US embassy cable - 02ABUJA2415

TRAVEL WARNING EVOKES STRONG POLITICAL REACTION IN NIGERIA

Identifier: 02ABUJA2415
Wikileaks: View 02ABUJA2415 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2002-08-16 16:37:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: CASC PREL OPRC 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 02 ABUJA 002415 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR AF, AF/W, AF/RA AND CA 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/15/2012 
TAGS: CASC, PREL, OPRC, NI 
SUBJECT: TRAVEL WARNING EVOKES STRONG POLITICAL REACTION IN 
NIGERIA 
 
REF: BROWNE-EPSTEIN E-MAILS 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER.  REASONS 1.5 (B & 
D). 
 
 
1.  (C)  The August 8 State Department Travel Warning has 
evoked highly negative reactions in Nigeria.  Many in the 
Nigerian Government (GON) are interpreting the travel 
warning as a sign of deep U.S. disappointment and 
dissatisfaction with the Obasanjo Administration and a 
deliberate and even hostile act.  The administration's 
opponents are pointing to the Travel Warning as a sign that 
President Obasanjo is no longer in good favor with the 
United States.  Reports on the Travel Warning were carried 
in ten newspapers over the August 10-11 week-end, and was 
the lead story on radio and TV; commentary and editorials 
have continued throughout the week. 
 
 
2.  (C)  Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido and ruling 
PDP Party Chairman Audu Ogbeh spoke publicly with passion 
about the Travel Warning, and expressed their 
disappointment with the United States, a country, they 
said, Nigeria has considered a close friend and ally.  A 
Special Assistant in the Office approached the Ambassador 
on August 14, asking "why does America hate Nigeria so 
much," and pointed out the damaging effect that the Travel 
Warning would have on Nigeria's fledgling efforts to 
attract foreign investment.  (Comment: the August 14 "New 
Nigerian" newspaper claimed that the Australian Government 
recalled two trade missions that were already in Nigeria, 
claiming that the country was not safe.  End comment.)  The 
sponsors of an upcoming arts festival called the Ambassador 
to request a letter to the invited American participants to 
assure them that it was still possible to visit Nigeria for 
the event, and that their lives would not be in danger. 
(COMMENT:  Prince Pat Abii, National Coordinator for the 
Obasanjo/Atiku Peoples Democratic Project, one of the 
informal groups established to promote Obasanjo's 
reelection, confided to PolCouns that FM Lamido had 
privately told her that the Travel Warning was factual and 
that he had no personal qualms with it. However, given the 
political storm it has caused, Lamido felt compelled to 
make a public comment in an attempt to pre-empt critics of 
the administration.  END COMMENT.) 
 
 
3.  (C)  Timing more than content of the Travel Warning was 
what seemed to rankle GON officials most.  The Travel 
Warning followed a string of bad press on Nigeria in recent 
weeks, including a stinging CNN report on 4-1-9, a "Money 
magazine" article on financial fraud, and internet-posted 
comments from a recent Center for Strategic and 
International Studies (CSIS) meeting on Nigeria that 
painted a gloomy picture of Nigeria's upcoming 2003 
elections and prejudged their credibility.  The August 13 
release of Nigeria's Human Rights Report, which 
characterized the GON's human rights record as "poor," 
contributed to this already defensive environment. 
 
 
4.  (C)  Political opponents of Obasanjo have applauded and 
welcomed the Travel Warning, saying that it confirms how 
discredited the Obasanjo Administrations really is.  This 
comes at a time when the National Assembly, angry at the 
President for holding the line on government spending, has 
called on Obasanjo to resign and passed a motion for his 
impeachment (septel).  Senate President Anyim, once an 
Obasanjo ally, cited the warning as a reason for the 
National Assembly to hold a session to debate the 
administration's performance on internal security.  The 
President's Special Assistant also claimed that the Warning 
has also played into the hands of some of Nigeria's most 
corrupt legislators who will use it to leverage concessions 
from the President not to oppose their bids for re- 
election. 
 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
 
5.  (C)  Drawing on the Department's press guidance, the 
Embassy has issued a press statement explaining the purpose 
of the Travel Warning and debunking charges that the 
warning was an effort to harm Nigeria.  The statement was 
welcomed by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of 
Foreign Affairs who has requested that we post it on the 
Internet.  The Ambassador also plans to hold an interview 
with three of Nigeria's leading dailies on Monday, August 
19, in an effort to clear the air. 
 
 
6.  (C)  GON anger over the August 8 Travel Warning 
eventually will pass, although it has generated suspicions, 
within the administration and among its critics, that the 
U.S. is distancing itself from the embattled Obasanjo 
government.  The uproar over the Travel Warning 
demonstrates and highlights the enormous sensitivities 
inherent in Nigeria's current political environment.  In 
the local context, our Travel Warning became a political 
statement, not an advisory to American citizens.  The 
sensitivity will only increase as elections draw nearer. 
 
 
7.  (C)  The Embassy first learned about the release of the 
Travel Warning from the August 10-11 reports in the 
Nigerian press.  While most of the content of the Warning 
is not in dispute, the Embassy could have lessened the 
negative impact of its release through advance consultation 
and an opportunity to brief senior GON officials ahead of 
its release.  Moreover, the timing of the Warning's release 
could no have been worse, given the domestic political 
situation in Nigeria.  As it stands, the unanticipated 
release of this Warning supports the growing belief in the 
Obasanjo government that the USG is complicit in an effort 
to undermine the GON's credibility on the approach to the 
2003 elections. 
JETER 

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