Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Robinson Begins Push for Democracy in Nigeria: TransAfrica Initiative Seeks a Return to Civilian Government

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Robinson Begins Push for Democracy in Nigeria: TransAfrica Initiative Seeks a Return to Civilian Government

Article excerpt

Robinson Begins Push for Democracy in Nigeria: TransAfrica Initiative. Seeks a Return to Civilian Government

by Malik Shabazz

WASHINGTON, DC -- In an attempt to prod the military government of Nigeria toward a return to civilian rule, TransAfrica's Randall Robinson has enlisted the aid of politicians, educators and celebrities in order to focus the eyes of the world on human-rights abuses in Africa's most populous nation and return democracy to what many consider Africa's best hope. In a March letter to General Sani Abacha, who came to power in a 1993 military coup, Robinson accused Abacha of killing political opponents and shutting down the press. Robinson beseeched Abacha "to expedite the restoration of democracy" to Nigeria's 100 million people or face "incalculable damage" and "eventual economic and political isolation of your regime."

The letter was signed by a host of prominent Blacks: author Maya Angelou, actors Danny Glover, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Joseph Lowery; musician and composer Quincy Jones; TV personality Bryant Gumbel; acting NAACP head Earl T. Shinhoster; International Human Rights Group director Gay McDougall; Harvard Law Professor and former Judge Leon Higginbotham, Jr.; National Urban League president Hugh Price; and a majority of Congressional Black Caucus members, including Chairman Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both House Subcommittee on Africa members.

Robinson plans to follow up this letter with media advertisements, protests, an oil embargo and speaking engagements designed to bring intense scrutiny to the 11-year continuum of military rule. According to TransAfrica spokesman Mwizi Munthali, the only way to end the negative attention is "the restoration of democracy." While TransAfrica has not "thrust out everything," says Munthali, its main goal is to "promote and heighten the attention [on Nigeria]."


A continuing stream of unflattering news reports has come from Nigeria in recent years, sparked by its military rulers' repeated refusals to permit full democracy and by widespread allegations of government complicity with the drug trade and with corrupt business practices. The oil-rich country, once seen as Africa's most promising economic and military power, is now the 13th poorest nation in the world. For many of the Nigerians who make up one-fourth of Africa's population, the belief is that democracy will never come. For many observers, this is a belief that is difficult to dispute.

In June of 1993, the nation geared for the long-awaited transition from the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who for eight previous years had promised civilian rule. After much jostling and political maneuvering, the Nigerian military permitted the formation of two political parties, offering an election based on American-style politics. Moshood Abiola headed the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa headed the right-of-center National Republican Convention (NRC).

On June 12 the election results began pouring in. Then, before a final tally, Babangida annulled the elections results, which according to most observers, had Abiola on pace to win the presidency.

After annulment of the election results, the military regime then placed civilian Ernest Shonekan at the head of the government, while it arranged to hold elections once again. An intense public outcry resulted, with labor protests bringing the economy to the verge of collapse. Then the military regime of Sani Abacha took over the government once again on Nov. 18, 1993. Since then the government has arrested Moshood Abiola upon his return to Nigeria, and it had arrested former military ruler Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (since released), who relinquished power to civilian rule after the 1976-79 takeover and has been an outspoken critic of military rule.

Recently, the military government announced a constitutional convention, which it says will draft a constitution, after which the military is to hand over power to civilians on Jan. …

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