To the Editors:
We view the events unfolding in Nigeria, a nation of more than 90 million citizens, with alarm and grave concern. On June 12, 1993, General Ibrahim Babangida finally permitted long-promised elections to take place. The elections were marred by the fact that they were held under arbitrary rules unilaterally set by Babangida: his government created the two parties allowed to contest the presidency, chose the symbols of these parties, wrote their party platforms, and banned candidates it found unfit.
Despite these limitations, however, the Campaign for Democracy (a coalition of more than forty human rights, labor, student, and grass-roots organizations), the National Election Commission, the Civil Liberties Organization, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, and international monitors all declared that the elections themselves were the most free and fair in the country’s political history. Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party was given a nation-wide mandate to become Nigeria’s next president.
Nigerians and people around the world were dismayed when General Babangida, in an effort to maintain his own power, annulled the results of the election and disbanded the National Electoral Commission. Nigerian trade unions called massive protest strikes, and events have shown that the vast majority of Nigerians, cutting across ethnic, regional, religious, gender, and professional lines, oppose Babangida’s action and demand respect for the electoral process—notwithstanding the fact that many Nigerians are critical of Abiola because they believe he has not shown himself sufficiently willing to lead a resolute fight for democracy.
Hundreds of social activists and practically all leaders and officers of civil liberties organizations have been placed in detention. Several newspaper houses have been closed by security forces, and journalists are threatened for publishing materials deemed unfavorable to the military. The new secretary of justice has announced that public reference to the annulled elections is a criminal offense. Meanwhile, the recomposed electoral commission has failed to win the respect of Nigerians and the general feeling is that no election organized by this commission will be acceptable to the people. Though Babangida “stepped aside” on June 27 as president, he installed a handpicked interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan. Nigerians are insisting that this government is a sham.
Given Nigeria’s prominent place in Africa, the entire continent will pay a heavy price in years to come if this terrible precedent holds. The United States and the international community have protested the annulment of the elections, but much more needs to be done. In line with demands already advanced by the Campaign for Democracy and other popular groups in Nigeria and by several organizations of Nigerians in the US we call on the US government to:
Ask Nigeria to recall its ambassador to the United States;
Recall the US ambassador to Nigeria;
Cancel all previously issued visas for Nigeria’s military and political leaders;
Impose trade sanctions on the Nigerian government, excepting goods essential to the general population;
Stop the importation of Nigerian oil;
Cancel all foreign (not just military) aid to Nigeria immediately;
Declare open support for prodemocracy movements in Nigeria;
Make a public refusal to recognize the handpicked “Interim Government” installed by General Babangida;
Call for freedom of speech and the immediate release of all detained human rights activists;
Call for the immediate re-opening of all closed universities and media houses;
Call on the Nigerian National Assembly to recognize the results of the June 1993 presidential elections;
Call on the United Nations and governments around the world to support the pro-democracy struggles in Nigeria through adopting steps along the lines of those listed above.
We encourage readers of the New York Review to write to President Clinton, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500, to urge him to fully support Nigerian democracy. To add your name to this statement, which is being circulated to Nigerian officials and democratic activists as well as to international political leaders and the media, please contact the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
PO Box 1640, Cathedral Station
New York, NY 10025
Tel: (212) 666-5924
Fax: (212) 662-5892