A worldwide campaign has been launched to persuade governments of the need for preventive diplomacy to stop civil war from breaking out in Nigeria, already the scene of one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts, the 1967 Biafran war. The campaign is being organized by EarthAction, a network of more than 1,000 citizen groups in 125 countries around the world. The campaign urges concerted international action to persuade Nigeria's military rulers to put the country's aborted democratisation back on course.
Presidential elections in June 1993 were suspended by the military after the announcement of most of the results showed a clear lead for Moshood Abiola. A transitional government was appointed, only to be overthrown by General Sani Abacha in a military coup in November 1993. On the first anniversary of the annulled elections, President-elect Abiola declared himself the legitimate president and was promptly jailed for "treasonable felony". Since then, the country has been in turmoil.
An ominous warning of the potential for violence occurred on 17 November 1994, when the first anniversary of Nigeria's most repressive and incompetent government was marked by a bomb exploding in Lagos airport. Nigeria's broad front National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) has warned "it will be a disaster, not only for Nigeria but for the whole world, if Nigerians come to the conclusion that only violence will secure the attention of the international community."
EarthAction cites a recent Amnesty International report which says: "The growing polarisation of Nigerian politics, compounded by increasing ethnic tension between the north and south of the country, could spell the beginnings of the bloodiest conflict since Biafra."
EarthAction is supporting those campaigning within Nigeria for the military to return to barracks. It urges prompt international action to prevent the crisis deteriorating into full-scale conflict. The groups involved in the campaign are calling for a ban by all countries on imports of Nigerian oil until the military recognises the results of the annulled June 1993 presidential elections and installs President-elect Abiola in office.
At the same time, the campaigners are urging the world's governments to undertake much more active diplomatic efforts to help negotiate a peaceful transition to civilian rule in Nigeria.
"We don't want to wait for another Rwanda," said Nicholas Dunlop, International Coordinator of EarthAction. "The time to stop a war is before it starts, not after blood is flowing."
Crisis in Nigeria
Nigeria may be on the verge of civil war as a latent north-south divide has been reawakened by the army's refusal to hand over power to the elected civilian president. Unless reason prevails, Africa's largest country could descend into chaos and, warns US presidential envoy Jesse Jackson, the world could face a disaster "50 times worse than Rwanda."
Outside pressure is needed to end the political crisis that has gripped Nigeria since the annulment of the 12 June 1993 elections, leaving government virtually paralysed, the economy in tatters and the infrastructure at the point of collapse. General Abacha, Nigeria's latest strongman who seized power in November 1993, has installed the most repressive regime the country has endured in 25 years of military rule. Wholesale arrests of democrats and dissidents, a clampdown on the press, and suspension of the rule of law have resulted in what people are calling the "Dawning of a new dark age."
Population: 100 million - largest in Africa
Per capita GNP: $240
Largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa - 200 million barrels per day
25 years of military rule since Independence from Britain in 1960; 5 successful coups
Countdown to Crisis
• Gen. Buhari coup overthrows civilian government.
• Gen. Babangida ousts Buhari.
• Commencement of democratisation process.
• 12 June: Nigeria's freest and fairest elections ever.
• 23 June: Elections suspended by military after a majority of recorded votes points to a victory for Chief Abiola.
• 26 Aug: Babangida hands over power to military appointed interim national government.
• 17 Nov: Interim government ousted by Gen. Sani Abacha.
• 30 May: National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) formed to oppose military rule.
• 12 June: President-elect Abiola declares himself President.
• 16 June: Abiola jailed for treason. Country becomes ungovernable and economy goes into freefall.
• 29 Sept: Provisional Ruling Council dissolved - Abacha passes new draconian laws to insulate himself from popular anger.
• 4 Nov: Abacha ignores Federal Appeal Court ruling ordering Abiola's release on bail.
• 17 Nov: Bomb explodes at Lagos Airport.
Background to the crisis
A wave of popular anger against military rule is sweeping across Nigeria. As peaceful protest is replaced by violent confrontation, Nigeria's fragile unity is threatened and there are ominous echoes of the 1967-70 Biafran war, one of the bloodiest conflicts in African history.
