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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Letter to Obasanjo

Nigeria: Letter to Obasanjo
Date distributed (ymd): 990419
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a letter to Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo from the New York-based Africa Fund, concerning the need for continued dialogue with pro-democracy and human rights groups on democratization in Nigeria. It also contains selected links to other recent documents on the transition to democracy in Nigeria. The next posting contains excerpts from the April 12 speech in Lagos by U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat.

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The Africa Fund
50 Broad Street, Suite 711, New York, NY 10004
Telephone: (212) 785-1024 Fax: (212) 785-1078
Tilden J. Lemelle, Chairman,
Jennifer Davis, Executive Director


Africa Fund Writes Nigerian President Elect Olusegun Obasanjo Urging Demilitarization, Respect for Human Rights and Caution Towards U.S.

April 12, 1999

Contact: Michael D. Fleshman (212) 785-1024

The New York-based Africa Fund today released a letter to Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo pledging support for the restoration of democracy after 15 years of military rule and urging him to reach out to Nigeria's pro-democracy and human rights movements. The letter follows a meeting between General Obasanjo and The Africa Fund in New York on March 29 that focused on Nigeria's transition from dictatorship to elected civilian government and on the role of both U.S. governmental and non-governmental organizations in supporting democratization and respect for human rights.

The letter urged General Obasanjo to work with Nigerian human rights leaders who led the opposition to the brutal repression of former dictator Sani Abacha and be responsive to the pro-democracy movement's call for a national conference to resolve longstanding ethnic divisions and revitalize the country's political and social institutions.

Executive Director Jennifer Davis underscored growing U.S. concern over the escalating crisis in the Niger Delta oil fields, the source of virtually all foreign exchange and government revenue, by calling for the withdrawal of troops from the region and the opening of negotiations between the government, the affected communities and the major oil companies, including Shell, Mobil and Chevron, whose operations have been targeted for protests over endemic pollution, poverty and human rights abuses.

Noting the extent of military control of the transition process and widespread voter apathy and fraud, Davis encouraged General Obasanjo to move quickly to civilianize government and build public confidence in his independence from his military backers. She urged him to maintain contact with the U.S. human rights, civil rights and environmental movements who mobilized American public opinion against the Abacha dictatorship and to be cautious about U.S. support for democracy, arguing that "the United States values American oil interests in Nigeria far more than it does democracy or human rights."

The letter is part of an effort by The Africa Fund, a leading U.S. voice for African independence, human rights and development, to open a dialogue with the incoming government on human rights and democracy, and to strengthen American support for political, economic and social justice in Nigeria.


Olusegun Obasanjo
President-Elect, Republic of Nigeria

April 12, 1999

Dear General Obasanjo,

On behalf of the staff and Board of Directors of The Africa Fund please accept my sincere thanks for meeting with us in New York on March 29. The task of restoring and revitalizing a culture of democracy, accountability and respect for human rights in Nigeria after 15 brutal and ruinous years of military rule is a monumental one. Be assured of our support for this vital effort as you prepare for your inauguration on May 29.

With this letter I hope to continue our dialogue and share with you some thoughts that arise from our previous exchange. We were particularly struck by your comments on the role of the Nigerian human rights and pro-democracy movements. We do not share your view that the recently concluded electoral exercise has in itself restored democracy in Nigeria and that the human rights movement is longer relevant. On the contrary, we believe that democracy is a dynamic and ongoing process of engagement between citizens and government, and that the human rights community, as part of a vibrant and independent civil society, is central to democratization as an advocate of civil liberties and a watchdog against official misconduct.

Human and civil rights organizations perform that vital function even in such established democracies as the United States, and we urge you to work closely with them in the challenging task of entrenching a culture of respect for human rights and democracy and rebuilding the institutions of constitutional civil government.

It is precisely the need for institutional rehabilitation that informs the pro-democracy movement's call for an inclusive and representative sovereign national conference. We find great merit in the arguments of such outstanding Nigerian patriots as Chief Anthony Enahoro and Wole Soyinka about the need for such a conference to re-order the relationship between Federal state and local governments, entrench civil liberties and the independence and authority of the judiciary and to enshrine the new dispensation in a constitutional process that is transparent and open to the public and amenable to discussion and debate.

