Nigeria: APIC Background Paper, 11/30/96

Nigeria: APIC Background Paper, 11/30/96

Nigeria: APIC Background Paper
Date Distributed (ymd): 961130

The Africa Policy Information Center has released a new 8-page Background Paper, entitled Nigeria: Country Profile. This posting contains the introduction, the first section, and a table of contents. The full paper is available in three ways:

(1) The typeset version, attractively printed in two colors in an 8- page 8 1/2" x 11" format, is available at $2 each, $1.60 each for 20 or more. Add 15% for postage and handling. Send your order with check or money order to APIC at the address below.

(2)The paper is also available on the World Wide Web at

(3) An ascii text-only version (in two parts) is available by sending the following command in the body of an e-mail message to

send nigeria

Please type the message precisely as written and send the message to, not to While this is only a semi-automatic not a fully automatic reply (it requires someone to check the e-mail), following these instructions will result in less delay in receiving the files.

Nigeria: Country Profile (introduction, section 1, table of contents)

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, was a pioneer in the movement for African independence. In past centuries, its territory was home to a series of powerful and technically-advanced societies, renowned for their artistic, commercial, and political achievements.

Today, Nigeria remains one of Africa's most influential countries. Its vast oil reserves and unique human resources create the capacity for enormous prosperity and regional leadership. The fate of its struggle for democracy and national unity will have profound implications for the entire continent. Both the potential and the obstacles are on the giant scale of the country itself. British conquest brought together within Nigeria's borders a wide range of cultures and ethnic groups. The colonial "unity," however, was a top-down authoritarian creation. In spite of the efforts of the nationalist movement for independence to foster a asnese of national identity, particularly after World War II, building a nation based on popular participation remains a work in progress.

There are solid foundations for democratic culture and a diverse civil society. Nigeria has a rich array of private entrepreneurs, energetic and diverse communications media, labor unions, professional associations, a literary scene with world-renowned authors, religious bodies, and many other groups that have contributed to a sense of national identity and pride.

It also has a history of military repression, civilian corruption, and ethnic tensions. Currently it is dominated by a military regime which has no solution for economic problems and only the thinnest veneer of "transition" painted over systematic denial of democratic rights. As in many other African countries, Nigerians await--and struggle for--a "second independence" that will bear real fruits in political participation and economic progress.

Section 1: Current Policy Issues

The most urgent issue is democracy, understood not only as an end to military rule but also as the establishment of responsive political institutions which promote accountable government, prevent corruption, respect human and civil rights, and ensure popular sovereignty.

For most Nigerians, the pressing problems of everyday survival are the highest immediate priority. Since the oil boom of the 1970s, Nigeria's economy has been in crisis despite continued expansion in oil production. The real income index for urban households dropped from 166 in 1980 to 71 in 1986. The exchange rate for the naira has dropped from one to a dollar in 1985 to 79 to a dollar in 1996. And the list of dismal statistics could go on (see additional sources in "Selected Resources" below). Without the establishment of accountable government, however, the chances of addressing other pressing problems--such as the deterioration of living conditions and the collapse of once outstanding educational institutions- -are very low.

Nigeria has abundant human as well as natural resources to address its problems. Many of its outstanding leaders, however, are instead in prison or in exile. The prerequisite for addressing other problems is having a government that works and is accountable to the Nigerian people.

Nigerian hopes for a return to civilian rule were dashed when the military regime annulled national elections after votes were counted in June 1993. Since then repression has escalated to unprecedented levels, culminating in the execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues in November 1995. Military ruler General Sani Abacha peddles another complex "transition" program, while internal protest is repeatedly quashed and the international community pays only sporadic attention.

Like the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1970s, the Nigerian pro-democracy movement is faced with the challenge of building a coalition that can isolate a systematically abusive regime and promote a democratically accountable alternative. The situations differ in many respects, most notably in the lack of a racially-defined barrier between oppressor and oppressed. Nevertheless, the movement for democracy in Nigeria has similar strengths and faces comparably formidable obstacles as did its South African counterpart twenty years ago.

