U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Africa Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/07/20 Testimony: George Moose on Nigeria
Bureau of African Affairs

TESTIMONY BY GEORGE E. MOOSE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS
BEFORE THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE
ON U.S. POLICY TOWARD NIGERIA

JULY 20, 1995

Good afternoon. I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee to discuss our policy objectives toward Nigeria. I will be brief and would like for my remarks to be entered into the record.

INTRODUCTION

We face a number of complex issues in Nigeria that do not lend themselves to easy solutions. But one thing is clear: Nigeria is too important to ignore. It has Africa's largest population, and it has vast natural resources and economic potential. And, for better or worse, its capacity to influence is significant. Social decay and government malaise could, if unchecked, lead to collapse of civil and social structures in the long term and harm the interests of the United States and U.S. business, as well as those of the entire West African region. Nigeria's significant involvement in drug trafficking and business fraud poses security risks for Americans both at home and abroad.

U.S. INTERESTS

In light of Nigeria's size and importance, it is understandable that U.S. interests are multiple and diverse.

-- Our principal interest is to have a stable, democratic Nigeria with which the U.S. can pursue productive, cooperative relations. We do not wish to see Nigeria become a pariah state that might use its influence and resources recklessly and irresponsibly.

-- The U.S. has significant economic interests in Nigeria, with $3.9 billion invested mainly in the petroleum sector.

-- We have a specific interest in curbing narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity centered in Nigeria.

-- We also have an interest in enlisting Nigeria's cooperation on a range of regional and international issues.

-- Of central importance to all these goals, however, is our interest in seeing Nigeria establish an open, democratic system. It is our firm belief that a democratic Nigeria that respects human rights and resolves issues of governance through the democratic process will create a context within which our other interests can best be pursued.

HISTORICAL REVIEW UNTIL NOVEMBER 1993

It may be useful to recall, as background for our discussions today, some of Nigeria's recent, turbulent history. Nigeria's ethnic and religious diversity has made governance a daunting challenge. Nigeria's oil-dependent economy has become a continual focus of political competition. The disarray of civilian politicians has been the pretext for repeated military interventions in political affairs. Recurring political turmoil has in turn contributed to a substantial erosion of economic and social conditions; despite the country's significant oil wealth, most Nigerians have suffered a steady decline in their standard of living.

Nigeria has been under military rule for all but ten years of its independence from Great Britain in 1960. There have been several coups and frustrated attempts to return to democracy. General Olusegun Obasanjo was the only military leader to return power to a civilian authority, when he handed over power to a new government under President Shehu Shagari in 1979. General Muhammadu Buhari engineered a coup against Shagari on December 31, 1983, after falling oil prices, an economic decline, and widespread corruption undermined confidence in the Shagari government. The continuing economic crisis, Buhari's campaign against corruption, and civilian criticism of the military undermined Buhari's position; and in August 1985, a group of officers led by Major General Ibrahim Babangida removed Buhari from power. In a striking parallel to the current situation, General Babangida centralized power in an Armed Forces Ruling Council, a nineteen-member body composed of key military officers and the Inspector General of Police.

In March 1987, the military government announced a program for Nigeria's transition back to civilian rule, to be completed by 1990. The date was later changed to 1992. The new civilian government was to be based on the 1979 constitution, with some modifications, such as the limitation to two political parties: the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention. Local government elections were first held in December 1987. Political parties were not allowed to compete. In many districts the results were overturned. New local elections were held in December 1990. State elections planned for 1990 were delayed until 1991. A national census was held in 1991 in preparation for national elections that were scheduled for 1992, but which were later rescheduled for June 1993.

Throughout this lengthy process, the United States sought to be supportive of Nigeria's planned return to democracy, economically, through our support of World Bank loans, and politically, through active diplomacy.

This tightly controlled transition to civilian, democratic rule was supposed to end on August 27, 1993 with the inauguration of a democratically elected, civilian president. From February to April, Nigeria's two authorized political parties held nominating conventions. Chief M.K.O. Abiola was chosen to represent the Social Democrats, and Bashir Tofa, the National Republicans. Despite numerous flaws in the process leading up to the elections of June 12, 1993, many observers felt that they provided Nigerians with a fair opportunity to register their views on Nigeria's political future. However, before formal results were announced, Head of State Babangida annulled the election, alleging massive electoral fraud. From early unofficial returns, it appeared that Abiola had won the election.

Amid controversy arising from his annulment of the June 12 presidential election, Head of State Babangida resigned as President and Commander- in-Chief on August 26, installing an Interim National Government, headed by businessman Ernest Shonekan. On November 17, the military forced Shonekan to resign. General Sani Abacha assumed the titles of Head of State and Commander-in-Chief. General Abacha established a military- dominated Provisional Ruling Council on November 23, 1993.

U.S. RESPONSE TO REVERSAL OF DEMOCRACY

In response to the reversal of democracy occasioned by the annulment of the June 12 elections, the United States took a number of immediate steps to register its concern and displeasure:

-- The Administration immediately cancelled $11 million in assistance that had been intended as budgetary support to Nigeria's Ministry of Health.

-- We terminated all other development assistance, except humanitarian aid channeled through non-governmental organizations.

-- We ended all government-to-government military assistance and training, except for counternarcotics-related training.

-- We instituted a policy of case-by-case review, with a presumption of denial, for all new license applications for commercial export of defense articles and services to Nigeria.

-- We requested the withdrawal of the Nigerian military attache from the U.S., withdrew our Security Assistance Officer, and suspended travel to Nigeria by our newly named Defense Attache.

