Viewing cable 02ABUJA1091
Title: NIGERIA -- OBASANJO WARM TO MILITARY

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
02ABUJA10912002-04-08 16:29:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Abuja
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 04 ABUJA 001091 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
E.O. 12958:DECL: 1.6x6 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MASS MARR EFIN NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA -- OBASANJO WARM TO MILITARY 
ASSISTANCE BUT OVERHEATED ABOUT DEBT RELIEF 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER.  REASON 
1.6x6. 
 
 
¶1. (C) Summary: During a late night April 3 meeting 
with Ambassador Jeter, President Obasanjo gave a Janus- 
faced performance. Affable and engaging at the onset, 
he commended POTUS for quickly approving UXO assistance 
to help with the Ikeja cantonment explosion. Obasanjo, 
asserting the military assistance relationship was 
vital, promised to allocate 3.5 million USD to continue 
the MPRI program for another year. Conversely, he waxed 
hot and frustrated over debt relief, even hurtling a 
few expletives at the IMF.  In between the two 
extremes, Obasanjo explained he had tried to insulate 
himself from USG pressure on Zimbabwe because he did 
not want his decision perceived as capitulation to 
Western arm-twisting. Despite recently appointing a 
special mediator on Zimbabwe, Obasanjo was unexpectedly 
dismissive of further personal engagement, stating that 
"Zimbabwe was behind us." Joining President Obasanjo in 
the meeting was Minister of State for Army Batagarawa. 
PolCouns accompanied Ambassador Jeter. End summary. 
 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
THE MILITARY RELATIONSHIP -- KEEPING THE BALL ROLLING 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
 
¶2. (C) Ambassador Jeter began by expressing concern 
about slippage in certain aspects of the military 
assistance relationship due to Nigerian 
unresponsiveness to our questions on some outstanding 
issues.  An animated Obasanjo interrupted the 
Ambassador in mid-sentence, asserting that he was 
getting along fine with President Bush "on most 
fronts," but particularly on the military relationship. 
Obasanjo stressed that being "a simple minded" man, he 
would never forget the favor POTUS extended by quickly 
approving Nigeria's emergency plea for UXO assistance. 
Obasanjo declared he would "sacrifice" to keep the mil- 
mil relationship on even keel. 
 
 
¶3. (C) MPRI: Ambassador interjected that MPRI was an 
important aspect of the relationship yet the GON was 
still noncommittal on whether it wanted to continue the 
program. Ambassador emphasized that MPRI was viewed in 
Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill as a key 
barometer of Nigeria's commitment to military reform. 
If MPRI were allowed to wither, Washington would 
perceive the commitment to reform as weak. This would 
have negative consequences for future military 
assistance levels. Frowning and shaking his head from 
side to side, Obasanjo posited that many in the 
military just did not like MPRI. Initially, he 
attributed their opposition to the "Malu Syndrome," 
referring to the former Chief of Army Staff who 
vociferously opposed key elements of our military 
assistance package, especially Operation Focus Relief. 
However, Obasanjo admitted that opposition within the 
services was more widespread than he previously had 
gauged. 
 
 
¶4. (C) Despite some continued opposition within the 
uniformed military, Minister of State Batagarawa 
thought MPRI was beneficial to streamlining the 
military and constituted an important tool in 
solidifying civilian control over the uniformed forces. 
While strongly endorsing MPRI's continuation, he 
attributed some of the opposition to personality 
clashes between MPRI staff and senior Nigerian officers 
when the program first began. He contended that some 
MPRI personnel were cultural insensitive, 
condescendingly rubbing GON general officers the wrong 
way by not paying appropriate attention to the Nigerian 
officers' seniority in rank and, in effect, appearing 
to order these more senior Nigerian officers around. 
Batagarawa contended that much of the original 
frostiness had thawed and MPRI was steadily gaining 
converts as more officers began to understand the 
program. Obasanjo remarked if MPRI was the bellwether 
of the assistance program, he would order MPRI to 
continue. Batagarawa gently chimed that several months 
ago he had written the President requesting approval to 
extend MPRI but his letter remained unanswered. Looking 
more perplexed than angry, the President dismissed the 
Minister's comments with a wave of his hand. 
 
