US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2117

NIGERIA: BREAKFAST WITH PRESIDENT OBASANJO

Identifier: 01ABUJA2117
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2117 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-08-28 12:47:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PREL SNAR ETRD BEXP MASS ECOWAS WCAR XF 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.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 002117 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 1.6X5, 1.6X6, 1.6X8 
TAGS: PREL, SNAR, ETRD, BEXP, MASS, ECOWAS, WCAR, XF, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: BREAKFAST WITH PRESIDENT OBASANJO 
 
REF: A. STATE 122773 
     B. ABUJA 1547 
     C. ABUJA 2074 
     D. ABUJA 2072 
     E. STATE 143583 
     F. STATE 146201 
 
 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter; Reasons 1.6X5, 
1.6X6, 1.6X8. 
 
 
======= 
SUMMARY 
======= 
 
 
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Ambassador Jeter and President Obasanjo 
discussed a smorgasbord of issues over a lengthy breakfast on 
August 24.  The President said he would do everything 
possible to meet the counter-narcotics benchmarks, but he 
admitted that the Nigerian judiciary was broken and offered 
to render additional suspects to the U.S. if it would mean 
Nigeria's certification.  He confirmed that 250 million Naira 
had been set aside for the NDLEA in the supplemental budget. 
During the breakfast, Obasanjo called the Acting Minister of 
Defense and demanded results on security assistance.  He 
agreed to the UNAMSIL troop rotation schedule requested by 
the U.S.  Obasanjo offered cautious assent to training for 
the four Guinean companies, but warned against actions that 
would threaten Qadhafi in the sub-region.  The President said 
that Nigeria would remain neutral on the replacement of the 
ECOWAS Executive Secretary, but strongly implied support for 
the Ghanaian candidate.  Finally, Obasanjo commented on his 
plans for the WCAR, and gave his personal and private 
insights into the Middle East conflict.  END SUMMARY. 
 
 
2. (SBU) Ambassador Jeter was accompanied to the meeting by 
his Staff Assistant (notetaker).  Ahmed Jodu, the Chairman of 
the Nigerian Communications Commission and Adobe Obe, the 
President's Special Assistant (and an influential advisor) 
also attended the working breakfast.  In the last few 
minutes, Magnus Kpakol, the new Chief Economic Advisor to the 
President (and a twenty-year Dallas resident) joined the 
early morning gathering. 
 
 
===================================== 
COUNTER-NARCOTICS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT 
===================================== 
 
 
3. (C) Ambassador Jeter emphasized that there existed a 
perception that Nigeria was off-track on meeting 
counter-narcotics benchmarks (Ref C), and passed the 
President the non-paper relayed in Ref A.  The Ambassador 
explained that the certification process was an annual event, 
and that Nigeria would have to do more.  Drugs had been 
discovered on the South Africa Airways/Nigerian Airways 
flight to New York, the NDLEA-DEA joint taskforce was 
moribund, and while the President had agreed to double the 
NDLEA budget, the Embassy had seen no evidence that NDLEA had 
received additional resources.  Moreover, Nigeria had not 
even bothered to answer the FATF survey.  Finally, no 
progress had been made towards extradition of wanted 
fugitives. Ambassador Jeter emphasized that we all knew who 
these people were, and that they were making huge amounts of 
money, damaging Nigeria's image and harming Americans. 
 
 
4. (C) In response, President Obasanjo said, "I gave more 
money to NDLEA," and picked up his phone and called his 
Principal Secretary, Stephen Oronsaye.  Confirming that 250 
million Naira had been put in the supplemental budget, the 
President turned to the Ambassador and said he would speak to 
the Minister of Finance to make sure the money was released 
to NDLEA quickly.  Turning to the SAA/NA flight, the 
President thanked the Ambassador for forwarding details on 
one of the drug traffickers captured at JFK.  He stated that, 
armed with that information, he had demanded a full 
accounting of those on duty at that time at MMIA (the Lagos 
international airport). 
 