As the political crisis escalates, dangerous separatist tendencies are being unleashed, and the country risks once again spiralling towards civil war. Nigeria has many different ethnic groups, and a north-south religious split. The three biggest groupings are the Moslem Hausa of the north, and the Yoruba and Igbo in the south. Human Rights Watch/Africa warns that the widespread abuses committed by the military regime "are contributing directly to the creation of a climate of ethnic and regional mistrust and violence." Many southerners resent what they see as continued domination by a northern elite, and the generals' close identification with the northern Moslems means that ethnic and religious considerations become important in any standoff between military and civilians.
The stakes are raised by the deteriorating health of Mashood Abiola, the imprisoned victor of last year's cancelled elections. Chief Abiola, a heavyweight political operator, flamboyant publishing magnate and southern Muslim, was chosen by former president General Babangida as an ideal candidate to transcend the country's traditional north-south divide in his proposed "guided transition" to civilian rule. Two handpicked candidates led two military-created parties into an election described by international observers as Nigeria's "freest and fairest ever." Abiola's resounding victory across 21 of 30 states - both north and south - should have come as no surprise. Yet Babangida refused to recognise the result: many southerners believe the northern dominated military will never accept a Yoruba President. A military-appointed interim government was appointed, but by November it was overthrown by Lt. Gen Sani Abacha - Babangida's former deputy.
A broad front National Democratic Coalition was formed, arguing that Abacha's regime had no legitimate right to rule. Chief Abiola attempted to reclaim his rightful office, proclaiming himself president on 12 June - the anniversary of the annulled election. Abacha reacted by arresting him for treason, prompting a series of strikes that paralysed the economy for months. Since then, conditions have moved from bad to worse and as peaceful protest has been made impossible, a violent phase has been marked by the start of a bombing campaign. Observers, both within and outside Nigeria, fear that street protest could soon escalate to intercommunal violence.
The centralisation of power by successive military regimes has undermined the federalism designed to restrain the dangerous ethnic and regional tensions that sparked the Biafran war. Amnesty International warns "The growing polarisation of Nigerian politics, compounded by increasing ethnic tension ... could spell the beginnings of the bloodiest conflict since Biafra." Momodu Kasim Momodu, chair of Amnesty's Nigerian section, says: "I have never witnessed a potentially more explosive human rights disaster such as this. The wounds left by the Biafran war have never healed. They run deep in the collective consciousness of Nigerian society. If the world continues to ignore what is happening in this country, we could have carnage on our hands."
Although the Federation of Nigeria now has 30 states, the country still basically divides into three regions: the north, where the Moslem Hausa and Fulani groups outnumber many smaller minorities, and two mainly-Christian regions of the south: the Igbo-dominated southeast (whose attempted secession in 1967 led to the Biafran war) and the predominantly-Yoruba southwest. The northern elite is dominant politically and economically, but most of the oil is in the south, where the minority Ogoni population have borne the brunt of a vicious campaign of repression. The Yoruba from Abiola's home region are outraged at the denial of their candidate, whilst the Igbo are once again talking of secession.
The role of the military
The senior ranks of the armed forces appear willing to stop at nothing to prevent Chief Abiola from gaining the presidency. The generals fear him because the elections showed him to be popular in both north and south, which undermines the military's excuse for maintaining power: that only the army can maintain national unity. Paradoxically it is the regime's own crisis of legitimacy that now risks tearing the country apart.
Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa but also has the largest economy outside South Africa. Massive oil reserves should give Nigeria a living standard closer to other OPEC countries than that of most of its neighbours, yet most Nigerians languish in poverty. The legacy of economic and political disruption is disastrous: mismanagement by a succession of military regimes has meant a fall in average per capita income from $1000 in 1980 to under $250 in 1993. The military elite appear to regard state power as an opportunity for personal enrichment; the tremendous oil wealth offers staggering opportunities for corruption.
