Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 26, 2000
Nigeria: The Challenging Transition to Democracy
Since taking office in May 1999, President Obasanjo has
consolidated civilian rule, following nearly sixteen years of military
dictatorship. Military regimes have ruled Nigeria for all but eleven
years since independence from Britain in 1960.
Nigeria's National Assembly, elected in 1999, represents the
country's first elected parliament since 1983.
Through decades of military mis-rule, economic disparities between
regions have worsened, the income gap between rich and poor has
increased, and a neglected infrastructure has deteriorated
significantly. With a debt burden of more than $30 billion, an
estimated population of 110 million, and fewer than 5 telephones per
1,000 people, Nigeria must revive the education, health and agricultural
sectors and rebuild the country's infrastructure.
Late military dictator Sani Abacha and his supporters may have
stolen as much as $6 billion in official funds from Nigeria over his
five-year reign. President Obasanjo is leading an aggressive
international effort to reclaim these assets. So far, $1.8 billion of
assets has been frozen in banks around the world.
Nigeria has only about one police officer for every 1,400 Nigerians
and fewer than 3,000 police vehicles.
Potentially one of Africa's wealthiest nations, Nigeria's social
indicators are no better than the continent's poorest countries. More
than 60 percent of Nigeria's population lives on less than $1 per day,
according to some estimates.
More than 3,000 Nigerians have died in ethnic and religious
violence over the past year.
Nigeria has been quick to defend elected governments in the
diplomatic arena and has supported twenty-seven peacekeeping operations
in West Africa and abroad.
The U.S. and Nigeria also cooperate in regional conflict resolution
and peacekeeping, including the U.S. initiative to train and equip West
African battalions for peacekeeping in Sierra Leone.
Nigeria's economic growth rate for 2000 is likely to reach 4
percent, and the budget contains a significant increase in social and