Nigeria -Which way forward?

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Nigeria: Which Way Forward?

 

By

 

George E. Moose,

Assistant Secretary for African Affairs,

 Statement before the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

Washington, DC, August 4, 1993.

 

 

 Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to describe U.S. policy toward Nigeria in the wake of the military regime's recent anti-democratic actions. As you know, Nigeria has long been hailed as Africa's preeminent nation. In political, economic, and military terms, its influence is felt throughout Africa. Consequently, when Nigeria is in turmoil, the rest of Africa and the entire world watch with great interest. It is essential, therefore, to understand what is happening in Nigeria today if we are to comprehend where Nigeria's place in the world will be tomorrow.

A Recent History of Democratization

Since Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came to power in a 1985 military coup, his regime has repeatedly promised to restore elected, civilian government. Unable to resist the tide of democracy in Africa, the regime eventually held elections for state and local officials and national legislators in 1991 and 1992. After several delays, voters went to the polls on June 12, 1993, to elect a president. State-by- state returns showed that the Social Democratic Party's candidate obtained significant support in all regions of the country and a clear majority of the votes cast nationwide. The National Republican Convention--the other legal political party--seemed ready to accept the results, and impartial election observers judged the election generally free and fair. In essence, the elections seemed to herald the return to democratic politics so long promised by the Nigerian military.

Yet on June 23, Nigeria's military arbitrarily annulled the June 12 election. General Babangida claimed that his action was somehow in the best interest of the nation. He decreed to the political parties that another election must be held. Otherwise, he would abolish Nigeria's democratic institutions, dismiss elected officials, and appoint an interim government. He said further that neither the Social Democratic candidate nor his National Republican Convention opponent in the June 12 contest would be permitted to run in the new election.

The Social Democratic Party immediately opposed the plan and called for release of the June 12 results. Violence broke out in some areas of the country. With each passing day, more leaders of Nigerian civil society voiced support for validating the June 12 results. The two legal parties eventually offered a compromise proposal of an interim government, stipulating that elected institutions remain in place. However, on July 12, General Babangida rejected the parties' offer, demanding that a new election be held on August 14. He threatened that if the parties did not participate, the transition to civilian rule might not occur on August 27 as promised.

U.S. Response

The United States swiftly demonstrated its disapproval of the regime's anti-democratic behavior. Within a day of the June 23 annulment, a meeting was held with Nigeria's ambassador, during which he was informed of steps the United States would take in response. After General Babangida rejected the parties' offer to participate in an interim government and the regime cracked down on those who spoke out, the United States amended its response with additional measures. A number of other countries subsequently issued statements of condemnation, with some taking their own punitive steps.

Among the actions the U.S. has taken to date are:

-- Suspending aid under the Foreign Assistance Act,  except for 1) humanitarian assistance, 2) aid for democratization and social sector programming, and 3) assistance provided through NGOs;

-- Sharply reducing the level of military-to-military relations, including withdrawing our security assistance officer from Lagos, postponing the travel plans of our new defense attache, asking the Nigerian defense attache to leave the United States, and suspending the International Military Education and Training program with Nigeria;

-- Reviewing all new applications for commercial exports of defense articles and services to Nigeria, with a presumption of denial; and

-- Requiring all requests for diplomatic visas for Nigerian officials to be referred to the Department of State. The Administration wanted to ensure that its actions were directed at those most responsible for Nigeria's current political impasse--the Nigerian military. Our actions have been carefully targeted to strike at the influential officer corps, while not affecting average citizens. Meanwhile, our embassy continues to maintain regular and open communications with civilian politicians and leading human rights advocates.

An Environment Hostile To Democracy

We are very concerned by the regime's pattern of violating basic human rights. These repressive actions create a climate hostile to democracy by undermining the very institutions that are the foundation of democratic civil society. The regime has hit Nigeria's traditionally outspoken independent press particularly hard. Newspapers and magazines were being seized almost every other day, until the regime decided to shut down six media companies entirely.

Human rights activists Beko Ransome-Kuti, Femi Falana, and Gani Fawahinmi have been detained under authority of a sweeping military decree that permits the regime to imprison someone incommunicado for up to 6 weeks. The United States has made its deep concerns about Nigeria's deplorable human rights record known to the regime. Unfortunately, the regime has not been forthcoming. We will continue to press on this front.

Future U.S. Policy

The current political crisis--visited on Nigeria by those self-styled guardians of national unity, the military--poses the greatest risk to Nigerian national integrity since the 1967-70 civil war. It is clear the military must leave power if that risk is to be diminished. If the military understands its interests will suffer if it tries to retain power, it may be possible to strengthen those in Nigeria seeking to persuade the military leadership to turn power over to duly elected civilians.

We are hopeful, but not blindly optimistic, that Nigerians will find a way to resolve their differences and usher in the democratic government the regime had promised would result from the June 12 election. But it will be difficult. The cynicism, fear, and uncertainty the present military regime have engendered will not easily be dispelled. Many citizens believe that any electoral process would be just another attempt to buy time and soothe international opinion. Far from healing Nigeria's wounds, it would almost certainly widen and deepen them. Neither is there much real enthusiasm for an interim government, which many Nigerians fear would be nothing more than a stalking horse for continued military rule.

The political parties' decision to agree in principle to an interim national government may reflect their desire to avoid the divisive contest the regime was intent upon visiting upon Nigeria. However, even the broad outlines of this proposed interim government are unclear, and the degree to which it might be acceptable to the majority of the Nigerian people cannot, therefore, be estimated at this time. What is clear is that the regime's so-called managed transition to democracy is dead, the victim of a military clique unwilling, in the final analysis, to let the people exercise their sovereignty.

We are aware, as are Nigerians, of the urgent need for the greater governmental transparency that civilian rule eventually can bring. We are also cognizant of Nigeria's role as a model to many other aspiring peoples struggling to reach the ideal of democracy in their own nations. If Nigeria's military regime is able to perpetuate itself in spite of popular disaffection, the prospects for peaceful transfers of power to elected civilians in many of those other countries in the region and across the continent would rapidly dim.

We will continue, therefore, to stress the overriding importance of the military leaving power to those elected by a free and fair democratic process. We have put the Nigerian regime on notice that, should a civilian government not be in place in Nigeria on August 27, the United States may be obliged to take additional steps. Nigeria's military regime must understand that any attempt to hold political power after August 27, 1993--no matter how it might be rationalized--would raise fundamental questions about the future character of our bilateral relations.

The Administration is watching developments in Nigeria very closely and is daily examining its options to respond to further abuses of human rights and other anti-democratic actions. Public statements by friends of Africa, such as each of you, would help convince the military regime that there is no room to maneuver on these issues. The strong signals coming from Congress have already been very helpful and greatly appreciated.

 

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