Betrayal by the Military in Nigeria


In Nigeria the death toll is climbing as police battle striking oil workers and others who are trying to pressure the military government to free a democratically elected president from prison. Much of the West African capital of Lagos is paralyzed by protests and lack of domestic fuel supplies. It does look as if Nigeria is descending into chaos.

Moshood Abiola would be president today if the military rulers had not voided democratically held elections in June, 1993. Abiola is charged with treason because he dared to claim the presidency. Threats forced him to flee to London. He bravely returned, only to be jailed. The military, in power for more than 10 years, promise Abiola his freedom, but only if he relinquishes any claim to the presidency and silences his supporters. Why should Abiola concede to such an insane demand, and why should he believe promises of military leaders who threaten to jail him for life?

Ironically, it is Nigeria that led African support of democracy in South Africa, and actively opposed apartheid. Closer to home, Nigerian troops led the successful West African regional peacekeeping force that helped end the civil war and promote elections in Liberia. Nigeria also voted in the U.N. Security Council to support democracy in Haiti, which of course also has an elected president who has been frozen from power.


Unfortunately for democracy, the tug of war between autocrats and self-rule has dominated Nigeria’s government since independence in 1960. In this latest round of military rule, the generals have run the country for more than a decade.

Few Nigerians are better off. Nigerian drug smugglers peddle heroin around the world. Guns proliferate in Lagos. Mismanagement threatens many of the economic gains of Nigeria, which was once oil-rich, relatively well-educated, powerful and the pride of sub-Saharan Africa.

As the protests threaten to turn to riots, the generals promise democracy again. The military rulers also tout another constitutional conference. Their words have proved worthless.

Civilian rule won’t cure all the ills. But Nigerians, led by their rightful president, Moshood Abiola, deserve a say in how they are governed. By positioning itself as the enemy of democracy, the military government is the enemy of the people--and thus the enemy of Nigeria.