Philip C. Aka*

Abstract:  For centuries, United States foreign policy has been outwardly characterized by its diplomatic and economic encouragement of fledgling democracies around the world. In particular, the nations of Africa are seen to benefit from America’s idealistic foreign agenda. After forty years of independent stuggle and civil war, Nigeria has freely elected a leader who expresses willingness to strengthen his nation’s global position through international trade and assistance. At this critical stage in Nigeria’s political development, will U.S. policymakers pay lip service to democracy through limited “unrewarding social work” or will it recognize common national interests to further a “genuinely reciprocal and mutually beneficial” relationship? This Article critiques the quantity and quality of U.S. aid to Nigeria, examining underlying tensions and motivations, and the forces of globalization. In order for Nigeria to find a true and stable democracy, this Article contends, U.S. policy must establish Nigeria’s role as an independent partner in the exchange of cultural and natural resources, as part of a genuine effort to bolster its domestic capability.


Although United States foreign policymakers have always articulated a desire to seek democracy in Africa,1 they have not pursued this goal with any degree of consistency, particularly during the Cold War era.2 Democracy scholars such as Professor Larry Diamond3 contend that U.S. policies toward Africa have, since 1990, been increasingly driven by a “concern for democracy, accountability, and human rights . . . .”4 But is there any basis for the position that the United States has become more earnest and circumspect in its efforts to promote African democratization? The impact of globalization further complicates this inquiry.

To address this issue, this Article analyzes U.S. support of “democratization” in Nigeria since May 29, 1999.5 The focus on Nigeria is mandated first because the nation is known throughout the world as a major regional power.6 Secondly, the September 11 attacks in New [*PG227]York and Washington D.C. have given rise to a debate about the character and “correctness” of U. S. foreign policy;7 exploring the policy toward Nigerian democratization lends important insight into the nature of American foreign policy at this moment of controversy. Part I contains a brief history and overview of Nigeria’s current political status as it strives for a genuine democracy. Part II brings to light some of the tensions and motivations that underlie U.S.-Nigerian relations. In Part III, this Article describes the contours of the United States’ diplomatic, military, and economic support for Nigeria, addressing each in turn. Part IV provides a working definition for globalization, followed by its potential and actual effects on Nigerian democratization. Finally, Part V concludes with four findings and argues that promoting democracy is an important element of U.S. policy, but that this ideal is often sacrificed in pursuit of pragmatic national interests.

I.  A Demographic and Political Introduction to Nigeria

A.  Demographic Overview

Nigeria is a country about two times the size of California located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.8 It is by far the most populous country in Africa, with a population estimated at over 110 million people.9 With about two hundred and fifty language or ethnic [*PG228]groups,10 it is also one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Africa and in the world. Many of Nigeria’s ethnic groups are small communities with populations that number between tens and hundreds of thousands, but three of them, the Hausa-Fulanis in the North (two groups so interconnected they are usually counted as one), the Igbos in the East, and the Yorubas in the West, have populations that run into tens of millions. This “ethnic triumvirate” makes up about two-thirds of the country’s population.11

Nigeria has large reserves of crude oil under its soil and is an important member of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC).12 Before the discovery of oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy was agriculture. Cocoa was produced in the West, groundnut (peanut) in the North, and palm oil in the East.13 Since the production of commercial quantities of crude oil began in the 1970s,14 Nigeria has depended on oil as its sole foreign exchange earner, to the virtual neglect of agriculture.15 One of the challenges successive governments in the country face is how to diversify the country’s economy away from its heavy dependence on oil.

B.  Political History

Nigeria is a wholesale product of British colonialism.16 The nation was formed in 1914, when, for administrative and economic convenience, Britain lumped its three colonies in the area17 together into [*PG229]one country in an event historians call “The Amalgamation.”18 Some believe that Nigeria is too large and unwieldy to comprise one country. The country houses three of the largest (and most competitive) ethnic groups in Africa; seven percent of the world’s languages are spoken in Nigeria, the highest number of languages in any single country.19 The Amalgamation brought together, without consultation, a multiplicity of groups which before 1914 had a history of little contact and interaction with one another. Attempts since independence to forge these groups into one nation have yielded little fruit. Nigeria remained under British rule for forty-six years until October 1, 1960, when it became independent from London.20

At independence, the country experimented with a parliamentary system of government patterned on the British Westminster model consisting of an executive headed by a prime minister and a cabinet based on collective responsibility, a bicameral national assembly elected largely by universal suffrage, and an independent judiciary, among other features.21 From the outset, the political system came under severe stress brought about by ethnic rivalry.22 The [*PG230]democratic experiment broke down in January 1966 when power shifted to the military in a trend that would mark the nature of Nigerian politics from that point forward. Worse still, ethnic disharmony soon degenerated into war between 1967 and 1970. The war claimed three million lives, most of them Igbos,23 who, with other easterners, seceded to form their own independent Republic of Biafra, displacing another three million people.24 The war has been ranked by one chronicler as “the bloodiest civil war of the 20th century.”25 In 1970, following the successful termination of Biafran secession, the country reunified and continued its journey toward nationhood.

Nigeria has a federal system of government that operates as a unitary format, particularly during periods of military government. Over time, this system grew in complexity and is today made up of one national government, thirty-six state governments, and a federal capital territory (FCT) based in Abuja, 26 and numerous local governments. Although Nigerians are a freedom-loving people with a passion for democratic rule,27 democracy has had a checkered history in Nigeria (see Table 1).28

Table 1
Nigerian Governments from Abubakar Balewa to Olusegun Obasanjo
Period of Rule Name of Ruler Gov’t Type Ethnicity How Rule ended
1960–1966 Abubakar Balewa Civilian Hausa Attempted coup/Assassination
1966 Aguiyi Ironsi Military Igbo Coup/Assassination
1966–1975 Yakubu Gowon Military Middle Belt Coup
1975–1976 Murtala Muhammed Military Hausa Attempted coup/Assassination
1976–1979 Olusegun Obasanjo Military Yoruba Election
1979–1983 Shehu Shagari Civilian Fulani Coup
1984–1985 M. Buhari Military Fulani Coup
1985–1993 I. Babangida Military Minority Group in Niger State Stepped down following election nullification
1993 Ernest Shonekan Civilian Yoruba Head of interim government
1993–1998 Sani Abacha Military Kanuri Death by heart attack
1998–1999 A. Abubakar Military Middle Belt Election
1999– Olusegun Obasanjo Civilian Yoruba
Source: Frynas, supra note 12, at 43.

The first attempt at democratic rule lasted little more than five years.29 A second try lasted just over four years,30 while a projected third republic was still-born in 1993 when the military government under General Ibrahim Babangida annulled an election he himself had conducted.31 The present government, which is led by retired military general Olusegun Obasanjo, represents the country’s fourth attempt at democratic governance (and as Table 1 indicates, this is Obasanjo’s second time in office as political leader). Briefly, four generals preceded Obasanjo. The first, Muhammadu Buhari, would not even entertain the notion of handing power over to a democratically elected government. He was removed from office in a palace coup in 1985. The second, Babangida, pledged to hand power over to civilians, and designed a complex transition program but changed the [*PG232]date for the transfer of power many times.32 Finally, in 1993, after many years driving a society broken by unceasing economic hardship, Babangida held a comparatively free and fair election which he, however, quickly annulled because he did not like the result.33 He left office in August 1993 under the cloud of controversy generated by the annulment, leaving power in the hands of an interim government. The third leader to precede Obasanjo, Sani Abacha, was the most crudely repressive of them all. He took over in November 1993 and remained in office until his death in June 1998. Not until the fourth leader, Abdulsami Abubakar was power finally transferred to civilians in May 1999.

Because of the failed transfers of power under these Nigerian generals, Nigeria lacks an experience of democracy of the kind of depth upon which a study like this can draw. Of its forty-one years of independent existence, Nigeria has spent approximately three decades under military rule and only eleven years, including the present Obasanjo period, under civilian rule. The Obasanjo government, like the Second Republic government in power from 1979 to 1983, is based on a federal constitution patterned after the U.S. system of government that is characterized by an executive branch headed by a president, a bicameral legislative assembly, an independent judiciary, and guarantees of basic rights. Since 1999, political power in Nigeria has been shared by three political parties. One of these three, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), General Obasanjo’s party, controls the presidency and both houses of the National Assembly.

