Nigeria in Political Transition

Nigeria: Background and U.S. Relations
Updated January 26, 2007
Ted Dagne
Specialist in International Relations
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Lauren Ploch
Analyst in African Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Nigeria: Background and U.S. Relations
In June 1998, General Sani Abacha, the military leader who took power in
Nigeria in 1993, died of a reported heart attack and was replaced by General
Abdulsalam Abubakar. In July 1998, Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the
1993 presidential election, also died of a heart attack. General Abubakar released
political prisoners and initiated political, economic, and social reforms. He also
established a new independent electoral commission and outlined a schedule for
elections and transition to civilian rule, pledging to hand over power to an elected
civilian government by May 1999. In late February 1999, former military leader
General Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president. Obasanjo won 62.8% of the votes
(18.7 million), while his challenger, Chief Olu Falae, received 37.2% of the votes
(11.1 million). President Obasanjo was reelected in 2003, and the People’s
Democratic Party (PDP) won a legislative majority in elections marred by serious
irregularities and electoral fraud, according to international election observers.
Relations between the United States and Nigeria improved with the transfer of
power to a civilian government. When President Obasanjo met with President Clint-
on and other senior officials in Washington, D.C. in 1999, President Clinton pledged
a substantial increase in U.S. assistance to Nigeria. In August 2000, Clinton paid a
state visit to Nigeria, meeting with Obasanjo in the capital of Abuja and addressing
the Nigerian parliament. Several new U.S. initiatives were announced, including
increased support for AIDS prevention and treatment programs in Nigeria and
enhanced trade and commercial development. In 2001, President Obasanjo met with
President Bush and other senior officials, discussing a wide range of issues, including
trade, peacekeeping, and the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. Obasanjo visited Wash-
ington in late 2001 to express his government’s support for the U.S.-led anti-
terrorism campaign and has returned to Washington several times in recent years. In
July 2003, Bush visited Nigeria while on a five-day, five-country trip to Africa.
Nigeria has made progress in strengthening its fragile democracy but faces
serious economic challenges. Nigeria remains relatively stable, although ethnic and
religious clashes in parts of the country have led to massive displacement.
Thousands have been killed and many more wounded in religious clashes. Under
President Obasanjo, Nigeria has emerged as a major player in Africa. Obasanjo took
a leading role in the creation of the New Partnership for African Development
(NEPAD) and the African Union (AU). Nigeria also played an important role in
facilitating negotiations between the government of Sudan and the Darfur rebels.
Nigerian troops have played a vital role in peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone
and Liberia and are currently in Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Liberia, and Sudan.
Nigeria’s next general elections are scheduled for April 2007. Efforts to allow
Obasanjo a third term were defeated in 2006, thus the election would mark the
country’s first transfer of power from one civilian government to another. Some
analysts suggest the threat of regional tensions triggering wider civil unrest could
lead to an electoral delay. This report will not be updated. For current information
about Nigeria, see CRS Report RL33964, Nigeria: Current Issues, by Lauren Ploch.

Historical and Political Background ...................................1
Transition to Civilian Rule..........................................2
Elections in 1998, 1999.........................................4
The 2003 Elections............................................5
Upcoming Elections............................................6
Current Economic and Social Conditions...............................7
Humanitarian and Human Rights Concerns..............................9
HIV/AIDS ...................................................9
Sharia .......................................................9
The United States and Nigeria.......................................10
U.S.-Nigerian Relations: Background.............................10
Diplomatic Developments......................................12
109th Congress Legislation..........................................15
List of Tables
Table 1. U.S. Assistance to Nigeria..................................16

Nigeria: Background and U.S. Relations
Historical and Political Background
Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 132 million
people, has been in political turmoil and economic crisis intermittently since1
independence in October 1960. The current borders were demarcated by British
colonial rulers in 1914, on the eve of World War I, by merging the British
dependencies of Northern and Southern Nigeria into a single territory with promising
economic prospects. The new Nigeria, as defined by the British, placed over 250
distinct ethnic groups under a single administrative system. Of this large number of
groups, ten account for nearly 80% of the total population, and the northern Hausa-
Fulani, the southwestern Yoruba, and the southeastern Ibo have traditionally been the
most politically active and dominant. Since gaining independence from Britain in
1960, Nigerian political life has been scarred by conflict along both ethnic and
geographic lines, marked most notably by northern domination of the military and the
civil war fought by the separatist Ibo of Biafra against the central government from
1967 to 1970. Questions persist as to whether Nigeria and its multitude of ethnic
groups can be held together as one nation, particularly in light of the degree to which
misrule has undermined the authority and legitimacy of the state apparatus; but many
Nigerians feel a significant degree of national pride and belief in Nigeria as a state.
Nigeria’s political life has
been dominated by militaryNigeria At A Glance
coups and long military-
imposed transition programs toPopulation:131,859,731
civilian rule. The military hasIndependence:October 1960
ruled Nigeria for approximatelyComparative Area:Slightly more than twice the size of California

28 of its 47 years sinceReligions:50% Muslim, 40% Christian,

independence. In August 1985,10% Indigenous beliefs
General Ibrahim BabangidaLanguages:English (official)
ousted another military ruler,GDP: $174.1 billion (2005)
General Muhammadu Buhari,GDP Per Capita:$1,400 (2005)
and imposed a transitionLabor force:57.21 million
program that lasted until JuneExports:$52.16 billion (2005)

1993, when Nigeria held its firstImports:$25.95 billion (2005)

election in almost a decade,
believed to have been won byExternal Debt:$37.49 billion (2005)
Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, a
Yoruba businessman from theSource: The World Fact Book, 2006.

