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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
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Nigeria: APIC Background Paper
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Nigeria: APIC Background Paper
Date Distributed (ymd): 961130
The Africa Policy Information Center has released a new 8-page
Background Paper, entitled Nigeria: Country Profile. This
posting contains the introduction, the first section, and a
table of contents. The full paper is available in three ways:
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Nigeria: Country Profile (introduction, section 1, table of
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, was a pioneer in the
movement for African independence. In past centuries, its
territory was home to a series of powerful and
technically-advanced societies, renowned for their artistic,
commercial, and political achievements.
Today, Nigeria remains one of Africa's most influential
countries. Its vast oil reserves and unique human resources
create the capacity for enormous prosperity and regional
leadership. The fate of its struggle for democracy and
national unity will have profound implications for the entire
continent. Both the potential and the obstacles are on the
giant scale of the country itself. British conquest brought
together within Nigeria's borders a wide range of cultures and
ethnic groups. The colonial "unity," however, was a top-down
authoritarian creation. In spite of the efforts of the
nationalist movement for independence to foster a asnese of
national identity, particularly after World War II, building
a nation based on popular participation remains a work in
There are solid foundations for democratic culture and a
diverse civil society. Nigeria has a rich array of private
entrepreneurs, energetic and diverse communications media,
labor unions, professional associations, a literary scene with
world-renowned authors, religious bodies, and many other
groups that have contributed to a sense of national identity
It also has a history of military repression, civilian
corruption, and ethnic tensions. Currently it is dominated by
a military regime which has no solution for economic problems
and only the thinnest veneer of "transition" painted over
systematic denial of democratic rights. As in many other
African countries, Nigerians await--and struggle for--a
"second independence" that will bear real fruits in political
participation and economic progress.
Section 1: Current Policy Issues
The most urgent issue is democracy, understood not only as an
end to military rule but also as the establishment of
responsive political institutions which promote accountable
government, prevent corruption, respect human and civil
rights, and ensure popular sovereignty.
For most Nigerians, the pressing problems of everyday survival
are the highest immediate priority. Since the oil boom of the
1970s, Nigeria's economy has been in crisis despite continued
expansion in oil production. The real income index for urban
households dropped from 166 in 1980 to 71 in 1986. The
exchange rate for the naira has dropped from one to a dollar
in 1985 to 79 to a dollar in 1996. And the list of dismal
statistics could go on (see additional sources in "Selected
Resources" below). Without the establishment of accountable
government, however, the chances of addressing other pressing
problems--such as the deterioration of living conditions and
the collapse of once outstanding educational institutions-
-are very low.
Nigeria has abundant human as well as natural resources to
address its problems. Many of its outstanding leaders,
however, are instead in prison or in exile. The prerequisite
for addressing other problems is having a government that
works and is accountable to the Nigerian people.
Nigerian hopes for a return to civilian rule were dashed when
the military regime annulled national elections after votes
were counted in June 1993. Since then repression has escalated
to unprecedented levels, culminating in the execution of
environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues in
November 1995. Military ruler General Sani Abacha peddles
another complex "transition" program, while internal protest
is repeatedly quashed and the international community pays
only sporadic attention.
Like the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1970s, the
Nigerian pro-democracy movement is faced with the challenge of
building a coalition that can isolate a systematically abusive
regime and promote a democratically accountable alternative.
The situations differ in many respects, most notably in the
lack of a racially-defined barrier between oppressor and
oppressed. Nevertheless, the movement for democracy in Nigeria
has similar strengths and faces comparably formidable
obstacles as did its South African counterpart twenty years
Despite repression, human rights and environmental groups,
trade unionists, educators, and others inside Nigeria continue
to resist authoritarian rule. Internal opposition has been
supported by a large and well-educated group of Nigerians
living abroad, just as the South African exile community
played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle.
International human rights groups and environmental groups
have joined with Africa advocacy groups in focusing world
attention on Nigeria.
