US Department of State, Thomas R. Pickering, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, "Nigeria Returns: America Responds," Washington, DC, March 11, 1999

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Walter. It is good to
see you again, Paula, and so many other friends and colleagues. I would
like to thank Salih Booker, Senior Fellow at the Council's Africa
Studies Program, and Barnett Rubin, Senior Fellow and Director of the
Center for Preventative Action, for sponsoring this meeting with the
Council's Washington office.

Tonight, we have the opportunity to discuss a great country with even
greater potential. Indeed, "Nigeria returns" is the very apt title the
Council has given to this meeting. A year ago, Nigeria was still under
Abacha's rule, isolated from the community of nations, and without much
reasonable hope of change.

Today, the Nigerian military is poised to turn the reins over to
popularly elected officials, restoring civilian rule after a long,
corrupt, and destructive period, and raising the prospects for Nigeria's
return to fully functioning democracy. General Abubakar deserves
enormous credit and our esteem for the steps that he already has taken,
from releasing political prisoners and persuading the military to back
his vision of a democratic Nigeria to taking the difficult decisions to
improve the economy and working with the World Bank and IMF. Great
change has come -- unexpected and most welcome -- thanks to General
Abubakar and the many other Nigerians laboring for a successful
transition to civilian rule. The months and years ahead will continue to
be challenging, but Nigerians have demonstrated their commitment to
rebuilding their nation. The international community is impressed,
enthusiastic, and ready to assist.

I had hoped to visit Nigeria just after the elections to talk with the
people who have made this transition possible. Unfortunately, I had to
postpone but am determined to reschedule my trip, and I also know Under
Secretary Eizenstat hopes to travel there this spring. Rev. Jesse
Jackson, the President and Secretary of State's Special Envoy for the
Promotion of Democracy in Africa, is completing a 6-day visit today.
Later this month, we look forward to welcoming President-elect Obasanjo
to Washington and exploring with him the issues and next steps I wish to
discuss with you tonight.

In looking at Nigeria's future, we can draw optimism from the tremendous
developments that already have occurred, from the obvious commitment of
Nigerians to building a healthy democracy, and from the great capacity
of the Nigerian people. And, yet, the tasks ahead are, indeed,
monumental, ranging across the spectrum of political, economic, and
social problems. Ultimately, Nigeria's success will depend, of course,
on how Nigerians themselves chart the course, but the U.S. is prepared
to help, in partnership with the Nigerian people, international and non-
governmental organizations, and democratic governments around the world.
Our mutual stake in Nigeria's future is significant, most especially
because Nigeria is a leader, and its choice in favor of democracy would
be a model throughout the African Continent.

Looking at the political challenges that lie ahead, a first order of
business is to provide a strong foundation for civilian rule that begins
May 29. This includes coming to terms with the serious problems
associated with the presidential elections. Election monitors from the
U.S., Africa, and Europe judged that, despite the flaws in the process,
the election represented a significant step forward toward democratic

They commended the absence of widespread violence and disruption. But
election monitors were equally united in noting and substantiating
extensive abuses by both parties and some electoral officials,
especially in a number of swing states. A democracy cannot be secure if
fraud, vote-buying, and endless disputes over the results become the
norm. I would urge President-elect Obasanjo, defeated candidate Chief
Olu Falae, General Abubakar, and members of the electoral commission to
carefully consider the good suggestions made by election monitors. These
include ways of better training election officials, educating citizens,
and securing registration and voting processes. Election monitors
emphasize that challenges to the elections need to be made through the
system established by the electoral commission. Due process should be
closely followed and decisions on election results carried out.

While this was not a perfect election, that's clear, it was a beginning.
President-elect Obasanjo and Chief Falae both represent the democratic
future for which the Nigerian people voted. As good democrats, I hope
and urge them to work together to build a new Nigeria. Chief Falae has
an important role to play in his country, including exercising
responsible opposition. President-elect Obasanjo can use the period
between now and his inauguration May 29 to open channels of
communication and participation, set realistic goals for reform, and
build broad-based support for multi-party democracy. Together, they can
modernize their country and answer their citizens' call for democracy,
opportunity, civic freedoms, and prosperity.

