U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Howard Jeter, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee, "Nigeria: On the Democracy Path?," Subcommittee on Africa, August 3, 1999, Washington, DC


Introduction

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.  It is indeed a pleasure to address the House
Subcommittee on Africa on Nigeria's prospects for democracy and stability.  Just
a year and a half ago, Nigeria was still ruled by one of Africa's harshest
dictators, going down a treacherous path of continued economic and political
decay and international isolation.  Yet last February, Nigerians went to the
polls to elect their first civilian democratic president and legislature in over
15 years.  Let me take the opportunity to commend you, Mr. Royce, and
Representatives Payne, Meeks, and Lee for the valuable role you played as
election observers. Although far from perfect, the contest signaled the first
step in Nigeria's successful transition to civilian democracy.  On May 29, a
significant number of world leaders traveled to the inauguration of President
Olusegun Obasanjo. Despite daunting challenges, we believe Nigeria now has the
best chance in decades to turn to a new democratic chapter in its history, and
to begin finally to realize its enormous potential to bring greater prosperity
and stability to its own people and to others on the continent.

Mr. Chairman, U.S. goals in Nigeria prior to the transition as well as today
remain constant. We seek a stable Nigeria that respects human rights, promotes
democracy, and enhances the welfare of its people.  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 the largest economy on the continent.  Finally,
we hope Nigeria will continue to play a responsible role in resolving regional
conflicts.  Nigeria's successful transformation is key to anchoring the climate
of peace and rapid development that our citizens hope to see throughout Africa,
and, thus, central to meeting all our economic, security, and political
objectives in the region.

Thus, Secretary Albright has designated Nigeria as one of four priority
countries in the world, along with Colombia, Ukraine, and Indonesia, whose
democratic transition we have a vital national interest in backing. A number of
senior Administration officials, including Under Secretary Thomas Pickering,
then-Under Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, Transportation Secretary Slater, and
Commerce Secretary Daley have traveled to Nigeria over the course of a year to
discuss long-term U.S.-Nigerian engagement.  President Clinton, Secretary of
State Albright, and Treasury Secretary Rubin met with President-elect Obasanjo
on March 30, and assured him we would provide continued and active support at
this critical juncture in Nigeria's history.  Finally, at the President's
request, an Interagency Assessment Team which I co-led traveled to Nigeria from
June 19 to July 2 to explore with the Nigerian Government, civil society
leaders, and the U.S. and Nigerian business communities proactive assistance
programs this year and beyond.

United States Interests

We are investing this high-level commitment in Nigeria because the stakes are so
high.  A democratic Nigeria is key to a stable and prosperous West Africa, an
invigorated Africa, and to U.S. national and economic security.  Nigeria is our
second largest trading partner in all of Africa.  American companies have
invested over $7 billion in the country's petroleum sector; we import
approximately 40% of Nigeria's oil production, and Nigeria supplies nearly 8% of
our total oil imports. Nigeria is large and influential, with an ancient
culture, tremendous human talent, and enormous wealth.  The most populous
African nation, Nigeria is home to more than 100 million people, with over 250
ethnic groups and an abundance of natural resources.

Equally important, Nigeria is a major force in the sub-region and has played an
invaluable role in helping to bring stability to this volatile neighborhood.  It
has been the major troop contributor to the peacekeeping force of the Economic
Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).  In Liberia, for
example, Nigeria actively supported the peace process by contributing over 75%
of the ECOMOG peacekeeping troops and by helping to enable internationally
observed and transparent elections.  Nigeria's support for peacekeeping in
Liberia lasted for nearly 8 years.  Led by Nigeria, ECOMOG also was instrumental
in restoring the legitimate Sierra Leone Government in March of last year. Over
the past year and a half, its troops have remained in-country to defend and
protect the Sierra Leonean population, uphold the democratically elected
government, and press the rebels to the negotiating table.  Indeed, the July 7
Lome Peace Accords signed between rebel leader Foday Sankoh and President Kabbah
is due, in large part, to Nigeria's sustained and proactive efforts, and
Africans and members of the international community should be grateful.

The United States has supported ECOMOG over the years with significant
logistical assistance, over $110 million for its efforts in Liberia and Sierra
Leone, but the greater brunt of costs in both lives and dollars has been borne
by Nigeria.  With a resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone, Nigeria hopes to
be able to divert more resources to its own internal reconciliation and
reconstruction efforts.

Recent Progress

Nigeria's new leadership deserves enormous credit for last year's transition.
Against considerable odds, General Abdulsalam Abubakar effectively guided the
process, releasing political prisoners, persuading the military to make
concessions, and working with the World Bank and IMF to improve the economy.
Under his guidance, for example, Nigeria abolished the dual exchange rate,
deregulated gasoline prices, and began to restructure the centrally controlled
economy.

The United States is encouraged by President Obasanjo's first moves as Head of
State.   He has taken a prominent leadership role in the region, begun work to
address corruption and past human rights abuses (to strengthen and consolidate
civilian control of the military), and personally has urged the reconciliation
of disparate elements of society.  For example, the President established a
committee to review all government contracts since 1976 and has retired senior
military officers who played central roles in previous military regimes. On June
10, he traveled to the Niger Delta for a first-hand look at the devastation
resulting from a new round of ethnic conflict in that region.  He visited Sierra
Leone, Togo, and other key states in West Africa to jump-start Nigeria's
critical diplomatic role in Sierra Leone's peace process.  President Obasanjo
also has begun a serious effort to seek rapprochement and reconciliation between
Nigeria and Liberia, symbolized by his presence at Liberia's National Day
Celebration and the symbolic destruction of the arsenal of weapons confiscated
at the end of Liberia's civil war.  The United States supports what appears to
be promising domestic and foreign policy progress in Nigeria.

Looking Ahead: Nigeria's Challenges

President Obasanjo must deal effectively and immediately with two overriding
issues--corruption and the professionalization of the military--to win the time,
space, and political support he will need to confront the difficult but
essential issue of economic reform and national reconciliation.

Corruption

Nigeria's leadership has begun to address both systemic and entrenched
corruption and civil-military relations.  With the former, President Obasanjo
has a momentous task ahead of him; corruption in Nigeria is longstanding and
pervasive.  In addition to setting up a panel to review all government contracts
over a span of 20 years, including those awarded during his own previous term as
Head of State, President Obasanjo has suspended all contracts and appointments
made by the last military regime. He also has committed to setting up an anti-
corruption agency and introduced an anti-corruption bill in Parliament.  To stem
graft, government officials have shown an interest in establishing institutional
mechanisms similar to our own Office of Management and Budget, Government
Accounting Office, and Inspector General offices. President Obasanjo has
established a code of conduct for his new Cabinet and has made clear that he
expects his ministers to meet very high ethical standards. These measures are
essential to ensure that widespread corruption does not rob Nigerians of the
significant benefits of a future--healthy economy and free body politic.

Professionalization of the Military

After decades of military leadership, returning the military to their barracks
and establishing a professional, nonpolitical army is one of Nigeria's highest
priorities, and one that will take significant time and energy, as well as
strong assistance and support from the international community. Significant
reform, training, discipline, and active and constructive dialogue between civil
societies and the military establishment are needed in both the short and long
term.  We applaud President Obasanjo's bold steps to take control of the
military establishment so early in his Administration, by retiring 143 senior
military officers, including 93 officers who had held political positions in
previous military governments. Senior military officers were routinely appointed
to governorships and other important positions normally held by civilians during
Nigeria's last 16 years of military rule.  This move indicates that Obasanjo,
himself a former general, will not be intimidated and bodes well for the
turnover of leadership to a civilian, democratic government.

