US embassy cable - 01ABUJA1006

Nigeria: Obasanjo Foreign Policy

Identifier: 01ABUJA1006
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA1006 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-05-07 10:25:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PINR PINS ECON NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 ABUJA 001006 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
E.O. 12958:  05/06/11 
TAGS: PREL, PINR, PINS, ECON, NI 
SUBJECT:   Nigeria: Obasanjo  Foreign Policy 
 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter.  Reason: 1.5 (b) 
and (d) 
 
 
1. (C)  Summary.  President Olusegun Obasanjo is his own 
Foreign Minister.  To understand how he has redirected 
Nigeria  relations with the rest of the world, we examine 
his personal character and policy agenda.  Obasanjo 
military career, his 
term as interim Head of State in the 
1970s, and his years as a retired elder statesman and 
political prisoner helped shape his character.  Nothing 
in his background prepared him to head the executive 
branch of government in a constitutional democracy, and it 
shows.  Obasanjo does not like to engage in the give-and-take 
of domestic politics and, consequently, he is not very good 
at it.  In the area of foreign affairs, however, he has been 
able to establish and carry out his own policies, largely 
unchallenged by politicians and public opinion.  As the 2003 
Presidential election approaches, criticism of his extensive 
foreign travel and his neglect of domestic concerns will 
likely increase.  Obasanjo could respond to his critics by 
either staunchly defending his record, including his 
special relations with the United States, or by diverting 
public attention with a new, unpredictable foreign policy 
agenda.  End summary. 
 
 
Special Relations 
----------------- 
 
 
2. (C)  The United States and Nigeria have had a "special 
relationship" since the May 29, 1999 inauguration of 
President Olusegun Obasanjo.  The U.S. delegation to the 
inauguration, headed by the then Secretary of Transportation 
and Rev Jesse Jackson, was given pride of place at every 
event.  Within weeks, an eighteen-member interagency team 
visited Nigeria and established working relations with their 
Nigerian counterparts.  In the ensuing months, the 
Secretaries of Energy, State, Treasury, Defense and 
 
SIPDIS 
Agriculture visited Nigeria, as did an eleven-member 
Congressional delegation headed by Minority Leader Richard 
Gephardt.  The Clinton Administration designated Nigeria one 
of four key countries to receive USG assistance in 
consolidating democracy.  Meanwhile, senior Nigerian officials 
made reciprocal visits to the United States.  The two countries 
also formed and held the first session of a Joint Economic 
Partnership Committee (JEPC) and signed agreements that 
permitted OPIC and the ExIm Bank to resume operations in Nigeria. 
In addition, an American consulting team headed by retired 
Gulf War-era army chiefs began working with the Nigerian 
defense establishment on a program aimed at strengthening 
civilian oversight of defense and re-professionalizing 
the armed forces. 
 
 
3. (C)  Visits by President Jacques Chirac, Premier Jean 
Chretien and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori showed that Nigeria 
opening to 
the outside world was multilateral.  President 
Obasanjo traveled extensively, visiting scores of countries 
and setting a pace of foreign travel that in two years would 
equal the foreign travel of all previous Nigerian Heads of 
State combined.  But the visit of President Bill Clinton to 
Abuja in August 2000 highlighted the fact that relations 
with the United States remained special.  The two leaders 
announced numerous bilateral cooperative initiatives, among 
them Operation Focus Relief, which two months later brought 
over 150 Special Forces soldiers to Nigeria to train two 
Nigerian battalions for peace enforcement operations under 
UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone.  In FY2001, USAID programs kicked 
into high gear with an average of sixty consultants arriving 
each month to conduct programs in health, education, good 
governance, and economic reform. 
 
 
Continuity and Change 
--------------------- 
 
 
4. (C)  Looking back over the three-year transformation of 
US-Nigeria relations, one might conclude that it was 
Nigeria  change in government -- from a military 
dictatorship to a democratically-elected civilian 
administration -- that made all the difference.  From the 
U.S. perspective this would be a fair assessment.  For the 
United States, the oppression of Sani Abacha  military 
regime raised a host of legal, moral, ideological and human 
rights barriers to normal bilateral relations.  These 
remained in place during the benign interregnum of LTG 
Abdulsalami Abubakar, and began to be lifted only after the 
election of the Obasanjo government.  So as far as the 
United States is concerned, the advent of a democratic 
civilian government facilitated the dramatic improvement in 
bilateral relations. 
 
