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Richard L. SKLAR

University of California,

Los Angeles

Every so often, a sovereign state incurs the wrath of other states, which resort to collective, punitive measures short of military combat1. Nigeria, which is by far then most highly populated country in Africa, was targeted by a formidable coalition, including the European Union, South Africa, Canada, and the United States, in November and December 1995. The ruling military regime in Nigeria resolved to resist the demands of its adversaries, both foreign and domestic. Apart from the merits of the case, both for and against the regime, this episode of Nigerian history is significant as an instance of successful resistance to coercion by a pariah government that proved to be diplomatically adept.

Heretofore, studies of collective action against an offending, "target" state have focussed on these concerns: (1) the effects or outcomes of initiatives by the coalition of states that seek to impose and enforce sanctions; (2) factors that condition or influence the adoption and implementation of coercive measures, e.g., domestic pressure groups and international organizations to which members of the coalition belong (Mansfield 1995). This paper adopts a less familiar perspective. It is concerned with the target state's initiatives and resources, with its ability to resist coercion and counterattack effectively.


Nigeria's current political crisis stems from a decision by the military regime, in June 1993, to annul a presidential election and terminate abruptly a six-year transition to civilian and constitutional government that was nearing completion. Results of the election, disclosed without rebuttal by the Campaign for Democracy (a Nigerian civil liberties organization), indicate that ballots were cast by some 14 million Nigerians (36 percent of the registered electorate), and that Chief Moshood Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party, was elected decisively, having obtained 58 percent of the total vote and, as required for a first-ballot victory, at least one-third of the vote in 20 of the 30 states 2. Nigerian monitors and foreign observers alike had pronounced the election free and fair, finding that it was tainted with far less corruption, malpractice, and violence than any previous presidential or national-legislative election since the country attained its independence in 1960.

To be sure there were also undemocratic features of the Nigerian electoral process in 1993: Two, but only two, political parties were permitted to nominate candidates; both parties had been created, in 1989, by the military regime, which had also prescribed their respective programs. Furthermore, 23 candidates for the two presidential nominations had been disqualified in November 1992, when primary elections were aborted by the regime on the ground of widespread corrupt practice. Despite these deviations from democratic norms, the Nigerian electorate voted for the presidential candidates in good faith, but its choice was rejected, arbitrarily, for reasons that remain obscure to this day. Britain, the United States, and the European Union then imposed various sanctions on Nigeria, including suspensions of military assistance, of American economic aid, and denial of entry into the United States for Nigerian officials.

Subsequently, in 1993, the military ruler resigned under pressure from other members of the junta in favor of an interim government that, in turn, ceded power to the incumbent ruler, General Sani Abacha. Despite its indubitable validity, the relevance of the ill-fated election to a resolution of the prolonged crisis was diminished by the circumstance of two consecutive transfers of power within six months of the June 1993 fiasco. Officials of the military government under Abacha, including Abiola's own vice-presidential running mate, allege that Abiola himself had urged Abacha to depose the interim government. In June 1994, Abiola was arrested and charged with treason when he claimed the presidency upon his return to Nigeria after a six-month absence abroad, during which time he had solicited support for his cause in Britain and the United States. Despite ill-health in prison, he has refused to accept bail in return for renunciation of his claim; meanwhile, his trial has been delayed by legal maneuvers, wrangling among the lawyers who were engaged by rival factions of his family, and the regime's apparent reluctance to set him free.

Many other critics and opponents of the regime, including political activists, journalists, and labor leaders, have also been arrested and imprisoned; estimates of the number of political prisoners held at various times during 1996 have varied from a few hundred to a few thousand. Some of those arrested have been sentenced to long prison terms by military tribunals; others, mainly military personnel accused of treasonable actions, were sentenced to death. In October 1995, Abacha announced that, in deference to pleas from abroad, and in "the spirit of national reconciliation," the death sentences imposed at these trials would be commuted to life imprisonment, while the terms of other prison sentences would be reduced.

However, in November, the regime incurred unprecedented opprobrium when it executed nine persons, including Kenule Saro-Wiwa, a champion of the Ogoni people, who inhabit a portion of the Niger Delta, where oil production has resulted in severe environmental degradation 3. The defendants were alleged to have caused the deaths of four Ogoni chiefs, who were their political opponents. In defiance of appeals for clemency from many governments, the regime executed these prisoners in November 1995, while leaders of the Commonwealth, an international organization of sovereign states with historic links to Britain, were assembled for their biennial summit. Outraged by the regime's rush to execute and its flagrant disregard of due process, the Commonwealth leaders suspended Nigeria's membership in the organization for two years, and threatened to expel Nigeria if the junta had not transferred power to civilians by that time. Other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, imposed or tightened various non-economic sanctions, involving restrictions on diplomatic privileges and military cooperation.