Together, they can choose to promote reconciliation and unity in
Nigerian society. Too much has already been won to risk losing the way

A second political challenge for Nigeria is to continue its efforts to
establish functioning democratic institutions. In the last 9 months,
Nigeria has established an independent electoral commission, permitted
the formation of political parties, ended government control of labor
unions, and strengthened the judiciary by appointing new judges to the
supreme court, bringing the court to its full complement of 16 justices
for the first time ever, I understand. The most urgent step now is
adopting a well-designed constitution.

General Abubakar has consulted broadly with civilian leaders over the
modalities, and there is reasonable debate over whether the constitution
should be adopted immediately so there is a base to work from or whether
it should be put into place after the civilian government is
inaugurated. This is for Nigerians to decide, but the constitution, in
our view, must clarify the roles of government institutions, establish a
federal system of government, and lay the legal basis for an independent

As it adopts a constitution and rebuilds institutions, Nigerian leaders
also must continue the country's progress on human rights. General
Abubakar's recent release of those accused of being coup plotters was a
brave decision and a very positive development, building on the earlier
release of political prisoners. An essential follow-up would be to
repeal Decree Two, which permits indefinite detention without trial. The
State Department has noted this problem and others in the recently
released human rights reports. Although problems remain, the contrast
between Nigeria's record of respect for human rights before June 8 and
the improvements after Abubakar came to power, is striking and

A third political challenge is as subtle as it is obvious: establishing
effective and appropriate civil-military relations. In this arena,
General Abubakar has been very constructive and ought to continue to
serve as a facilitator of the transition. For the military to take its
proper place in Nigerian society, reform, training, and discipline are
needed. The military must become professional and, I emphasize,
nonpolitical. It must carry on its traditional role of defense of the
nation and take its hands off the reigns of government and out of the
till. At the same time, the military needs a clear mission and to know
that it, too, has a place in the new Nigeria. A structured, sustained
dialogue between civilian and military officials is required to attain
these goals. Drawing on his earlier career as a military officer,
President-elect Obasanjo is well-suited to promote these ends. The
United States is ready to help, including by providing some training and
offering insights from our own experience.

A fourth political challenge is unrest in the Niger Delta. Despite the
oil wealth being pulled out of the ground, people in the Niger Delta
live in deep poverty, lacking basic services and without good and
sufficient infrastructure. The situation is volatile, but we believe
there is still time and room to improve it. Former President Carter
recently met with leaders there, and this week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson
was there. They have noted room for cooperation, as did our embassy
officials during a recent U.S. Government-funded conference on conflict
resolution and sustainable development.

We hope the Nigerian leadership will initiate a dialogue with the Delta
people, including non-governmental groups. Clearly, revenue-sharing
needs review, both in terms of the percentage of oil profits that are
returned to the region and by establishing the means for greater sharing
of oil income. One idea is to establish a trust fund for Delta
development projects.

Poverty, a sense of exploitation, and feelings of disenfranchisement
have fueled discontent, bordering on rebellion, in the Niger Delta. The
opportunity to defuse the crisis is there, as both General Abubakar and
local leaders have demonstrated a desire to work together. The people of
the Delta are asking for a voice, resources, and visible progress toward
adequate electricity, water, sanitation, and educational facilities. The
security situation also needs to be improved, with a commitment to
nonviolence on the part of Delta activists that can lead to a withdrawal
of security forces. The consequences of inaction are severe for
Nigeria's integrity and economy. Success would bode well for the
government's relations with Nigeria's ethnically diverse regions and
would send a positive signal to international investors about the
government's capacity and intentions.