 
5. (C)  Not necessarily so for Nigeria.  Historically, 
Nigeria  foreign relations are affected less by its form of 
government than by its national interests -- much of which are 
rooted in its geography -- and by the personality and political 
agenda of its Head of State.  It was, after all, a military regime 
that dismantled the oppressive legacy of Sani Abacha in the 
eleven months following his death in June 1998.  It was 
Abubakar who established and then stuck to an ambitious 
timetable for the holding of elections that brought Olusegun 
Obasanjo to power.  But despite the tectonic changes this 
caused in bilateral relations with the U.S., the 
Commonwealth, and other developed countries, many aspects of 
Nigeria  foreign policy remained unchanged from the Abacha 
regime, through the Abubakar interregnum and into the 
Obasanjo Administration.  Despite these leadership changes 
at home, Nigerian peacekeepers remained engaged in 
West Africa, for example, carrying out an orderly draw-down 
in Liberia and a corresponding build-up of ECOMOG operations 
into Sierra Leone. 
 
 
6. (C)  It is Nigeria  geographical characteristics -- its 
location, size, population, resource base and level of 
development -- that help shape its national interests and, 
in turn, ensure a large measure of continuity in the way it 
relates to its neighbors and to the rest of the world. 
These factors explain why, in the three decades since the 
civil war, despite dramatic changes in political leadership 
and forms of government, Nigeria has consistently maintained 
its standing as the paramount country in West Africa, a key 
player in the OAU, and an important member of the OIC, OPEC 
and the G-77.  In order to maintain Nigeria's leadership 
within these organizations, Nigerian Heads of State must 
accept constraints on their conduct of foreign relations. 
While, for example, Obasanjo might have wished to vote with 
the Community of Democracies in support of the Cuba 
resolution at the 2001 UN Commission on Human Rights in 
Geneva, the pressure to vote with the G-77 was even greater. 
Barring disintegration of the Nigerian federal state, it will 
remain the most populous country in Africa and a major exporter 
of oil.  These realities, in turn, will continue to ensure 
continuity, as well as a certain inflexibility, in Nigeria 
foreign 
relations. 
 
 
7. (C)  While Nigeria  national interests help explain 
aspects of its foreign relations that remain relatively 
constant, changes in political leadership help explain 
several dramatic shifts in foreign policy, like those that 
occurred over the past three years.  To understand the GON 
currently warm 
relations with the United States, therefore, 
we need to consider the personal character and political 
agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo. 
 
 
Obasanjo  Modus Operandi 
------------------------- 
 
 
8. (C)  Olusegun Obasanjo  character and personality were 
shaped by his quarter century-long military career, his 
three-year term as a transitional military Head of State, 
and his two decades as a retired elder statesman, spent 
partly in prison and partly in the company of men like 
Carter and Gorbachev, whom he considers his peers and 
philosophical fellow-travelers.  His leadership on democracy 
and transparency issues, especially through organizations 
such as Transparency International, the Commonwealth Eminent 
Persons Group and the African Leadership Forum made him one 
of the best known proponents of democracy and human rights 
in Africa. 
 
 
9. (C)  None of that experience was helpful in preparing 
Obasanjo for the role he must now play as head of the 
executive branch of government in a constitutional democracy. 
His soldierly belief in the importance of strategic and 
tactical leadership exercised through a chain of command is 
visceral, and it is augmented by his oft-stated belief that 
his Presidency was divinely ordained (Obasanjo cites the fact 
that he was not killed during the Abacha regime as proof). 
When the National Assembly balked at his budget submission 
in February 2000 or when it tinkered with details of his 
Niger Delta Development Bill several months later, to cite 
but two examples, Obasanjo viewed these actions as 
insubordination.  He responded by attempting to cajole and 
even bribe legislators into deposing their leaders, but met 
with only mixed success.  Midway through his term as 
President, Obasanjo has shown that he lacks the political 
skills and the willingness to compromise that are required 
to build a consensus in support of his domestic agenda. 
 