Previously, the military government had announced the beginning of a three-year transition to civilian rule, to be concluded on October 1, 1998; but this proposal was scorned by many democrats because it repeated the complicated sequence of elections -- local, state, and federal, including councilors, legislators, governors, and a president -- which had been aborted at the last moment in 1993. The new program was based on recommendations of a constitutional conference, consisting mainly of delegates elected indirectly, with fewer than 400,000 voters participating in the first stage. More than one-fourth of the 369 conferees were appointed by the junta. Eventually, the conference produced a draft constitution; this document, as amended and approved by the regime, featured an innovative principle, termed "rotational power sharing," for both federal and state levels of government. At the federal level, six key offices -- president, vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, president of the senate, and speaker of the house of representatives -- would be rotated every five years among six population zones, identified thus: northeast, northwest, north-central, southeast, southwest, and "southern minority" (an elongated, mainly coastal, zone).

The idea of rotational power sharing is vulnerable to criticism as a setback for millions who belong to small ethnic groups and would therefore be disadvantaged by a distribution of offices based on group right, rather than individual merit. For better or worse, it would encourage Nigerians to nurture both subnational and supranational political identities at the expense of national identity based on citizenship in a sovereign state. Nonetheless, rotational power sharing is currently supported by a broad coalition of sectional leaders, who seek to allay continuing fears of domination by one or another section of the country, and to reduce the stakes of electoral competition to less frightening proportions.

As the regime proceeds to implement the announced transition timetable, it must cope with massive disaffection in southwestern Nigeria, where some 20 million of the country's 100 million people live. The inhabitants of this part of Nigeria are Yoruba-speaking; many of those who have been imprisoned for political offenses, including Chief Abiola, General (ret.) Olusegun Obasanjo (a former head of state, who presided over a transition from military to civilian rule in 1979), and Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, are Yoruba personalities. Elsewhere, contempt for the military regime is not uncommon but far less threatening. Unlike the southwest, where elections to the constitutional conference were boycotted effectively, other regions of Nigeria did elect authentically representative delegates.

Particular significance attaches to the attitude of the country's third largest ethno-linguistic group, the 12 million Igbo-speakers of southeastern Nigeria. Between 1967 and 1970, the Igbos suffered the loss of an estimated one million lives during the course of their vain attempt to secede from Nigeria. Today Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the former commander-in-chief of the secessionist region, appears to be once again the most influential Igbo leader. As a delegate to the constitutional conference, he supported the concept of rotational power sharing; he also opposes Chief Abiola's claim to the presidency.

The nation's largest ethno-linguistic group, exceeding 30 million people in northwestern and north-central Nigeria, is Hausa-speaking. They and their northern neighbors are the traditional subjects of Muslim rulers known collectively as emirs. In Nigerian society, the single most important political cleavage is that which divides the Muslim emirates, which contain approximately 40 million people, from the rest of the country, where some 60 million profess various religions, including Islam as well as Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Southern Nigerians and the inhabitants of Nigeria's so-called middle belt, a central sector of more than 15 million people who belong to numerous ethno-linguistic groups, are acutely conscious of the emirate sector's primacy in positions of federal executive and legislative authority ever since the last years of colonial rule, just as emirate leaders rue the existing patterns of educational and commercial imbalance, which favor the south. However, it does not follow that these two highly diversified sectors (emirate and non-emirate) are normally united politically against one another. On the contrary, intra-emirate divisions are no less significant politically than conflicts of interest among southern and middle-belt groups, which have been more highly publicized.

Abacha's own ethnic identity is Kanuri, a northeastern group, although he cites the north-central, predominantly Hausa, city of Kano as his home. Like most military rulers, and to a far greater extent than his critics are wont to acknowledge, Abacha's policies and political maneuvers reflect a national, rather than regional, orientation. It is noteworthy that following the shakeup of his high command in April 1996, all three service chiefs and the Chief of General Staff were Christian officers. Whatever else might be said in opposition to the proposal for rotational power sharing, its advocacy is not consistent with an intent (as frequently alleged) to perpetuate the hegemony of those who control the northern Muslim emirates.

It was never realistic to imagine that the Nigerian military government would comply with the Commonwealth's deadline of November 1997 for completion of a transition to civilian rule. Shadowed by cynicism, the transition has lurched ahead with the recognition of 5 political parties that have met the stringent requirement of enrolling 40,000 verified members in each of the 30 (subsequently 36) states, and establishing offices in three-fourths of the local government areas of each state. Meanwhile, Abacha has consolidated his rule by securing the retirement of officers who had incurred his personal mistrust, replacing them with presumed loyalists, and appointing new military administrators for all of the states. Following the conduct of local government elections in March 1997, Abacha was empowered by decree to dismiss elected councilors for cause without judicial oversight. His political supremacy had been displayed dramatically in April 1996, when he deposed the Sultan of Sokoto, the preeminent traditional ruler of the Hausa-speaking people, in favor of a rival who was perceived to be both more popular and less of a political threat than his predecessor.

By all accounts, Abacha is notoriously reclusive; he rarely speaks in public and often fails to appear at scheduled events. His political stealth inspires fear and prudence; his machiavellian skills are unmistakable. With immense wealth in the form of Nigeria's oil revenue at his disposal, he cracks the whip of patronage with authority (Lewis 1996). Yet he is equally adept at launching popular economic reforms, including anti-corruption drives, to mobilize public opinion in his favor. Many of his critics have actually commended the prosecutions of high-flying profiteers from all sections of the country by the Failed Banks Tribunals established in 1996. Although brute force has kept the military in power and taken the lives of its enemies from time to time, the regime's durability is attributable to consent as well as force. Its main constitutional idea, rotational power sharing, is the intellectual foundation for domestic toleration of a secretive ruling group that hurls defiance at the powers-that-be in Europe and America.