US$12.5 billion of Gulf War windfall oil revenue - one third of the country's total foreign debt - was discovered to be missing by a corruption probe into the central bank. The "gross abuse of public trust" only became public because the head of the investigating panel, the respected former federal economic adviser, Pius Okigbo, was able to publicise the findings of his report before leaving for exile in Britain. The military's policies have been described as "the economics of the lunatic asylum": destroying the nation's economy to enrich a small clique that holds power. Ironically, Gen. Abacha accuses his opponents of "economic sabotage": embarking on a "systematic destruction and strangulation of our economy."
Nigeria's generals simply refuse to relinquish the spoils of office. The politics of each successive military regime have been dominated by the machinations of various cliques and cabals within the officer corps. Abacha's 1993 coup was the fifth successful military takeover since independence, and the third since the last democratic government was overthrown. Civilian patience with military rule has worn thin, especially in the south, which has become virtually ungovernable since June's imprisonment of Chief Abiola.
The confrontation escalates
Instead of defusing the crisis, Abacha continues to escalate tensions. He passed decrees preventing legal challenges to military rule - causing the resignation of the minister of justice. He dismissed his closest allies, such as Chief of Army Staff, Chris Ally, who advised that the only way out of the impasse was to de-annul the 12 June elections, and he has purged the officer corps. There is no longer a single Igbo member of the High Command - an ominous echo of the start to the previous war. The independent press has been banned and the judiciary ignored. Dissidents and democrats are systematically harassed: many prominent politicians and activists have been arrested, others attacked and intimidated. Many more have fled abroad or are in hiding.
Former foreign minister and NADECO's chief spokesman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, is fond of quoting John F. Kennedy's famous adage: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." He says, "There is a simple solution to the crisis: the recognition of the results of the June 1993 presidential election and the installation of its winner in office" but urges international action to achieve this, because it is "the last chance the country has to avoid bloodshed".
Germany, the current European Union president, has called on Abacha "to move rapidly to restore Nigeria to a civil democracy to which all Nigerians, including the present regime, have pledged their support". Although Washington has been vocal in its condemnation, urging "assertive, aggressive diplomacy" to prevent civil war, little substantial action has been taken against one of the world's most vicious military regimes.
Prof. Akinyemi urges military, economic and political sanctions as a "clear signal that Nigeria cannot fall out of the march of the rest of the world towards democracy". He warns "It will be a disaster, not only for Nigeria but for the whole world, if Nigerians come to the conclusion that only violence will secure the attention of the international community." If Nigeria's dormant divisions are reawakened by growing north-south antipathy, the consequences will be disastrous. If the regime's intransigence should provoke military confrontation, the effects could reverberate across the continent.
Wole Soyinka, NIGERIAN NOBEL LAUREATE:
"It must be possible to break out of this vicious circle ... The international community has to stop playing commercial games. It must reserve its mercantile spirit and take the spirit of humanity. It must take strong action on behalf of this country or sooner or later it will have to pay a higher price."
National Coalition for Democracy (NADECO):
"There is a simple solution to the crisis: the recognition of the results of the June 1993 presidential election and the installation of its winner in office."
WORLD-WIDE COALITION CALLS FOR NIGERIAN OIL EMBARGO
Monday 15 July, 1996
More than seventy campaigning groups around the world joined today in calling for an international oil embargo on Nigeria until democracy is restored there. The groups are supporting appeals from leading Nigerian democrats, including Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka, who argue that only an oil embargo will apply serious pressure on Nigeria's military regime to encourage it to relinquish power.
General Sani Abacha, Nigeria's military dictator, seized power in a military coup in 1993, and has suppressed dissent by force. President-elect Moshood Abiola, winner of a 1993 general election, has been jailed for "treason". Among other pro-democracy leaders jailed by Abacha is former President Olusegun Obassanjo, who restored democracy in Nigeria after an earlier period of military rule.
In a joint statement, the groups warn that "not only have the people of Nigeria been deprived of their basic human rights, but there is a danger of massive bloodshed unless the world heeds the calls of Nigeria's brave democrats for an international embargo on the purchase of Nigerian oil."