 
5. (S/NF) Turning to the subject of extradition, Obasanjo 
said, "Howard, we will do everything we can that you ask on 
counter-narcotics, but I have to be honest with you."  The 
President then went on to explain that he did not think the 
extradition process could be fixed.  Recognizing the realties 
of a moribund judicial system, unresponsive and rife with 
corruption, Obasanjo referred to the renditions ("what we did 
last year") and offered, "If we need to do that again to be 
certified, we will do it."  Extending his hands in the air to 
thank the Almighty, he remarked, "We got off lightly last 
time."  Ambassador Jeter thanked the President for his 
willingness to cooperate, and said he would pass the offer of 
renditions to Washington, but emphasized that the U.S. wanted 
to see Nigeria extradite fugitives through a judicial process 
with respect for the rule of law and the civil rights of the 
individuals concerned.  We were worried about human rights. 
 
 
6. (S/NF) The President said he would speak to the Minister 
of State for Justice, a "good man," to see if he could 
recharge the effort for a working extradition process.  He 
also noted that Mohammed Belgore, Chief Judge of the Federal 
High Court, and, "one of the most corrupt people in Nigeria," 
had retired.  Justice Jinadu would cover the post for several 
weeks, and then would retire and be replaced by a new Chief 
Judge, who might be more willing to establish an extradition 
court.  (NOTE:  The President did not say who the new Chief 
Judge would be, but said he expected a woman to be selected. 
END NOTE.)  However, the United States would have to 
recognize the realities he faced on this issue, the President 
emphasized, reminding the Ambassador that he was subject to a 
constitutional separation of powers and could not inject 
himself into the running of the courts. 
 
 
7. (C) The Ambassador asked the President how he planned to 
recruit 40,000 police a year and make sure they had the 
training needed to be effective.  This was a concern for us 
because we recognized that Nigeria had neither the trainers 
nor facilities to adequately prepare such large numbers for 
effective policing.  The President reminded the Ambassador 
that he had recently turned over some empty military barracks 
to the police. However, he urged Nigeria needed U.S. help, 
and asked the Ambassador about police training.  "We need 
train-the-trainer and training aids for our institutions, and 
thought you were going to help us with this," he said. 
Ambassador Jeter stated he hoped to have an answer soon on 
the police reform program and what U.S. assistance might be 
forthcoming. 
 
 
================ 
MILITARY MATTERS 
================ 
 
 
8. (C) Security Assistance: Ambassador Jeter provided the 
President an update on the work of the Embassy with the 
Acting Minister of Defense (Army Minister Lawal Batagarawa) 
on the Embassy's security assistance program.  There had been 
real problems with the Ministry of Defense's Legal Director 
demanding changes to the text of LOA's that we could not 
legally change, and some communications issues, the sum of 
which had stalled progress on completing the assistance. 
Batagarawa had helped make significant progress, the 
Ambassador said.  The President, assuming this was a veiled 
criticism of Minister of Defense Danjuma, explained that the 
one great tragedy of his Presidency had been the illness of 
Danjuma.  Danjuma, the President said, when he was not sick, 
was "the best," and "top notch." 
 
 
9. (C) Ambassador Jeter clarified, explaining that he had not 
meant to say anything negative about Danjuma, only that, 
during Minister Danjuma's absence, Batagarawa had been 
working with the Embassy on this issue and had been very, 
very helpful.  The President, smiling, immediately picked up 
the phone and called Batagarawa, we thought to compliment 
him.  Instead, however, he demanded an update and to know why 
there was a problem.  "Ah! What are you doing?  They are 
giving us this equipment!  Who is the problem?  Tell her I 
said to sign the papers!"  (COMMENT:  Later that day, 
Ambassador Jeter called Batagarawa to explain that he had 
complimented him to the President, and had not tried to go 
above his head.  Batagarawa thanked the Ambassador, and said 
that even if the Ambassador had gone to the President, it 
would have been okay, because now he had the word of the 
President as ammunition to fix the security assistance 
problem in the Ministry.  END COMMENT.) 
 
