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Note: 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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Maryland Sanctions

Nigeria: Maryland Sanctions
Date distributed (ymd): 980407
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains several documents related to the proposed Maryland State legislation to impose sanctions on Nigeria by limiting state business with companies doing business in Nigeria. On March 31 the Maryland Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs committee voted 6-5 against the proposed bill. The US State Department's lobbying against the bill was among the factors damaging the bill's prospects.

This added to other indications of less than coherent US policy towards Nigeria, excerpted below.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Administration Statements

While Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice articulated a strong position in a speech
at the Brookings Institution on March 12
a remark by President Clinton at his Cape Town press conference on March 27
implied that General Abacha's candidacy for President of Nigeria would be acceptable if he became a civilian. Although that implication was later repudiated in the State Department's press briefing, where spokesperson James Foley called the idea of a credible Abacha candidacy "wildly hypothetical," dominant voices in the administration are still opposed to any significant increase of pressures on the Nigerian military regime.

Excerpts from Rice remarks (March 12, 1998):

"And we will continue to maintain our sanctions against the military dictatorship in Nigeria, one of the worst abusers of human rights on the continent. We intend to hold General Abacha to his three-year old promise to undertake a genuine transition to civilian rule this year and to establish a level playing field by allowing free political activity, providing for an open press and ending political detention. Le me state clearly and unequivocally to you today that an electoral victory by any military candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections would be unacceptable. Nigeria needs and deserves a real transition to democracy and civilian rule, not another military regime dressed up in civilian clothes."

Excerpts from Clinton press conference (March 27, 1998):

Q Mr. President, you expressed regret the other day that the United States supported authoritarian regimes in Africa during the Cold War. Today, we buy about 50 percent of the oil from Nigeria, propping up a regime the United States says is one of the most oppressive in Africa. -- what will the United States do?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, let me restate what I said because I think it's worth saying again. I said that I did not believe the United States had ever been as good a partner to the African nations and the African people as we could have been, and that during the Cold War, when we and the Soviets were worried about the standoff that we had between us, we tended to evaluate governments in Africa and to pick and chose among them and to give aid to them based far more on how they stood in the fight of the Cold War than how they stood toward the welfare of their people. I stand by that. And I think now we're free to take a different course.

President Mandela and I actually talked at some length about this today, and I, frankly, asked for his advice. And Nigeria is the largest country in Africa in terms of population. It does have vast oil resources. It has a large army. It is capable of making a significant contribution to Regional security, as we have seen in the last several months. My policy is to do all that we can to persuade General Abacha to move toward general democracy and respect for human rights--release of the political prisoners; the holding of elections. If he stands for election, we hope he will stand as a civilian.

There are many military leaders who have taken over chaotic situations in African countries, but have moved toward democracy. And that can happen in Nigeria; that is, purely and simply, what we want to happen. Sooner, rather than later, I hope.

Sierra Club Press Release
March 9, 1998

On Thursday Feb. 26, the Sierra Club organized what was surely one of the most extraordinary hearings ever held on the persecution of environmentalists in Nigeria. It was in fact, the first hearing on the issue held at the state level.

At the behest of the Sierra Student Coalition and the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, State Senators Dolores Kelley, Barbara Hoffman, and Martin Madden have introduced a Nigeria sanctions bill (S.354) into the Maryland State Senate modeled after South African anti-apartheid legislation passed by the Assembly in the 1980's. The bill would prohibit state contracts with Nigeria or with any state institution that does business with Nigeria.

"As in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, American companies should not do business with an oppressive, murderous regime in Nigeria," said Nancy Davis, Maryland Chapter Legislative Chair for the Sierra Club. "We don't want our dollars supporting their bloodshed."

In addition to Davis, those testifying on behalf of the bill included Sierra Club Board of Directors member Michael Dorsey, Dr. Owens Wiwa (brother of slain environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa), representatives from Amnesty International, The Africa Fund and Sierra Student Coalition member extraordinaire Eric Luedtke. Luedtke presented the Committee with petitions containing the signatures of more than 900 students gathered the previous weekend who are demanding that the Maryland Assembly pass the sanctions bill. The Student Coalition has been holding petition signing events and Shell demonstrations across the state.

One of most entertaining moments in the hearing came when a member of the Senate Committee rebuked the representative from the Corporate Council on Africa for his defense of "democratic" South Africa during apartheid. Clearly out of touch with harsh realities for environmentalists and democracy advocates in the African country, the representative of the oil industry could not defend his organization's desire to profit from a country where an illegal military junta executes environmental activists.

The Nigeria Sanctions issue is expected to come up again on March 25th when the Maryland House of Delegates will hold a hearing on the companion bill, H.B. 1273. Environmentalists and human rights advocates are encouraged to attend.

The Sierra Student Coalition is asking that Maryland residents write letters to their state legislators and governor urging support for Nigeria sanctions. The name and addresses of state legislators, as well as information on the bills can be found on the web at

For more information, contact Eric Luedtke at (301) 340-6081 ( or Nancy Davis (MD Sierra Legislative Chair) at (410) 263-2230. More information on the Sierra Club's Nigeria campaign can be found on the web at, or by e-mailing

The Nation Editorials, April 6, 1998 (Excerpt)

African Trade-Offs

... the brutal military dictatorship governing Nigeria recently found itself with a new Washington lobbyist: the State Department. The same day as the vote on the Africa trade bill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Ramsay showed up in Maryland's state capitol to strong-arm the legislature into voting down a state boycott of Nigerian business. Maryland legislators, backed by the Sierra Club and Randall Robinson's TransAfrica, have proposed legislation modeled on the successful South Africa divestiture campaigns of the early eighties. Their bill would bar Maryland from signing any contracts with the Nigerian regime or with companies doing business there.