National Reconciliation: Establishing Viable Democratic Institutions and Respect
for Human Rights

In this regard, Nigerian leaders must also continue their efforts to establish
functioning democratic institutions and to respect human rights.  Over the past
year, Nigeria has established an independent electoral commission, permitted the
formation of political parties, halted government interference with labor
unions, and bolstered the judiciary by appointing new judges to the Supreme
Court.  Today, Nigeria has an elected civilian government at all levels: local,
state, and national, and many of its institutions are modeled after those of the
United States, including its National Assembly's Senate and  House of
Representatives.  These civilian administrations are just beginning to function
and to gain experience and confidence.  Members already exhibit a serious
commitment to establishing their constitutional roles.  The House of
Representatives, for example, successfully addressed its first serious crisis
last month when the Speaker resigned because of allegations that he had
falsified his credentials while running for office.  The House quickly followed
constitutional procedures and elected a successor.  President Obasanjo, for his
part, is respecting the independence of the legislative, judicial, and executive
branches.

Nigeria also has made real progress in improving its human rights record by
releasing political prisoners last year, including those accused of plotting
against the Abacha regime.  Although problems remain--including the continued
existence of Decree Two which permits indefinite detention without trial--
Nigeria's new leaders have vastly improved citizens' treatment, a far cry from
the past dictatorship days of vile and often violent oppression. In a very
positive step, President Obasanjo has named a committee headed by a former
Supreme Court judge to examine the human rights violations that took place
during successive regimes since 1983. We hope Nigeria's leaders will continue
this vital dialogue, including elements of civil society and the opposition, in
their efforts to reconcile the nation and establish the mechanisms essential for
democratic consolidation.

National Reconciliation: Ethnic Conflict

Nowhere is dialogue more critical than in the Niger Delta region where continued
ethnic unrest could threaten Nigeria's political transition and economic
stability.  Discontent caused by living in an economically depressed,
ecologically ravaged environment while great oil wealth is pumped from the same
area has exacerbated ethnic strife in this region. Some ethnic groups,
specifically the Ijaw and Itsekiri people, have been at virtual war for the past
2 years.  Actions by Delta youth activists against oil production and transport
facilities, many owned by American companies, disrupted as much as one-third of
Nigeria's oil production last year.  The government imposed a state of emergency
last December following demands by local youth groups that all foreign-oil
companies leave the Delta by the end of the year. Employees of oil companies
have been held hostage and inter-ethnic group violence has continued.  On May
30, militant Ijaw youths in the Delta attacked Itsekiri villages just across the
river from a large Chevron plant.  The ensuing violence left 200 dead.

Economic Reform

Problems in the Delta are symptomatic of prolonged government neglect and
corruption that have devastated Nigeria's economy and led to massive poverty and
gross inequalities in all corners of this huge country.  Despite its rich
resource endowment, Nigeria remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Nigerians now earn an average of only $300 per year, compared to $1,200 per year
20 years ago. A sharp drop in oil prices last year, proceeds from which
constitute 95% of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings and 80% of government
revenue, has depressed the economy even further.  Nigeria has had an unfunded
International Monetary Fund Staff Monitoring Program (SMP) since February. If
the country can remain sufficiently "on-track" with its SMP, the IMF could
recommend that its Board approve an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility.
This could pave the way for balance-of-payments support and possible debt
restructuring.  To reach this goal, Nigeria needs to continue to pursue a
realistic budget, and institute tax reform and an effective program of
privatization.  These reforms are also necessary to build business confidence
and attract domestic and foreign investment.  Without these measures, broad-
based growth and development could stall with negative implications for
political stability and democracy.

United States Policy

The road ahead for Nigeria is a steep climb; nevertheless, the United States
stands ready to be an active and supportive partner. Since the Abubakar
transition, we have steadily increased lines of communication with our Nigerian
counterparts and rewarded progress with serious attention, hands-on counsel,
and, when appropriate, bilateral assistance.  The U.S. lifted visa sanctions on
October 26 , 1998; the sanctions were imposed during the Abacha regime. We
provided electoral assistance for local elections in December, state elections
in January, and legislative and presidential elections in February.

