Abiola Death Leaves Nigeria in Turmoil

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Moshood Abiola's death has caused more problems for his military jailers than any it might have solved. As if to underline the point, there were riots across southern Nigeria Wednesday and Thursday, in which 45 people were reported killed, and General Abdulsalam Abubakar dissolved his cabinet. "The military needs to arbitrate Nigeria's massive tribal and regional tensions by promoting national unity," says TIME reporter Clive Mutiso. "They desperately needed Abiola to renounce his immediate claim on the presidency, but also to start talking national unity and endorsing new elections."

Abiola, once close to the military rulers, had bridged the gulf between the northern Hausa group (which dominates the military) and the Ibo and Yoruba groups that populate the wealthier southern regions. His loss leaves a void of candidates that could unite the fractious electorate of Africa's most populous nation in October's scheduled poll.

"Whether the current rioting degenerates into something far more serious depends on whether opposition groups suspect that the generals plan to renege on their commitment to hand over power in October -- if they think the military is entrenching itself, they'll try and make the country ungovernable. Right now, it's anybody's guess what the military is planning." In a country where the two most important politicians suddenly expire of natural causes at age 60, anything seems possible.