 
¶5. (C) After several quick round-robin exchanges among 
Obasanjo, Batagarawa and the Ambassador regarding the 
level of funding needed to continue MPRI at its present 
level, Obasanjo stated that he would wrest 3.5 million 
USD from the treasury to extend the program. Ambassador 
Jeter mentioned Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ogohi 
had indicated in a recent letter his intention to use 
the 1.5 million USD in Nigeria's FMF account as its 50 
percent contribution to finance a scaled-down MPRI. 
Obasanjo iterated his promise to fund Nigeria's half of 
the extension of the full scale MPRI program from the 
regular budget, adding that he wanted to save the FMF 
to help repair C-130s. However, the 3.5 million had not 
been budgeted and Obasanjo wondered aloud from which 
budgetary pocket would he take it. 
 
 
¶6. (C) C-130s: Batagarawa echoed that the FMF monies 
should be reserved for C-130 repair. Noting our receipt 
of Batagarawa's letter concerning the C-130s, 
Ambassador Jeter said we were preparing a reply but 
that the letter's apparent insistence on "sole- 
sourcing" the work to Lockheed- Martin may be 
problematic due to our strong regulatory preference for 
open bidding. Batagarawa replied that was not the 
intention of the letter. He did not care who did the 
work.  His only concern was to the planes air-worthy. 
Obasanjo endorsed his subordinate's response, adding 
that having operable planes would be a concrete visible 
benefit of the military relationship that would impress 
the public and silence some critics. Also, it would 
enable Nigeria to provide lift for its own peacekeeping 
troops, an important step toward the goal of self- 
sufficiency in PKO deployments. 
 
 
¶7. (C) Obasanjo then provided a glimpse of his strategy 
for Nigerian peacekeeping readiness. Thanking POTUS 
this time for the five OFR-trained battalions, Obasanjo 
said that he had asked POTUS for assistance in training 
and equipping five additional battalions.  Obasanjo 
stated that his plan was to have a minimum of ten well- 
trained, fully equipped battalions that he would 
dedicate for peacekeeping operations, particularly 
within ECOWAS but with the capacity (furnished by 
operable C-130s) of deploying anywhere on the 
continent. Obasanjo asserted that he would keep these 
battalions intact and would work with us to provide 
follow-on training to prevent these special battalions 
from losing their edge. 
 
 
¶8. (C) Ambassador Jeter mentioned that Washington was 
contemplating the successor to ACRI and would be 
soliciting Abuja's views with the hope that Nigeria 
would participate this time around.  Batagarawa added 
that, in his December visit to Washington, DOD 
officials informed him that the post-ACRI program might 
be modeled closely after OFR.   If so, he believed 
Nigeria participation was almost assured. 
 
 
¶9. (C) EOD: After the Ikeja explosions, it was 
initially agreed that we would provide experts to 
assess other munitions depots to alert the GON to 
possible dangers and avoid a repeat tragedy.  Thus, 
Ambassador expressed surprise that Defense Minister 
Danjuma had forbidden USG experts now in Nigeria from 
conducting the safety assessments.  Obasanjo scoffed at 
Danjuma's reticence, stating that Danjuma and his 
Service Chiefs were afraid that the CIA was trying to 
spy on them.  He laughed, "There was nothing that the 
CIA wanted to know about Nigeria's armories that it did 
not already know." Pointing to Batagarawa, Obasanjo 
asked, although already knowing the answer, whether 
Nigeria had people with the requisite expertise and 
thus could afford the luxury of refusing the USG 
assistance.  After Batagarawa's negative reply, 
Obasanjo instructed the Minister of State to make sure 
the assessments went forward and requested Ambassador 
Jeter to extend the stay of the experts beyond their 
planned April 5 departure. (Note: The experts have 
extended their TDY in Nigeria.) 
 
 
-------- 
ZIMBABWE 
-------- 
 
 
¶10. (C) Turning to Ambassador Jeter, Obasanjo groused 
that Ambassador Jeter had not been coming to the Villa 
for discussions as often as he should.  Jeter responded 
that he had been rejected on several occasions when he 
sought meetings recently. Obasanjo chuckled, then 
admitted the Ambassador's inability to land an 
appointment was his own doing.  The reason was 
Zimbabwe.  Obasanjo claimed he had sequestered himself 
from us; he wanted to make his own decision regarding 
Zimbabwe independent of Western pressure.  Obasanjo 
contended that he wanted to be able to tell the world 
that whatever was his decision was his alone and not 
the result of Western arm-twisting. (Obasanjo also 
indicated that he had not discussed his decision with 
other like-minded leaders, including South Africa's 
Mbeki.) Because he kept his distance from the USG, 
Obasanjo said he was able to talk frankly to President 
Mugabe. 
 