U.S. assistance to Nigeria for the period of October 1998 to September 1999 will
be approximately $27.5 million, targeted toward democratic institution-building,
health care, and the strengthening of civil society.  To assist with the
professionalization of the military, we are lifting restrictions on military
sales, beginning a robust civil-military relations training program, and
proposing to provide IMET funding for a very few select Nigerian military
officials to begin training. We also have been working to help Nigerians meet
the increasing challenge of promoting reconciliation and preventing ethnic
conflict.  In the last 6 months, our Special Envoy for the Promotion of
Democracy in Africa, Reverend Jesse Jackson, has met twice with Delta leaders.
Former President Carter also went to the Delta to meet with its leaders, and in
February, the United States helped sponsor a local conference on conflict
resolution and sustainable development. We plan to target some remaining FY 1999
funding toward additional reconciliation and resolution programs in the region
and other conflict areas in Nigeria.

Last month, an Interagency Assessment Team comprised of representatives from
eight U.S. Government agencies discussed possible programs to assist Nigeria in
establishing mechanisms to stem corruption, consolidate its institutions, and
promote economic reform with President Obasanjo, Vice President Atiku, and
others.  With the coordination of the Inter-agency Working Group on Nigeria, a
subsequent USAID and Department of Defense civil-military team (which just
returned last week) discussed Nigeria's peacekeeping efforts and plans for
right-sizing and re-professionalizing the military. To support critical economic
reform measures, the Interagency Assessment Team also outlined our vision for a
Joint Economic Partnership Committee (JEPC), proposed when then-Under Secretary
Eizenstat was in the region.  Following the team's visit, a specialized
technical team from Transportation traveled to Nigeria to review infrastructure
rehabilitation and airport security issues.  We want to work closely with
members of Congress, including this Committee, toward a significant increase in
assistance to Nigeria in FY 2000 and beyond.  Such cooperation is in both
countries' interest.

One of the major barriers to increased U.S. assistance to Nigeria, as members
know, has been the lack of cooperation in countering narcotics.  We cannot
provide direct assistance to any government not meeting the standards for either
certification or a waiver. In March, President Clinton--acknowledging our vital
interests in supporting the transition to democratic government that was
underway in the country--provided a Vital National Interests Certification to
Nigeria.  We want to work with Nigeria this year to increase bilateral
cooperation in both counter-narcotics and law enforcement to ensure the country
can meet the requirements for certification.  Indeed, it is in our own national
interests to do so. Approximately 30% of heroin intercepted at U.S. ports of
entry in recent years was seized from Nigerian-controlled couriers, and already
Americans lose $2 billion annually to white collar crime syndicates based in
Nigeria.

The Nigerian Government also would like to see a resumption of direct flights
between the United States and Nigeria, dependent upon sufficient improvements in
technical aspects of airport security and regulations.  We have made plain to
the government that we are committed to working with them to remove the flight
ban on Lagos Airport.  We have already noted significant progress in meeting the
International Civil Aviation Organization's minimum security standards.

Conclusion

The Clinton Administration is committed to working with the Subcommittee on
Africa, and indeed with the entire Congress as we seek to forge a new U.S.-
Nigeria relationship in the context of a successful transition to civilian
democratic rule.  We stand at an important crossroads throughout Africa.  We
have what President Clinton recently described as "an historic opportunity to
work with Africans to build a more peaceful and prosperous future for the
continent." Nowhere is the window of opportunity wider than in Nigeria.   As
post-apartheid South Africa did at the end of this century, a democratically
stable, economically strong Nigeria has the chance to do at the beginning of the
next--better the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans at home and abroad.
We look forward to working with you to make clear to the new leadership that we
support them as they consider the vast implications of a triumphant Nigeria to
West Africa and beyond--and choose the right path toward democracy and economic
reform.  I would be pleased to take your questions.


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