Despite repression, human rights and environmental groups, trade unionists, educators, and others inside Nigeria continue to resist authoritarian rule. Internal opposition has been supported by a large and well-educated group of Nigerians living abroad, just as the South African exile community played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle. International human rights groups and environmental groups have joined with Africa advocacy groups in focusing world attention on Nigeria.

In 1993, and again in 1995, the international community and African leaders, including South African President Nelson Mandela, also responded with intensified political, diplomatic, and economic pressure on the Abacha regime to secure the release of imprisoned leaders, to permit the return of exiled activists, and to facilitate the identification of a durable solution to Nigeria's political crisis. The United States, the European Union, and the Commonwealth imposed limited sanctions on Nigeria, including a ban on arms sales and visa restrictions on Nigerian officials. There has also been increased international support for Nigerian organizations working for democracy and human rights.

These pressures have had more symbolic effects than substantive impact. They have fallen far short of more comprehensive sanctions demanded by Nigerian pro-democracy forces. Legislation introduced in the US Congress, but not yet voted on, would authorize additional economic sanctions, while still not including a comprehensive embargo on Nigerian oil.

Sanctions proposals have been vigorously opposed by oil companies. Since the discovery of oil in the Niger River delta in 1958, Shell Oil and other international oil companies have caused extensive environmental damage to this area, the homeland of the Ogoni people and other minority groups. Environmental and human rights groups accuse the companies of collaborating with the Nigerian military regime to stifle opposition to the industry s activities.

When public attention and the media spotlight shifts off of Nigeria, diplomats tend to revert to business as usual, relying on the false hope that quiet diplomacy with the Nigerian government will eventually bring about the promised transition to civilian rule and avert further crises. The military regime is running a well-financed public relations campaign to convince African-Americans and others that it is sincere about change. Real progress toward democracy is unlikely, however, unless more significant steps are taken to weaken the military regime and to strengthen popular democratic forces.

Representatives of pro-democracy groups within Nigeria, hampered by difficulties of communication and recurrent repression, are best contacted when travelling or through overseas representatives. The following is a short list of U.S.-based contacts for those willing to get involved in supporting the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. Many more sources can be found on or through the Web sites listed in the "Further Resources" section of this paper.

The United Democratic Front of Nigeria (UDFN) was formed in March 1996 at simultaneous summit meetings in South Africa and Norway, as a common platform of pro-democracy organizations. Contact points in the U.S. include (1) the Nigerian Democratic Movement, P.O. Box 91291, Washington, DC 20090; tel: 202-806-4793; fax: 202-806-4632; e-mail:; web:; contact: Bolaji Aluko; and (2) the Organization of Nigerians in the Americas, P.O. Box 200985, Austin, TX 78720-0985; tel: 512-335-0287; fax: 512-471-1061; e-mail:; contact: Julius Ihonvbere. Other Nigerian pro-democracy groups can be located through the Web addresses in the "Further Resources" section.

The International Roundtable on Nigeria (IRTON) is an informal association of human rights, environmental, labor, and US-based Nigerian pro-democracy groups working to help Nigerians restore a rights-respecting, accountable government. Its meetings are coordinated through the Government Affairs Office of Amnesty International USA, 304 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003, tel: 202-544-0200, Ext. 234; fax: 202-546-7142. Contact: Adotei Akwei.

The Africa Fund, which took a leading role in the campaign for local and state government action against the apartheid regime, is now involved with other groups in similar actions to support the Nigerian pro-democracy movement. Africa Fund, 17 John St., New York, NY 10038; tel: 212-962-1210; e-mail:; contact: Michael Fleshman.

Of the U.S.-based environmental organizations, the Sierra Club is currently most actively engaged in the Shell Boycott, working with representatives of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other groups. Sierra Club, 408 C St., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; tel: 202-675-6691; e-mail:; web:; contact: Stephen Mills, Human Rights and Environment Campaign Director.

Section 2: Capsule history (pre-1960)


Section 3: Capsule history (post-1960)


Section 4: Fast Facts


Section 5: Further Resources


Section 6: "Sweet Mother"



From: Message-Id: <> Date: Sat, 30 Nov 1996 10:24:17 -0500 Subject: Nigeria: APIC Background Paper

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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