1 CIA, World Fact Book, 2006.

south. In the same month, General Babangida annulled the presidential election
because of what he called “irregularities in the voting” and ordered a new election
with conditions that Abiola and his challenger be excluded from participating. Amid
confusion and growing political unrest, Babangida handed over power to a caretaker
government in August 1993, then ousted the caretaker the following November.
General Sani Abacha took power in November 1993. Abacha had been an
active participant in several Nigerian military coups and was an authoritarian figure
who seemed unmoved by international opinion. Beginning in 1995, Abacha
imprisoned hundreds of critics, including former military leader Olusegun Obasanjo,
the only Nigerian military leader to have handed over power voluntarily to an elected
civilian government, and Moshood Abiola, who was charged with treason after
declaring himself president following the annulled election. The senior wife of
Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, was assassinated in June 1996 by unidentified men. Her
daughter blamed the military junta.
In October 1995, under pressure to implement political reforms, Abacha
announced a three-year transition program to civilian rule, which he tightly controlled
until his death on June 8, 1998. Abacha established the National Electoral
Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which published guidelines for party registration,
recognized five political parties in September 1996, and officially dissolved
opposition groups after refusing to recognize them. The military professed its
support for Abacha should he seek reelection as a civilian, and by April 20, 1998, all
five parties had nominated Abacha as the single presidential candidate despite
criticism by the international community and dissident groups. Major opposition
figures, especially those in exile, dismissed the transition program and called for
boycotts of the parliamentary and presidential elections. Only candidates from
among the five state-sanctioned political parties participated in state assembly
elections held in December 1997 and parliamentary elections held on April 25, 1998.
The United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), considered by many government
opponents to be the army’s proxy, won widespread victories in the December 1997
Transition to Civilian Rule
Abacha died, reportedly of a heart attack, on June 8, 1998. The Provisional
Ruling Council quickly nominated Major General Abdulsalam Abubakar to assume
the presidency. General Abubakar, a career serviceman from the Northern Hausa-
speaking elite, was regarded as a military intellectual. He served as chief of military
intelligence under General Ibrahim Babangida and was Abacha’s chief of staff. He
led the investigations of reported coup attempts by former President Olusegun
Obasanjo and Lt. General Oladipo Diya, charges that, critics argue, were fabricated
by the government. Following Abacha’s death, General Abubakar addressed the
nation and expressed his commitment to uphold the October 1998 hand-over date to
civilian government established by Abacha. In an effort to prove his commitment,
Abubakar released several prominent political prisoners, including General Olusegun

During a meeting with a U.S. delegation led by then Undersecretary of State
Thomas Pickering on July 7, 1998, Abiola suffered a heart attack and died soon after.
Pro-democracy leaders immediately claimed that Abiola was murdered. The autopsy
report, monitored by an independent team of Canadian, American, and British
doctors, confirmed that Abiola died of natural causes due to a long-standing heart
condition and that death as a result of poisoning was highly unlikely. Many
observers said, however, that Abiola’s care was deliberately neglected, resulting in
his early demise. His death crushed the hopes of many democracy supporters and
spurred riots for several days.
In August and September of 1998, Abubakar undertook rapid and dramatic
reforms to the Nigerian political system and economy. He replaced Abacha’s top
security staff and cabinet and dissolved the five political parties that Abacha had
established. He abolished major decrees banning trade union activity, which had
been used by Abacha to put down the political strikes that followed the nullification
of the 1993 election results and ended treason charges against Nobel Prize-winning
writer Wole Soyinka and 14 others. Abubakar has also made a concerted effort to
appeal to Nigerians in exile to return home and assist in the transition process, and
many have done so, most notably author Wole Soyinka in mid-October. On
September 7, Abubakar released the draft constitution for the next civilian
government, which Abacha had kept secret, but announced on October 1 that he was
setting up a committee to organize and collect views from various sections of the
country, after which he would finalize changes to the draft document in order to
make it “more representative and acceptable.” In early May 1999, the government
approved an updated version of the 1979 Nigerian constitution instead of the
constitution drafted by the Abacha regime.
Abubakar outlined a specific timetable for the transition to civilian rule, with
local polls on December 5, 1998, gubernatorial and state polls on January 9, 1999,
followed by national assembly polls on February 20, 1999, and presidential polls on
February 27. The official hand-over date was set for May 29, 1999. He also nullified
all of the previous state and gubernatorial elections because they were held under the
Abacha system and dismissed the National Electoral Commission established by
Abacha, replacing it with one of his own, the Independent National Electoral
Commission (INEC), in early August. Political party registration for elections ended
after an extension on October 12, and the INEC released the names of the nine
registered parties on October 19. Of these, the three major parties were the People’s
Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (APP), and the Alliance for
Democracy (AD). In order to be registered, a party had to be considered “national,”
defined as having offices in at least two-thirds of the 36 states that make up Nigeria,
and furthermore must win at least 10% of votes in two-thirds of the states in the local
elections in December 1998 in order to qualify a candidate for the national elections
in February. Abubakar warned of the dangers of a “proliferation of political parties
with parochial orientation that may lead to disunity and instability,” while urging
political leadership to represent the will of people of all ethnic and religious groups.
The international community cautiously welcomed the transition program.
Donor governments in Europe expressed support and urged transparency. French,
British, and German delegations met with the Nigerian leadership in Abuja, the
capital, in late July 1999, and Abubakar made numerous trips abroad in an effort to

