Has the issue of human rights become the neglected stepchild of
American foreign policy? This question typically is raised during
debates, especially where American economic interests are involved,
and the answer often is unsatisfactory.
Consider America's policy toward Nigeria, which is currently
under review by the Clinton administration. By virtue of its size
and geographic location, Nigeria, which has suffered under military
rule for most of its 40 years as an independent nation, is
important in regional and international politics and critical to
American interests. But Nigeria's future is being squandered by the
current ruling junta, led by Gen. Sani Abacha. Rampant corruption,
economic mismanagement, and brutal subjugation of Nigeria's people
are the norm. The just-released 1997 State Department human rights
report on Nigeria summed up the situation there as "dismal."
Nigeria has the potential to be an economic powerhouse on the
African continent, a key regional political leader, and an
important American trading partner. But presently, oil revenues are
the only reliable source of economic growth, with the US purchasing
an estimated 41 percent of the output. Corruption and criminal
activity are common, including reports of drug trafficking and
consumer fraud schemes.
After the military annulled the 1993 election of Moshood Abiola
as Nigeria's president - through what was considered by many to be
a free and fair election - Chief Abiola was jailed, and there he
remains, as far as we know, supposedly awaiting trial. Reliable
information about his situation and condition is difficult to
obtain. Abiola's wife was detained by authorities last year and
later found murdered under circumstances suggesting the military
may have been responsible.
In October 1995, General Abacha announced a so-called
"transition" program with the goal of returning an elected civilian
government to Nigeria by October 1998. But even this flawed
transition process moves at a snail's pace. A draft constitution
has not been completed, and the registration process for political
parties has been extremely restrictive. Any criticism of the
transition process is punishable by five years in prison.
Reports from international human rights organizations and the
State Department document years of such brutality. Nigerian human
rights activists and government critics are commonly whisked away
to secret trials before military courts and imprisoned; independent
media outlets are silenced; workers' rights to organize are
restricted; and the State Security Detention of Persons Decree No.
2, giving the military sweeping powers of arrest and detention,
remains in force.
Perhaps the most horrific example of repression by the Abacha
government was the execution of human rights and environmental
activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in November 1995 on
trumped-up charges. …