Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
Nigeria at a Crossroads: Elections, Legitimacy and a Way Forward
June 7, 2007
Statement by Rep. Christopher H. Smith
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing on Nigeria following the important elections that took place there two months ago. When Nigeria became an independent nation on October 1, 1960, that development was seen as a major leap forward for Africa. Its most populous nation would now govern itself and use its tremendous natural and human resources for the benefit of its more than 100 million citizens, and the rest of Africa would enjoy at least residual benefits. Unfortunately, these expectations were not fulfilled and Nigeria's history has been marked by military coups, attempted coups, and civilian rule fraught with mismanagement and corruption.
I visited Nigeria in February of this year. In the course of examining the issue of human trafficking, I spoke with numerous individuals about the upcoming elections. There was hope and a great deal of anticipation as Nigeria faced the opportunity for its first peaceful transition from civilian to civilian rule. But I also heard repeated concerns about potential violence and fraud. Unfortunately, those fears were realized. It is estimated that as many as 200 people may have lost their lives as a result of election-related violence. There were reports that domestic observers and opposition candidates were harassed, ballot boxes were stuffed, votes were rigged, and journalists who had written articles critical of the government were detained.
It was with a great deal of disappointment that I heard the elections later characterized as "deeply flawed," and "below acceptable standards." I was disappointed - but not surprised. You will recall, Mr. Chairman, that our Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations held a hearing a year ago, on May 18, 2006, on Nigeria's struggle with corruption. I noted then that the reach of Nigeria's fraud peddlers exceeds that of most other nations. Many of us who use the internet have received solicitations to claim foreign funds abandoned in some foreign bank account.
At the heart of Nigeria's corruption, however, have been those who wield government authority. According to a report by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the country's excessive government stole or misused about $400 billion during the last four decades of the 20th century. That amount is about equal to all of the aid given to Africa by western donors during the same period of time.
Nigeria's people are the ones who overwhelmingly suffer as a result. According to the World Bank, with Nigeria's large reserve of human and natural resources, it has the potential to build a prosperous economy, reduce poverty significantly, and provide the health, education and infrastructure services to which its population is entitled. However, despite the country's relative oil wealth, poverty remains widespread. About 37 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses as to the prospects for reversing this reputation and negative history in Nigeria under the leadership of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua (oo-MAH-roo MOO-sah YAHR ah-DOO-ah), and the means by which the United States can help Nigeria to realize its potential to be a leader of prosperity, peace and democracy in Africa.
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