C.  Ethnicity and Religion

One notable feature which has characterized politics and society in Nigeria since independence is ethnicity.34 Expressions of ethnicity are frequently linked to exclusiveness, and most often “‘accompanied [*PG233]by nepotism and corruption’” that is “‘expressed inevitably through interethnic discrimination in jobs, housing, admissions into educational institutions, marriages, business transactions or the distribution of social welfare services.’”35 Nigeria’s ethnic structure impedes rather than encourages inter-ethnic cooperation.36 One of numerous social cleavages which reinforce and magnify, rather than crosscut, ethnicity in the country is religion. Although adherents of Christianity and Islam, Nigeria’s two major religions, can be found in all parts of the country,37 most Hausa-Fulanis are Muslim, and most Igbos are Christian. The Yorubas are divided about equally between these two religions. The latest manifestation of ethnic-religious conflict in the country has resulted from the adoption of Islamic Sharia law in many of the country’s northern states. By June 2001, eleven out of nineteen northern states had implemented Sharia law. Until this implementation, Sharia was a customary law applied only as civil law in the North. The more widespread adoption of this law, which involves replacing both civil and criminal legal systems with Muslim law, has led to deadly conflicts between Muslims and Christians in various parts of the country, resulting in the loss of lives and property. Approximately 10,000 people have died from violence traceable to ethnic-religious conflict since General Obasanjo took office.38

Many observers correctly view these states’ adoption of Sharia law as politically motivated attempts by Hausa-Fulani leaders to undermine the strength of Obasanjo’s administration, whose policies they consider unfavorable to northern interests.39 Manifestation of regionalism in the country includes a northern fear of a “southern tyranny of skills” matched by a southern fear of a northern “tyranny of population.”40 One reason for Nigeria’s progressive division and subdivi[*PG234]sion into greater numbers of states (from three regions in 1960 to thirty-six states in 1996)41 was to minimize the influence of ethnicity on the country’s politics and to promote inter-ethnic cooperation. Every indication, however, including the recent manifestations of religion on the country’s national life, suggests that these divisions have been to no avail.42 Unfortunately, the sole remaining issue to unite Nigerians, as a people, appears to be their common devotion to soccer as a national pastime.43 Recent studies in political science have unveiled the role of trust in the formation and maintenance of a political system.44 The severity of Nigeria’s ethnic conflicts appears to suggest that the country lacks the trust necessary to maintain society.

D.  Democratization

1.  A Government in Transition

I designate the process of political change that has taken place in Nigeria since May 1999 as “democratization.” This term refers to something ongoing and, as used here, signifies a transition away from dictatorial rule.45 It reflects political scientists’ evaluation that changes in government, while important, do not always rise to the level of full-fledged democracy;46 this view accords with those of analysts such as William Minter who assessed the struggle for democracy in Nigeria as still “unresolved.”47 While it is true that democracies are, by [*PG235]definition, works in progress—journeys as opposed to final destinations1—some democracies appear to be farther from their destination than others. A transfer of power from one soldier to a former soldier,48 in an economy rocked by official corruption and crushing austerity measures,49 does not a true democracy make.50

A primary factor leading to this still-transitional assessment of Nigerian democracy under General Obasanjo is the tenuous character of the popular support for his leadership. Of Nigeria’s former three regions and main ethnic groups, Obasanjo won heavily in two, the North and East, but he and his party failed to carry the Yoruba West.51 In effect, as one analyst points out, “Obasanjo became the first Nigerian to be elected to the presidency without the support of his own ethnic group.”52 This fact is especially noteworthy because it has compromised the president’s ability to pursue policies he considers inclusive and equitable,53 but which Hausa-Fulani leaders consider unfa[*PG236]vorable to the north.54 The result has been the widespread adoption of Islamic Sharia law in the northern states, increasing ethnic-religious violence and complicating governance for General Obasanjo.55 Although the greatest challenge to his rule comes now from the north, as this Article will demonstrate shortly, popular support for Obasanjo is also slipping in the east and among minorities in both the South and North of the country.

Another factor that contributes to the characterization of Nigeria’s political situation as transitional is the heavy militarized nature of the Obasanjo government.56 Since taking office, General Obasanjo has failed to adjust his leadership style to the tenets and imperatives of civil-democratic rule. Democratic consolidation is, in the parlance of conflict management, “the process of progressive elimination or minimization of force and coercion, extreme repression, and related negative conflict management techniques antithetical to democracy.”57 No such minimization of force has occurred under Obasanjo.58 Additionally, as his frosty relationship with the National Assembly illustrates, General Obasanjo tends to command, rather than conciliate or compromise.59

[*PG237] If, as some scholars suggest, democratic consolidation occurs when “democracy becomes so broadly and profoundly legitimate and so habitually practiced and observed that it is very unlikely to break down,”60 the present political situation in Nigeria is nowhere near democratic consolidation.61 One perceptive U.S. analyst foresaw these problems, remarking upon the questionable fairness of the 1999 election, Obasanjo’s military background, and “his apparent initial assumption that input from pro-democracy, human rights, and other grassroots groups is no longer necessary . . . .”62 The analyst concluded, “[t]he temptation to rely primarily on repression rather than dialogue is still a major threat.”63 This comment has turned out to be prophetic indeed.

2.  Internal Conflict, External Consequences

As one Nigerian journalist noted, “[o]nly a people confident and a government strong at home can engage the rest of the world.”2 Given the strong connection between domestic and foreign policy, the political situation within the borders of Nigeria necessarily affects relations with the United States and other foreign countries.3 With the [*PG238]numerosity of economic and centrifugal problems at home, 64 Nigerians and their government now lack this much-needed internal confidence.65 Democracy has yet to produce any economic dividend for the masses.66 Over 10,000 people have died from ethnic-religious conflicts67 and other causes68 since General Obasanjo took office. Compounding these matters is the fact that his government is developing a reputation for being aloof and uncaring.69 In short, the shambled nature of the country’s internal organization threatens its place and image in the international community.70 Countries also need domestic strength to weather or stem the forces of globalization.71 More specifically, the country’s growing domestic weakness minimizes its chances of conducting “genuinely reciprocal and mutu[*PG239]ally beneficial”72 relations with the United States. Given the quicksand-like bases of support for the Obasanjo government and the country’s extensive internal weakness, it seems that U.S. policymakers should work toward “fundamental institutional change[s]” rather than attempt to build fragile American-style policy around “new leaders” like Obasanjo.73

II.  Tensions and Motivations Underlying U.S.-Nigerian Relations

In order to fully develop and evaluate the nature of U.S. foreign policy relating to Nigerian democracy, this study begins by bringing certain underlying tensions and motivations to light. This section addresses critics’ fundamental concerns about external support of African democratization efforts, both generally and with particular attention to the United States and Nigeria. It also discusses the economic and social interests at stake for both countries and the consequences of this reciprocity.

A.  Tensions Regarding External Assistance for African Democratization

Nations must develop themselves or will not be developed at all.74 As one African proverb goes, no serious traveler depends entirely on the legs of another person for his journey.4 Critics of international support for African democratization efforts are primarily concerned about entrusting a critical stage of the country’s political development75 to foreign nations. These critics urge that Africans cannot depend solely or heavily on external actors, particularly the United States and other western countries, to realize their democratic aspirations.76

[*PG240] While such thinking has some merit, it incorrectly characterizes external support. Foreign support could be seen to reinforce rather than to detract or compromise self-development. The African proverb warns only about depending solely on others’ legs.77 Countries have ultimate ownership and responsibility for their own self-development, but external assistance is not necessarily contrary to this goal. As General Obasanjo argued during a spring 2001 interview, although Nigerian democracy “is essentially our own,” “development partners” such as the United States can contribute to bringing about the “democracy dividend” that will make Nigerian democracy more firm.78 Obasanjo characterized the “democracy dividend” as an opportunity for “getting resources to deal with essential quality of life enhancement in our own society . . . .”79 This definition connotes the usefulness of external support given that, as is often the case in Africa, the resources needed to enhance quality of life cannot be entirely generated at home.

