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Clinton Meets Nigeria’s Obasanjo

March 30, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton met Tuesday with President-elect Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who said he will build democracy in the West African nation despite ``the views and the thinking of the skeptics″ who say corruption will endure.

Clinton and Obasanjo talked for roughly a half-hour about establishing democratic rule in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and one regarded by the Clinton administration as a potential force for political stability in the rest of the continent.

Afterward, Obasanjo said he assured Clinton that Nigeria will continue to lead a West African peacekeeping force now deployed in Sierra Leone, which is wracked by civil war.

Generally, he said he will work to ensure that Nigeria’s military becomes more professional and performs its constitutional role. ``We will give them what they need to look after their welfare, but we will also keep them under the control of the civil″ authority, Obasanjo said.

Clinton emphasized that democracy is essential if Nigeria hopes to experience increased investment and economic reform, said White House national security spokesman Mike Hammer.

``Obasanjo was very much committed to democracy as the basic way for the future of Nigeria,″ Hammer said.

Obasanjo, a retired general, was Nigeria’s military leader from 1976 until 1979, when he returned power to a civilian government. The military took over again four years later.

Obasanjo had been jailed by Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, who died last June. After Abacha died, his successor, Gen. Abdulasalam Abubakar, steered Nigeria toward civilian rule and Obasanjo was elected in February.

His current U.S. tour is part of an overall tour of several countries before his May 29 inauguration. Besides Clinton, Obasanjo also met Tuesday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Clinton has been invited to Obasanjo’s inauguration but has not yet said whether he will attend.

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