Chief Enahoro once told me that military rule was not the problem in Nigeria but merely the tragic symptom of deep divisions between Nigerian communities that time and again have created opportunities for ambitious generals to seize power. It is his view that only such a conference, broadly inclusive, endowed with effective political authority and free of military domination can forge the consensus needed to end the army's threat to democracy, restore a sense of national purpose and return Nigeria to the path of economic, social and human development.

Similarly, the need to find an effective solution to the continuing turmoil in the Niger Delta oil fields remains a major concern. Your handling of this complex and difficult challenge seems certain to be seen internationally as an early test of your government's commitment to social justice and respect for human rights. We share your view that poverty and neglect are at the heart of the crisis, and welcome your commitment to direct development funds to the region. But after 15 unbroken years of repression, pollution and economic decline the various groups in the Delta are in near-open revolt against the military government and the Western oil companies.

We believe that the danger of generalized political violence is high, and could even become a pretext for a coup against your government. There is therefore an urgent need to demilitarize the crisis by withdrawing the thousands of troops deployed in Bayelsa and Rivers states and to demobilize units like the Mobile Police and Operation Clean Sweep that have become notorious for human rights abuses. We were gratified to learn that you have begun to consult with the affected parties and urge you to engage and incorporate the oil producing communities, particularly organizations like the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and the Ijaw National Congress, in your effort to redress communal grievances.

Experience elsewhere in Africa suggests that only an inclusive and transparent process that encompasses all of the stakeholders in the Delta -- the communities, the government and the oil companies -- can produce a result that is both durable and just.

Your government's ability to move forward on all these matters, however, clearly depends on its ability to govern without fear of military intervention. We are keenly aware of the danger that the Nigerian military poses to the survival of your government and to the democratization project as a whole. We applaud your stated determination to govern in the best interest of the Nigerian people and not to succumb to the demands of the generals.

Yet a key criticism of the election that brought you the Presidency was that it was devised and conducted under strict military control and that the outcome was shaped by the army's very significant and highly visible support for your party and your candidacy. This blatant interference in the electoral process, your own military background and the widespread voter fraud and apathy reported by both domestic and foreign monitors has raised valid questions about the legitimacy of the vote and of the role of the military in your government.

It will be important for your government to distance itself from the military and, to the greatest extent possible, civilianize and democratize government and the civil service at every level.

I wish I could assure you of strong U.S. government support for democracy, as the United States wields significant economic influence over the military and could be an effective deterrent to future coup plotters. But Washington's abandonment of the June 12 1993 election and Moshood Abiola's presidency, and its shameful effort to curry favor with the dictator Abacha, demonstrates that the United States values American oil interests in Nigeria far more than it does democracy or human rights.

You will find more reliable allies in the American people. During the bitter years of the Abacha terror The Africa Fund was honored to work with leaders like NAACP leaders Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond, Congressional Representatives Maxine Waters, Donald Payne and Benjamin Gilman, religious leaders Rev. Joan Campbell and Rabbi David Saperstein, and trade unionists John Sweeney, Stephen Yokich and William Lucy to build public awareness of the oppression in Nigeria and mobilize public support for a U.S. policy that puts democracy and human rights at the center of our national interest.

This mobilized base remains a resource for Nigeria in this country and for the difficult task of national renovation and reconciliation. We look forward to deepening our dialogue with you in the months and years ahead in pursuit of the common objective of a prosperous, united and democratic Nigeria.


Jennifer Davis
Executive Director

Other Recent Documents

Interim Report by Transition Monitoring Group on the February 27 Presidential Elections in Nigeria

Obasanjo as a Bridge to True Democracy
Column in The Black World Today by Deborah M. Robinson

Election results by state

For additional background and links for current news see: the Africa Policy Nigeria action page the Africa Policy West Africa regional page

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). 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 and individuals.

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