Fledgling democracies are fragile constructs that have difficulty surviving in a “hostile environment.”5 External support can minimize such fragility along with the internal conflict and violence that threaten these political systems. It is in due recognition of this fact that the literature regarding consolidation of the latest wave of democracy in the world80 routinely integrates a discussion of the issue of international support.81 Thirdly, even the very meaning of foreign policy connotes the idea of assisting rather than co-opting another na[*PG241]tion’s democracy building. These policies entail “the pursuit of vital domestic interests beyond [a country’s] own boundaries”82 and can both reflect and magnify domestic policies.83 Through foreign policy, African states are able to engage important external actors “in the search for solutions to domestic problems.”84 Foreign policy is only effective if it can both anticipate and minimize possible negative consequences of exerting external force on domestic programs.85

Critics also contend that “externally assisted democratization”6 cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of sovereignty, which asserts that every country, regardless of its size, is the unquestioned master of its internal affairs and forbids other countries from interfering with those affairs.86 As one analyst inquired, is international intrusion on African domestic affairs “a new form of imperialism or the harbinger of new conflict between Africa and the West?”87 This Article contends that it need be neither one. The Universal Declaration of Human [*PG242]Rights (UDHR) stipulates that every individual has the right to “social security” realized “through national effort and international cooperation.”88 Efforts to promote democratization exemplify the kind of international cooperation that contributes to this feeling of social security within one’s own country. The generous package of assistance extended to western European countries under the Marshall Plan after World War II rehabilitated their war-torn economies and helped build rather than inhibit the progress of democracy.89 Africa received no such help even though its devastation and deprivation rival that which Europe experienced as a result of World War II.90 At a minimum, international assistance is justified in that it enables democratizing “countries to address and mitigate discontinuities that [prior] external pressures for reform may have helped to exacerbate.”91 Indeed, international assistance “opens new opportunities for partnership in the search for development, social justice, and peaceful resolution of conflict in Africa.”92 As commentators argue, rather than pose an interventionist dilemma, properly implemented external support can advance democratization and lead to a more peaceful world.93

[*PG243]B.  Tensions Regarding U.S. Assistance for Nigerian Democratization

Those who object to U.S. support for Nigerian democratization efforts do so on two discernible grounds. First, critics are quick to point out the United States’ sorry record with respect to its past support for democracy in Africa.94 These critics suggest that America may be engaging in its same old “cynical calculations,”95 advancing national interest under the guise of promoting democracy. Given this history, critics argue, Nigerians or other Africans blatantly delude themselves in relying on the United States to help them realize democracy in their countries.96 Although Nigerians have no way to be certain of what may truly motivate the United States to support democratization in Nigeria, scholars such as Larry Diamond have rightly commented that U.S. foreign policy of the past and at present is separated by markedly different eras.7 The United States’ inconsistent record of democracy building during the Cold War does not necessarily indicate that it will pay the same lip service to democracy in the post-Cold War era. These themes will be developed in greater detail in later sections of this Article.

Critics’ second objection to U.S. interference in Nigeria relates to what they consider the shallow nature of U.S. democracy when transferred to other nations. Democracy is not simply about, for example, elections and “protection of free markets.”97 Critics worry that the United States will only be able to export a minimalistic, election-happy construct of democracy,98 when what Nigeria and other African countries need is an enriched, more meaningful system that responds to African conditions and is sensitive to the needs of various groups in the society.99 Nigeria needs, they contend, a democracy [*PG244]that goes beyond ritualistic symbols such as free and fair elections that, while important, by themselves amount to little change.100 These fears appear to be ill founded, however, because no major nation in our time has developed a democracy without adapting it to suit local circumstances.101 Democracy, if and when it finally comes to Nigeria and other African countries, will be homegrown and responsive to the needs of each country102 or else the system will not survive.

Although individual countries may be under no moral obligation to follow through with the articulated goals of their foreign policies,103 those that do keep their promises project an aura of credibility in their dealings with other nations.104 The United States has long demonstrated a desire to win the “hearts and minds” of Third World105 peoples, Africans included, with offers of economic assistance.106 American leaders, such as President Kennedy, have asserted that this policy has been developed not out of self-interest, but “because it is right.”107 U.S. sincerity is also bolstered by the fact that American [*PG245]leaders consistently espouse that promoting democracy suppresses violence between nations, which is good for both the United States and the world at large.108 The proliferation of democracy engenders certainty and predictability in an exceedingly complex and sometimes chaotic world, which also facilitates the conduct of American foreign policy. As one State Department official remarked, the growth of democractic systems is both idealpolitik and realpolitik with respect to the United States.8 Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that “America has a profound security and economic interest in helping to build an Africa that is stable, democratic and increasingly prosperous,” and Nigeria, as a “regional partner[],” is a “‘bellwether’ nation.”109

Additionally, U.S. foreign policy demonstrates a preference for political stability in any form. For instance, policymakers stuck with Zare’s General Mobutu Sese Seko almost to the very end because the country was “obsessed with a fear that [his fall] would bring ‘the consequent disintegration of Zare into unstable segments open to radical penetration.’”110 Similar concerns underlay the Reagan administration’s “constructive engagement” policy toward South Africa and its collaboration with the apartheid regime in that country.111 Turning to Nigeria, some scholars have pointed out that one reason the United States failed to move decisively against the Abacha regime (by, for ex[*PG246]ample, boycotting Nigerian oil) was the multi-ethnic patchwork “complexity” of the country.112 General Sani Abacha, known for his knack for political survival, played to the American proclivity for “stability” by unveiling a massive public relations campaign in the United States, publicizing the “‘political, economic, and social stability’” of his government.113 Political stability remains an important consideration for the United States with respect to Nigeria.114 This goal may be problematic, however, where it causes U.S. policymakers to overlook a militarized, non-democratic regime because it appears politically stable. Governments not built on popular support are by their very nature unstable: one unconstitutional militarized takeover begets another. In offering assistance to Nigerian democratization efforts, U.S. policymakers should be mindful of the fact that it compromises promotion of democracy when it hinges its support on the stability of undemocratic governments.

C.  The United States’ Interest in Relations with Nigeria

One story goes that Leopold II, King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909, instructed a group of Belgian missionaries about to embark on an expedition to Africa, to interpret the Gospel in a way that protected Belgian interests. Few foreign political actions are based entirely in goodwill; they are more often rooted in prudence and practicality.115 Although promoting democracy may, as was indicated earlier, be a sufficient national interest in and of itself, such idealistic abstraction is usually augmented by more concrete or material considerations. This is certainly true for the United States. “Every nation,” President Kennedy once noted, “determines its policies in terms of its own [national] interests.”9 As students of American foreign policy [*PG247]have asserted, “[t]he tradition of American foreign policy encompasses both moral idealism and raw self-interests.”116 For instance, during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis in 1990–1991, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker traveled around the world stitching together a coalition against Iraq based on the moral principle of stopping aggression and building a “New World Order.” At the same time, Baker openly indicated to U.S. reporters that the conflict was also “about jobs because cheap Middle Eastern oil would stimulate U.S. economic growth.”117 The primacy of national interest overtaking the pursuit of ideals has deep roots in U.S. history. President Abraham Lincoln is fondly referred to by African Americans as the “great emancipator.”10 Yet, Lincoln made black freedom (idealism) secondary to preserving the Union (national interest):

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union . . . . If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.118

The United States’ primary interest in relation to Nigeria is oil. As a voracious consumer of the country’s “sweet” (i.e., low-sulfur) pe[*PG248]troleum,119 America recognizes Nigeria’s worth as the largest oil producer in Africa and the fifth largest in the OPEC.120 Since 1974, Nigeria has been one of the largest exporters of crude oil to the United States.121 Securing the United States’ supply of Nigerian oil was one of the bases for then-Vice President George Bush’s visit to Nigeria in 1982.122 American companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron have substantial investments in the lucrative Nigerian oil industry, which, along with other Western oil companies, they dominate.123

Another of the United States’ interests in Nigeria is to maintain ties (and with these, influence) to the nation once described as “the most African country” in the world.124 Nigeria is rich in both human and natural resources, despite the fact that these are, as indicated earlier, poorly managed.125 The country also plays a leadership role in Africa, particularly in West Africa, that advances other U.S. interests. Under General Abacha, Nigeria led a peacekeeping mission as part of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) that helped to stabilize long-time U.S. allies Liberia and Sierra Leone. Paradoxically, Nigeria was able, through ECOMOG, to install democracy in Liberia and to reinstate it in Sierra Leone while leaving its own citizens under the darkness of military rule.11 Some scholars have described this mission as a ploy by the Abacha regime to enhance its “prestige at home and abroad.”126 Nonetheless, this “extraordinary investment” in regional stability127 arguably contributed to [*PG249]the American goal of making the world safe for democracy. As former U.S. Secretary of State Albright noted, Nigeria is “potentially a very valuable partner for us in promoting peace, democracy, and the rule of law throughout West Africa.”128

A third U.S. interest is the maintenance of American cultural-historical linkages to the country of Nigeria. A great number of Americans trace their roots to Africa.129 Many of those Americans, including entertainer-scholar Paul B. Robeson (1898–1976), trace those origins to Nigeria.130

Last, but certainly not least, America needs Nigeria’s help in its campaign against international drug trafficking. The economic hardships in Nigeria, beginning in the 1980s, resulted in the emergence of a significant drug-dependent culture131 and in the conversion of Nigerian borders into a major route for the trafficking of cocaine and heroin into the United States. In its 1997 report on international drug trafficking, the State Department noted that “‘Nigeria is the hub of African narcotics trafficking, and Nigerian poly-crime organizations continue to expand their role in narcotics trafficking worldwide.’“132 American agencies look to Nigerian political and law enforcement authorities in helping to ameliorate the nation’s drug problem.133 Nigerian-U.S. cooperation on drug trafficking dates back to 1987 when [*PG250]the two countries signed a mutual law enforcement agreement followed by a special anti-drug Memorandum of Understanding.134 The United States also looks to Nigeria to help reduce the number of Americans victimized by the offer of Nigerian business opportunities that are “too good to be true.”135 According to one estimate, “Americans lose $2 billion annually to white [collar] crime syndicates based in Nigeria.”136

D.  Nigeria’s Interest in Relations with the United States

Although this Article focuses on U.S. policy toward Nigeria, it is also important to discuss Nigeria’s interests given that we are dealing with bilateral relations.