The Niger Delta is the baldest expression of Nigeria's economic
dilemmas. Though the country is richly blessed in natural resources and
enterprising citizens, Nigeria's economy is in distress. Nigerians now
earn an average of only $300 per year, compared to $1,200 per year in
the late 1970s. Such poverty undermines social cohesion. Low oil prices
certainly make things worse, but they are not the root cause of the
problem. Sadly, mismanagement and corruption during the years of
military rule are at the core of some of Nigeria's problems.
Transparency International, an organization dedicated to reducing
corruption in developing nations, ranks Nigeria among the most corrupt
nations on earth. We have seen estimates that Nigeria loses the
equivalent of over 400,000 barrels of oil a day through mismanagement
and corruption.

To his credit, General Abubakar has demonstrated a clear understanding
of his country's key economic problems. His recent decision to abolish
the dual exchange rate was difficult and deeply needed, as was his
decision to deregulate gasoline prices and to begin the process of
restructuring the centrally controlled economy, privatize industry, and
deal with corruption. We have seen real commitment from many African
leaders in recent years against corruption, and Nigeria will find much
support for its efforts.

Nigeria has worked with the IMF to set up a staff-monitored program and
put it on a 6-month fast track. Once this has been successfully
completed, the IMF Executive Board will consider granting an Economic
Structural Adjustment Facility, which opens the possibility of obtaining
balance-of-payment support as well as seeking debt relief from the Paris
Club of creditor nations. To reach this goal, Nigeria, among other
things, needs to continue to pursue a realistic budget and a single,
market-based exchange rate for all transactions, tax reform, and an
effective program of privatization. Without this, resources cannot be
mobilized and used productively for broad-based growth and development,
and Nigeria's incredible potential will remain unrealized, with negative
implications for the democratic transition.

This is a daunting task for Nigeria's government, and we are making our
own efforts to be supportive. If Nigeria can stay the reform course,
substantial multilateral assistance and debt relief become real options.
Nigeria faces the challenge, however, of confronting entrenched
interests and rising popular expectations. The new government will need
to have an open dialogue with the Nigerian people on the economic policy
choices it must make. Investment in key services and social
infrastructure will be essential for building support. This will not be
easy given current budget constraints and low oil prices. But there is
good news. In recent decades, countries that opened up, established the
rule of law and stronger, fairer institutions grew at two to three times
the rate of those that shrank from the challenge. South Korea, Chile,
and Poland are three examples. Poland reaped enormous benefits by
stepping forward boldly and quickly. The lesson seems to be that giving
into temptations to go slowly hurts more in the long run. Or, to warp an
expression, short-term pain is worth it for long-term gain.

Rejuvenating Nigeria's troubled petroleum industry is part of this
effort. Despite inroads General Abubakar has made, much remains to be
done. Cleaning up the oil industry is important for Nigeria's economy
and, done well, will boost investor confidence.

While an efficient oil industry is essential, it is also crucial for
Nigeria to create a more diversified economy that would be able to
weather price fluctuations in oil and that would produce more
employment. Without wanting to endorse any particular program, we
believe the 2010 report provides some useful suggestions on rejuvenating
Nigeria's economy. Nigeria's domestic economy has enormous potential to
grow and diversify to serve its vast population. Light manufacturing,
consumer goods, and basic services are obvious areas for development.
Other ideas include rejuvenating Nigeria's agricultural sector and
developing a West African natural gas pipeline. Natural gas is a
byproduct of the petroleum industry. Currently, Nigeria flares it for
safety reasons, since there is no means for transporting it.
Unfortunately, in doing so, they squander a valuable and potentially
lucrative resource.

Economic progress is essential to fulfilling Nigeria's political goals;
they are two interdependent and significant aspects of a single process.

