US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2398


Identifier: 01ABUJA2398
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2398 at
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-09-21 07:11:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
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.

E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: (A) ABUJA (B) ABUJA 2290 (C) ABUJA 2331 
1.  Summary: Post has investigated the story reported by a 
BBC stringer in Gusau, capital of Zamfara State, that there 
were celebrations there following the September 11 attack on 
the U.S.  All sources indicate that this story was 
exaggerated.  Reports of unrest in Kano on Friday, September 
14, also appear to have been fabricated, according to reports 
from private and official sources there.  This is a stressful 
time in Nigeria, independent of events in the U.S.  At times 
like this, Nigerian "news" reports can unfortunately be 
intended more than ever to sell newspapers--through marketing 
ethnic and religious prejudice--than to report objective 
facts.  Unfortunately, irresponsible journalism can have 
severe repercussions, in Nigeria and elsewhere.  End Summary. 
2.  Poloff contacted the (Christian) Commissioner of Police 
in Gusau, Aaron Ibiloye, on September 12, and he reported 
that there had been no demonstrations whatsoever in Gusau on 
the 11th, adding that most people in Gusau had been preparing 
for the arrival of President Obasanjo on the 13th.  Political 
Specialist contacted two long-term stringers in Zamfara, Sani 
Abdullahi Tsafe (VOA) and Umaru Waziri (Reuters), to verify 
the "jubilation" story.  They were both angry about the BBC 
story, and reported that their BBC colleague could not 
provide a source, or even a location for his story.  They 
added that the BBC stringer, Ibrahim Dosara, was a recent 
hire who, in reporting this story without adequate 
investigation, failed to maintain proper standards of 
journalistic professionalism.  No private citizen contacted 
by Post could confirm the report.  Unfortunately, the damage 
has been done, and Zamfara state has now been registered in 
the U.S. consciousness--and that of the rest of the world-- 
as one of a very few places where the attacks of September 11 
were publicly celebrated. 
3.  Officials in Government House, Gusau, issued a press 
release from Governor Ahmed Sani condemning the terrorist 
attacks and denying any demonstrations in support of the 
violence on September 11.  They indicated that the Governor 
would have responded earlier but for President Obasanjo's 
all-consuming, first visit to Zamfara on September 13-14. 
Alhaji Mohammed Bello Umar, Permanent Secretary for Zamfara 
State Government, called on Charge on September 19 to deliver 
a letter and a personal message of condolence from Governor 
Ahmed Sani.  Umar mentioned that the Governor was very upset 
about the reports in the press.  He added that the BBC 
stringer, Dosara, had disavowed sending in a story, saying 
that he responded to a telephone call by BBC, which he 
claimed then distorted what he said.  (Comment:  While some 
radical Muslims in the North certainly may have been pleased 
by the attacks, that is a long way from a public 
demonstration, which is what BBC reported and some other 
media picked up.  Because of Zamfara's notoriety as the first 
state to adopt criminal Shari'a, many Nigerians believe the 
reports and dismiss the Government's denials.  End Comment.) 
4.  Embassy contacts in Kano have denied that there was 
unrest there on Friday, September 14.  There were rumors of 
violence, and more rumors of Muslims "jubilating" in Kano 
over the September 11 attack on the U.S.  These rumors were 
widely reported in the Lagos media, and almost universally 
received as the truth in Southern Nigeria where the media and 
population are predisposed to believing the worst about 
Northerners,  especially Hausa who happen to be Muslim.   The 
only confirmed violent incident in Kano was the burning of a 
residence being used as a church in Shagari Quarters on 
September 10.  According to the Commissioner of Police, this 
resulted from a long-term conflict between neighbors turning 
violent--and does not appear to have been a response either 
to events in the U.S. or violence in Jos (REF B).  Governor 
Kwankwaso himself castigated journalists assembled in Kano to 
accompany Minister of Information Jerry Gana.  He reportedly 
asked them, "Did you see smoke coming from the city?  Did you 
see violence?  Then why did you write this?"  He exhorted 
them to practice responsible journalism, rather than 
ratcheting up ethnic tensions with falsehoods calculated to 
sell newspapers.  Investigations by ConGen Lagos into reports 
of violence in Aba, Abia State, proved that they were equally 
fictitious.  (Note: Reprisal attacks in Aba following the 
February 2000 riots in Kaduna reportedly resulted in over 500 
Hausa deaths there.  End Note) 
5.  Rumors that reprisal violence would erupt in Abuja over 
the September 15-16 weekend had Nigerian and AmCit residents 
of the Federal Capital Territory on edge.  Approximately 25 
missionaries who temporarily relocated from Plateau State to 
Abuja in the wake of the Jos killings were particularly 
concerned.  GON security was much tighter than usual in 
Karmo, a sprawling unlicensed slum suburb of perhaps 250,000 
souls, after rumors circulated that churches there would be 
attacked.  Many Karmo residents are refugees from the Kaduna 
ethno-religious conflicts of February and May 2000, so there 
is ample dry tinder there. 
6.  The Sultan of Sokoto, sitting in Kaduna as chairman of 
the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the leading Islamic 
religious organization in Nigeria, issued a strong statement 
condemning the terrorist attack against the U.S.  This 
follows his statement, issued days after the attack, from 
Sokoto as the foremost Muslim traditional ruler in Nigeria in 
which he also condemned the attack.  Reports on unrest in 
Kaduna over the weekend also appear to be without foundation. 
7.  Comment:  Disregarding what has happened in the U.S., 
this has been a very difficult few weeks for Nigeria.  Ganiyu 
Adams, the leader of the OPC's militant wing was arrested, 
sparking large protests by the OPC in Lagos.  This raised 
tensions among Lagos' Hausa, who fear a repeat of last 
October's attacks in Ajegunle, in which over one hundred 
Hausa are reported to have died.  Inter-ethnic violence in 
Jos on September 7-9 apparently has claimed more lives than 
last year's outbreaks in Kaduna, and Hausa refugees have left 
Jos and other parts of Plateau State in the thousands. 
Tensions are high, and rumors of planned reprisals by Muslims 
are a constant drumbeat--even in cities as far away as Abuja, 
Aba, and Lagos. 
8.  Comment Continued: In this context, irresponsible 
journalism--printing inciting rumors as facts--is akin to 
yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.  The press in Nigeria 
has certainly undergone a renaissance since the return of 
democracy, with an astonishing number of dailies and weekly 
publications vying for readership.  No-one would accuse it of 
being overly concerned with the truth, especially when a 
story can serve to reinforce established prejudices.  While 
some media sources here are more reliable than others, 
publishers, reporters and those they interview view events 
through the prism of collectively held ethnic, regional and 
religious biases.  This tendency is only exacerbated during 
times of crisis--when half-truths and falsehoods are most 
incendiary.   This lack of professionalism has resulted in 
many stories that purvey the accepted myths of a particular 
group--in this case, the Southern myth that the Muslim 
Northerners are happy about what has happened in the U.S. 
While some Muslim extremists in Nigeria may be pleased by 
events, there simply is no evidence available to us of public 
celebrations or demonstrations.    End Comment. 

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