1.  Primary National Interests

First, Nigeria sees in the United States a steady buyer of its oil. Although Nigeria’s share of the U.S. market has fluctuated over the years, the United States remains a primary purchaser of Nigerian crude oil. Second, Nigeria values political ties with America. The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world, and the two countries share similar demographic features such as ethnic, economic, and religious complexities.137 Nigeria relies on these political connections as it experiments with a presidential style of government. Third, like many developing countries, Nigeria seeks to tap into American “technological capabilities”138 for its manpower development needs. Tens of thousands of Nigerians have flocked to the United States in search of higher education, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, the number of Nigerians seeking U.S. educations has decreased dramatically, due to a mixture of economic difficulties and shortsighted governmental policy.139

[*PG251]2.  Complications Relating to Internal Tension

Naturally, a nation’s needs fluctuate along with changes to its internal social and intellectual landscape. For instance, despite the United States’ interest in the economic and political health of Nigeria, the nation occasionally appears more greatly motivated by a concern for Nigerian wildlife than for the welfare of its people.12 The structure of Nigerian interests has been affected both by the emigration of its intellectual manpower and by the violent ethnic conflict of recent years.

Ironically, it is the United States that now benefits from the development in Nigerian manpower, rather than vice versa. Many Nigerians who come to America for education continue to reside in the country rather than return to unfavorable political and economic conditions in their home country.140 These emigre Nigerian-Americans include Philip Emeagwali, the “Bill Gates of Africa,” whose mathematical genius President Clinton praised during his address to a joint assembly of the Nigerian National Assembly on August 26, 2000.141 Immigration policies such as the visa lottery142 compound this “brain drain” since many of the Nigerians who win these lotteries are educated individuals whose talents the country needs.143 A more balanced relationship between the United States and Nigeria would help stabilize this situation. As former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State [*PG252]for African Affairs Leonard H. Robinson Jr. noted on the eve of President Clinton’s 2000 visit to Nigeria, “one of the most important things the United States can do is to help the Obasanjo government reverse the trend that has sent the best and brightest Nigerians fleeing to the U.S. and elsewhere.”144

Nigeria may also need creative external help in containing the rash of deadly religious-ethnic conflicts that have rocked the country under General Obasanjo.145 In a survey released just before President Clinton’s visit in 2000, Professor Wole Soyinka portended that Clinton “may prove to be the last serving U.S. President to have visited a nation called Nigeria.”146 Impelling this prediction was the fact that one northern state after another was declaring its adoption of Islamic Sharia law over its former secular system of government.147 Not without reason, Professor Soyinka regards these declarations as effective acts of secession from the country.148 Recent upheavals in the country reinforce this thinking.149

Although the pressing nature of these national concerns may seem fairly straightforward, Nigeria’s pursuit of international assistance is complicated by the fact that Nigeria’s leaders must be the ones to request it. There is little evidence that the Obasanjo government is seeking American help in combating its “brain drain” problem.13 With respect to ethnic-religious conflicts, General Obasanjo’s response has been to either minimize the magnitude of the problem14 or to react temperamentally to any suggestion by Westerners [*PG253]that Nigerian democracy is wobbling from the stress of these conflicts.15 Positing that national unity is not a negotiable proposition, he has ruled out the possibility of any sort of national conference of ethnic groups to resolve some of the conflicts before they expand.16 While one understands Obasanjo’s fear that convening a national conference might spell the disintegration of the country, it demonstrates the extraordinary fragility of the country if the simple attempt to convene a meeting threatens its stability. Nigeria needs a leader who “does not assume anything automatic about Nigeria’s ‘unity,’” but rather is “willing to engage in a far-reaching fundamental reform of the state.”17

Some writers have advocated for reorientation of Nigerian foreign policy to meet the internal needs of the country. Analyst Reuben Abati urges that the country pursue a “common man’s foreign policy,”150 “defined in terms of the interests of the common man.”151 Such a policy would “enhance[] national pride” without “wast[ing] our scarce resources . . . .”152 Abati wants Nigeria to “shed [the] father Christmas” image in its relations with the rest of Africa.153 Nigerian foreign policy, he said, must be defined “in terms of [the nation’s own] gains and interests;”154 the country “must gain strength not weakness, from [its] relationship with outsiders.”155

3.  Finding Common Ground

Nigeria will maximize the benefit of its relationship with the United States by identifying and exploiting the points at which the [*PG254]two nations’ interests overlap. Nigerian and U.S. interests converge with respect to the purchase and sale of crude oil and the necessity of maintaining cordial political relations. Concerning the first, U.S. consumers need Nigerian oil, and Nigeria sees a strong and steady partner in the market for its export. On the second point, U.S. policymakers see the need to maintain a diplomatic foothold in one of the most important and influential African countries. For its part, Nigeria needs strong and stable ties with the United States to improve its image in the international community. Although these ties may also provide vital assistance in Nigeria’s pursuit of the material “democracy dividend,”18 even if no substantive help results, the Nigerian government can still flaunt the mere existence of cordial relations with “the leading nation of the world today . . . .”19

This appearance of accord and mutual benefit will always be questioned, however, by those political analysts who see U.S.-Nigerian relations as imbalanced and imperialistic. They contrast Nigeria’s chummy relationship with the West against its more African-centered policies from 1975 to 1983, including those during Obasanjo’s first regime between 1976 and 1979.20 These critics lament the “near-disappearance of anti-imperialism from the politics of the Nigerian state and the civil society,” maintaining ruefully, “our country is now the chief client of the global dictatorship.”21

III.  Characterizing American Support for Nigerian Democratization

When General Obasanjo came into office in May 1999, the United States government sent a delegation to his inauguration. A few months later, President Clinton undertook a visit to Africa that was praised as “the first cabinet-level meeting between American and African representatives from around the continent,”156 including Nige[*PG255]ria.157 The Clinton-era policy toward Africa was marked by his active engagement and included the following: the unveiling of new initiatives on debt; support for the fight against HIV/AIDS by significant financial donation and by re-classifying the epidemic as a security issue; passage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act opening American markets to more of the continent’s manufactured goods;158 and the creation of a high-profile “month of Africa” at the UN Security Council.159 Clinton believed Nigeria must clean up domestic acts of corruption and other governmental imperfections to realize its potential as “a pivot point on which all Africa’s future turns.”160 After Clinton left office, the mantle for U.S. policy towards Nigeria and Africa fell on his successor, President George W. Bush. This Article will make a few preliminary statements, illustrated through Table 2, before proceeding to closely examine each form of American foreign policy enumerated in the profile.

