Let's not go it alone this time Sanctions on Nigeria: Administration wants to tighten the screws.

March 13, 1996

THE NIGERIAN dictatorship of Sani Abacha earned the condemnation it has received from the world community. It suppresses democracy, keeps an elected president in prison, executed a separatist leader and writer after a kangaroo trial, and thrives on corruption. The European Union and the United States have jointly recalled ambassadors, banned arms sales and denied visas to prominent Nigerian officials to press for the restoration of a democracy. The Commonwealth of Nations suspended its membership.

But the Clinton administration should resist the temptation to go it alone with economic warfare. The New York Times reports the administration is circulating to European partners proposals that include banning new foreign investment, freezing financial assets of Nigeria's rulers and banning Nigerians from world sport after the Atlanta Olympics. It is doubtful European countries will agree.

Assuming they don't, the U.S. should not try to impose any of these unilaterally. Economic warfare measures more often boomerang than not. The only meaningful economic warfare the U.S. could take would be to ban imports of its oil products, which is not contemplated and which would harm U.S. interests more than Nigerian. Sanctions that weakened Nigeria's economy would harm the people and weaken the social fabric probably without loosening General Abacha's grip on power. Witness the effects of sanctions against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

While a rich and diverse a country like Nigeria needs safety valves and varied leadership a democracy brings, it also must avoid the anarchy and breakdown of a Liberia, Sierra Leone or Zaire. Sanctions that harm Nigeria economically would probably have the ill effects on its people without achieving the objective.

Congress went off the deep end with sanctions against Cuba which President Clinton lacked the courage to veto in an election year. These violate third countries' sovereignty, reward special interests in Florida and will ultimately isolate the U.S., not Cuba. That act should use up the quota of unilateral sanctions that Washington allows itself this year. The administration should take against Nigeria's despotic leadership only those measures in which European and African nations join.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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