Welcome to the NEW! and IMPROVED! Nigeria

Dispatches from a public relations war

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


In 1993, the Nigerian military annulled a free and fair general election and seized control of the government. Since then Gen. Sani Abacha, the regime’s leader, has received international notoriety for, among other actions, imprisoning 7,000 people without charge, including the winner of the 1993 election and many journalists; allegedly providing military support and security for Royal Dutch/Shell’s environmentally destructive oil operations in Nigeria; and executing anti-Shell activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in 1995.

An international campaign to impose economic sanctions now threatens Nigeria’s $12 billion annual take from oil exports. Abacha, meanwhile, has countered with a public relations blitz to the tune of nearly $10 million. He’s recruited high-profile American allies to speak against proposed U.S. sanctions, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (“I will give Abacha a chance to do what he wants to do”) and Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (“We have an obligation to see to it that [U.S.] policy…is formulated based on facts and not fiction or prejudice”), both of whom have visited Nigeria. Abacha has also bought the services ($3 million worth in 1995-96 alone) of well-connected U.S. lobbying and PR firms, including heavyweights Symms, Lehn & Associates (headed by former Idaho Sen. Steven Symms) and Ruder Finn (whose clients have included L.L. Bean and the Vatican).


DEMONSTRATION

Lagos youths protest the June 1993
annulment of Nigeria’s general
elections by the military. Gen. Sani
Abacha, the current military leader,
has promised to hold elections in
August of this year.


In April 1997, Nigeria paid an estimated $598,600 for a 16-page advertising supplement in the Wall Street Journal, which featured a self-congratulatory interview with Abacha and lauded the “political, economic, and social stability” of his regime. Designed to appeal to foreign investors, the ad also praised Nigeria’s bank reform and fiscal austerity measures. (Abacha has allegedly siphoned off $1 billion from Nigeria’s oil revenues for his personal profit.)

The PR campaign even has a foothold on the Web. The Nigeria Today Web site is devoted to covering “Nigeria’s positive role in Africa & the World.” The site, maintained for the Nigeria Mission to the United Nations, features the transcript of a 1997 Abacha speech (“We all must imbibe the spirit of give and take, fair play, justice, and respect for the rule of law”), diatribes against U.S. meddling in Nigerian affairs—and upscale real estate listings.

All this is in sharp contrast to these rarely seen portraits of life inside Nigeria’s borders, captured by photojournalist Ray Onwuemegbulem and published for the first time in Mother Jones.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest