National Democratic Institute funds Abuja forum
April 1999

Program participants:
Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania and former attorney-general of the United States (right); Carole Hillard, Lieutenant - Governor of the South Dakota (center) and Chris Fomunyoh (left)
By Jim Fisher-Thompson, USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON - Newly elected state governors in Nigeria recently met to discuss issues of importance in the ongoing democratic transition thanks to funding from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to self-governance training worldwide. According to an NDI press release, Nigeria's 36 governors-elect held a three-day forum "to discuss matters of mutual interest, their roles and responsibilities as elected officials, priorities that they may face upon assuming office, and common issues of concern to their constituents."
Several Americans participated in the forum, held in the federal capital of Abuja, including: former governor of Pennsylvania Richard Thornburgh, and Lieutenant-Governor of South Dakota Carole Hillard. NDI's Regional Director for Central, East and West Africa Christopher Fomunyoh helped organize the gathering.

Under the new democratic transition guided by Nigerian Head of State General Abdulsalammi Abubakar, elections for local government took place last December followed by the vote for state governors and assemblies on January 9. After the presidential election on February 27, the military regime has promised to hand over power to President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo May 29.

Nigerian governors discussed three broad subjects relevant to good governance, the NDI press release noted, including: federalism; the role of the state executive and his relationship to the federal government the state assembly and constituents; and the relationship among governors and their role and relationship with the leaders and members of their political parties.

The American participants and other foreign panelists shared their experiences and suggested ways "these important relationships can be developed and maintained."

Former governor of Pennsylvania Dick Thornburgh (left), NDI Deputy Director for the West and East Africa Shari Bryan (center) and Chris Fomunyoh (right)

During the forum, the Nigerian governors formed three working groups to discuss issues of particular importance to their states, including:

  • upgrading public utilities such as water, electricity and roads;
  • improving education, healthcare, housing and transportation services;
  • solving conflicts and promoting peace and security;
  • and promoting economic development in the areas of industry, agriculture and in job creation.

At the conclusion of the forum, the NDI release noted, "the participants requested that NDI organize a follow-up workshop and continue to provide technical assistance to the governors as they work to establish their own structures within the country. The participants urged NDI to extend its capacity building programs and workshops to the three political parties, as well as to the National Assembly and National Executive Council, in order to foster a durable and sustainable democracy in Nigeria."

Governor of Nassarawa State in Nigeria (right), Lieutenant-Governor of the South Dakota (center) and Chris Fomunyoh (left)

Since 1989 the United States has spent about $400 million on promoting democracy in Africa. The bulk of the good governance programs have been administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which now funds programs in 40 African nations.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Vivian Lowery Derryck on April 29 told a House Africa Subcommittee hearing looking into democracy in sub-Saharan Africa that "USAID is bullish [optimistic] about the prospects for long-term democratic development in Africa."

She told the lawmakers that USAID's assistance in Nigeria is occurring in three phases:

  • the pre-election period, in which aid has been devoted mainly to child survival programs and other humanitarian aid;
  • the post-election, pre-inaugural phase, which has focussed on capacity-building programs such as the NDI forum as well as seminars on conflict resolution;
  • the post-inaugural period in which USAID will do an assessment, requested by the Nigerian government, of economic restructuring, civilian/military relations, and HIV/AIDS, which is becoming a huge detriment to democratization.

The results of the assessment, Derryck said, "will then guide our future programming for Nigeria."