Table 2
Profile of American Support for Nigerian Democratization
Category Illustrative Activity Assessment
Political exchange of visits, including presidential trips; lifting of restrictions on visits to Nigeria by American officials and to the U.S. by Nigerian government officials; lifting of ban on flights to Lagos airport; electoral support; certification of Nigeria
as drug-free
Military military training; arms supply; U.S.-Nigeria defense cooperation agreements Expanded/Growing
Economic AIDS support; debt rescheduling help; electoral support; birth control and family planning About the same as under Clinton administration or declining

In Table 2, the activities under each category heading are illustrative rather than exhaustive. Political relations is a broad category that [*PG256]includes diplomatic and cultural-historical activities. Some activities, such as electoral support, appear in two separate categories. Other activities that have been classified in only one category could actually illustrate others, as well. For example, birth control and family planning are included under the “economic” category but are also sensitive issues that could be classified as political. Given the dependent nature of U.S.-Nigerian relations,22 there are some who will regard American purchase of Nigerian crude oil as U.S. economic “assistance” to Nigeria. This study does not take that view; rather, it regards those ties as a bilateral trade relationship.161 On a final note, there are also some forms of United States assistance that are not easily categorized. For example, between October 1998 and September 1999, Nigeria was said to have received assistance from the U.S. amounting to $27.5 million that is uncategorized.162

Given this Article’s assessment that U.S. support has expanded in the political and military realms, and is declining only in the economic realm, a reader might conclude that American support for Nigerian democracy is sufficient. However, such an interpretation is incorrect, as a closer analytical perspective will demonstrate.

A.  Political-Diplomatic Relations

Political-diplomatic initiatives are low cost and can greatly influence the success or failure of Nigerian democratization. For instance, what did it cost to remove the U.S. order suspending direct flights to Lagos, Nigeria which was allegedly imposed due to ineffective security?163 America routinely forges and severs diplomatic ties [*PG257]with nations, even where no U.S. interest is at stake. With respect to Nigeria, the United States maintained political ties even in the face of atrocities perpetrated by the prior Babangida and Abacha governments; it merely cut back contact with the leaders themselves. Now, with the inauguration of the Obasanjo government, Nigeria has succeeded in casting off its “bad boy” image, leaving the United States ample room to encourage development through diplomatic initiatives created with General Obasanjo’s cooperation. Such initiatives could be invaluable to the United States as well, securing Nigerian cooperation in the war against international drug trafficking164 and perhaps even minimizing Nigerian business scams targeted at Americans. Through increased political-diplomatic relationships, the United States can advance many of the other shared national interests. As William Minter explained:

[T]he stated goals in Washington and those of African democracy advocates are much more compatible today than during the cold war period. A considerable degree of overlap can be found in statements of desirable objectives, whether they come from United States policymakers, international conferences, or pro-democracy groups in African countries.165

These shared interests include a commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, citizen participation, a free press, and increased governmental accountability and transparency. 166

B.  Military Relations

Like political-diplomatic initiatives, creating initiatives that address military relations can also be very cost effective, considering the potential payback in political influence. As is the case with political relations, Nigeria’s improved political status also smoothes the way to creating military-focused initiatives. Two initiatives at the heart of U.S. military relations with Africa and Nigeria alike are the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies [*PG258](ACSS) under the Defense Department.167 The ACRI provides short-term military training for battalions from selected African countries to participate in peacekeeping missions.168 The ACSS is designed to train executive-level military officers and civilian counterparts.169 The Center’s mission statement stipulates that it will “encourage an appreciation of appropriate civil-military relationships and an understanding of effective defense resource management across African governments.”170 The ACSS’ curriculum stresses democratic civil-military relations, national security-oriented decision making, and management tools.171

These initiatives, however, can also create tensions in the donee country, such as those that have surfaced in Nigeria. Some civilian Nigerians are fearful of U.S. military presence in their country, and more than a few Nigerian military officers question the United States’ motivation to seek expanded military ties. For example, former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Victor Malu considered American military presence overbearing, protesting that “[y]our best foreign friend today can be your worst enemy tomorrow.”172 He objected to the United States’ request for Nigeria’s military contingency plan, which is “supposed to be our secret.”23 Many attribute General Obasanjo’s replacement of Malu as Chief of Army Staff to Malu’s strident and open opposition to increased military cooperation with the United States.173 Nigerian military officers---especially those of General Malu’s generation---are more comfortable receiving military assistance from Britain, the country’s former colonial overlord, than from the United States. Such strong opposition to U.S. involvement has been seen as a stumbling block in Obasanjo’s attempt to consolidate [*PG259]the Nigerian government and to subject the coup-prone military to civilian control and oversight.174

Another major complication with this form of initiative is the potential for U.S. training program operatives to interfere in preexisting cultural disputes, building “unexamined links” between the U.S. military and the armies of the countries they seek to assist.175 There is no evidence that these training programs promote the values of democracy among the foreign trainees for whom they were designed.176 Trainees who graduated from U.S. programs in Latin America and Indonesia have been implicated in widespread human rights abuses.177 Although the ACSS professes to guard against these abuses,178 the peacekeeping capacity of these programs is still untested and unproven.179 Manuals for some of these training programs claim that the programs will “organize, train, advise, and assist” the affected foreign military so that it can “free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency.”180 But, as one perceptive analyst points out, these functions are more appropriately the responsibility of a nation’s police force, rather than its military.181 A final concern is the problem of militarization. In the Caribbean during the 1980s, expansion of U.S. military assistance under President Reagan served primarily to heighten the U.S. military profile, militarizing a region that had formerly been regarded as a “zone of peace” at the expense of more pressing problems.182 As Paul Sutton explained with reference to the Caribbean:

The distinction between the military and the police functions that holds in the United States became blurred in the Caribbean, as the Department of Defense, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the CIA, and a host of other U.S. [*PG260]agencies sought to meet the threats from drug trafficking, money laundering . . . . Borders also were breaking down.183

C.  Economic Relations

Although economic initiatives appear to be the form of support most needed in Nigerian democratization efforts, the United States sponsors fewer economic initiatives than any other kind of initiative. During the 1998-99 fiscal year, the United States provided only $27.5 million in aid to Nigeria.184 Although President Clinton brought a $20 million aid package to help in Nigeria’s fight against HIV/AIDS,185 the United States has not been receptive to the Obasanjo government’s repeated appeals for the forgiveness of Nigeria’s $37 billion foreign debt. President Clinton was only willing to allow for debt rescheduling24 in spite of his August 2000 statement to the Nigerian National Assembly that “Nigeria shouldn’t have to choose between paying interest on debt and meeting basic human needs, especially in education and health.”186

One scholar noted that democratization assistance to sub-Saharan Africa for the decade as a whole represented just under six percent of total U.S. nonmilitary development assistance.187 Of the resources set aside for democratization in Africa by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1996, only ten percent went to West Africa.188

[*PG261] Diamond insists that this situation is changing, given the shift from self-interested Cold War politics to a more idealistic notion of democracy for its own sake.189 He discusses a multiplicity of U.S. assistance programs, pointing to organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID and their efforts to promote democracy in Africa.190 He proclaims that U. S. economic investments in African democracy are “without precedent,”191 describing America’s contribution to African democratization as “substantial and growing.”192

There are a number of problems with this optimistic assessment, however. At the outset, it is important to note that Diamond’s article was written in 1995 and thus fails to account for developments--or the lack thereof--in recent years. Secondly, many of the initiatives he discusses are programs for Africa as a whole and are not specifically targeted at Nigeria. Thirdly, most of these programs are small, often poorly coordinated initiatives that did not rise to the level of substantial economic assistance.

In sum, American economic assistance for Nigerian democratization has been modest rather than substantial.193 Despite the fact that, as Diamond points out, the context of United States foreign policy has shifted, America has largely maintained its formerly low level of economic assistance to Nigeria. The likelihood of a renewed idealistic commitment is also undermined by the fact that many U.S.-sponsored institutions were created during the Cold War to promote U.S. security.194 America’s lukewarm financial commitment to democratization in Nigeria goes a long way to explain the significant gap between rhetoric and reality in U.S. policy toward Africa.195

[*PG262]D.  Summation

During his run for the White House, President George W. Bush expressed little interest in foreign affairs,196 especially as they relate to Africa.197 The new president fears over-extending American resources in favor of a “more humble foreign policy” that is well-attuned to America’s “national interests.”198 Equally significant, his administration includes individuals like General Colin Powell who view involvement with Africa as unrewarding “social work.”199 Despite these disinclinations, Bush’s initiatives in Africa have turned out better than expected. He has pledged his government’s support for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa200 and the United States is part of a G-8 projected development plan for Africa.201 Although Table 2 shows U.S. economic initiatives to be “about the same as under Clinton or declining,” political-diplomatic initiatives are indicated as “ex[*PG263]panded/growing.” So too are U.S. military initiatives.202 With respect to Nigeria, both Nigerian policymakers203 and their U.S. counterparts204 insist that ties between the two countries are developing normally under President Bush.