These are the two most important international organizations, apart from those whose memberships are restricted to African member-states, to which Nigeria belongs. African states comprise nineteen of the fifty-one Commonwealth members. The execution of Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogoni activists on November 10, 1995, while Commonwealth leaders were assembling in Auckland, New Zealand, provoked an unprecedented decision, with but one dissenting vote (that of The Gambian military government), to suspend Nigeria from the organization for two years, pending its "return to compliance" with the principles of the Harare Declaration of 1991, pledging all member-states to foster democracy, human rights, and judicial independence. This punitive response was promoted strongly by the presidents of South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the British Prime Minister, who denounced the Nigerian government for having perpetrated "judicial murder.4"

In order to facilitate a diplomatic resolution of this problem, the Auckland summit created a special agency, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration (CMAG). Its membership consisted of the foreign ministers of these eight countries: Britain, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The group's purpose was set forth in general, rather than country-specific, terms, thus: "to deal with serious or persistent violations of the principles of the Harare Declaration by assessing the nature of the infringement and by recommending measures for collective Commonwealth action aimed at the speedy restoration of democracy and constitutional rule.5" Accordingly, the group turned its attention to the three Commonwealth countries that were under military rule, namely Nigeria, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone. Given the probability of timely transitions to civilian rule in the latter two countries, CMAG would be tested by the Nigerian challenge primarily.

At its first meeting, in December 1995, CMAG expressed its approval of various punitive measures, including visa restrictions, exclusion from sporting events, suspension of all forms of military cooperation, and restrictions on development assistance, which had been taken by Commonwealth members and other countries. However, tough economic sanctions, including an embargo on Nigerian oil exports, favored by South Africa, were deferred pending the outcome of a proposed ministerial mission to Nigeria. Openly indignant, the Nigerian government refused to receive the CMAG mission, although it did offer to send a delegation of its own abroad for meetings with CMAG and Commonwealth officials. At the second meeting of CMAG, in April 1996, three members -- Canada, Jamaica, and South Africa -- advocated the adoption of stronger punitive actions, but Britain was reluctant to place its considerable investment and trading relationships with Nigeria in jeopardy. The meeting concluded with a compromise agreement to recommend the immediate implementation by member-states of several weak measures, which would merely inconvenience the regime, and the subsequent consideration of stronger measures, such as a ban on air links with Nigeria and freezing of the financial assets and bank accounts of members of the Nigerian regime, in consultation with other countries, particularly members of the European Union and the United States 6.

Meanwhile, in April, the Nigerian government did receive a fact-finding mission appointed by the UN Secretary-General to report on both the executions of the Ogoni nine and the government's "declared commitment to restore the country to civilian democratic rule.7" During a span of two weeks, the mission held intensive discussions with persons representing a broad spectrum of opinions, among them supporters and opponents of the government, aggrieved persons in Ogoniland, a few prominent detainees, including Chief Abiola, and members of the judicial and legal establishments, as well as many high officials, including the Head of State. On the Ogoni executions, the mission found that a flagrant miscarriage of justice had occurred: the special tribunal had not been established in accordance with law; trial procedures were unfair to the defendants; the sentences were confirmed by the Provisional Ruling Council even before it had received records of the case; there was no provision for judicial review, and no opportunity to petition for clemency. As a matter of fairness, the mission urged the government to offer financial compensation to the dependents and families of the deceased.

With respect to the transition program, the mission discerned three distinct outlooks among Nigerians: those who support the three-year process as set forth by the regime; those who oppose it adamantly on the ground that it is a blatant pretext for continued military rule; those who believe that the program's success would be contingent on general improvement in the climate of confidence throughout the country. Adopting the latter position, the mission recommended various "confidence-building measures," first and foremost among them the release of political prisoners and detainees.

As it approached the thorniest issues for resolution by international organizations, the mission found a consensus among Nigerians on three aims: military rule must end and "civil democratic rule" established; international monitors and observers should participate in the electoral process; persons detained without charge and others who had been imprisoned for either political reasons or the commission of political offenses should be released before elections were held. Despite many legitimate complaints about political conditions during the transition in progress, the mission did not favor its abandonment. In its view, "any attempt to interrupt or reverse the momentum that is being generated could prove counter-productive and further delay the realization of the goal to bring about civil democratic rule." It counselled the adoption of confidence-building measures rather than complacency on the government's side, or hostile rejection of the program by its opponents. Concerning sanctions against Nigeria, the mission's recommendation was an unequivocal "no" on the ground that they could "retard the progress toward positive government."