 
¶11. (C) However, implying that his conversation with 
Mugabe had been more sympathetic that stern, Obasanjo 
said that he told Mugabe that the decision of the 
London meeting would be the best possible outcome 
Mugabe could reasonably expect.  Obasanjo continued 
that he did not even confer with President Mbeki prior 
to the London meeting.  Obasanjo stressed that the 
one-year suspension was inevitable given the 
Commonwealth Observer Mission's conclusions about the 
dismal quality of the Zimbabwean elections. 
 
 
¶12.  (C) At the Commonwealth meeting in Australia, the 
Heads of State agreed to adhere to the Observer Teams 
report.  Even though some observers rendered far less 
critical reports, we still stuck to the Commonwealth 
report at the London meeting, Obasanjo stated with 
resignation.  Now that the decision had been made, 
Obasanjo opined, "Zimbabwe was now behind us."  When 
Ambassador Jeter tried to mention the need for 
sustaining diplomatic pressure on Mugabe, Obasanjo 
interjected that Zimbabwe may not be "behind you, but 
was still behind us." (Comment: Clearly, Obasanjo was 
not enamored with having to suspend Zimbabwe from the 
Commonwealth and has tried to empathize with Mugabe. 
In his first public statement in Nigeria on Zimbabwe 
on March 29, Obasanjo expressed understanding for 
Mugabe adding cryptically, but nonetheless 
disturbingly, that he "shared some of the political 
views" of Zimbabwe's ruler. End comment.) 
 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
DEBT RELIEF -- TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
 
¶13. (C) Abruptly changing the course of discussion, 
Obasanjo declared that debt relief had become a sore 
spot for him. "I have gone all around the world for 
three years talking about this, but have not gotten 
one cent in debt relief," he chafed. He recalled 
encouraging discussions with POTUS last May about 10 
percent debt reduction based on a "debt reduction- 
environment" swap.  When Ambassador Jeter reminded him 
the concept was not viable because of oil company 
opposition, Obasanjo responded that the USG should 
simply write off the debt. The amount we owe the U.S. 
was small and amounted to little more than an irritant 
between two friendly nations. "Write it off, and let 
me take on the other countries on their own," he 
advised. Batagarawa commented that his meetings in 
Washington last December gave him the impression that 
the USG was willing to provide debt relief given 
Nigeria's positive role in the post 9/11 world. 
Obasanjo postulated that if the USG could manage to 
work with Pakistan's military government on that 
country's debt, Washington should be able work with a 
democratic Nigeria. 
 
 
¶14. (C) When Ambassador Jeter countered that the road 
to debt relief required continued cooperation with the 
IMF, Obasanjo bristled, "Oh, come on. I have worked 
with them for three years and have gotten nothing." 
Continuing more heatedly, he stated, "When a parent 
wants to encourage a child, he gives a little piece of 
candy for doing something right.  Is the IMF telling 
me I have done nothing right in three years?" 
Springing from his chair, the President murmured "this 
is the sort of thing that annoys me." Pausing after 
taking a few steps toward the door, he declared in 
what seemed to be more a fit of personal agitation 
than a matter of national policy, "To hell with the 
IMF!"  On that note, the meeting ended. 
 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
 
¶15. (C) The meeting was vintage Obasanjo, with his 
demeanor noticeably waxing and waning depending on the 
subject. The discussion was useful in getting him to 
focus on the military assistance relationship and 
keeping that important cooperation on track. With 
Batagarawa working more actively to bring the 
ammunition depot safety assessments to fruition, we 
are quickly seeing tangible benefits from that 
discussion.  Obasanjo's statements regarding Zimbabwe 
suggest that, while Nigeria may still be engaged 
diplomatically, he personally is not considering any 
heavy lifting to move Mugabe toward political 
reconciliation at present. 
 
 
¶16. (C) On debt relief, Obasanjo apparently is feeling 
the need for electoral deliverables.  Critics have 
publicly chastised him for taking 89 overseas trips 
during his tenure thus far.  He would like to silence 
them and win some voters by saying the money for the 
trips was well spent because Nigeria had achieved debt 
relief not provided other debtor nations.  This would 
signal that Western creditors had bestowed on Nigeria 
a special status primarily due to Obasanjo. For him, 
the issue now may have become more political and 
emotional than economic. 
 
 
¶17. (C) During Canadian PM Chretien's visit here last 
week, Obasanjo made debt relief the centerpiece of his 
public statement on Chretien's visit. Obasanjo 
sincerely believes Nigeria is entitled to relief and 
will continue to press for special treatment 
regardless of the paucity of major macro-economic 
reforms his Government has actually implemented. We 
have always contended that debt relief was at the 
center of Obasanjo's foreign policy toward the West; 
that contention is probably more compelling now than 
ever. 
JETER