IV.  Globalization and U.S.-Nigeria Relations

A.  Defining Globalization

The concept of globalization is difficult to describe, partly because the term is so loosely used and is applied to so many different processes.205 One use of the word involves global restructuring,206 characterized by “widespread economic liberalization and tremendous surges in international trade and investment.”207 Within the past two decades, processes within the international system have “produced a qualitatively different world economy.”208 These processes include the vastly increased integration of international markets through new patterns of trade, finance, production, flows of capital, and an increasingly dense web of treaties and international institutions.209 This economic-based definition, however, is not sufficiently [*PG264]inclusive.210 As opposed to a mere economic event, globalization is a process that integrates economics, politics, culture, and ideology.211 In this way it is a “worldwide phenomenon” involving a “coalescence of varied transnational processes and domestic structures, allowing the economy, politics, culture, and ideology of one country to penetrate another.”212 In short, globalization refers “both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.”213

It is important to note that globalization is not a completely new or recent phenomenon. Rather, it is the “intensification”214 of economic, political, social, and cultural relations that were already at work;215 for instance, the movement of people across borders goes back to the very beginning of time.216 Building on this notion of ancient processes in a new world, writers such as Peter Stalker have argued that it is more realistic to view globalization “as the latest phase in a long historical process.”217 Stalker maintains that what is truly new about the phenomenon---and is therefore at its essence--is the fact that barriers between relatively independent entities like states, economies, and cultures are dissolving and, in the process, opening up the possibility of some kind of global consciousness.218 Nonetheless, even [*PG265]these changes have accompanied the end of the Cold War and must therefore be associated with the post-Cold War era.219

Although globalization involves processes that may be described as inter-national, it is not a process of internationalization220 such that an increasing number of events are taking place simultaneously in more than one country.221 Rather, globalization, in its strongest sense, goes beyond internationalization and implies a higher plane of organization–one at which discrete national entities are themselves dissolving so that all major political and economic decisions will ultimately be transmitted globally. This new world may witness the death of geography222 and also, for one, the demise of the nation-state.223 A significant concern about this process is its tendency to constrain national options and erode the integrity of national boundaries.224 Professor Mittelman elaborates that “[s]tatecraft, tested as it is by nonstate actors, is reduced in efficacy relative to transnational forces.”225 He argues that “the drive to bring the state back to the forefront of social theory requires fresh analysis in light of globalization.”226

B.  Two Views on the Effects of Globalization on Africa

In discussing the effects of globalization on Africa, one can adopt either of two outlooks. The first paints a roundly negative picture of globalization’s effects, characterizing the Third World as “the battleground of globalization”227 and Africa as “the Third World’s Third [*PG266]World.”228 One African scholar, Fantu Cheru, identified five major trends in the world economy resulting from globalization;229 four of these (advancement in biotechnology and micro-technology, decreased diffusion of investment, structural adjustment as an ideology of development,230 and low regional cooperation) can be seen to work against Africa. Those with this critical perspective portend that Africa will be barred from “gaining access to world society’s productive processes.”231 They also indicate that Africa has become “the locus of world poverty,”232 that it has experienced a shift from reliance on bilateral assistance to multilateral concessionary loans,233 and that it has lost $148 billion in capital flight.234 Globalization is said to spell the absence of agreement over a vision of a common agenda for Africa in the post-Cold War era.235 “[T]he greatest challenge” for Africa, as Mittelman says, “is to demarginalize when national options are severely constrained by the forces of globalization.”236 Professor Paul Kennedy’s analysis, forecasting which states stand the best chance of surviving materially in the twenty-first century, projects that Africans will be the losers.237 These statements and predictions are not recorded [*PG267]here for their accuracy, but to demonstrate the way in which many of the contemporary views on how Africa has fared, and will fare, with respect to globalization tend to be static and one-sided.

Another view on the effects of globalization paints a more complex picture. A recent illustration of this alternate view is Christopher Clapham’s book on Africa and the international system, which asserts that the impact of globalization on Africa is “in many ways peculiar.”238 The continent was first “globalized,” he notes, by European colonists during the late nineteenth century who imposed structures of economic production, systems of government, and cultural changes in language and education.239 European colonialism has already linked the continent to the processes of global capitalist development.240 In this sense, Clapham writes, the increased economic and political external control beginning in the 1980s represented a “return to familiar conditions of subordination.”241 Interestingly, he notes, Africa was less affected by most of these recent changes than any region in the world.242 For example, he explains, the spread of global capital scarcely affected the continent given that, even prior to globalization, there were so few places where transnational corporations could find safe and potentially profitable investment opportunities.243 Additionally, the effect of increased access to information through global channels was likewise negligible.244 Clapham’s depiction accords with this Article’s caution against a wholesale and undifferentiated application of the notion of globalization.245

Professor James Mittelman depicts globalization as “changing structured hierarchies,”246 conceptualizing the divisions of labor associated with global restructuring as a series of interacting relation[*PG268]ships.247 This second, more dynamic view reflects this portrayal of globalization. It is also more realistic. States are not “merely passive objects exposed to the swell of globalization;” rather, they “may push, resist, attempt to circumscribe or twist” the forces of globalization to their own advantage.248 In 1957, Karl Polanyi described the double movement that propels modern society as both an expansion of market forces and a reaction to that expansion, in the form of demands for self-protection against the socially disruptive and polarizing effects of capital.249 Mittelman and his colleagues have updated this double movement by reiterating the proposition in the context of opportunities and constraints presented by changing structured hierarchies in a new millennium.250 Globalization involves a multiplicity of authors trying to write their own histories.251 These include, in addition to government entities, non-state actors such as multinational corporations, labor unions, religious movements, and the poor.252 These disparate forces engendered in diverse and occasionally opposing contexts severely call into question the image of globalization as a unified force that will bulldoze the world around it.253 In short, as Stalker asserts, “[g]lobalization is not a monolithic, unstoppable juggernaut, but rather a complex web of interrelated processes–some of which are subject to greater control than others.”254 This second view does not portray nations as reduced to helplessness by the forces of globalization and is thus more workable and realistic.

C.  The Effects of Globalization on U.S.-Nigerian Relations

The force of globalization directs international attention to some of the “fundamental changes underway in the post-Cold War era” of foreign policy255 and compels dependent nations like Nigeria256 to [*PG269]find creative responses.257 This Article examines some of these changes before turning to how Nigeria, the dependent country in a bilateral relationship with the United States, might respond. This approach accords with Professor Mittelman’s depiction of the globalization process as involving changing structured hierarchies258 and his conceptualization of the divisions of labor associated with global restructuring as a series of interacting relationships.259

1.  Characterizing the Changes and Challenges

The latest return to democracy in Nigeria is part of the emerging worldwide preference for democracy that has marked the post-Cold War era. Although domestic forces also played a role, the reinstitution of Nigerian civil rule was due in large part to this globalization of democracy and human rights. With this global movement, and the weak economic performance of authoritarian regimes, militarized governments were isolated as illegitimate, and dictators were forced to defend the basis of their power. Thus, former leader Babangida was eventually compelled to leave office after he annulled the fair election that was organized by his own government and initiated a transition so insincere that democratic transition program observers called it “‘one of the most sustained exercises in political chicanery ever visited on a people.’”260 Similar pressures led General Abacha to resort to the unprecedented scheme of self-succession designed to “regularize his dictatorship.”261 The process of globalization brought Nigerian military rule into sharp contrast with Abacha’s practice of promoting democracy for other West African countries while withholding it from his own people. In a recent interview, General Obasanjo was likely thinking of globalization when he stated that the “parameters have changed.” He elaborated, “[W]e are no longer in the Cold War. Dur[*PG270]ing the Cold War, it became fashionable for a man to come to power through the barrel of a gun and for the world to accept it.”262

Globalization has also wrought some negative changes for Nigeria. Among the negative consequences, felt in other African nations as well, are the lag in science and technology, growing impoverishment, capital flight, ceding of economic autonomy to multilateral institutions, and the exaggeration of problems such as drug usage and trafficking.263 Whether the era which replaced the Cold War period constitutes a new international system is immaterial. The fact remains that, more than any other country, “America stands at the center of this world of globalization.”264 The United States benefits from globalization in its ability to conduct foreign affairs in Africa unconstrained-as in the past-by the political, military, ideological, and economic competition from the Soviet Union. This benefit is magnified by the fact that developing countries that maintain bilateral economic relationships with this lone superpower no longer have the leeway to play one superpower against another.265

Globalization manifests itself in such a way that bilateral relations between the United States and Nigeria tend to favor the United States. But these manifestations are not entirely detrimental to Nigeria. As discussed, states are not “merely passive objects exposed to the swell of globalization” but instead may “push, resist” and “attempt to circumscribe or twist” the forces of globalization to their own advantage.266 A mutually rewarding relationship between the United States and Nigeria, based on more than simple cooperation in the drug war, is possible if built upon the positive manifestations of globalization [*PG271]rather than the negative. Even with the Cold War over, the reality of African international relations is still that Africans “‘have so much to ask for and so little to bargain with.’”267 It is a dilemma that African leaders will have to face.