 
10. (C) OFR ROTATIONS:  The Ambassador asked the President if 
he would be willing to adjust the schedules of the Nigerian 
battalions in Sierra Leone due to rotate out in September, 
retaining one battalion until January (Ref E).  The President 
replied that he would have them both remain until January if 
that was what the U.S. wanted.  Ambassador Jeter explained 
that if one rotated out in September and one in January, the 
latter battalion could rotate out with two others due to 
rotate in January, and all three could be replaced by the 
three OFR phase III battalions.  That way, the three OFR 
battalions could use their new skills and equipment 
immediately without risk of those skills diminishing.  The 
President willingly agreed, and said he would so inform the 
Chief of Army Staff. 
 
 
11. (C) TRAINING OF GUINEAN ARMY COMPANIES: Ambassador Jeter 
told the President of the plans to train four Guinean Army 
companies (Ref F).  The President immediately reacted 
strongly, urging the U.S. to "be careful."  He described 
President Conte as "just as stubborn" as President Taylor. 
Too much power in Conte's hands could cause Qadhafi to 
perceive a threat to his client states in the sub-region. 
The President remarked that Qadhafi had "one-thousand 
aircraft and one-thousand tanks at his disposal."  If he 
attacked Nigeria, Obasanjo blustered, "I would stop his tanks 
and bring down his aircraft with anti-aircraft guns." 
However, if Qadhafi attacked Guinea or another state in the 
sub-region, Nigeria would not come to their defense. 
Moreover, Obasanjo believed, too much power in Conte's hands 
was a risk to Liberia, and a vacuum in Liberia would invite 
Qadhafi's meddling.  Ambassador Jeter explained that training 
the four companies was modest, would include intensive human 
rights training, require guarantees that the training could 
only be used for self-defense, and a commitment the companies 
could only cross borders in hot-pursuit.  We were helping 
Guinea because we wanted the country to be able to defend 
itself.  Obasanjo said that was fine, but reiterated his 
warning to "be careful."  (NOTE: Later, Ambassador Jeter 
informed the Acting Minister of Defense about the training. 
Batagarawa said that the effort was useful, and thanked the 
U.S. for its help.  END NOTE). 
 
 
======================== 
WCAR AND THE MIDDLE EAST 
======================== 
 
 
12. (C) Ambassador Jeter thanked the President for his 
efforts to make the WCAR forward-looking, particularly in 
regards to reparations and slavery.  Obasanjo said he would 
attend the conference, and would speak publicly on those 
issues, but would not take a position on the Middle East 
conflict.  The conflict was "too complicated," the President 
opined.  He then asked if Secretary of State Powell would 
attend the WCAR.  Ambassador Jeter informed the President 
that a decision whether the U.S. would attend, and who would 
lead the delegation, had not yet been made.  Obasanjo began 
to say he would like to ask Secretary Powell to be there; 
however, he then said he would not ask, because the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how it would be handled in 
the WCAR, remained unresolved.  He recognized that this was a 
serious problem for the U.S. 
 
 
13. (C) President Obasanjo then shared some of his views on 
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Asserting that he would 
not say this publicly, the President believed that Arafat had 
made "a huge mistake" by refusing to reach agreement at Camp 
David.  He never expected the Israelis to offer as much as 
they did, and all that stood between that offer and Arafat's 
demands were certain "small details" relating to Jerusalem. 
Arafat should have accepted the deal, Obasanjo declared, 
while insisting that discussions continue on unresolved 
matters.  He then compared Arafat's "mistake" to that of 
Saddam Hussein in opposing the U.S. in the Gulf.  The 
President remarked that, had he been in Hussein's shoes on 
January 14, 1991, he would have used the eight-hour time 
difference between Baghdad and Washington to hold a victory 
rally.  Once having claimed victory over the U.S., he would 
have withdrawn his forces, still within the eight-hour window. 
 
