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DID NIGERIA DERAIL ITS ELECTIONS?

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The military government secretly organized the lawsuits that derailed Nigeria's June 12 elections so the army could keep power, a top official with the organization that filed the suits said Friday.

The stunning disclosure bolstered critics who have contended that the military ruler, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was orchestrating political chaos to keep from stepping down as promised on Aug. 27.Abimola Davis, No. 2 official in the shadowy organization that supports Babangida's continued rule, said annulment of last month's elections was "an organized confusion by just a few of us to prolong the lifespan of the present military administration."

Davis spoke at a news conference. Reporters were barred from leaving for 40 minutes after it ended to allow Davis and his family to flee Nigeria before his remarks were publicized.

His Association for Better Nigeria filed a series of lawsuits contending that the two presidential candidates - Moshood K.O. Abi-ola and Bashir Othman Tofa - were corrupt and Babangida should stay in power. Davis signed the suits.

A federal court later termed the elections illegal and suppressed the release of election returns. Babangida supported the court actions and ordered new elections.

The controversy led to worldwide condemnation and to rioting. Human rights groups said more than 100 people were killed last week during demonstrations in Lagos, the nation's biggest city.

Friday's disclosure came hours after the Babangida government announced that new presidential elections would be held on Aug. 14.

Critics of Babangida say the apparent winner of the ballot, billionaire industrialist Abiola, was prevented from assuming office because he is a member of the Yoruba tribe and therefore unacceptable to the Hausa-dominated military.

On Aug. 14, Nigerians are to pick from two new candidates for president, but Abiola and his former Republican rival, Tofa, have been barred from competing again. The political climate is so volatile that no prominent Nigerian has yet dared to announce a candidacy.