2.  Nigeria’s Response

A developing country engaged in a bilateral relationship with a major world power needs domestic capability in order to “push, resist,” and “attempt to circumscribe or twist the forces of globalization to [its] advantage.”268 Does Nigeria possess the domestic capability necessary for weathering globalization? The point is simple but profound: in an era of globalization, as the context for African foreign policy is shifting,269 Nigerian foreign policy cannot proceed business as usual. Foreign policies “are strategies governments use to guide their actions toward other states.”270 A sound political and economic base should underlie the conduct of such policy.271 Only a people confident and a government strong at home “can engage the rest of the world.”272 The evolution of economic policy from “low politics” to “high,”273 and the shift in foreign relations away from diplomatic posturing and toward economic restructuring are two components of the aftermath of globalization.274 Important domestic debates regarding foreign policy have moved from the political arena to economic arenas such as finance ministries and central banks.275

[*PG272] In sum, a nation’s domestic prerequisite for functional foreign policy is a stable and inclusive political system with space for civil society, attention to the rule of law, and economic development anchored in diversification, accountability, and economic transparency.276 After over fifteen years of military rule and with recent events in the country, Nigeria does not seem to have acquired the requisite political stability that would enable effective foreign policy vis--vis a major power like the United States. These recent developments negate or seriously bring into question General Obasanjo’s optimism that democracy has come to stay.

IV.  By Way of Conclusion: Four Findings

First, this Article concludes that idealism, operationalized here as support for democracy in Nigeria, does play a role in U. S. foreign policy. President Clinton’s visit to Nigeria just a few months after General Obasanjo took office,277 the lifting of the ban on flights to the Lagos airport, and the certification of the country as drug-free after many fruitless attempts under the military to get that clearance278 are all gestures that indicate the United States’ genuine support for Nigerian democracy.

Although these gestures are not unimportant, it appears that national interest, and not idealism, is still at the forefront for U.S. policymakers. In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States government moved to build a global coalition in its fight against terrorism. President Bush announced his willingness to do business with “any country or party”279 that can help the United States realize its objectives of combating terrorism. It appears that any country includes even illegitimate military regimes such as those in Pakistan. America’s growing cooperation with the regime of General Pervez Musharraf has given that government an air of legitimacy that it does not have and should not have received.280 [*PG273]Increased cooperation between the United States and Pakistan in the war against terrorism will shelve all previous attempts to pressure the regime to return to democratic rule so long as Islamabad’s cooperation is deemed necessary for successful resolution of the U.S. government’s war on terrorism.

President Bush announced on November 10, 2001, that his government was providing an aid package worth more than $1 billion to Pakistan as a reward for its support in the war in Afghanistan.25 General Musharraf, in a recent speech in New York, announced the “dawn of a new era of a relationship between Pakistan and the United States.”26 The major media houses evidence America’s acceptance of Islamabad’s illegitimate regime, referring to the Pakistani strongman as “President” rather than by his military title. Washington’s open dalliance and fraternization with the regime of General Musharraf suggest that U.S. leaders are still quick to resort to the kind of national interest-oriented expedience for which they have been criticized in the past. Moreover, there are indications that the regime in Pakistan may be taking advantage of the U.S. government’s attentiveness to the war on terrorism to violate the human rights of its people.27 Pakistan ranked number one in human rights violations according to the State Department’s most recent human rights report.28

While U.S. policymakers still include idealism among the articulated motivations for American foreign policy,281 pragmatic national [*PG274]interest considerations obviously dominate. As a student of American foreign policy accurately notes, “[U.S. n]ational interests in the end must set limits on messianic passions.”282 Although globalization and the end of the Cold War have provided a changed context for the conduct of U.S. policy, the nation’s leaders appear to have no more qualms about sacrificing ideology for domestic concerns than they did during the Cold War.

A second finding relates to the obviously low level of U.S. economic support for Nigerian democratization. Since military and political-diplomatic initiatives rank so highly above economic initiatives in U.S. policy toward Nigeria, it could be argued that the United States has done little more since 1999 than to normalize or “regularize” its relations with Nigeria after the regimes of Generals Babangida and Abacha. From 1983 to 1998, Nigeria experienced the “long spell of crude despotism”283 associated with military rule, resulting in the nation’s reclassification by the United Nations from a middle-income economy to one of the poorest countries in the world.284 The people’s agitation for democratic rule has something to do with Nigerians’ general belief that economic progress is possible only under a civilian government.285 General Obasanjo has repeatedly confirmed that economic progress will provide the “democratic dividend” that will help to sustain democracy in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, the United States has refused to cancel Nigeria’s foreign debt and has provided economic assistance that can only be described as modest and symbolic.286 Despite the objections of parts of Nigeria’s Muslim majority in the North who support Osama bin Laden,287 Nigeria has joined the United States’ global coalition in the [*PG275]war against terrorism. General Obasanjo continues to show his government’s solidarity with the United States in its war on terrorism, yet Nigeria has not been rewarded economically, as has Pakistan. This holds true even as U.S. strikes on Afghanistan have produced “collateral damage” in Nigeria, signified by bloody clashes between Nigerian Muslims and Christians that have resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives and massive property damage.288 Despite these facts, and despite all the talk of a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy, 289 the growth of U.S.-Nigerian bilateral trade has been slow, and U.S. investment is primarily within the oil sector of the economy. American policymakers blame this occurrence on the lack of a conducive environment,290 but these trends have varied very little from what they were during the repressive era of military rule under Abacha, when U.S. relations with Nigeria reached their lowest point.291 This situation goes to validate some of the questions raised by African scholars about the depth of the U.S. commitment to democracy; it feeds the sneering cynicism with which these scholars react to the very notion of U.S. support for African democratization.29 Compared to the Clinton presidency and despite appearing to take “more than a passing interest” in Nigerian and African affairs,30 the Bush administration’s economic initiatives remain modest and symbolic. Under President George W. Bush, U.S. economic initiatives are advanced only through the G-8 group, a situation the Nigerian government seems to have resignedly accepted.31 Even here, however, countries other than the United States are driving these initiatives.32

Thirdly, although the United States recognizes that Nigeria is an important “regional partner,”292 its policy toward Nigeria has been [*PG276]strongly, if not inextricably, tied to its policy toward Africa as a whole. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act is a law for all of Africa. And on issues from disease to debt relief, the United States does not have a distinct policy toward Nigeria as it has toward Africa more generally. Indeed, as Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted, Nigeria is the “key example” of the “‘stable, democratic and increasingly prosperous [Africa]’” that America wants to help in building,293 and yet U.S. investment in Nigeria itself has been minimal. The use of the G-8 as a channel for U.S. economic assistance may reinforce this one-policy orientation.

The significance of this observation is that American foreign policy toward Nigeria has become subject to most, if not all, of the constraints that affect U.S.-African policy. In an important critique of current U.S. policy toward Africa, William Minter argued that the Clinton presidency marked a watershed in U.S. relations with the continent. He said that Clinton had empathy for Africa294 and that, more than any recent U.S. government, his administration injected a positive tone in American policy toward Africa.295 Before Clinton, U.S. engagement with the continent was considered unrewarding “social work.”296 But under his leadership, the tone of American policy changed from “what to do about Africa” to “what to do with Africa.”297 Minter found that “an extensive and continuing dialogue” is the exchange necessary “for the emergence of a genuine new partnership that is about listening, learning, and compromising.”298 More than any previous U.S. government, the Clinton administration took greater steps toward meeting this important prerequisite.299

Yet with all the changes introduced by the Clinton presidency, “Africa still receives token rather than serious responses from Wash[*PG277]ington,”300 and America is still far from implementing a policy that is “genuinely reciprocal and mutually beneficial.”301 Minter asserts that the “profound gap between promises to Africa and realities as expressed in allocation of resources”302 may be partially attributable to a “racial double standard” that serves as “the invisible backdrop for [U.S.] policymaking on Africa.”303 Minter describes this invisible backdrop as follows:

The particular place that Africa occupies on the United States policy agenda, and the consequent difficulty in changing it, cannot be separated from the 500 years of history in which Africa’s place in the world system was defined first by the slave trade and then by colonialism, each reality paralleled by deeply rooted racial stereotyping. Neither inheritance has yet been overcome, while more recent cold war scenarios and home-grown African disasters have overlaid their own simplistic images on the mind-sets of policymakers and the public.304

This racial double standard might go a long way to explain what little change is occurring in U.S. policy toward Africa,305 even in the post-[*PG278]Cold War era.306 In sum, like the rest of Africa, Nigeria is not taken seriously by U.S. foreign policy.

