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Nigeria: APIC Update Alert
Nigeria: APIC Update Alert
Date distributed (ymd): 980305
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
This posting contains an APIC Update Action Alert on Nigeria,
summarizing the current context and giving options for action to support
democracy in Nigeria. Sources are also noted for more extensive background
Stronger Pressure Needed to Move Nigeria to Democracy
It is now almost five years since the Nigerian military regime overturned
the results of Nigeria's June 12, 1993 presidential election. It is more
than two years since the regime executed environmental and human rights
activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight colleagues in defiance of worldwide appeals
While the United States has joined others around the world in criticizing
the lack of democracy in Nigeria, the flow of money tells a different story.
U.S. investments in Nigeria, led by investment in the oil sector, have
grown from around $4 billion to as much as $7 billion over the last five
years. Bilateral trade increased from $4.9 billion in 1994 to $6.7 billion
Meanwhile, the Clinton Administration's internal policy review on Nigeria
has dragged on for several years. President Clinton is planning a visit
to Africa in March, including two West African countries, Senegal and Ghana.
The President needs to hear that failure to take a stronger position on
Nigeria, before or during his trip, will send a strong signal that Washington
is not serious about supporting African pro-democracy efforts.
The military regime headed by General Sani Abacha continues with its
plans for a "transition" to civilian rule by October. But the
scheme has won little credibility. Meanwhile, political prisoners languish
in jail and the government has stepped up repression against critics, journalists
and members of the Ogoni minority group in the Delta area.
Shell, Mobil and other multinational oil companies are heavily invested
in Nigeria's energy sector. They continue to deny that they bear any responsibility
for the human rights abuses of the Nigerian government. It is a fact nonetheless
that oil revenues bolster the repressive regime.
Activists from Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)
have protested environmental contamination of the land by the multinational
oil companies, particularly Shell. The oil companies claim they are improving
their environmental standards and their relationships with local communities
in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria. Ogoni activists remain in detention,
As long as new oil investment flows into Nigeria, swelling the bank
accounts of its military rulers, criticism from Western capitals will be
dismissed as empty rhetoric. This is so even if the decibel level moves
up a notch from "quiet" diplomacy. Supporting democracy in Nigeria,
advocates must continue to stress, requires going beyond talk to action
which imposes real penalties for failure to move toward democratic rule.
Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has alternated between short periods
of intense civilian political competition and longer stretches under military
rule. Military governments ruled from 1966 to 1979, and from 1984 to the
As a British colony, Nigeria was administered as three distinct geographical
areas: the north, predominantly Muslim and Hausa-speaking; the southeast,
predominantly Christian and identified with the Igbo-speaking ethnic group;
and the southwest, also predominantly Christian and largely Yoruba-speaking.
Between 1967 and 1970, Nigeria fought a civil war over the secession
of the eastern region, called Biafra. Despite intense ethnic polarization
and perhaps as many as a million killed during the war, the winning federal
government followed a policy of non-retribution. Subsequent division of
Nigeria into smaller states produced larger representation for ethnic groups
other than the big three.
While political competition often paralleled ethnic and regional divisions,
there were also many cross-cutting divisions and alliances based on distinctions
between civilian and military, between rich and poor, and a host of other
factors. A wide array of groups--private business, independent communications
media, labor unions, professional associations, religious bodies, and a
literary scene with world-renowned authors--built solid foundations for
democratic culture and a vibrant civil society.
Human Rights Abuses
In 1987 President Ibrahim Babangida, who came to power in a 1985 coup,
officially began a program of transition to civilian rule. After many delays,
it culminated in presidential elections in 1993.
The electoral system imposed two political parties created by the military.
Both parties chose wealthy Muslim businessmen to run for president. One
candidate was Bashir Tofa, from northern Nigeria. The other was Chief Moshood
Abiola, from the southwest. Although both had been approved by the military,
Abiola, a media magnate and philanthropist, was seen as potentially more
Abiola won majorities in 22 of Nigeria's 31 states. Even in the north
he won 43% of the vote, including majorities in four of the 11 northern
states. President Babangida annulled the results of the election. When
protests led Babangida to resign, he installed his own civilian caretaker,
Ernest Shonekan. Shonekan was then deposed by General Sani Abacha in November
Abacha's rule has been marked by unprecedented levels of political repression
against opponents from all walks of life. The most prominent case was the
hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow Ogoni activists in 1995,
just after General Abacha had announced his new three-year plan for return
to civilian rule. In January this year, a new crackdown on Ogoni activists
has renewed fears that others may die in prison. The regime has also targeted
journalists, trade union leaders, human rights activists and political
opponents, as well as repeatedly discovering alleged coup plots within
its own ranks.
Prominent political prisoners include Chief Abiola, winner of the 1993
election; former head of state General Olesegun Obasanjo, who became a
prominent international statesman after he handed over power to a civilian
government in 1980; Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani, leaders of the
Campaign for Democracy, which spearheaded demonstrations in 1993; Frank
Kokori and Milton Dabibi of the oil workers union; Chima Ubani of the Civil
Liberties Organization; and Batom Mitee of Movement for the Survival of
the Ogoni People--to name only a few. Scores of others are in detention,
and hundreds more have been harassed or forced into exile. Kudirat Abiola,
wife of the imprisoned election winner, was assassinated in 1996 in an
incident widely attributed to covert agents of the regime. Major-General
Musa Yar'Adua died in prison last December, and many other detainees are
reported in poor health.