In 1993, and again in 1995, the international community and
African leaders, including South African President Nelson
Mandela, also responded with intensified political,
diplomatic, and economic pressure on the Abacha regime to
secure the release of imprisoned leaders, to permit the return
of exiled activists, and to facilitate the identification of
a durable solution to Nigeria's political crisis. The United
States, the European Union, and the Commonwealth imposed
limited sanctions on Nigeria, including a ban on arms sales
and visa restrictions on Nigerian officials. There has also
been increased international support for Nigerian
organizations working for democracy and human rights.
These pressures have had more symbolic effects than
substantive impact. They have fallen far short of more
comprehensive sanctions demanded by Nigerian pro-democracy
forces. Legislation introduced in the US Congress, but not yet
voted on, would authorize additional economic sanctions, while
still not including a comprehensive embargo on Nigerian oil.
Sanctions proposals have been vigorously opposed by oil
companies. Since the discovery of oil in the Niger River delta
in 1958, Shell Oil and other international oil companies have
caused extensive environmental damage to this area, the
homeland of the Ogoni people and other minority groups.
Environmental and human rights groups accuse the companies of
collaborating with the Nigerian military regime to stifle
opposition to the industry s activities.
When public attention and the media spotlight shifts off of
Nigeria, diplomats tend to revert to business as usual,
relying on the false hope that quiet diplomacy with the
Nigerian government will eventually bring about the promised
transition to civilian rule and avert further crises. The
military regime is running a well-financed public relations
campaign to convince African-Americans and others that it is
sincere about change. Real progress toward democracy is
unlikely, however, unless more significant steps are taken to
weaken the military regime and to strengthen popular
Representatives of pro-democracy groups within Nigeria,
hampered by difficulties of communication and recurrent
repression, are best contacted when travelling or through
overseas representatives. The following is a short list of
U.S.-based contacts for those willing to get involved in
supporting the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. Many more
sources can be found on or through the Web sites listed in the
"Further Resources" section of this paper.
The United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN) was formed in
March 1996 at simultaneous summit meetings in South Africa and
Norway, as a common platform of pro-democracy organizations.
Contact points in the U.S. include (1) the Nigerian Democratic
Movement, P.O. Box 91291, Washington, DC 20090; tel:
202-806-4793; fax: 202-806-4632; e-mail:
Bolaji Aluko; and (2) the Organization of Nigerians in the
Americas, P.O. Box 200985, Austin, TX 78720-0985; tel:
512-335-0287; fax: 512-471-1061; e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org; contact: Julius Ihonvbere. Other
Nigerian pro-democracy groups can be located through the Web
addresses in the "Further Resources" section.
The International Roundtable on Nigeria (IRTON) is an informal
association of human rights, environmental, labor, and
US-based Nigerian pro-democracy groups working to help
Nigerians restore a rights-respecting, accountable government.
Its meetings are coordinated through the Government Affairs
Office of Amnesty International USA, 304 Pennsylvania Ave SE,
Washington DC 20003, tel: 202-544-0200, Ext. 234; fax:
202-546-7142. Contact: Adotei Akwei.
The Africa Fund, which took a leading role in the campaign for
local and state government action against the apartheid
regime, is now involved with other groups in similar actions
to support the Nigerian pro-democracy movement. Africa Fund,
17 John St., New York, NY 10038; tel: 212-962-1210; e-mail:
email@example.com; contact: Michael Fleshman.
Of the U.S.-based environmental organizations, the Sierra Club
is currently most actively engaged in the Shell Boycott,
working with representatives of the Movement for the Survival
of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other groups. Sierra Club, 408
C St., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; tel: 202-675-6691; e-mail:
http://www.sierraclub.org/saro-wiwa/; contact: Stephen Mills,
Human Rights and Environment Campaign Director.
Section 2: Capsule history (pre-1960)
Section 3: Capsule history (post-1960)
Section 4: Fast Facts
Section 5: Further Resources
Section 6: "Sweet Mother"
This material is produced and distributed by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis
usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.