Fourth and finally, the significance of globalization is to underscore the necessity for new approaches in the pursuit of foreign affairs in a changed era. Nigerian scholars have characterized Nigeria’s relationship to the United States as dependent.307 Globalization reinforces that dependency, with the “opportunities and constraints presented by changing structured hierarchies,”308 and instructs developing countries to build domestic capability in order to survive their relationships with major powers.309

Since the 1970s, the United States and Nigeria have had a relationship built on mutual national interests. The U.S. government stood by the Nigerian people during their struggle against military dictatorship.33 American support for Nigeria should now be stronger than ever, with the re-institution of democratic government. The touchstone should be “genuinely reciprocal and mutually beneficial”34 relationships unaffected by the vagaries of power and party affiliation in Washington; a policy that constantly engages the people and the leaders of Nigeria, that is not an appendage of any general policy, and that recognizes the fact that only a fundamental [*PG279]restructuring of the political and economic systems can bring about true democracy in Nigeria.


1 Vclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic, once argued that even democratic veterans like the United States do nothing but merely approach democracy: As long as people are people, democracy in the full sense of the word, will always be no more than an ideal. In this sense, you too are merely approaching democracy. But you have one great advantage: you have been approaching democracy uninterruptedly for more than 200 years, and your journey toward the horizon has never been disrupted by a totalitarian system. Larry Berman & Bruce A. Murphy, Approaching Democracy 3 (2d ed. 1999); see also President William J. Clinton, Address to a Joint Session of the Nigerian National Assembly (Aug. 26, 2000), available at http://usembassy.state.gov/nigeria/wwwhclin.html. 2 Reuben Abati, What is Obasanjo’s Foreign Policy?, Guardian Online (Lagos), Aug. 29, 1999 (on file with author); see also Peter Calvert, The Foreign Policy of New States, at viii (1986) (maintaining that foreign policy is “ancillary to domestic policy and serves its needs”). 3 Id. 4 Dr. F. Jeffress Ramsay, Africa: The Struggle for Development, in Global Studies: Africa, supra note 8, at 3, 9. 5 See Paul N. Ndue, Africa’s Turn Toward Pluralism, in Global Perspectives: International Relations, U.S. Foreign Policy, and the View From Abroad 293, 302 (David Lai ed., 1997). 6 John W. Harbeson, Externally Assisted Democratization: Theoretical Issues and African Realities, in Africa in World Politics: The African State in Flux 235, 235–62 (John W. Harbeson & Donald Rothchild eds., 2000). 7 According to Diamond, the new political context is characterized by the absence of Soviet military and political influence and the spread of ideologies and economic systems hostile to U.S. interests. Diamond, supra note 1, at 253. 8 Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Real New World Order, in Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century, supra note 7, at 112, 118. 9 Goldstein, supra note 92, at 71 (citing President Kennedy’s address at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 26, 1963). 10 One textbook on black politics conveyed that “Abraham Lincoln is the paradigmatic president, setting an example . . . for the handful of other American presidents who have dealt in a positive way with the African American freedom quest.” Hanes Walton, jr. & Robert C. Smith, American Politics and the American Quest for Universal Freedom 194 (2000). 11 See Paul Omach, The African Crisis Response Initiative: Domestic Politics and Convergence of National Interests, 99 Afr. Aff. 73, 84 (2000). 12 Consider the following story recounted by Professor Mbaku in which Western academics attending a conference on Africa spent an inordinate amount of time analyzing the protection of East African wildlife. John Mukum Mbaku, Panel on Western Countries and Democratization in Africa, supra note 80. After the conference, Dr. Mbaku told me about a well-known American environmental group that offered to buy hundreds of acres of arable land in the Riverine area of Nigeria with an intent to leave the land idle in order to preserve snails and sea life. This group obviously had more concern for this sea life threatened with extinction than for the Nigerians who will have to make do without this land in a portion of the country that is already faced with high population pressure. 13 Compare Nigeria’s failure to seek help here, for example, to a country like South Africa which is fighting to stem the tide of its medical doctors leaving for Canada. See Rachel L. Swarns, West Lures Its Doctors; South Africa Fights Back, N.Y. Times, Feb. 11, 2001, at 5. 14 See Cobb & Kramer, supra note 62. When asked by two U.S. reporters how a person like the General can “manage a nation in which a chunk of it seems to be governed by a different set of laws,” he replied unconvincingly that “political Shar’ia is new and [it] will come and go, because if you want to use Shar’ia to achieve political ends it will not hold . . . . [U]nless you use what is right, whatever else you use doesn’t last.” Id. 15 See General Obasanjo’s response, Cobb & Kramer, supra note 62, to a U.S. reporter’s suggestion that Nigerian democracy is continuing “to struggle to get off the ground.” Obasanjo replied, inter alia, that “it’s a new one on me that Nigerian democracy is struggling to get off the ground. . . . I am learning that from you . . . .” Id. 16 Madu Onuora & Saxone Akhaine, Obasanjo Rules Out Sovereign National Conference, Guardian Online (Lagos), July 8, 2001 (on file with author). 17 Tayo Oke, Why Obasanjo Must Succeed: Why He Cannot, TheNEWS (Lagos), Feb. 7, 2000, at 49; see also Bolaji Akinyemi, Nigeria: A Mere Geographical Expression?, The Guardian (Lagos), July 6, 2001, at 8-9; Peter Ekeh, Breakdown in Nigeria’s National Consensus, The Guardian (Lagos), July 2, 2001. Both articles argue that the country must adopt genuine or true federalism if it is to avert disintegration. 18 See Cobb & Kramer, supra note 62; Robin Wright, Olusegun Obasanjo: Nigerian Survivor, L.A. Times, June 3, 2001, at M3. General Obasanjo granted both of these interviews to U.S. and Western journalists. 19 These are General Obasanjo’s own words from a Spring 2001 interview. See Cobb & Kramer, supra note 62. 20 See Aborisade & Mundt, supra note 6, at 250–51; Falola et al., supra note 131, at 166; Osaghae, supra note 20, at 104–09; Stephen Wright & Julius Emeka Okolo, Nigeria: Aspirations of Regional Power, in African Foreign Policies, supra note 74, at 118–19. 21 Edwin Madunagu, Disappearance of Anti-Imperialism, The Guardian (Lagos), Aug. 9, 2001, at 63. 22 Basseye E. Ate, Decolonization and Dependence: The Development of Nigerian-U.S. Relations 1960–1984, at 2 (1987). 23 Id. The military’s contingency plan is a restricted secret document containing classified information on the army, such as its strength and tactical operations, among other details. Uchegbu Achilleus, The Ultimate Price, The Source, May 7, 2001, at 10, 11. 24 Clinton, supra note 48 (stating that America is “prepared to support a substantial reduction of Nigeria’s debts on a multilateral basis . . . .”). 25 Elisabeth Bumiller, All Must Join Fight Against Terror, Bush Tells U.N., N.Y. Times, Nov. 11, 2001, at A1. It is not clear whether this aid included the $500 million already announced by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Islamabad in October. Id. 26 Id. 27 ABC Evening News (ABC television broadcast, Mar. 4, 2002). 28 Id. 29 See Panel on Western Countries and Democratization in Africa, supra note 80. 30 Lawal, supra note 227, at 11. 31 See Steve Itugbu, Nigeria and the G[-]8, The Guardian (Lagos), Aug. 5, 2001, at 39. Itugbu is a personal assistant to President Obasanjo. 32 For example, the British and Canadian governments lobbied for the rescue plan for Africa that will be featured on the agenda for the next summit in Canada in 2002. G-8 Rescue Plan for Africa, supra note 225, at 18. 33 In denying legitimacy to Nigerian military rulers, the U.S. government helped to frustrate their ambition for self-perpetuation in office. Another way in which the U.S. government proved itself an important ally of the Nigerian people was the succor and welcome America gave to notable individuals in the pro-democracy movement in their opposition to military rule. See Impetus for Nigeria-U.S. Relations, Guardian Online (Lagos), Aug. 16, 1999 (on file with author). 34 Minter, supra note 47, at 210. ?? ??