improve relations with African and world leaders. The European Union announced
in late October 1998 that, effective November 1, some sanctions would be relaxed.
The visa ban was officially removed and some officials indicated that even the
military measures might be lifted after the official hand-over date in May. On May
31, 1999, the European Union restored full economic cooperation with Nigeria. In
late May, the Commonwealth also readmitted Nigeria as a member, after three years
of suspension.
Highlights of Abubakar’s Transition Program
National Conference
National Unity Government
Acco mplished:
— Debt relief talks with World Bank and IMF
Dissolution of old electoral commission and establishment of new Independent National
Electoral Commission
— Dissolution of old political parties and registration of new parties
— Voter registration
Annulment of elections under Abacha
— Most political prisoners freed
— Greater freedom of press, human rights
— Publicized and amended 1995 constitution
— Dismissed Abacha officials and began investigation into misappropriated funds
Exiled dissidents returned home
— Better-paid civil servants to combat corruption
— Repairs started on refineries, more oil imported, privatization program started
— Hand-over to civilian government May 29, 1999
Presidential elections February 27, 1999
National assembly elections February 20, 1999
State/Gubernatorial elections January 9, 1999
— Local elections December 5, 1998; Partial lifting of international sanctions
Elections in 1998, 1999
In early December 1998, the PDP won in 389 out of 774 municipalities in local
elections, while the All People’s Party (APP) came a distant second with 182,
followed by Alliance for Democracy. In the governorship elections in early January,
the PDP won 21 states out of 36, the APP won in nine states, and the AD won in six
states. Shortly after the elections in January, the APP and AD began talks to merge
the two political parties. However, the Independent Electoral Commission rejected
a merger but agreed that the two parties “can present common candidates” for the
presidential elections.
In mid-February, the People’s Democratic Party nominated General Olusegun
Obasanjo as its presidential candidate. Obasanjo won the support of more than two-
thirds of the 2,500 delegates and a northerner, Atiku Abubakar, who was elected
governor in the January elections, was chosen as his running mate. The APP and AD
nominated Chief Olu Falae, a Yoruba, as their joint candidate for president. A former
Nigerian security chief and a northerner, Chief Umaru Shinakfi, was chosen as
Falae’s running mate.

In late February 1999, General Obasanjo was elected president by a wide
margin. Obasanjo won 62.8% of the votes (18.7 million), while his challenger, Chief
Olu Falae, received 37.2% of the votes (11.1 million). In the Senate elections, the
PDP won 58% of the votes, APP 23%, and AD 19%. In the elections for the House
of Representatives, PDP received 59% of the votes, AD 22%, and APP 20%.
On May 29, 1999, Obasanjo was sworn in as president and the Nigerian Senate
approved 42 of 49 members of his cabinet. In his inaugural address, President
Obasanjo said that “the entire Nigerian scene is very bleak indeed. So bleak people
ask me where do we begin? I know what great things you expect of me at this New
Dawn. As I have said many times in my extensive travels in the country, I am not a
miracle worker. It will be foolish to underrate the task ahead. Alone, I can do little.”
The 2003 Elections
President Obasanjo was nominated by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party
(PDP), for a second-term bid. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) picked former
military strongman, General Muhammadu Buhari, as its presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, the former Biafra rebel leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led the
secessionist war in the 1960s, was picked as the presidential candidate of the All
Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). The National Democratic Party (NDP) picked
former foreign minister Ike Nwachukwu as its presidential candidate.
In mid-April 2003, Nigerians went to the polls for the second time since military
rule gave way to a civilian government. President Obasanjo was reelected to a
second term, and his PDP party won in legislative elections. The Independent
National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared that Obasanjo won 61.9% of the
votes, while his nearest rival, General Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP, won 32.1% of
the votes. The elections, however, were marred by serious irregularities and electoral
fraud, according to international election observers. In the Senate, the PDP won 72
seats out of 109 seats, while the ANPP won 28 and the AD 5 seats. The PDP won
198 seats in the 360-seat House of Representatives, the ANPP 83 seats, and the AD

30 seats.

In late March 2004, elections for a Local Government Council were held in
thirty of the thirty-six states. The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition
of 170 human rights and civil society groups, monitored the elections. In its
preliminary report, the TMG stated that “in virtually all the states where elections
were held, the process leading to the elections was substantially flawed.”
In April 2006, the Nigerian Senate considered a bill that aimed to amend the
constitution. One of the contentious proposals would have removed the two-term
limitation and allowed a third-term presidency; supporters of President Obasanjo had
reportedly pushed for this step for months. In May 2006, the Nigerian Senate
effectively rejected the legislation.