In response to the mission's report, the Nigerian government announced several reforms which were guided by the mission's specific recommendations for enhancing confidence in the transition. Although these reforms were modest by comparison with the mission's goals, they were nonetheless significant. Henceforth members of the armed forces would not serve on special tribunals established under the Civil Disturbances Act, and the verdicts of such tribunals would be subject to judicial review by a civilian court of appeals. Furthermore, the decree that permits detention of persons suspected of conduct that is prejudicial to security of the state, for indefinite periods and without trial, would be amended to provide for periodic review of every case, and the writ of habeas corpus would be restored in all such cases. Concerning the grievances of Ogoni people, an existing commission on the development of Oil and Mineral Producing Areas would be directed to initiate reforms, while the government would strive to reconcile the parties to disputes in the troubled region.

The United Nations mission provided an opportunity for the Nigerian government to regain the initiative in its confrontation with the Commonwealth. In June 1996, Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi led a confident and well-prepared Nigerian delegation to a meeting with the CMAG in London. Meanwhile, the government had released a few political detainees and created a Human Rights Commission, including several persons with impeccable credentials as champions of liberty. Reports of the CMAG-Nigerian dialogue attest to the persuasiveness of senior advisors to the Nigerian head of state. Britain and Ghana were identified publicly as opponents of new sanctions, while Canada and South Africa wished to impose them. At the conclusion of its third meeting, the CMAG announced that it would "hold in reserve" additional sanctions pending its next meeting in September. Emboldened by this success, the regime refused, once again, to permit a Commonwealth "fact-finding" visit by CMAG foreign ministers. Although the visit was planned for two days only, the ministers proposed to meet with private citizens as well as officials. Citing its implementation of recommendations made by the UN mission, the Nigerian foreign ministry placed a restriction on the purpose of any such visit to discussions with the government concerning Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth. As a result, CMAG cancelled the visit, whereupon Canada announced that it would impose unilateral sanctions against Nigeria, which responded by closing its own high commission office in Canada. When CMAG reconvened in New York, additional punitive measures were no longer on the agenda.

CMAG attempted to cover its diplomatic retreat by arranging to meet, in November 1996, with Nigerian officials, including General Abacha, in Nigeria. However, the Canadian member, citing security concerns, withdrew from this mission of all-to-obvious appeasement. As a conciliatory gesture, the regime released three second-tier political prisoners, but made no other substantive concession. The Nigerian foreign minister insisted that it was incumbent on the Commonwealth to renounce its "unjust" policy and rescind all punitive measures unequivocally. Having squared matters with CMAG, Nigerian officials could then dismiss a highly critical report on human rights in Nigeria, released by the UN General Assembly as CMAG prepared to meet in Nigeria, with disdain. A mere bark from abroad, with no bite, could be ignored with impunity.

In April 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights, comprising 53 member-nations, rebuked the Nigerian government sternly for its continued "violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as failure to respect due process of law." The commission decided to appoint a special investigator for human rights issues in Nigeria, who would report to the next session of the UN General Assembly. This procedure had been employed previously for flagrant cases of human rights abuse in Burma, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. It was approved by 28 members of the commission, while 6 members cast opposing votes and 19 abstained. Significantly, only 2 of the 15 African members of the commission, namely South Africa and Uganda, voted in favor the resolution; 3 including Benin, a leader in the movement for democratization, voted no; 10, including Cape Verde and Mali, also known for their strongly democratic tendencies, abstained. All but two of the condemnatory votes (Japan and Korea) were cast by American and European member-states.


Despite the near unanimity of Commonwealth African states in both decrying the Ogoni executions and suspending Nigeria's membership in the organization, the wider community of African states was never united by a common resolve to ostracize and punish the Abacha regime. Prior to the executions, the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, had sought to influence General Abacha and his associates by means of "quiet diplomacy" (Van Aardt 1996). He tried, without success, to persuade Abacha to attend the Commonwealth summit, and was appalled by the undue haste and blatant disregard for African, Commonwealth, and world opinion with which the executions were carried out, just as the summit was being convened in Auckland. Mandela then took the lead in urging the Western powers, particularly Britain, France, and the United States, to impose oil sanctions against Nigeria in order to hasten the end of military rule. Before long, however, it became apparent that Mandela had ventured beyond the African consensus for responding to Nigeria's internal problem, and that he would be forced to retreat. The South African foreign minister, Alfred Nzo, was reported to have told a parliamentary committee that President Mandela had backed away from his hard line reluctantly because inaction by the Western powers was turning the issue into a conflict between Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria's West African neighbors, he said, were strongly opposed to sanctions that would harm the entire region.

South Africa's isolation from the continental consensus was as discomfiting as it was unanticipated. Other than South Africa, no African country, indeed no country outside of the proverbial Western sector of the world, had protested the executions to the extent of having recalled its ambassador in Nigeria (Van Aardt 1996: 115). Moreover, within a month of the Auckland summit, the Commonwealth's authority, and that of Mandela, was being challenged in African councils. Thus, the highly respected Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) warned against the isolation of Nigeria regardless of the prolongation of military rule in that country. A ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (an international organization comprising approximately 50 member-states, some 45 percent of which are African states) called for dialogue with, rather than sanctions against, Nigeria. A conference of lawyers concerned with human rights in Africa decided to withhold judgement on Nigeria pending research by a delegation of its own. Within South Africa's own region, its call for sanctions against Nigeria was opposed publicly by the President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma. Van Aardt (1996: 115) observes that a summit meeting of the twelve-member Southern African Development Community, summoned by Mandela to consider the Nigerian issue, decided to leave the question of further action against Nigeria to the Commonwealth. Eventually, South Africa quietly withdrew its support for the minority of two (Canada and Jamaica) in CMAG that continued to favor sanctions.

