Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Influencing Nigeria's Democracy US Officials Run Up against Limits to Their Capacity to Encourage Respect of Elections

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Influencing Nigeria's Democracy US Officials Run Up against Limits to Their Capacity to Encourage Respect of Elections

Article excerpt

NIGERIA'S two-month political crisis took a new turn when President Ibrahim Babangida, who seized power in 1985, reportedly offered to resign Aug. 17.

It had been widely expected that General Babangida would give up his military title and continue to rule as a civilian in order to satisfy his promise of restoring civilian rule by Aug. 27. Therefore, it was not immediately clear whether his offer to resign would satisfy Nigerian and international calls for democratization.

Responding on Aug. 16 to unconfirmed reports of Babangida's resignation offer, the US State Department said, "We welcome any concrete indication from Babangida that he will turn power over to an unhindered civilian government...."

The apparent winner of Nigeria's presidential elections, Chief Moshood Abiola, who fled to Britain, recently visited the United States, where he appealed for support in his bid to be declared winner of the June 12 presidential elections - annulled by the military government.

But while Mr. Abiola's appeals on Aug. 6 found sympathetic ears on Capitol Hill, the State Department was more cautious. US supports election process

"We have made no commitment to support Abiola personally," said a State Department official. "The US supports the elections and process leading toward democracy, but we do not support individuals per se."

On the Hill, however, Rep. Donald Payne (D) of New Jersey called for tough US sanctions against Africa's most populous nation. "This is similar to Haiti - the military said the election is nullified," said Mr. Payne at a hearing of the House Africa Subcommittee. "Haiti is more in our sphere of influence, but the principle is the same."

Payne said Abiola, a multimillionaire businessman, had told him that his life had been threatened for insisting he be declared the next president. Abiola had then received an emergency visa from a US embassy and slipped out of Nigeria.

Payne proposed an embargo by the US and the United Nations on the nearly 2 million barrels of oil Nigeria exports daily, mostly to the US, and a freeze on the assets of Babangida and others in the military.

George Moose, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the subcommittee that the US has cut off military aid since the June 12 elections were annulled, and "should a civilian government not be in place in Nigeria on Aug. 27 {as the military has promised}, the United States may be obliged to take additional steps."

But Mr. Moose did not endorse the proposals to embargo its oil and refused to "rule in or out" any future measures in support of democracy.

Indeed, the refusal of Nigeria's military government to heed US calls to respect the apparent 2-to-1 victory by Abiola in the election can be seen as a sign that Africa is far more difficult to influence than Latin America. When leaders or militaries in Peru, Guatemala, and Venezuela recently moved against democracy, swift action by the US and the Organization of American States made them back down and begin to restore democracy. …

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