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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: After Abacha, 2

Nigeria: After Abacha, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 980628
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains contains testimony by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, on U.S. policy towards the new Nigerian military government. The previous posting contains statements from the Africa Fund, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

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

Nigeria Stands At Important Crossroads, Rice Says

June 26, 1998

For other U.S. statements on Africa, see the Web Sites of the State Department
( and of USIA

Washington - Following is the text of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice's remarks to the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations on June 25(as prepared for delivery):

Good Morning, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to be here and to address this Committee on Prospects for Democracy in Nigeria. It has been several months since I testified before the Africa Subcommittee on the broad parameters of U.S. policy towards Africa. Since then the Continent has been the subject of increased and sustained attention, especially in light of the President's historic trip to Africa in March and movement on the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The president's trip to six African countries highlighted Africa's progress over the past decade. The days of apartheid, cold war conflict, and one-party states are over. The number of democracies has quadrupled in 10 years in Africa, and economic growth has risen from the negative numbers of the 1980s to over 4 percent on average the past two years. Especially strong performers include Uganda and Cote d'Ivoire, which experienced 6 and 7 percent growth rates, and Mozambique, with growth last year in double-digit figures. As a result, the United States is committed to a new partnership with the African continent -- a partnership based on mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual security.

While I note today Africa's continued strides toward peace and political and economic reform, I would be remiss not to mention a few recent setbacks. The on-going border strife between Ethiopia and Eritrea, for example, threatens stability in the Horn of Africa and illustrates just how fragile post-conflict nations can be. I note and appreciate the concurrent resolution passed yesterday by the Africa Subcommittee on the conflict between the two countries. We deplore and condemn the recent attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau by elements of the armed forces against the democratically elected government. And we remain disappointed by the slow pace of progress in Central Africa, especially in both of the Congos.

Nigeria, however, stands at an unexpected and important crossroads. Its new leadership has an unprecedented opportunity to open the political process and institute a genuine transition to civilian democratic rule. During this official period of mourning, we extend again our friendship to the Nigerian people as well as our condolences, and stand with them as they dream of a brighter future.

The people of Nigeria want and deserve a responsible and accountable government. Their time may well be now. General Abdulsalam Abubakar can play a noble and decisive role in shaping their country's destiny by charting a fresh course towards reform in Nigeria.

At stake is not only Nigeria's relationship with the international community, but also its role as a regional leader in helping bring stability to a volatile neighborhood and in assuming its rightful place on the global stage. Nigeria is large and influential with an ancient culture, tremendous human talent, enormous wealth and democratic experience. It is home to more than 100 million people, with over 250 ethnic groups, an abundance of natural resources and the largest domestic market on the continent. Nigeria has played, and continues to play, a significant role in West Africa, especially as Chair of the Economic Community of West African States and through the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The country was instrumental in restoring to power the legitimate Sierra Leone government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on March 10 of this year. In Liberia, Nigeria actively supported the peace process by contributing over 75 percent of the West African peacekeeping troops and by helping enable open and transparent elections in Liberia just a year ago. We thus have come to value Nigeria as an important potential partner in helping bring security to troubled neighboring states.

Mr. Chairman, let me be plain. U.S. interests in Nigeria remain constant. We seek a stable, prosperous, democratic Nigeria that respects human rights. We also have sought better cooperation with the government of Nigeria in combating international narcotics trafficking and crime. We hope to be in a position to promote favorable trade and investment partnerships in one of the largest economies on the continent. Finally, we hope Nigeria will continue to play a responsible role in resolving regional conflicts.

Yet, it is no secret that there have been serious strains in U.S.- Nigerian relations in recent times. The military has ruled Africa's most populous nation for 28 out of 38 years since its independence, often with an iron fist. Misguided policies, mismanagement and corruption have stifled Nigeria's economy. Basic human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, have been trampled upon. Then Head of State Ibrahim Babangida annulled the presidential elections five years ago, leading to the military overthrow of a civilian-led interim national government. General Sani Abacha suspended the constitution and imprisoned the apparent winner of the 1993 presidential elections, M.K.O. Abiola.

Moreover, the Nigerian Government detained pro-democracy leaders and political figures who were critical of the government, including former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo, along with numerous others, including

human rights activists and journalists. Military tribunals denied due process to political and other prisoners, prompting both the United Nations General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to condemn the Nigerian government and call upon it to respect fundamental human rights and restore civilian rule. The government's November 10, 1995, execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine met with swift international response, including the imposition of additional sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the Commonwealth.