The symbolic apogee of Abacha's diplomatic success may have been his election as chair of the sixteen-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the organization's Abuja summit of July 1996. Several presidents with democratic credentials were among the heads of state in attendance; yet no objection was voiced to the installation of a military ruler as chairman of the organization. Since 1990, Nigeria's economic importance to the West African region had been reinforced by its dominant military role in the regional effort, sponsored by ECOWAS, to pacify war-torn Liberia and supervise the restoration of a viable government in that bitterly divided country. Regardless of the many disappointments which have marred the record of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (Ecomog), its continuing and increasingly effective presence in Liberia, costly though it has been to Nigeria in both lives and resources, is a diplomatic asset of no small value to the beleaguered regime.

Nigeria's influence in West Africa was enhanced by the regime's bold decision of May 1997 to reverse a coup d'etat in Sierra Leone. Nigerian military forces intervened to restore an elected government which had been overthrown by rebellious soldiers. The paradox of a military dictatorship opting to play the role of guardian against military usurpation abroad baffled many observers. However, the rationale for this action was evident in the chorus of approval from ranking officials of the Commonwealth as well as the OAU. When the OAU summit of May 1997 convened in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, which had been a divisive factor in African councils, suddenly occupied a central place in the continental consensus of support for political legitimacy. The organization formally approved the use of military force by its West African members to restore the legitimate government of Sierra Leone.

Political dividends from this venture in extraterritorial policing may prove to be substantial for the Abuja regime. Its projection of military power in Western Africa paralleled the comparable role of military assertiveness by Uganda in both Eastern Africa and the restored Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the first time in nearly two years, circumstances were propitious for a rapprochement between Nigeria and its principal critics in Africa, namely South Africa and Uganda. Although the local results of Nigeria's action in Sierra Leone are likely to be ambiguous, the diplomatic side-effects appear to have strengthened Abjua's policy of cooperation among African states as a first line of defense for itself against external pressures.



At the time of Nigerian independence in 1960, agriculture accounted for three-fourths of the value of exports. In the early 1970s, an oil boom transformed the nature of the country's economy; by 1975 oil sales, earning immense profits due to the collusive pricing policies of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), accounted for 80% of the value of Nigeria's income from exports, while agriculture's share had declined to 10%. In 1995, the percentage of exports attributable to oil, extracted mainly from the Niger Delta, the adjacent coastal swampland, and deep-water deposits offshore, had risen to 97.3%. Nigeria's standard crude oil, known as Bonny Light, is highly prized for its low-sulphur quality. In recent years, receipts from the sale of oil has accounted for some 80% of all revenues accruing to the federal government. The United States imported nearly 48% of Nigerian oil exports in 1995, which amounted to approximately 8% of U.S. oil consumption; European importers took about 31% of Nigeria's exported oil, Asian importers nearly 12%, African under 5%.

At present, Nigeria produces more than 2 million barrels of oil per day. Approximately 50 percent of the total amount is produced by a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group (a British/Dutch company; hereinafter Shell) in partnership with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which holds 55% of the equity, while Shell has 30% and Elf Aquitaine (a French company) holds 15%. Although Shell's Nigerian operation accounts for just 8 percent of its global production, its Nigerian output is second only to that of the North Sea among Shell operations throughout the world. Five other oil companies account for the balance of Nigeria's production, in this order: Chevron (American), Mobil (American), Agip (Italian), Elf Aquitaine, and Texaco (American); in these ventures NNPC owns 60%.

For three decades, Nigeria has wasted the natural gas produced bountifully as a by-product of oil. Furthermore, the constant flaring of gas in the oilfields has polluted the air in oil-bearing regions. Recently, Chevron, Mobil, and Shell have organized separate consortia of investors, in partnership with NNPC, to build plants for the production of a marketable product, liquified natural gas (LNG). Shell's venture in this field, in which it holds approximately 25% of the equity (with NNPC holding 49%, while Elf has 15% and Agip 10%), was fiercely criticized by political opponents of the military regime during the Ogoni troubles of 1993-95. They alleged that in addition to decades of environmental neglect, the company has connived with military authorities to repress Ogoni dissidents, who have agitated for local political autonomy as well as compensation for the pollution of farmland and rivers. As a direct result of the November 1995 executions, the World Bank cancelled a planned investment in this project that would have been equal to 2 percent of the equity, as well as an anticipated loan of $100 million. However, the companies concerned have since reaffirmed their commitments to all three LNG projects, insisting upon their soundness as ecological as well as economic ventures that will create thousands of new jobs and promote economic development in areas where impoverishment is commonplace. In so doing, Shell, in particular, has resisted condemnatory pressure from those who advocate economic sanctions against Nigeria, including an embargo on Nigerian oil, as well as environmental critics. Other voices have defended the company's decision to brave the storm and secure its investment. Thus The Economist averred:

Shell is an easy target but it is the wrong one. Whatever it has done to despoil the Niger delta is now being put right. And the $3.6 billion project for liquified natural gas ... is ecologically sound and stands to benefit Nigerians at large, not just their rulers.