According to the U.S. State Department's human rights report for 1997,
the transitional electoral process "failed to generate popular support
for the authorized political parties or their leadership. The possibility
of the transition program producing a serious presidential candidate other
than Abacha appeared remote." Other sources confirm this analysis.
The current "transition," notes a report from the U.S. Institute
of Peace, "is so seriously flawed that it is not credible or legitimate."
Abacha even fears possible opposition within his own regime. In December
he arrested the country's second-highest-ranking military officer and others
alleged to be planning a coup.
The International Response
Despite the Nigerian regime's influence-buying campaign in the United
States and other countries, there is wide international consensus regarding
the denial of democracy in Nigeria. There is, however, still much disagreement
as to what should be done. Nigeria has been suspended from the Commonwealth,
but its expulsion was postponed at the last Commonwealth summit in favor
of a threat to take further action if democracy is not restored by October
of this year. The United States and other countries have imposed restrictions
on military sales, aid and visas for Nigerian military leaders. U.S. State
Department human rights reports have been strongly critical of Nigeria,
and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Walter Carrington won the enmity
of the Nigerian regime for his support of human rights activists.
Overall, however, Washington has not made Nigeria a high priority. An
Administration policy review has been pending for several years. Legislation
has been introduced in Congress that would codify existing sanctions against
Nigeria and impose new ones, including a ban on new U.S. investment in
Nigeria. But the Administration has not supported the legislation, and
the bill has yet to acquire enough congressional support to move ahead.
This failure to take stronger action, combined with the flow of additional
investment, means that international pressure has in fact imposed little
or no restraint on the Nigerian military regime. Nevertheless, an international
grassroots movement of support for democracy in Nigeria has continued to
grow, including Nigerian exiles, human rights and environmental groups,
trade unions, religious groups and others.
This movement has appealed to the Nigerian government to change its
behavior and to Western governments to impose sanctions. It has also targeted
Shell Oil, demanding that the company accept responsibility for the environmental
devastation it has caused and actively use its influence against human
rights abuses. With tactics echoing the anti-apartheid movement, state
and local governments in the United States have begun to enact their own
sanctions against Shell and the Nigerian regime. It is only such a groundswell
of actions that can eventually lead governments, and businesses as well,
to take seriously democracy in Africa.
[Note to non-U.S. readers: This posting is designed primarily for U.S.
readers. It is provided more widely both for your background information
and for possible forwarding to those of your U.S. contacts you think would
1. Contact President Clinton. Ask him to complete the internal Administration
policy review on Nigeria before he travels to Africa, and to announce new
substantive measures to pressure the Nigerian military regime to release
prisoners and allow the country to return to democracy. Such measures should
include, at the very least, a ban on new U.S. investment in Nigeria's energy
sector. Remind the President that the absence of democracy in Africa's
most populous country handicaps the entire continent's future, and that
inconsistent U.S. policy has encouraged the military regime to resist change.
President Bill Clinton
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
White House comment line: (202) 456-1111
2. Write General Sani Abacha, head of the Nigerian military government.
Urge him to release all political prisoners, lift barriers to free public
debate, and implement a genuine transition to civilian rule. Remind him
that groups around the world are mobilizing grassroots pressure in favor
of democracy in Nigeria.
General Sani Abacha, Chairman
Provisional Ruling Council
Send a copy of your letter to:
Ambassador Wakili Hassan Adamu
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1333 16th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202) 775-1385
3. Write Phillip J. Carroll, president of Shell Oil (U.S.) Let him know
that Shell cannot evade responsibility for the environmental, social and
political consequences of its investments in Nigeria. Ask him to let you
know what action he is taking to ensure the release of Ogoni activists
and other political prisoners in Nigeria and a return to civilian rule
in that country.
Mr. Phillip J. Carroll, President
Shell Oil (U.S.)
P.O. Box 2463
Houston, TX 77252
Fax: (713) 241-4044
4. Send copies of your letters to your Senators and Representative in
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121
For Additional Background and Updates
On the Web:
The Africa Policy Web Site (www.africapolicy.org)
has a Nigeria: Country Profile background paper, references to other sites
and many additional documents on Nigerian issues.
The Africa News Web Site (www.africanews.org/west/nigeria)
has current news, including dispatches from the Pan African News Agency.
The Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List (email@example.com)
reposts selected documents on Nigeria as well as other African issues,
on average two to three times a week.
The Shell-Nigeria-Action listserv has frequent news and action alerts.
To subscribe to the listserv send the message "subscribe shell-nigeria-action
[your name]" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nigeria County Profile (8 pages) is available for sale ($2 each,
$1.60 each for 20 or more, include 15% for postage and handling)from APIC,
110 Maryland Ave., NE, #509, Washington, DC 20002.
Additional books for suggested reading, including recent works by Ken
Saro-Wiwa and Wole Soyinka, are noted in the Country Profile on-line (http://www.africapolicy.org/bp/niger5.html).
Many are available for purchase on-line through the APIC Africa Web Bookshop
in conjunction with the on-line bookshop Amazon.com.
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