Upcoming Elections
Nigeria’s political environment has grown tense in anticipation of the next
national elections, currently scheduled for April 2007. The elections would be the
third since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule and would mark the country’s first
transfer of power from one civilian government to another. The ruling party’s
candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, former governor of Katsina state, was chosen
during the party’s December primary and is strongly supported by President
Obasanjo. Some analysts have questioned whether Yar’Adua, who is from the north,
has the national recognition or support needed to win the election. The country’s two
largest opposition parties, the ANPP and the Action Congress (AC) have formed an
alliance and have proposed running a single candidate in the upcoming election.
Whether the AC’s chosen candidate, current Nigerian Vice-President Atiku
Abubakar (who remains PDP chairman), or the ANPP candidate, former President
General Muhammadu Buhari, will emerge as the coalition’s presidential candidate,
or whether Abubakar and Buhari will run on separate tickets, remains to be seen.
Abubakar was suspended temporarily from the PDP over corruption charges in late
2006 and was thus unable to participate in the PDP’s primary. His supporters
contend he was unjustly excluded because he had opposed Obasanjo’s third term.
Some observers have expressed concerns over the pace of election preparations
and suggest that the vote could be postponed. INEC, which has engendered public
criticism over problems with the voter registration process, reopened voter
registration in January 2007. Regardless, INEC’s credibility and capacity to conduct
a free and fair election are in question. Tension between political parties and
candidates have already led to violence in some locations; three gubernatorial
candidates were assassinated in 2006. The threat of violence is also high in the Niger
Delta region and other “hot spots,” including Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna. Another
potential source for instability may be the impact of the 2006 census, which has
drawn controversy over how it may represent the regional breakdown of the
population. The census reportedly suggests that 53.4% of the population lives in the
north, which would affect the country’s complex oil revenue distribution system.
This could also fan regional resentment between the northern and southern regions
of the country and incite considerable unrest. Any of these factors could lead the
government to postpone the April elections under the country’s 2006 Electoral Act,
which gives INEC the authority to change the date of the election if the event might
trigger unrest that threatens the country’s peace and stability.

Current Economic and Social Conditions
Sani Abacha reportedly stole more than $3.5 billion during the course of his five
years in power. Switzerland, the first country to repatriate stolen funds to Nigeria,
transferred an estimated $505.5 million to Nigeria between 2005 and 2006.2
According to study by the World Bank, a significant percentage of those funds were
used by the Nigerian government toward meeting the country’s Millennium3
Development Goals (MDGs). The government has also recovered $149 million of
the funds stolen by Abacha and his family from the autonomous British island of4
Jersey and an estimated $150 million from Luxembourg. Other Abacha funds
remain frozen in accounts in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United
In early April 2005, Nigerian Senate Speaker Adolphus Wabara was forced to
resign after President Obasanjo accused him of taking more than $400,000 in bribes
from the Minister of Education, Fabian Osuji. The Education Minister was
dismissed in March by President Obasanjo. The Minister of Housing, Alice Mobolaji
Osomo, was also fired in early April for allocating more than 200 properties to senior
government officials instead of public sale. In October 2006, the governor of Ekiti
State was impeached by local legislators on corruption charges. In a controversial
move, Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Ekiti, suspending the state’s
democratic institutions and naming a retired general as governor until the next
elections. In the view of some observers, President Obasanjo’s anti-corruption
campaign is seen as the most serious and effective effort in decades, but others
contend there have been political motivations behind some investigations.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed documents from
Royal Dutch Shell related to a probe of an alleged bribery case at a gas plant in
Nigeria.5 The alleged bribery case is being investigated in several countries, including
France, Nigeria, and Japan. The companies involved in the natural gas project and
the alleged bribery include a Halliburton subcontractor, Chicago Bridge and Iron;
Total of France; and Italy’s Eni.

2 “Swiss Government Recovers Another $US$7 Mil. Of Nigerian Abacha’s Loot,” Global
Insight, Dec. 29, 2006.
3 The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight
measurable targets set by world leaders in 2000 aimed at lowering rates of poverty, hunger,
child mortality, and HIV/AIDS and other diseases; and increasing universal education,
gender equality, maternal health, and environmental sustainability by 2015. More
information is available at []. A copy of the World
Bank’s December 2006 report, Utilization of Repatriated Abacha Loot, is available at
[ h t t p : / / www.wor l dba nk.or g] .
4 “Swiss Orders 500 Mln Dollars Returned to Nigeria, More Abacha Loot Found,” Agence
France-Presse, Aug. 18, 2004.
5 “SEC Widens Nigeria Bribery Probe with Shell Subpoena,” Financial Times, Oct. 13,


