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Snapshot of issues surrounding Clinton's Nigeria visit

ABUJA, Nigeria (Reuters) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton kicks off his second trip to Africa on Saturday with a high-profile visit to Nigeria, which he pointedly avoided in 1998 when dictator Sani Abacha was in power.

  MESSAGE BOARD
U.S. Africa policy
 

Following are the main issues surrounding his two-day trip to the West African oil producer that is Africa's most populous nation.

DEMOCRACY

Clinton says that he wants to highlight and support Nigeria's democratic experiment, which resulted in the 1999 election of civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo after 15 years of military rule. "If democracy takes root in Nigeria it will lift up an entire region," he says. Much of the world treated Nigeria as a pariah under Abacha.

OIL

With world oil prices topping $30 a barrel, Clinton wants the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost output to bring the price down to the low to mid-$20s. "Oil producers should try to work out a medium," says Obasanjo. OPEC member Nigeria has influence within the cartel but its huge development needs raise questions over whether it has the real political will to champion lower prices.

DEBT

Nigeria wants U.S. support for efforts to ease its $28 billion foreign debt. Information Minister Jerry Gana says talks between Clinton and Obasanjo will "focus on such issues as debt relief or cancellation."

MILITARY COOPERATION

Nigeria has played a pivotal role in peacekeeping in Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In April, the United States promised $10 million to bolster Nigeria's armed forces for regional peacekeeping. Nigerian military officials criticize the follow-up as "half-hearted."

TRADE

Nigeria's business community is looking to the visit to promote investment in their country, a potential market of more than 110 million people. "This is the time for them to come in," says Rufus Giwa, president of the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria.

AID

Clinton plans to announce additional support for Nigeria, particularly in the areas of primary education and the fight against infectious diseases. His National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says U.S. assistance programs to Nigeria have risen from $7 million to $108 million over the past two years.

DRUG SMUGGLING

Nigeria has been a traditional hub for drug smuggling, particularly under military dictator Sani Abacha. Washington says that Obasanjo's government is starting to clean up Nigeria's image in this area. "We have been extremely impressed by the progress of Nigeria thus far," says Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice.

AIR LINKS

Nigeria resumed direct air links to the United States on August 15, reopening the lucrative Lagos-New York route after a six-year break. The United States had banned direct links citing security problems at Lagos airport.

VISAS

Nigeria says the level of visa rejections experienced by its citizens wanting to travel to the United States is unreasonable. "Most Nigerians on legitimate missions abroad have been unduly harassed and intimidated at the embassy," Junior Foreign Minister Chief Dubem Onyia told Nigerian newspaper reporters.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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