Outside of Africa, Canada, the United States, and Sweden have been especially hostile to the Abacha regime, while Nigerian dissidents in exile have been particularly active in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. In the United States, opposition to military rule in Nigeria has been organized by Transafrica, the influential lobby for pan-African causes, and the Congressional Black Caucus. American officials, including an assistant secretary of state for human rights, have also called for the imposition of multilateral sanctions against Nigeria in order to undermine the military dictatorship. In response, the Nigerian government has engaged several public relations firms to propagate its views in the United States. Furthermore, a few prominent Americans, including Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, have been received by Abacha, and have subsequently advocated a conciliatory American policy.

While visiting several African states in October 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher urged the adoption of additional multilateral sanctions against Nigeria, which were presumed to include freezing of the personal accounts held by Nigerian officials abroad and bans on both new investments and technology exports, as well as cultural boycotts. However, these ideas did not appear to be taken seriously in Africa; they were also at variance with the prevailing attitude within CMAG. And it was widely believed that Christopher's remarks were intended primarily for domestic consumption in the United States during President Clinton's campaign for re-election.

In addition to the sanctions imposed after the election-annulment of June 1993, the United States had also chastised Nigeria in April 1994 for the regime's record of complicity in drug trafficking.

Although Nigeria is not a drug-producing country, it has become a major transit point. An estimated 35-40% of all the heroin coming to the United States is brought by Nigerian couriers. Lack of cooperation by Nigerian authorities to combat the drug trafficking problem led to a decision by the Clinton Administration ... to put Nigeria on the State Department's list of non-cooperative drug trafficking nations which includes Burma and Iran... "  (Dagne 1995)

Subsequently, in reaction to the Ogoni executions of November 1995, committees of the Congress considered additional punitive measures, including bans on new investment in Nigeria. Yet, these measures were reported to exempt reinvestment in existing joint ventures. Oil companies with major interests in Nigeria (Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco) and those with bright prospects (Exxon, Amoco, and Conoco among others) argued that oil sanctions could result in the expropriation of their assets and transfer of their rights to non-American competitors. Moreover, they warned, a Western-initiated sanctions campaign would provoke Nigeria to establish alternative relationships with China and Iran, as well as Russia, to the greatest extent possible. These efforts resulted in the abandonment of sanctions bills by the committees concerned in both houses of Congress.

European governments were no less susceptible to counsels of economic realism. Thus Swedish proposals for stronger sanctions were rejected by the European Union, and the British foreign minister adopted a conciliatory attitude within CMAG. However, the British general election of May 1997 resulted in a victory for the Labor Party, which has been generally hostile to the Abacha regime. Possibly in anticipation of this development, the Nigerian state oil corporation moved its European headquarters from London to Paris. Had the United States ever wished to propose a multilateral oil embargo on Nigeria, which it did not, the possibility of its adoption by the UN Security Council was virtually nil.

During 1996, Nigeria's international position was bolstered by strategic support from countries in Asia, including China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey. China concluded an agreement to upgrade the Nigerian railway system; the Korean Daewoo Corporation began negotiations to enter the oil sector; the new Turkish prime minister, who leads an Islamic political party and tends to criticize the West, visited Nigeria and concluded a substantial trade agreement. Malaysian economic advisors and business executives have been active in Nigeria; as a member of CMAG, Malaysia strongly favors early restoration of Nigeria's normal Commonwealth status.

Toward the end of the year, Nigeria's minister of finance unveiled controversial proposals for privatization of the oil industry as well as utilities providing electricity and telecommunications. The assets involved were reported to total more than $50 billion in value. One informed source characterized the government's economic strategy thus:

"The proposed sale, which is strongly supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is intended to bolster a powerful class of oil-rich local entrepreneurs (drawn from senior military men and their business associates)."

Subsequently, it was disclosed that the government had initiated discussions concerning the sale of Nigerian assets to oil companies in North America, Europe, and Asia. It has also been reported that the Malaysian state oil company (Petronas Berhad) is poised to invest in Nigeria in partnership with the South African company, Engen Oil. Despite the recent diplomatic conflict between Nigeria and South Africa, a shrewd observer speculated that, before the end of 1997, "corporate South Africa" would probably have obtained "a major stake in Nigeria's oil wealth -- thanks in part to Malaysia." In any case, at the time of writing (June 1997), a growing number of potential beneficiaries, partners, and supporters throughout the world appear to have tipped the balance of power decisively in favor of Abacha and his domestic coalition, despite a negative reaction by the ruling military council to the idea of privatizing the oil industry.