 
10. (C)  By contrast, Obasanjo has embraced his foreign 
affairs portfolio as though it offers him a welcome respite 
from the rough and tumble of domestic politics.  In the area 
of foreign affairs, he can behave as a general.  He has a 
great deal of latitude to shape both the style and substance 
of Nigeria  relations with the rest of the world, within 
the constraints imposed by Nigeria  geography.  While he 
cannot, for example, radically alter Nigeria  Middle East 
policy without offending Nigeria  large Muslim population, 
he ordered the Nigeria delegation to the 2000 session of the 
Commission on Human Rights to abstain on an anti-Israel 
Middle East resolution.  The move signaled that, unlike the 
late Sani Abacha, he would not engage in gratuitous America- 
baiting. 
11. (C)  Public opinion hardly impinges on President 
Obasanjo  ability to conduct Nigeria  foreign relations. 
Early in his Administration, the defense establishment, 
buttressed by little more than a few newspaper editorials, 
cited strong public pressure on the government to bring 
Nigerian troops home from Sierra Leone.  When a resurgent 
RUF took UNAMSIL peacekeepers hostage in May 2000, however, 
these same officials readily agreed to a plan that would 
have dispatched additional battalions to Sierra Leone with a 
peace enforcement mandate.  There was no consultation with, 
and no hint of dissent from, the Nigerian public or from the 
legislative branch of government.  Similarly, Nigerian 
legislators told visiting U.S. Justice Department officials 
in April 2000 that the Nigerian public would not stand for 
the extradition of Nigerian criminal suspects to the United 
States.  But when the Obasanjo Administration circumvented 
the extradition process and rendered four suspects into U.S. 
custody just six months later -- again without consulting 
the people  elected representatives  here was no public 
protest, and only limited dissent in Nigeria's rambunctious 
press. 
12. (C)  Periodically legislators and media commentators 
allege that Obasanjo  extensive foreign travels have earned 
Nigeria nothing, but have diverted the President  attention 
from pressing domestic problems.  Obasanjo has responded 
that foreign travel is necessary to repair the damage done 
to Nigeria  international reputation by the oppressive 
Abacha regime.  He points to Nigeria  readmission to the 
Commonwealth, the conclusion of an IMF standby agreement, 
debt relief offered by some bilateral donors and the Paris 
Club, and USG narcotics certification as examples of the 
benefits of his foreign visits.  For the time being, such 
criticism has subsided.  When Obasanjo asked the National 
Assembly for supplemental funds for the purchase of a new 
presidential jet, citing incidents that raised questions 
about the air-worthiness of his current plane, legislators 
eventually approved the request. 
 
 
13. (C)  President Obasanjo relies on a very small group of 
long-time associates to advise him on foreign affairs.  As 
far as we know, the group does not include senior officials 
of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs or Defense.  Their 
access to the President is generally limited to the weekly 
meetings of the Council of State (Cabinet).  On a daily 
basis, Obasanjo turns to National Security Adviser LTG 
(ret) Aliyu Mohammed Gusau for intelligence and advice on 
both domestic and foreign security threats.  The heads of 
Nigeria  various national security agencies channel their 
concerns through the NSA.  For advice concerning normal 
diplomatic activity -- foreign visits, international 
agreements, the GON position on issues coming to a vote in 
international fora, etc.  basanjo relies on his Foreign 
Affairs Adviser, Ambassador Patrick Dele Cole.  The MFA 
counterparts to our Assistant Secretaries of State report to 
Cole more often than they do the Foreign Minister Sule 
Lamido.  On foreign economic matters, Obasanjo accepts 
advice from either Vice President Atiku Abubakar or Chief 
Economic Adviser Philip Asiodu, at times appearing to play 
one off against the other.  When the President wants to 
think outside the box, we are told he consults with such 
figures as LTG (ret) Joe Garba (who served as Obasanjo 
Foreign Minister 
and UN Perm Rep from 1976-79 and who now 
heads the National Institute for Policy and Strategic 
Studies) or Chief Emeka Anyaoku (the former Commonwealth 
Secretary General who now heads a panel to restructure and 
 
SIPDIS 
reform the Foreign Ministry). 
 
 
14. (C)  During his years as an elder statesman, Obasanjo 
maintained contact with a large number of current and 
former Heads of State whom he considers his friends or 
colleagues.  As the democratically-elected President of 
Africa  most populous country, he interacts with even the 
most powerful Heads of State  as his equals.  Nevertheless, 
he has a keen sense of power relationships, and interacts 
easily with senior USG officials without evincing rank 
consciousness.  If time permits, he prefers to conduct the 
business of foreign affairs face-to-face, but he has been 
known to broker deals on the telephone.  His relaxed, 
informal style of conducting business occasionally leads to 
slip-ups, however.  He does not always inform his advisers 
about all important details discussed in telephone 
conversations or in one-on-one meetings.  We have also 
observed that, after agreeing to a certain course of action, 
he occasionally issues oral instructions on-the-spot to his 
Chief of Staff or to the Secretary to the Government of the 
Federation, but does not always follow-up to ensure action 
is taken. 
 