We were skeptical but still hopeful three years ago when General Abacha pledged a genuine transition to civilian democratic rule by October 1, 1998. But, by any standard, it quickly became clear that General Abacha's transition was gravely flawed and failing.

Our road map for measuring democratic progress is universal and unwavering. A credible transition would include: a transparent and participatory process; unconditional release of political prisoners; provisions for free political activity and party formation allowing all those who wish to run to do so freely; freedom of association, speech and the press; unrestricted access to the media by all candidates and parties; impartial electoral preparations; and elections open to all.

The crowning blow for General Abacha's transition came in April this year when the five political parties, all sponsored by the military government, bowed to heavy regime pressure and selected General Abacha to be their sole candidate. The subsequent low voter turnout for the Government-organized legislative elections eloquently demonstrated the people's widespread rejection of the transition program that was heading toward a pre-determined outcome.

But today, the Nigerian people have a fresh chance for freedom, an opportunity finally to realize their country's full potential. The United States is heartened by initial promising steps taken by Nigeria's new leaders, including the release of former Head of State Obasanjo and fourteen other prominent political prisoners, and the announcement by the government that more detainees will soon be released. We hope Chief M.K.O. Abiola and others will be released swiftly and unconditionally. We also applaud General Abubakar's decision to consult with representatives of various political groups on how to restore credibility to the transition. The new dialogue between the government and civil society is a critical and positive precursor to democratization and open and fair elections. We hope these consultations with civil society, human rights and pro-democracy groups will continue and help to tap the energy and will of the Nigerian people.

The government of Nigeria has pledged to complete the transition process by October 1, 1998. Some political groups have called for a delay of three to 12 months. Our hope remains for a credible and lasting transition in the shortest time possible. Thus, over the next few weeks our goal will be to encourage the new leadership to move swiftly along the path to democracy. We look forward to establishing a productive

dialogue with General Abubakar and with other key leaders. At the same time, we will also consult closely and constructively with our friends and allies in Africa and elsewhere on developments in Nigeria. We will pursue with renewed vigor efforts to cooperate with Nigeria on counternarcotics and to resolve outstanding airport security issues. And, working with Congress and this Committee, we will aim to increase U.S. assistance to civil society and pro-democracy efforts.

Already the lines of communication between the United States and Nigeria are opening. President Clinton called General Abubakar on June 14 to express our hopes for a new beginning for Nigeria. Our Ambassador, William Twaddell, met with General Abubakar last week to lay the groundwork for a working relationship we hope will be of great value to both our countries. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering looks forward to leading a delegation to the country in the near future to continue our dialogue with the new leadership.

We are investing in this high-level effort because the stakes in Nigeria are enormous. A democratic Nigeria is key to a stable and prosperous West Africa, an invigorated Africa, and thus to U.S. national interests and national security. Already, the United States is the top foreign investor in Nigeria. Nigeria is our largest trading partner in all of Africa. Last year, our exports to Nigeria reached $814 million, while U.S. imports were over $6 billion [$6,000 million]. An open and free body politic can breathe new life into Nigeria's stagnant economy. All Nigerians deserve to benefit finally from the vast wealth of their country.

Ultimately, of course, the success of democracy in Nigeria depends on the Nigerian people. The United States has a unique opportunity to support the people of Nigeria as they work to fulfill long overdue commitments to create a dynamic, prosperous and democratic society that will help lead Africa into the 21st century. Much work remains to be done in Africa, by Africans. In Sierra Leone, for example, atrocities of the former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)/Revolutionary United Front (RUF) junta are creating a humanitarian crisis which threatens thousands of innocent civilians and neighboring countries. Guinea-Bissau is now a tinderbox where once there was a freely elected government. The troubled Congos and the Horn of Africa, as well as other promising emerging democracies, face critical tests. Nigeria's role will be influential throughout the continent. We sincerely hope that the new leadership in Nigeria will plot a course toward democracy at home, and, in doing so, further advance our mutual interests in safeguarding democracy and peace throughout Africa.

Mr. Chairman, I am committed to working with your committee and the Subcommittee on Africa as we seek to forge a new U.S.-Nigeria relationship in the context of a successful transition to civilian democratic rule. Over the past few years we have witnessed the demise of apartheid in South Africa, which unleashed the incredible potential of a formerly divided nation. What Pretoria is to Africa's southern region, Abuja can be to West Africa and beyond. As South Africa did at the end of this century, Nigeria has the chance to do at the turn of the next century -- to better the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans at home and abroad.

We look forward to working with Congress to make plain to the new leadership that we are there to support them as they weigh these historic options -- and choose the right path towards reform. To this end, I pledge my own best efforts and respectfully ask for your continued wise counsel and support. Thank you.

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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