, when the new civilian constitution will come into effect, after thirteen years of military government.

    SYNOPSIS: October the first last year: the eighteenth anniversary of the day when Nigeria first gained independence 00 and the last time that Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo would take the salute as Head of State. Plans for a return to civilian rule had already been announced.

    Two military coups in seven months, in 1966, put an end to the British-style constitution which Nigeria had inherited, and brought Colonel Yakubu Gowon to power. Before long, Nigeria was plunged into the civil war that made the name "Biafra" know throughout the world as a symbol of starvation. Biafra was the breakaway state in Eastern Nigeria that tried in Eastern Nigeria that tried to resist the efforts of General Gowon (as he had now become) to weld the widely differing tribal and cultural traditions of the Nigerian people into a single political entity.

    After three years of stubborn fighting, Biafra was reduced to submission. Its leaders handed General Gowon the instruments of surrender. Five years of reconstruction followed before General Gowon in turn lost the confidence of the Nigerian people.

    In July 1975, a group of Army officers deposed him in favour of Brigadier ??? Mohammed. It was a peaceful revolution, that took place while General Gowon was out of the country. He took refuge in England. Brigadier Mohammed promised a new drive against inflation and inefficiency in handling Nigeria's fast-growing economy.

    Six months later, he was assassinated. The car in which he and three men with him were shot dead is now on display in the national museum in Lagos. General Mohammed had been popular and there were demonstrations against his murderers at his memorial service. Thirty people were executed for it later.

    Among his plans which his successor, General Obasanjo, pledged himself to carry on was the return to civilian rule. Chief Rotimi Williams, a leading Nigerian lawyer, had already been appointed to head a constitution drafting committee. General Mohammed had laid down the guidelines for it: to guarantee human rights and the independence of the judiciary; to facilitate consensus politics rather than cut-throat political competition. Within a year, Chief Williams was ready to present his draft to General Obasanjo. Broadly, it is the constitution now being brought into effect.

    Last year, President Jimmy Carter of the United States visited Nigeria -- recognition of the importance of Africa's most populous country. The President and General Obasanjo found much common in their views on Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Nigeria's influence in this field has made itself felt again in events at the recent Commonwealth Conference.

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