En November 1996, The Economist, which could fairly profess its objectivity in commentaries on Nigeria, declared plainly that Abacha had won his year-long contest against the combined forces of the Commonwealth, the European Union, South Africa, and the United States. That formidable combination of adversaries was unable to compel Abacha's ruling junta to cede power to its domestic opponents, or even to a coalition of civilians controlled by its supporters, any sooner than it wished to do so, if at all. Despite Nigeria's interminable and debilitating political crisis, and related threats of sectionalist separatism, the junta has been able to withstand the assault mounted by leading Western powers and their allies. The evidence presented herein shows that the junta's resilience is attributable to the combined support of a broadly-based domestic political coalition and transnational business groups, mainly oil companies, which sustain the third largest national economy in Africa, after South Africa and Egypt. Moreover, transnational business support for the Nigerian government will almost certainly grow as oil production from deep water operations which, unlike coastal or delta projects have little impact on traditional communities, burgeon during the early years of the new century.

Abacha's domestic coalition is the product of complex, and fluctuating, relationships between ethno-sectional interest groups. This pattern of group interest is not compatible with the commonplace image of competition between a few large political regions. Every large region of the country is actually a mosaic of groups which respond separately to political challenges and pressures. Abacha has been adept at manipulating the flux of competing interests within the regions. Thus, his creation of six new states in 1996, one in each of the six zones that have been demarcated for rotational power sharing, strengthened his coalition by increasing the complexity of its supportive foundation. In 1997, personalities associated with different political parties appealed for the election of Abacha as first president of the anticipated Third Republic. Should Abacha choose to be a candidate in 1998, his domestic coalition might be strained, or fractured, by the effects of a contrived transition.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government's transnational business allies have lobbied successfully in Britain, continental Europe, and the United States to defeat proposals for economic sanctions. Their lobbyists, and the public relations firms engaged by the Nigerian government, have stressed both the infeasibility of comprehensive sanctions covering oil exports and the harmful consequences of such action for ordinary people in Nigeria and the West African region as a whole. The regime found that it could live with the indignities of non-economic and symbolic sanctions, and with the discomfiting opprobrium of Western countries and international organizations, while it sought and gained allies in Africa and Asia. Nigerian diplomacy registered striking successes, both in the OAU, where toleration of arbitrary government has been the rule and condemnation the rare exception, and in the United Nations, where a fact-finding mission, appointed by the Secretary-General, expressed confidence in the junta's declaration of intent to restore constitutional government in October 1998. In the diplomatic arena, Commonwealth agents and the Western powers were overmatched by the OAU, including its subregional organization, ECOWAS, and the UN Secretary-General's independent initiative. This outcome signalled a clear victory for the Nigerian foreign ministry and its diplomatic corps, attributable primarily to skillful diplomacy, rather than national strength or the appearance of sustainable state power.

Although the junta does not provide an effective government for the Nigerian nation, it has been able to sustain an energetic and purposeful foreign policy because it is backed by a domestic political coalition that has been far stronger than the active domestic opposition. In the battle against foreign opponents, the junta is supported by a coalition of transnational corporations, including several giants of the oil industry. Within Nigeria, the military regime enjoys little affection and commands little more than grudging respect. Indeed, the level of domestic violence is dangerously high in several parts of the country. Abacha's remarkable success in warding off his foreign enemies cannot be explained from a state-centric analytical standpoint. But it is perfectly consistent with class- or group-analytic theories of national development and international relations. Arguably, the junta has prevailed by virtue of the combined influence of diverse domestic interest groups and transnational business-interest groups that have no less disdain for the military regime than do its active political opponents.

Analysts who question the prevailing, state-centric theories of international relations maintain that non-governmental actors often exercise power more easily, and with more enduring results, than do governmental officials. Relatively few thinkers who postulate the gestation of a global society, encompassing the world of nations, have done so from a class-analytic standpoint. The theory of postimperialism is an exception (Becker and Sklar 1987). It identifies transnational business corporations as the principal engines of growth for a worldwide corporate-international bourgeoisie. Postimperialist thinkers also find that transnational enterprise promotes more, rather than less, equitable development among countries and regions of the world; and that its overall effect is to mitigate and reduce, rather than exacerbate and increase, the unequal division of wealth and power among nations. Current research clearly substantiates this crucial proposition of postimperialist thought: that transnational corporations are disposed to operate in accordance with an ideological "doctrine of domicile," meaning that their directors and managers endeavor to adapt to local conditions and the policies of host governments. Thus, postimperialism implies an historic decline of world domination by imperial nation-states, while the dominant-class elements of all societies continue to coalesce on a supranational basis.

In Nigeria, the pattern of corporate compliance with governmental policy is well established; however, the economic and social consequences of oil production are difficult to reconcile with the progressive corollaries and implications of postimperialist thought. While the oil companies have been good corporate citizens from the standpoint of military rulers and public officials, their behavior in Nigeria has fallen short of standards relating to environmental protection, basic freedoms, and human rights, prescribed for foreign investors by a proposed United Nations Code on Transnational Corporations (UN Center 1986). Although an incomplete version of this comprehensive code of conduct has been circulated since 1982, it has not been adopted formally by the United Nations, or considered for ratification by member-states. At present, the prospects for general, multiregional regulation under the auspices of one or more international organizations are poor (Vernon 1995). As this study and parallel cases (for example, the operations of oil companies in Myanmar; Pilger 1996) indicate, transnational investors are unlikely to be deterred by ineffectual sanctions, or by the remote possibility of multilateral economic sanctions, against a pariah state ().