If any country is an argument for U.S. economic sanctions, it's Nigeria, whose military dictatorship, headed by Gen. Sani Abacha, executed Ogoni environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa two years ago despite international protest. The State Department's own human rights report calls Nigeria's record "dismal." Political repression is so severe that dissident journalists sleep in parks and cars to avoid detention and assassination. Between 1980 and 1995, average annual income declined from about $1,000 per person to $260, despite vast oil revenues. The United States buys between 40 and 50 percent of Nigeria's oil; U.S. firms Chevron and Mobil are responsible for nearly half of all production. Virtually all oil revenue winds up in the Swiss bank accounts of the Abacha regime. The White House may manage the occasional admonitory word--U.S. officials recently warned Abacha against engineering the outcome of August elections--but the regime's $5 million per year in Washington lobbying has bought freedom from any serious repercussions.

So what was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State doing in Maryland, opposing a Nigeria divestiture campaign? Simple: Ramsay warned Maryland legislative leaders that their bill would run counter to the free-trade provisions of GATT. Thus, the claims of trade trump human rights abroad and free speech and political protest at home. "Had we been bound by trade rules during our struggle to free South Africa," notes Randall Robinson, "Nelson Mandela might still be imprisoned."

The Clinton Administration proposes not "African solutions" but Wall Street solutions to African problems. While the TV cameras follow the President to Africa, the Maryland legislature will be taking up its divestiture bill, and the African trade bill will head for the U.S. Senate. Passage of the Maryland bill and similar Nigeria divestiture measures around the country, and defeat of the Africa trade bill, would send a clear message: The price tag for trade must include human rights.

The Nation Digital Edition

Copyright (c) 1997, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights reserved. Electronic redistribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this notice is attached in its entirety. Unauthorized, for-profit redistribution is prohibited. For further information regarding reprinting and syndication, please call The Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext. 226 or send e-mail to Max Block at



MARCH 25, 1998


Walter C. Carrington, Former Ambassador to Nigeria

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,

I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon to testify on HB 1273. As one who was a resident and taxpayer of this state for the ten years immediately preceding my appointment as ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1993, I wish to register my support for this Bill which codifies Maryland's sovereign right to set the standards to which all who would do business with her must adhere.

I have recently returned from four years in Nigeria representing the United States Government's policy of promoting democracy and human rights. I am convinced that this bill will further those objectives. I arrived in Nigeria two weeks before General Sani Abacha seized power in the wake of the military having annulled what international and Nigerian observers called the freest and fairest election the country had ever held. In the four years I witnessed the Abacha regime in power I also witnessed the steady deterioration of the economy and political structure of Africa's most richly endowed country. I have seen newspapers banned and journalists persecuted; the winner of the annulled election jailed and his crusading wife assassinated; labor unions destroyed and their leaders imprisoned; human rights activists intimidated and incarcerated. The one former military ruler who kept his promise and ceded power to an elected civilian government was falsely convicted of coup plotting and his erstwhile deputy allowed to die in prison under suspicious circumstances. The best and the brightest of Nigeria's sons and daughters have been driven into exile including her only Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka. Nigeria's foremost environmentalist and leader of the Ogoni people, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged along with eight of his colleagues after a kangaroo trial before a military chaired tribunal. I could, unfortunately go on and on reciting the abuses of this repressive regime. Abuses which have led it to be censured and sanctioned by the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the European Union, and the International Labor Organization among others.

Our government has been continually rebuffed in its attempts to have meaningful dialogue with this government which in addition to being sanctioned by us for its anti-democratic actions has also for five years running been decertified by the president for its refusal to cooperate with us in stemming the flow of drugs smuggled into this country by Nigerians who are responsible for fifty percent of the heroin entering the United States. In 1996 we sent a a high level delegation representing 11 different drug agencies in the United States to discuss the narcotics problem with the Abacha regime in Nigeria. They made several promises and kept not one of them. Special envoys aplenty came to Nigeria during my tenure there and all came away empty handed.

The business lobbyists who have come here to block this bill would be better advised, in my opinion, to lobby their colleagues in Nigeria who at best have remained silent in face of the growing repression in Nigeria and at worse have given sustenance to the regime. I regret to say that the business community by trying to deflect stronger condemnation of the Abacha military government have become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Their actions confuse the Nigerians and lead the military junta to believe that if they just stonewall us long enough we will weaken in our resolve and will jettison our human rights concerns in order to defend, at all costs, our economic interests. We are hearing the same arguments from the business community and those who champion their interests that we heard a decade ago concerning South Africa. Had states and municipalities heeded their advice then, South Africa would still be ruled by the racist doctrine of apartheid and Nelson Mandela would still be in prison. Whatever the track record may be for economic sanctions in other parts of the world they have worked in South Africa and I am convinced, knowing the venal nature of the Abacha regime, that they will work in Nigeria too.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution 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 concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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