Due to decades of economic mismanagement, political instability, and
widespread corruption, the education system has suffered from lack of funding,
industry has idled, refineries are in poor condition, and the sixth-largest oil-producing
country in the world suffers from severe fuel shortages from time to time. The
Nigerian economy depends heavily on oil revenues; about 90-95% of Nigeria’s
export earnings come from petroleum and petroleum products, which also represent
90% of its foreign exchange earnings and 80% of its government revenues. The
European Union is a major trading partner, and the United States imports more oil
from sub-Saharan Africa, primarily Nigeria, than from the Middle East. The
Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts GDP growth of 5.5% for 2007.
In 2005, President Obasanjo stated that he would stop Nigeria’s foreign debt
payment if parliament passed legislation to that effect. Nigeria’s House of
Representatives passed a motion recommending that Obasanjo “cease forthwith
further external debt payment to any group of foreign creditors,” but then included
$1.3 billion in debt service payments in its 2005 budget.6 Speaking on behalf of the
African leaders invited to the G-8 Summit in Scotland in July 2005, President
Obasanjo welcomed the proposed aid package for Africa. Meanwhile, Nigeria
reached a separate agreement with the Paris Club to reduce its external debt burden,
and in 2005, creditors wrote off 60% ($18 million) of Nigeria’s estimated $30 billion
in external debt to the Club’s creditor nations. Nigeria paid the remaining 12.4
billion dollars from oil revenues.7
The state of the economy has most affected the poorest segments of the
population and has sparked violence around the country, particularly in the oil-
producing regions. Several thousand people have been killed in pipeline explosions
in southeast Nigeria since the late 1990s; the largest single toll from an explosion was
approximately 1,000 in October of 1998.8 These explosions are triggered because
people siphon off oil from holes punched in the above-ground pipeline for personal
use, resulting in a reported loss of up to 200,000 barrels of oil per day. The
government established a national task force on surveillance of petroleum pipelines
in order to prevent a recurrence of the 1998 pipeline explosion tragedy.9 Ethnic
clashes over rights to a promising oil prospect in the southwest also killed hundreds
of people in 1999. In the Niger Delta, youths from the ethnic Ijaw tribe periodically
stop the flow of one-third of Nigeria’s oil exports of more than two million barrels
per day in order to protest sub-standard living conditions in the country’s richest oil-
producing region.
The oil-rich Niger Delta has been afflicted by persistent rebellion over the past
several years. In September 2004, a new rebel movement, the Niger Delta People’s

6 “Nigeria Still Seeking Debt Relief Despite Price Windfall,” International Petroleum
Finance, May 4, 2005.
7 “Nigeria’s External Debt Drops to 4.84 Billion Dollars,” Agence France-Presse, July 21,


8 “Nigeria’s Deadly Oil Pipeline Fires,” Agence France-Presse, Dec. 26, 2006.
9 “Task Force Set Up in Nigeria to Avert Recurrence of Jesse Tragedy,” Xinhua News
Agency, Oct. 29, 1998.

Volunteer Force (NDPVF), launched a series of attacks against government forces
and threatened to attack foreign oil workers. The NDPVF is demanding autonomy
for the region and a share of oil revenues. An estimated 500 people were reportedly
killed that month in the ensuing violence, according to Amnesty International. The
Nigerian government disputes this figure. On September 29, 2004, the NDPVF and
the Nigerian government reportedly reached a cease-fire agreement. The leader of
the rebel group stated that “there should be a cessation of hostilities on both sides.
Apart from that, we have not agreed on anything else for the time being.” He was
arrested in September 2005 and charged with plotting to overthrow the government.
In November 2005, the Nigerian army deployed additional troops to the oil-rich
Bayelsa State after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against State
Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. In September 2005, British authorities had
charged Alamieyeseigha, while visiting in London, with money laundering, but the
governor skipped bail and returned to Nigeria. The former governor now awaits trial
in an Abuja prison for corruption charges. A new rebel group, the Movement for the
Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), emerged in late 2005 and has used the
kidnaping of oil workers to bring international attention to its cause. In January 2007
the group took several hostages, including at least one American, demanding that the
government release the NDPVF leader and the former Bayelsa governor. The
situation in the Delta region remains unstable.
Humanitarian and Human Rights Concerns
Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 5.4% is relatively small in comparison
to some Southern African nations with seropositivity rates of over 30% of the adult
population. However, the West African nation composes nearly one-tenth of the
world’s HIV/AIDS infected persons with 2.9 million infected people (UNAIDS 2006
estimate), the largest HIV-positive population in Africa after South Africa. Nigeria’s
population is expected to double by the year 2025, which will multiply the spread of
the HIV virus considerably. In addition to the devastation HIV/AIDS has caused and
continues to cause among Nigeria’s adult population, half of the current population
is under the age of 15. With just over half of primary-school-aged children in school
and the large number of HIV/AIDS-infected adults, Nigeria faces serious challenges
and significant obstacles in the education and health care sectors.
Twelve of Nigeria’s states in the Muslim-dominated North of the country have
adopted Sharia law since 1999, which has resulted in much-publicized rulings,
several of which have been criticized by human rights groups as well as by Nigerians
in the Southern and mostly Christian part of the country. Kano state ruled in 2003
that all school girls attending government schools were to wear the hijab, Islamic
head scarf, regardless of whether they are Muslim. President Obasanjo has reportedly
said that the best way to respond to Sharia is to ignore it: “I think Sharia will fizzle