 
Obasanjo  Agenda 
----------------- 
 
 
15. (C)  President Obasanjo  foreign policy agenda, as 
gleaned from speeches and other public statements, is fairly 
straight-forward:  his top priorities are to obtain debt 
relief for Nigeria and to promote regional stability and 
economic development.  Nigeria has no hegemonic ambitions 
(it has a minor but potentially valuable territorial dispute 
with Cameroon that it has referred to the International 
Court of Justice, and a minor maritime boundary dispute with 
Equatorial Guinea).  It is preoccupied instead with 
maintaining its own national unity.  Among the most 
demographically and ethnically diverse nations in Africa, 
Nigeria experiences frequent outbursts of ethnic violence, 
fueled by religious or local resource disputes.  These 
incidents revive the trauma of Nigeria  devastating civil 
war (1967-70), and keep the leadership alert to regional 
threats to national unity.  Obasanjo views ethnic strife in 
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and to a lesser degree in 
Cote d voire, Guinea Bissau and the Cassamance as a possible 
contagion.  He aggressively promotes conflict mediation and 
peacekeeping in West Africa, not only to maintain Nigeria 
stature as the 
preeminent country in the sub-region, but 
because large Nigerian populations dwell in some of the 
conflict-prone states, and because Nigeria itself is 
vulnerable to such internal conflicts. 
 
 
16. (C)  Unlike Sani Abacha who used coercion, threats and 
bribes to exercise influence within ECOWAS, Obasanjo seeks 
to build consensus in the sub-region drawing on his stature 
as a democratically-elected leader.  He has used this 
approach to support regional integration by, for example, 
acknowledging and dealing with the Anglophone-Francophone 
divide within ECOWAS and by favoring an accelerated timetable 
for monetary union.  Obasanjo also actively worked with other 
ECOWAS Heads of State to ensure unified rejection of the coup 
in Cote d'Ivoire that brought Gen. Robert Guei to power. 
With Liberia, however, his use of inducements, his refusal to 
resort to coercion and his avuncular treatment of Charles 
Taylor have proven ineffective. 
 
 
17. (C)  Both President Obasanjo and National Security 
Adviser Aliyu Mohammed Gusau have expressed deep concern 
about threats to Nigeria  national unity from outside the 
sub-region.  They are wary of possible covert support by 
fundamentalist Islamic countries for the introduction of 
Sharia criminal law in certain states of Northern Nigeria. 
But they consider the spread of Libyan influence to be an 
even greater threat, and view the Niger Republic as a 
front-line state. Obasanjo has exhibited paternal concern 
for Niger  sovereignty and territorial integrity, for 
example by bankrolling Niger  Presidential election last 
year and by depleting Nigeria  own grain stocks to prevent 
famine in Niger.  Obasanjo has cultivated warm relations 
with France and, unlike some of his predecessors, is not 
paranoid about French ulterior motives in its Africa policy. 
 
 
18. (C)  Obasanjo  foreign policy strategy for promoting 
economic development focuses on achieving cancellation of 
most if not all of Nigeria  USD 30 billion external debt, 
promoting diversified (by country and sector) trade and 
investment relations and welcoming foreign aid that bolsters 
GON efforts in the areas of education, health, public 
security and economic restructuring.  These goals, and 
especially the goal of debt cancellation, go a long way 
toward explaining why Nigeria is currently so well disposed 
towards the United States and, to a lesser degree, towards 
Europe and Japan.  The President recognizes that the US 
holds less than three percent of Nigeria's debt, but he 
considers Washington's influence within the Paris Club 
and the IFIs to be pivotal.  His attitude is unlikely to 
change as long as there is even a remote prospect Nigeria 
will obtain some degree of debt cancellation. 
 
 
19. (C)  Obasanjo claims to agree with Nigeria  foreign 
creditors that state ownership, subsidized prices and 
corruption are the major obstacles to Nigeria  economic 
development.  But he appears to be even more aware that 
there are vested interests bent on disrupting privatization, 
price deregulation and anti-corruption campaigns that could 
threaten their rice bowls.  Moreover, a number of these 
state-controlled enterprises were created under his 
leadership during 1976-79, and he may have some sentimental 
attachment to them.  As a result, Obasanjo  progress in 
implementing these kinds of reforms -- reforms that are key 
to achieving debt cancellation by Nigeria's creditors -- 
will continue to be incremental at best.  Obasanjo's appeals 
to foreign businessmen and foreign governments for increased 
investment are, unfortunately, often little more than folksy 
exhortations with little follow-up.  His call for the 
establishment of a US-Nigeria Binational Commission appears 
to be driven more by a desire for parity with South Africa 
than by a sense of economic necessity. 
 