In December 1993, after the assumption of power by General Abacha, President Clinton issued a proclamation under Section 212-(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which restricts the entry into the United States of Nigerians who formulate, implement or benefit from policies which hinder Nigeria's transition to democracy, as well as members of their immediate families.

REVIEW OF RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

When General Abacha took power in November 1993, he made a number of declarations regarding the regime's intentions. He promised:

-- an early return to civilian rule;

-- improved economic performance; and

-- curbs on narcotics and crime syndicates centered in Nigeria.

Over the past eighteen months, Nigeria has had a mixed economic record. Recently there has been encouraging progress on economic matters, primarily attributable to a new budget announced in early 1995. Revenues, bolstered by oil prices, Central Bank intervention in the foreign exchange market, and reduced government expenditures gave rise to a reported $100 million surplus in the first quarter, according to the Financial Times, but we remain skeptical about accurate accounting of revenue and outflows.

Recently, there have been signs of GON responsiveness to concerns regarding crime and narcotics. The government signed a drug control strategy last month, promulgated a new money-laundering decree, began to take action against drug money-laundering car dealerships in Lagos, and rendered two fugitives wanted by the U.S.

We continue to pursue more effective cooperation on counternarcotics matters. We have begun to work with the Nigerian government to train elements of Nigerian law enforcement involved in counternarcotics efforts. My colleague, Assistant Secretary Gelbard, will provide more details.

Much more troubling, however, have been developments on the political front.

-- In March, 1994, Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose case has received much interest here in the U.S., was arrested for murder. He remains in custody while his trial proceeds by fits and starts.

-- In June 1994, on the first anniversary of the annulled elections, Chief M.K.O. Abiola was arrested and charged with treason for declaring himself president . Despite repeated appeals for his release, Abiola remains in custody, and the legal challenge to his continued detention is indefinitely suspended.

-- In June of last year, the government detained hundreds of human rights activists, including several former senators, and, under Decree 14, effectively suspended the right of habeas corpus. Since then several prominent rights activists have been repeatedly arrested and released without charge.

-- In July and August, the labor movement, led by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, mounted a strike action to protest Chief Abiola's arrest. The ensuing strikes brought economic life in Lagos and much of the southwest to a standstill for almost eight weeks. The government broke the strike in late August by dismissing union executives and imposing government leadership. The labor movement remains under firm government control.

-- In August, the government proscribed three well known publishing houses and summarily deported foreign journalists, including two correspondents of Cable News Network.

After considerable delay, the National Constitutional Conference, which began in June of last year, presented its report on June 27th. In response, General Abacha said he would announce a timetable for return to civilian government on October 1; lifted the ban on political activities, but with certain exceptions; and announced restoration of the Federal Electoral Commission. The Guardian newspaper group recently was unbanned and several political detainees were released. While these are steps in the right direction, we are nevertheless troubled by the length of time it has taken for Nigeria to get back on the path to civilian democracy in the wake of the 1993 annulled presidential elections.

WHAT WE HAVE DONE TO MOVE NIGERIA BACK TO A PROCESS OF BUILDING DEMOCRATIC CIVILIAN RULE

Meanwhile, the issue of most immediate concern has been the trials of a number of Nigerians accused of coup plotting. These accusations resulted in the arrest in early March of dozens of active and retired military officers. The disposition of fifty-one cases was announced last Friday: Only seven were set free, while forty, including former Head of State Obasanjo, were convicted with their proposed sentences sent to the Provisional Ruling Council for review.

We do not know when the Provisional Ruling Council will make its decision or what the proposed sentences are. We issued a strongly worded statement on Monday, urging clemency for all who may have received a proposed death sentence.

We continue to press for the release of the detainees and for them to receive open and fair trials. Our Ambassador meets with Obasanjo's wife and with human rights and pro-democracy groups frequently.

We actively support a visit to Nigeria by the UN Human Rights Commission's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. We understand the Government of Nigeria has been formally approached for such a visit.

At the recent ILO Conference, the United States joined two African nations, South Africa and Senegal, to condemn Nigeria's violations of international labor conventions that guarantee freedom of association. The censure action was adopted readily by the full conference session.

We continue to consult with close allies to review additional actions that might be taken. We believe that frequent consultations provide an effective means to coordinate efforts and maximize impact.

At the same time, we continue to seek a high-level dialogue with Nigeria. We have pressed this dialogue both privately and publicly. We believe that frank exchange of views can only increase understanding and may advance positive change.

SUMMARY/CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Madame Chairman, we all share the goal of a prosperous, democratic Nigeria with which we have productive relations. Our policy to achieve that goal is based on maximizing the levers available to us. While we will maintain the current sanctions, we are prepared to offer incentives to the Government of Nigeria if we see real movement toward democratization. But we are prepared to impose additional measures if there is retrogression.

I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Government of Nigeria once again to respect international norms relating to human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to respect its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Specifically, we urge General Abacha and the Provisional Ruling Council to exercise clemency by commuting any death sentences that may have been proposed. Civilians like Generals Obasanjo and Yar 'Adua should be allowed to appeal their sentences to established civilian courts. Current military officers should also have the right to an open appeals process. Sparing the lives of the accused and allowing an open appeal process would be consistent with the Nigerian Government's professed commitment to due process, and with its stated goal of restoring Nigeria to democratic civilian rule.

I believe General Abacha and the Provisional Ruling Council have an historic opportunity to demonstrate leadership toward reconciliation. Nigerians must find their own path to enduring, elected, democratic civilian rule. A process of national reconciliation that includes a free atmosphere for political discourse will facilitate that search.

I thank the Committee and the Congress for their continued interest and support.

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