 
=============== 
U.S. INVESTMENT 
=============== 
 
 
14. (C) The President asked the Ambassador why so few 
American companies were investing in Nigeria.  The Ambassador 
explained that many American companies saw too much risk, and 
did not see enough transparency.  The Ambassador referred to 
the National Identity Card tendering process, where Polaroid 
felt that they, as a part of the Chams, had been unfairly 
passed over for SAGEM, the French consortium.  Obasanjo 
remarked that both he and Ambassador Jeter had been at the 
meeting with all of the bidders, and emphasized that no one 
company from the Chams consortium had answered his question 
of who would ultimately be responsible for the entire 
project.  The President further commented that American 
companies did not need to partner with a Nigerian company in 
order to win public contracts.  That may have been true under 
previous Administrations, he stated, but was not now true. 
Ambassador Jeter urged the President to share these views 
with the Watts CODEL the following week, to which the 
President agreed. 
 
 
======================================= 
THE RACE FOR ECOWAS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY 
======================================= 
 
 
15. (C) Ambassador Jeter asked who Nigeria favored to replace 
Lansana Kouyate as ECOWAS Executive Secretary, emphasizing 
the need for strong leadership of the regional Secretariat. 
We wanted to help ECOWAS in a way we had not before, and 
strong ECOWAS leadership would determine what we would be 
able to do.  Obasanjo noted that there were three candidates 
in the race.  He suggested quiet, behind-the-scenes support 
for Ghana's Chambas, but promised public silence until 
consensus emerged.  (COMMENT: After the meeting, Ambassador 
Jeter discussed this point further with Adobe Obe.  Adobe 
indicated that Nigeria wanted to be careful not to appear as 
pre-determining the process by throwing it weight behind one 
candidate.  Adobe calculated that besides Benin and the 
Gambia -- with their own candidates -- only Senegal and Cote 
d'Ivoire were likely to pull against Chambas as a consensus 
candidate.  Adobe opined that some Francophone countries were 
focusing on UEMOA at the expense of ECOWAS, and Nigeria was 
loathe to give them ammunition by pushing hard for Chambas. 
He also observed that France could help keep the Francophone 
countries engaged with ECOWAS.  END COMMENT.) 
 
 
======= 
COMMENT 
======= 
 
 
16. (C) During the nearly two-hour encounter, Obasanjo was 
relaxed, happy, engaged, even bubbly.  Obasanjo's comments on 
the role of Libya in the sub-region and the situation in the 
Middle East were revealing. 
 
 
17. (C) Peppering the meal were phone calls out to Ministers 
and government officials to confirm certain facts, and phone 
calls in from Governors.  The Governor of Ebonyi called about 
a fatal security incident involving the Mobile Police; the 
Governor of Plateau called to talk about a road desired by 
Deputy Senate President Mantu.  In each case, the President 
urged the Governors to use their own authority and resources 
before asking for Presidential intervention.  Obasanjo seems 
to be completely willing to defer Presidential decisions on 
issues involving the states, and to push the governors to 
exercise their own authority. 
 
 
18. (C) On the Federal level, however, President Obasanjo has 
a tight grip on decision-making, and seems to delegate very 
little authority to his Ministers.  As a result, we rarely 
see a Minister make a decision without first consulting the 
President.  Unfortunately, this system places a huge burden 
on the President himself, while engendering gridlock in the 
bureaucratic process.  The Embassy's access to the President, 
on critical matters is therefore extremely important, and 
casual encounters often seem to be the most productive. 
However, this access cannot be abused, and we are careful not 
to turn every social event into a business meeting. 
 
 
19. (C) On counter-narcotics, we will now wait and see what 
impact this and other recent high-level approaches have on 
the GON's efforts in this area.  However, we are now sure 
that some additional NDLEA resources will be forthcoming, and 
are hopeful this will have an impact on the NDLEA's ability 
to move closer to its ambitious vision. 
 
 
20. (U) Freetown minimize considered. 
Jeter 

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