Corrupt, ineffectual, and arbitrary governments, with valuable assets at their disposal, will always seek to form mutually beneficial alliances with transnational corporations. When foreign investors collaborate with governments of this nature, they appear to retard social progress and increase the burdens of underdevelopment as well as the weight of oppression. In this way, predatory conduct revives the specter of imperialistic, rather than postimperial, enterprise. Nongovernmental organizations and civic-action groups may then react by launching consumer boycotts and stimulating protests by stockholders of the offending corporations. Until such time as influential governments agree to enforce standards of responsible conduct for transnational enterprise, aggrieved persons and their supporters will have legal recourse to the methods of market action, lobbying, and petition, but little else. Meanwhile, undemocratic governments and their corporate allies will have little to fear from the threat of sanctions.




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1-The events considered in this account occurred prior to June 10, 1997, at which time several important issues relating to Nigerian policies, both domestic and foreign, were highly contentious and unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Hence, the analyses and conclusions of this study should be tested by new information and circumstantial outcomes as Nigeria's continuing struggle for viable government at home and respectability abroad unfolds

2-Although the Nigerian government has not disputed the accuracy of these reported results, it does maintain that they are "not conclusive because the processing of election results was stopped" by the order of a court "after results from only 14 of the 30 states had been released." Furthermore, the results were never "authenticated and announced" by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation, as required by law. June 12 and the Future of Nigerian Democracy, produced by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (Lagos: n.d.), pp. 2 and 25.

3-. For systematic analyses, see Naanen (1995), Osaghae (1995) and Welch, Jr. (1995).

4-. The Nigerian government contends that the Commonwealth leaders failed to observe procedures, including a hearing, prescribed by the Harare Declaration for the imposition of penalties.

5-"First Meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration," London, 20 December 1995. Official statement.

6-"Second Meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration," London, 23 April 1996. Official statement.

7- " Report of the Fact-Finding Mission of the Secretary-General to Nigeria, ", United Nations A/50/960, 28 May 1996, p. 4. The report was submitted by Justice Atsu-Koffi Amega, a former foreign minister of Togo, former President of the Supreme Court of Togo, and member of the African Commission for Human and People's Rights; Justice V. S. Malimath, a member of the National Human Rights Commission of India; and John P. Pace, Chief of the Legislation and Prevention of Discrimination Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights/Center for Human Rights.

8-Ibid., p. 19.

9-Ibid., p. 20.

10-"Interim response of the Government of Nigeria to the report of the fact-finding mission," Ibid., pp. 23-24.

11- The commanding performances of Ahmed Yadudu and Sule Hamman, respectively legal and political advisor to the head of state, were especially noted. Africa Confidential 37, 14, July 5, 1996, pp. 2-3.

12-" Third Meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration," Marlborough House (London), 24-24 June 1996. Official statement.

13- Commission on Human Rights, 53rd Session, E/CN.4/1997/L.40.

14-Reuters, June 4, 1996.

15- "Nigeria Foaming," The Economist, November 18, 1995, p. 15.

16-The Nobel Laureate for literature, Wole Soyinka, heads a National Liberation Council of Nigeria; see his "personal narrative of the Nigerian crisis" (Soyinka 1996). Many prominent members of the main internal opposition group, the National Democratic Coalition, are also in exile, among them the eminent political personality, Chief Anthony Enahoro.

17- The lobbying activities of American oil companies were coordinated with those of other firms by the Corporate Council on Africa, comprising more than 100 corporate members. See Glen Frankel, "Nigeria's Rulers Mix Oil and Money," Guardian Weekly, December 29, 1996 (from The Washington Post).

18- Africa Confidential 38/10, 9 May 1997.

19- Africa Confidential 37/18, 6 September 1996.

20- Africa Confidential 37/20, 4 October 1996.

21- Africa Confidential 38/1, 3 January 1997.

22- "Abacha Wins," The Economist, November 9, 1996.

23- See Mathews (1997) for a report of research, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, on the role of nongovernmental organizations in world politics. See also Drucker (1993).

24-Principled representatives of the Nigerian military government maintain that "Nigeria is not a pariah State." They cite its contribution to conflict resolution and peacekeeping in Africa as well as the desire of Nigerian leaders to discuss their domestic political problems with foreign leaders as evidence of a strong potential for normalization of the country's foreign relations. See Ibrahim A. Gambari, "Nigeria and the International Community," an address at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, April 14, 1997. Ambassador Gambari is Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN.

In the parallel case of Myanmar, which also involves the nullification of an election result leading to human rights abuses, the European Union suspended trade benefits and, in 1997, the Clinton Administration banned new American investment. Neither measure is supported by Myanmar's Asian neighbors, all of whom advocate economic engagement with the country, rather than isolation. It now appears that the adoption of wide-ranging international sanctions against South Africa, from the mid-1980s until the termination of that country's policy of apartheid, was an exceptional case, attributable to universal abhorrence of racism.