out. To confront it is to keep it alive.”10 In 2002, in Katsina State, Amina Lawal was
sentenced to death by stoning after a court found her guilty of adultery. In 2003, Ms.
Lawal appealed her sentence to the Katsina State’s Appeals Court and won after the
Sharia Court of Appeal ruled that her conviction was invalid. The court ruled that
“it is the view of this Court that the judgment of the Upper Sharia Court, Funtua, was
very wrong and the appeal of Amina Lawal is hereby discharged and acquitted.”11
In 2001, in another highly publicized case, a Sharia court in the State of Sokoto
sentenced Safiya Hussaini to death for adultery. Ms. Hussaini appealed her sentence
and was exonerated on the grounds that she was impregnated by her former husband
and that the affair took place before Sharia law was enacted.
The United States and Nigeria
U.S.-Nigerian Relations: Background
Three primary issues have dominated U.S.-Nigerian relations in the last two
decades: the absence of democracy, human rights abuses, and drug trafficking.
Washington took a series of measures against the military junta shortly after the 1993
election results were annulled. These included suspending development assistance,
terminating joint military training with Nigeria, and imposing visa restrictions of
Nigeria’s military leaders and their family members. These measures, however, did
not affect trade between U.S. companies and Nigeria. Washington was also engaged
in diplomatic efforts, albeit unsuccessful, to break the political impasse in the West
African nation. The Clinton Administration sent civil rights leader Jesse Jackson,
then-U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, and former Ambassador Donald McHenry
as envoys to convince Abacha to implement reforms.
In response to the execution of nine Ogoni activists in 1995, the Clinton
Administration recalled its ambassador and pushed a resolution at the U.N. General
Assembly that condemned Nigeria’s action. The imprisonment of Moshood Abiola
and many others was a contentious issue in U.S.-Nigerian relations. In its Country
Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, the Department of State wrote: “The
human rights record remained dismal. Throughout the year, Abacha’s Government
relied regularly on arbitrary detention and harassment to silence its most outspoken
critics.” The report further stated that security forces “continued to commit
extrajudicial killings and use excessive force to quell anti-government protests as
well as to combat crime, resulting in the death or injury of many individuals,
including innocent civilians.” Human rights groups reported the torture of prisoners
and constant harassment of journalists under the Abacha regime. Human rights
conditions under the Obasanjo government improved, although abuses by security
officials in some States remain a serious concern.

10 “Islamic Law Splits Nigeria; Move by Northern States to Reassert Muslim Identity Ignites
Sectarian Violence and Threatens Democracy,” The Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2000.
11 “Nigeria Shari’ah Appellate Judges Justify Verdict Freeing Amina Lawal,” BBC
Monitoring, Sept. 26, 2003.

Washington’s concern was not limited to human rights abuse allegations. Drug
trafficking by Nigeria emerged as a major issue in U.S.-Nigerian relations after the
mid-1980s. Although Nigeria is not a drug-producing country, it has become a major
transit point. According to some reports, an estimated 35%-40% of all the heroin
coming into the United States is brought by Nigerian couriers. In 1989, the United
States and Nigeria established a joint Counter-Narcotics Task Force. Lack of
cooperation by Nigerian authorities in combating the drug trafficking problem led to
a decision by the Clinton Administration in March 1998, as in 1994 and 1996, to put
Nigeria on the State Department’s list of non-cooperative drug trafficking nations,
which includes Burma and Iran. As a consequence, the U.S. had to vote “no” on all
loans to Nigeria being considered by the World Bank and the African Development
Bank, and Nigeria was ineligible for any Export-Import Bank financing of U.S.
exports. In March 2000, however, President Clinton provided a waiver, a Vital
National Interests Certification, for Nigeria in order to allow support for the
democratic transition program. In March 2001, the Bush Administration certified
that Nigeria was fully cooperating with U.S. officials. In January 2003, in a report to
Congress, President Bush identified Nigeria as one of 12 “major illicit drug-
producing and Drug-Transit countries.”
Through legislative action, Members of Congress were active concerning
Nigeria. In 1994, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res. 151, which called
for additional measures against the military junta by the Clinton Administration. A
bill calling for the imposition of sanctions and freezing of assets was introduced in

1996 by then-Senator Nancy Kassebaum and Representative Donald M. Payne.

Although the bill enjoyed significant bipartisan support, it did not move out of
committees, in part because of opposition by Members of Congress who favored
dialogue with the Nigerian government. Pro-Nigerian groups and some American
business interests actively opposed the bill.12 The Nigerian Democracy Act,
introduced by Representative Donald Payne and Representative Amo Houghton in
1997, contained similar provisions, including a ban on new U.S. corporate
investment in Nigeria. In May 1998 House International Relations Committee
Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman and Representative Donald M. Payne introduced the
Nigerian Democracy and Civil Society Empowerment Act (H.R. 3890), calling for
additional sanctions and increased U.S. aid to democratic opposition groups. The bill
was also introduced in the Senate in May 1998 by Senators Feingold, Jeffords, Leahy,
and Wellstone. The bill was sent to committees in both houses, but the 105th
Congress did not act further on either piece of legislation.
Conflicts within the Clinton Administration regarding the appropriate strategy
toward Nigeria while under the control of Abacha surfaced in speeches given by
senior Administration officials and President Clinton in early 1998. Assistant
Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr. Susan Rice stated in a speech on March 17,
1998, that the United States would hold “General Abacha to his three-year-old
promise to undertake a genuine transition to civilian rule this year and to establish a
level playing field by allowing free political activity, providing for an open press, and
ending political detention. Let me state clearly and unequivocally to you today that
an election victory by any military candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections

12 “Nigeria Mixes Oil and Money,” Washington Post, November 24, 1996.

would be unacceptable.” In late March, President Clinton stated that U.S. policy
toward Nigeria was “to do all that we can to persuade General Abacha to move
toward general democracy and respect for human rights, release of political prisoners,
and the holding of elections.” Referring to General Abacha’s rumored candidacy,
however, President Clinton seemed to contradict Rice by suggesting that “if [Abacha]
stands for election we hope he will stand as a civilian.” President Clinton’s March
statement led some critics to question the Administration’s policy toward Abacha and
the military junta.
The Administration came to a final decision on May 28, 1998, saying that the
proposed transition was clearly “unacceptable” as long as Abacha remained the single
candidate and that current sanctions would remain. Following Abacha’s death, State
Department spokesman James P. Rubin stated that Abubakar had “a historic
opportunity to open the political process and institute a swift and credible transition
to civilian democratic rule.” Rubin said that Washington would “accept” only a
transition that included “three things: first, freeing political prisoners; second,
ensuring respect for the basic freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; and third,
returning the Nigerian army to its rightful position as a professional armed force
committed to defending the constitution and civilian rule.” U.S. officials had
anticipated that Abubakar would be more cooperative with the United States because
he received military training here. On June 14, 1998, President Clinton called
Abubakar and “underscored our desire for improved bilateral relations in the context
of Nigeria taking swift and significant steps toward a successful transition to a
democratically-elected government.”13
The U.S. officials who met with Abubakar in July 1998 reported that he
appeared very receptive to implementing the transition to democracy, although he
would continue consultations before releasing the final details of the transition.
Critics asserted that the United States should have pushed harder for Abiola’s
unconditional release in order for him to consult with advisers rather than consent to
renouncing his title under political pressure. Critics also warned that a hands-off
policy could enable the regime to proceed so slowly with reforms that civil conflict
might escalate to the point of war in which ethnic rivalries could erupt on a massive
scale. The Clinton Administration, nonetheless, welcomed Abubakar’s transition
program, and on October 30, 1998, the U.S. State Department announced that the
Secretary, after consulting with Members of Congress, had terminated a Presidential
Proclamation that restricted entry into the United States by high-ranking Nigerian
officials and their family members.
Diplomatic Developments
Relations between Washington and Abuja began to improve shortly after
General Abubakar assumed power and have since continued to grow during President
George W. Bush’s term in office. In September 1998, Abubakar visited the United
States for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, and also came to Washington to meet
with President Clinton at the White House. After the meeting, Abubakar said
President Clinton told him that if Nigeria stayed on its democratic course, the United

13 “Clinton Urges Nigeria Democracy,” Associated Press, June 14, 1998.

States was prepared to help win some debt relief from international lending
institutions and might also allow the resumption of direct air links between the U.S.
and Nigeria. Then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also praised Abubakar
for taking steps to improve conditions in Nigeria. U.S. officials applauded
Abubakar’s transition program and warmly welcomed the transfer of power to an
elected civilian government and promised to work closely with the Obasanjo
In mid-October 1999, then Secretary of State Albright visited Nigeria and met
with senior government officials and civil society groups. At a press briefing
following her Africa tour, Secretary Albright stated that the government and people
of Nigeria are “engaged in a dramatic and high-stakes struggle to establish a viable
democratic system.” She said President Obasanjo “appears truly committed to jump-
starting the economy, fighting corruption and resolving regional problems that
remain a source of unrest within Nigeria.” In late October 1999, President Obasanjo
met with President Clinton and other senior government officials in Washington. At
a White House press briefing, President Clinton said that “it is very much in
America’s interests that Nigeria succeed, and therefore we should assist them in their
success. We intend to increase our assistance to Nigeria to expand law-enforcement
cooperation and to work toward an agreement to stimulate trade and investment
between us. We intend to do what we can to help Nigeria recover assets plundered
by the previous regime.” President Clinton stated that the United States would
support “generous debt rescheduling through the Paris Club and encourage other
countries to take further steps.”
In a meeting with President Obasanjo in Abuja on August 26, 2000, President
Clinton stated that the United States is “committed to working with the people of
Nigeria to help build stronger institutions, improve education, fight disease, crime
and corruption, ease the burden of debt and promote trade and investment in a way
that brings more of the benefits of prosperity to people who have embraced
democracy.” Clinton also made an unprecedented address before the Nigerian
parliament in which he underscored the major issues facing Nigeria today, including
democratization and ethnic and religious strife. President Clinton announced a
number of new initiatives during his Nigeria visit. He pledged $60 million for AIDS
vaccine research and more than $20 million for Obasanjo’s campaigns against
malaria, polio, and HIV/AIDS. He also praised Nigeria’s regional leadership and
promised continued U.S. support for the West African peacekeeping mission in
Sierra Leone. He pledged continued U.S. support for education, including the
provision of Internet access through the work of NGOs and universities.14
In May 2001, President Obasanjo met with President Bush and other senior
officials in Washington. President Bush stated that the United States is “in the
process of helping provide technical assistance to Nigerian troops so that they are
better able to keep those peacekeeping missions.” At a joint White House press
conference, President Bush pledged $200 million to a new global fund for
HIV/AIDS. President Obasanjo said he discussed a number of issues of mutual

