US Asked to Aid Nigerian, Haitian Democracy Bids

Nonrecognition of Lagos government viewed as point of leverage

RIDING a wave of United States support for democracy, Robert Malval will try to move into the prime minister's office in Haiti today, while Chief M. K. O. Abiola continues his efforts to occupy the president's office in Nigeria after his apparent victory was annulled by the military government.

Under a peace plan brokered at New York's Governor's Island by the US, United Nations, and Organization of American States (OAS), exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Monday formally installed Mr. Malval, a businessman, as prime minister of the Caribbean island nation.

Meanwhile, Chief Abiola, in a meeting with State Department officials on Monday, sought US help in pressuring Nigeria's four-day-old military-appointed interim government to allow him to occupy the position of president, which international observers believe he won in the June 12 elections, annulled before the count was completed.

In a call for the US and other nations to withdraw recognition of the Lagos government, vacate its UN seat, and possibly impose sanctions, Abiola cited the case of Haiti, which is moving toward democracy under international pressure.

The ceremony to install the new prime minister took place far from Haiti, where the military, accused by human rights observers of murders and repression, is still only reluctantly going along with the peace plan. It took a world embargo on oil and other trade to win that cooperation.

A close aide to Mr. Aristide says ``Malval [today] will try to go into the offices still occupied by people appointed by the Haitian military who exiled Aristide in a 1991 coup. That will be interesting. Anything can happen.''

The aide said, ``It is significant that you have two countries [Haiti and Nigeria] where the international community is supporting the local population's calls for democracy.'' He said the general strikes called in support of democracy by unions in Lagos ``encourage people in Haiti.''

Abiola also saw similarities, calling for international sanctions ``that will bring the usurper regime to its knees, as in the case of Haiti.'' But a senior US official dealing with Africa pointed out some major differences.

Unlike Haiti, Nigeria is a populous nation with perhaps 100 million people. It can seriously affect its neighbor's politics and economics, cannot easily be isolated, and produces 2 million barrels of oil per day.

And the US official says that in Africa, sovereignty is more important than universal principles such as democracy. Nigeria's military boss, Ibrahim Babangida, ``had strong support in Africa where many people say the elections are an international Nigerian matter,'' the official says.

``We must be realistic about our ability to effect change but keep the high road in those cases.'' The official said the reported release of human rights activists by Nigeria's interim government was ``a positive step.''

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose met with Abiola Monday and reiterated US government support for ``the right of the Nigerian people to exercise their sovereignty by electing their leaders through legitimate democratic processes.''

Unlike Haiti, where George Bush and Bill Clinton have directly linked support for democracy to the return to power of Aristide, in Nigeria the US has called only for the completion of the election process - including the chance for Abiola's enemies to contest its fairness.

A spokesman for the Nigerian government in Washington, Jeffrey Birrell, said the new government should be given a chance: ``They want to see democracy go forward.''

He said the newspapers closed by the military would be allowed to reopen but was not clear about the future of Abiola's publishing enterprises.

While it is unclear if General Babangida, who resigned Aug. 27, still controls the power behind the scenes, Mr. Birrell says the general ``is out of the political picture and not involved in government operations.''

Both Abiola and Aristide benefited greatly from the enhanced size and power of the 39-member Congressional Black Caucus, which some observers say is driving this issue.

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