Where is the U.S. in all this? Since Gen. Abubakar came to power, we
have steadily engaged with Nigeria to test its intentions and support
progress on multiple fronts: with human rights and civil society groups;
with the military; with electoral, opposition, and party officials; on
narcotics; on airport security, law enforcement, and regional issues. A
list of Americans who monitored Nigeria's presidential election vividly
demonstrates the deep interest and commitment we have toward helping
Nigeria's transition. President Carter, General Colin Powell,
Congressmen Royce, Payne, and Meeks, Congresswoman Lee, and former
Senator Kassebaum were among the distinguished citizens who lent their
time to this effort. In addition, the Secretary of State has designated
Nigeria as one of four countries whose democratic transition we are most
interested in assisting, along with Colombia, Ukraine, and Indonesia.
The Secretary also is exploring ways that democratic nations can work
together to help states undergoing such transitions.

A stumbling block to direct U.S. assistance to Nigeria has been lack of
cooperation in countering narcotics. Legally, we cannot provide direct
assistance to any government not meeting the standards for either
certification or a waiver. This year, President Clinton took note of the
good efforts of General Abubakar and, trusting in the future civilian
government, provided a Vital National Interest Narcotics Certification.
This is valid for one year. We will use this year to deepen and expand
our multifaceted cooperation in many areas, including counternarcotics
and law enforcement so that Nigeria can meet standards of certification
and build a strong foundation for democracy in the years ahead.

Beginning in April, we will be able to provide direct government to
government assistance. U.S. assistance in 1999 will be approximately $30
million, about half of which will be devoted to democratic institution
building and half to health care and civil society programs. We are
planning to provide training for new legislators, help reconcile
defeated candidates and parties with the new government, and provide
dispute settlement assistance, in addition to offering USAID's regular
health and population programs. We also will help broaden the government
and public's understanding of the need for, and goals of, economic
We will begin working with Nigeria's military on a future program of
exchanges and training. Similar contacts are occurring with other
government and non-governmental groups in the country.

In other areas of bilateral concern, the U.S. lifted visa sanctions on
October 26, 1998. The Nigerian Government would like to see direct
flights between our countries. This will depend on making sufficient
improvements in technical aspects of airport security, and I can report
today that progress is being made in that endeavor. Thereafter, it would
be up to air carriers to decide whether to initiate flights.

Let me now say a word about Nigeria's foreign policy. Already, Nigeria
is the most significant contributor to ECOMOG, West Africa's
peacekeeping organization, especially to its peacekeeping efforts in
Liberia and most recently in Sierra Leone. Nigeria has the potential to
serve as a stabilizing, democratic force throughout the region, and we
want to help. Since May 1998, the U.S. has contributed $7.9 million in
logistics. We have notified Congress of our intention to provide
additional assistance in this area. The UK is also an important
contributor to this program.

Nigeria is not alone. Friendly governments on several continents stand
ready to work with Nigeria as it continues its historic path. For me,
Nigeria's success is more than a geopolitical goal of our government. It
is also personal. When I served there as ambassador, I was struck by the
great potential and huge talent of the Nigerian people. The last 12
months have not brought many happy headlines in foreign affairs. The
global financial crisis and strife on several continents have consumed
us. But Nigeria, in just 9 months, has moved from a position of
alienation in the international community to a place where Nigerian
hopes for democracy, prosperity, and a better life correspond with our
own vision for a world in which peace, freedom, and democracy triumph.

Nigerians themselves must and will tackle their significant problems,
but they will not be alone as they seek to tap the immense potential of
their great country. We stand as partners, working with Nigeria to
solidify democracy by fostering national reconciliation, training newly
elected officials, and building institutions of democracy and civil
society. This effort cannot be just among governments. NGO's,
foundations, and the private sector can help create new opportunities.
Many of you here tonight have a long and distinguished association with
Nigeria. I welcome your input and perspective, and am sure you join with
me in wishing Nigeria well and dedicating ourselves to helping it
succeed. Nigeria is a leader. Where it goes, others will, too. There is
enormous possibility for the international community to contribute to a
better future for Africans, and I ask for your support.

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