14 See U.S. Embassy in Nigeria press release at [
wwwhcl t ml #T r a nscr i p t s ] .

interest during the meeting, including the conflicts in Angola, Democratic Republic
of Congo, and Sierra Leone.
President Obasanjo returned to the White House following the September 11,
2001, attacks to discuss Nigeria’s and the United States’ “mutual concern to fight and
win the war against terror.” Returning again to Washington in 2002, 2005, and 2006
and receiving President Bush on his first official state visit to Africa in July of 2003,
President Obasanjo has cultivated a friendship with President Bush. In a speech
concluding his week-long trip to Africa, President Bush emphasized the importance
of “partnerships” and underscored that “the relationship between America and Africa
will benefit both our people.”15
At present, Nigeria is an important trading partner for the United States and is
the largest beneficiary of U.S. investment on the continent. Nigeria is the United
States’ fifth largest source of imported oil, providing an estimated 11% of total U.S.
oil imports. U.S. imports of Nigerian crude account for an estimated 40% of that
country’s total oil exports, and the U.S. is Nigeria’s second largest trading partner
after Britain. The country is eligible for trade benefits under the African Growth and
Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Nigeria plays a significant role in peacekeeping operations across the continent,
and the Bush Administration considers Nigeria an important partner in the war on
terror. The United States provides the country with military training through the
International Military Education and Training (IMET) program and other security
assistance. U.S. assistance to Nigeria also focuses on programs that support
democracy and governance, agriculture and economic reform, education and health
services, and HIV/AIDS. Nigeria is one of the 15 focus countries in the President’s
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and received approximately $163
million in 2006 to fight HIV/AIDS. (See Table 1 for more on U.S. assistance to
In 2003, the United States offered a $2 million reward for the capture of former
Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was in exile in Nigeria. Taylor has been
charged with war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The $2 million
reward was inserted in the Iraqi Emergency Supplemental bill, S. 1689, which
became P.L. 108-106 in late 2003. The provision did not specifically refer to Taylor,
although it is widely believed that the reference was to him. The Bush Administration
has stated that Taylor should be held accountable for the crimes he committed in16
Liberia and Sierra Leone, and reportedly encouraged Nigeria to offer Taylor
political asylum. President Obasanjo was opposed to transferring Taylor to the
Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), which indicted Taylor on 17 counts of war
crimes, crimes against humanity, and violation of international humanitarian law in
March 2003. The Nigerian government said that any attempt to kidnap Taylor would

15 See White House press release, [

20030712.html ]).

16 “Confronting War Crimes in Africa,” Statement of Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S.
Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues to the House Subcommittee on Africa, June

24, 2004.

be viewed as “a violation of Nigeria’s territorial integrity.”17 In May 2005, President
Obasanjo met with President Bush and other senior Administration officials in
Washington to discuss the crisis in Darfur, Sudan; debt relief; and the legal status
of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Taylor was captured by Nigerian
authorities in late March 2006, after his failed attempt to flee to a neighboring
country. A day after Taylor’s arrest, Obasanjo visited Washington and met with
President Bush. Taylor is now being held by the SCSL at the Hague, and his trial is
scheduled to begin in June 2007.
109th Congress Legislation
H.Con.Res. 127 (Royce)
Called on the government of Nigeria to transfer former Liberian president
Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Introduced April 12, 2005.
Passed the House May 4; passed the Senate May 10, 2005.
S.Res. 611 (Feingold)
Supported the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission of the
government of Nigeria, political parties, civil society, religious organizations, and the
people of Nigeria to facilitate the first democratic transition of Nigeria from one
civilian government to another in the general elections to be held in April 2007.
Introduced September 29, 2006. Passed the Senate November 16, 2006.

17 “Security Beefed Up Around Taylor,” This Day (Nigeria), Nov. 12, 2003.

Table 1. U.S. Assistance to Nigeria
($ millions, fiscal years)
Program 2002 Actual 2003Actual 2004Actual 2005Actual2006 Est.2007 Req.
DA 15.8 23.3 13.6 14.8 14.00 21.2
CSH 36.6 47.9 42.5 28.2 21.5 19.6
ESF 8 .5 3.8 4 .9 4.9 4 .9 5.0
FMF Grants.990.800
GHAI 85.9 138.1 272.0
INCLE 2 .2 .990 .400
NADR-CT F .100 .200 .600
NADR-AT A .4 3 5
IMET .792 .590
To tal 66.5 75.1 61.1 136.2 181.9 320.1
Source: U.S. Department of State.
Table Abbreviations:
DA = Development Assistance
CSH = Child Survival and Health Programs Fund
ESF = Economic Support Fund
IMET = International Military Education and Training (Notification required)
INCLE = International Narcotics Control & Law Enforcement
NADR-ATF = Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs
GHAI = Global HIV/AIDS Initiative
FMF = Foreign Military Financing