By disbanding Abacha's discredited electoral machinery, releasing hundreds of political detainees and declaring that an elected government would take over on May 29, 1999, Abubakar has made a gesture of good faith that should quell demands for an immediate handover to a government of national unity. "More important," says Mutiso, "it allows Abubakar to keep control while the military decides whether to field its own candidate. But the nine-month timetable also gives the opposition time to get organized before an election." In other words, Abubakar's time-out will allow both sides to catch their breath.
General Abdulsalam Abubakar's nine-month timetable for a transition to military rule is good news for both the country's military rulers and their civilian opposition. "The sudden death of both General Sani Abacha and Moshood Abiola left all sides in disarray," says TIME reporter Clive Mutiso. "It turned the military's planned election -- in which Abacha was the only candidate -- into a referendum over whether a dead man should rule the country. But it also left the opposition without a clear alternative."