Their statement continues: "Ninety-six percent of Nigeria's foreign revenue comes from oil. Much of that money goes directly into the pockets of the generals. An oil embargo is the one step that would hit the dictatorship hard, and help to bring about the immediate restoration of democracy in Africa's largest nation."
Since the widely condemned execution of writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other campaigners in 1995, there have been growing calls for an oil embargo on Nigeria. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa has called for an embargo. A number of governments in the European Union have supported the proposal, but moves toward a European embargo have been blocked by the governments of Britain and the Netherlands. The Clinton Administration has not ruled out an oil embargo, and there have been efforts to impose an embargo through the US Congress.
Until now, governments have confined themselves to more limited steps, such as the three-year suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth, and restrictions on the supply of arms to the Nigerian military.
General Abacha has promised an eventual return to democracy, and many governments claim to be waiting to see whether his promise is serious. Nigeria's democrats, however, are profoundly sceptical that, without strong international pressure, this latest promise of democracy from the military will fare any better than other broken promises in the past. A list of groups calling for an embargo on Nigerian oil follows. The groups are members of EarthAction, an international network of citizen organizations.
For more information, contact:
Organisations Supporting Embargo of Nigerian Oil
Agrupacio de Defensa Vegetal Oliva, Spain
Agrupament Escolta de Balaguer, Spain
Africa Fund, U.S.A.
Associacio d'Accio Creativaper a la Solidaritat, Spain
Associaci de Consumidors ao, Spain
BOSC Foundation, Hungary
Both Ends, The Netherlands
Cambridge Peace Council, U.K.
Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, U.S.A.
Centre Excursionista Ponsica, Spain
Centre for Peace and Development, India
Change & Save Lives Association, Tanzania
Comit Oscar Romero, Spain
CONGACI, Cote d'Ivoire
Coordinadora d'Agricultura Ecolgica, Spain
EarthAction Earth Island Institute, U.S.A.
Earth First! (Los Angeles), U.S.A.
Ecologie Energie Survie, France
Environment & Conservation Organisations of New Zealand
Environmental Awareness Group, U.S.A.
Environmental Defense Fund Intl, U.S.A.
Environmental Investigation Agency, U.K.
Friends of Nigeria, U.S.A.
Friends of the Earth, Australia
Friends of the Earth International
Friends of the Earth, Sweden
Friends of the Earth, U.S.A.
Gaia Foundation, U.K.
Grand Rapids Dominicans, U.S.A.
Green Earth Organisation, Ghana
Grupo Ecologista Gen ana, Spain
Institution for Resources Conservation, India
Inter Hemisphere Education Resource Center, U.S.A.
International Service Society, India
International Society for Human Rights, Germany
Jeunesse Environnement Solidarit Sans Frontires, Benin
Journalists Organisation of Tanzania
Li Environmentica, India
Lok Chetna Manch, India
Metro Manila Council of Women Balikatan Movement, Philippines
Movimienpo Ecologista de Baja California, Mexico
National Federation of Women's Clubs of the Philippines
NEER/United Church of Christ, U.S.A.
Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment, The Netherlands
NOAH - Traffic, Denmark
Paz Silvestre, Chile
Peace Resource Center of San Diego, U.S.A.
People's Commission on Development, India
Polish Ecology Club, Poland
Poovulagin Nanbargal, India
Programme de l'Association Evanglique pour le Dveloppement Agricole, Central African Republic
Rseau Solidarit, France
Saviya Development Foundation, Sri Lanka
SAFE Alternatives for our Forest Environment, U.S.A.
Servicio Civil Internacional, Spain
Sierra Club, U.S.A.
Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan
Support Group for Indigenous Peoples, Belgium
Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Movement, India
Third World First, U.K.
Transnational Institute, Netherlands
United Nations of Youth, Senegal
Urban Ecology, Australia
Workshop for All Beings, Poland
20/20 Vision Bristish Columbia, Canada