 
20. (C)  President Obasanjo engages energetically on 
continental and global issues with a view towards enhancing 
Nigeria  stature and influence in various international 
organizations.  He has forged what he calls a strategic 
partnership with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.  The 
two presidents have described their countries as the twin 
pillars of security in Sub-Saharan Africa, and they, along 
with Algeria and Senegal, are carrying out a new strategy for 
an African renaissance, known as the Millenium Action Plan. 
Both Nigeria and South Africa view their informal alliance as a 
counter-weight to Muamar Gaddafi  continental ambitions. 
Nigeria needs this partnership with South Africa because alone 
Nigeria does not have the ability to project its power 
continent-wide.  The relationship could come under strain 
if they are ever forced to compete for a single permanent 
African seat on the UN Security Council. 
 
 
21. (C)  Nigeria's (Obasanjo's) efforts at conflict 
resolution on the African continent are wide-ranging, if not 
uniformly effective.  Aside from its predominant role in 
West Africa, Nigeria has sought for itself or has readily 
accepted a central role in Burundi, Sudan, the DROC and 
Zimbabwe.  The GON actively participates in OPEC 
(Presidential Petroleum Adviser Lukman just ended his term 
as Secretary General), promoting sustainable prices and 
production levels for a commodity from which Nigeria derives 
over eighty-five percent of its revenue.  President Obasanjo 
views Nigeria  membership in the Commonwealth, the 
Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the G-77, and 
his personal involvement in the World Economic Forum at 
Davos, as stature-enhancing.  His ultimate goal is to win 
for Nigeria the stature, power and influence that go with 
a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. 
UNSC permanent membership would validate Nigerian  sense of 
self-importance, enhance its influence over regional 
peacekeeping in Africa, and give it much-needed ballast for 
its dealings with creditor countries. 
 
 
The Democracy Dividend 
---------------------- 
 
 
22. (C)  At the outset, we noted that Nigeria  transition 
from a military dictatorship to a democratically-elected 
civilian government had less impact on its foreign relations 
that did its national interests and the personality and 
political agenda of its Head of State.  We also noted that, 
midway through his Presidency, public opinion has had little 
influence on President Obasanjo  foreign policy.  This is 
likely to change as the 2003 presidential election 
approaches.  Obasanjo remains vulnerable to the charge that 
he has spent too much time abroad and has achieved little to 
show for it.  Obasanjo has made debt relief the center-piece 
of his relationship with the United States.  His similarly 
urgent appeals to Paris Club members and the IFIs for debt 
cancellation have not resonated in the absence of far- 
reaching economic reform. 
 
 
23. (C) Other Presidential contenders will cite failure to 
produce results in this key piece of his foreign policy 
strategy as proof of his ineffectiveness.  The unabashedly 
close relationship Obasanjo has forged with the United 
States also can be distorted and used against him.  If 
there is trouble in the Middle East, for example, political 
opponents could easily whip up sentiment among Nigerian 
Muslims.  And though his track record in economic reform 
has been disappointing, Obasanjo will face his toughest 
challenge if he follows through with his stated intention 
to deregulate fuel prices and privatize parastatals with 
national importance.  The National Labor Congress, the 
group that has spearheaded strikes against fuel price hikes 
in the past, may deride the President as a toady of the IMF. 
 
 
24. (C)  Assuming Obasanjo throws his hat into the ring, the 
2003 Presidential election will mark only the second time in 
Nigerian history that a President has stood for re-election 
(President Shehu Shagari was re-elected, then overthrown in 
1983).  If political rivals are able to threaten Obasanjo 
reelection by 
criticizing his foreign affairs record, the 
President may respond as any other political incumbent 
would: by either staunchly defending his record, or by doing 
something dramatic to deflect the criticism.  Foreign 
relations is one of the few areas that affords Obasanjo the 
kind of free rein he needs to do something dramatic.  There 
is a chance, therefore, that Nigeria  foreign relations 
could take an unpredictable turn as Obasanjo  term as 
President draws to a close.  His extensive foreign travels 
may have suggested a number of options; options involving 
other leading members of the G-77, OPEC or the OIC.  Obasanjo 
received red-carpet treatment in Iran and Russia and can 
expect the same when he visits Indonesia and China.  China, 
in particular, has stepped up its overtures to Nigeria in 
recent weeks.  India or Pakistan are also potential suitors. 
A foreign policy that focuses on other aspiring regional powers 
may not enable Nigeria to obtain debt cancellation, but may 
allow it to play an even larger role within the G-77 and become 
a leading exponent of greater South-South collaboration. 
JETER 

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