Viewing cable 02ABUJA2652

02ABUJA26522002-09-12 14:26:00 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 002652 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/11/2012 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter.  Reasons 1.5 (B) 
and (D). 
¶1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  President Olusegun Obasanjo hosted a 
breakfast meeting for Codel Daschle on August 31 at the 
Presidential Villa.  In attendance were key Executive 
Council members and members of the Codel accompanied by 
Ambassador Jeter and Poloff.  Obasanjo began by giving the 
Codel a brief history of the founding of the FCT and the 
genesis of the Villa before inviting Senator Daschle to 
speak.  Daschle outlined several issues which the U.S. 
Senate views as important to bilateral relations, including 
HIV/AIDS, NEPAD, counter-terrorism, bilateral trade, 
Nigeria's economy, and the implementation of criminal 
Shari'a in northern Nigeria.  Obasanjo covered each topic 
individually and in broad strokes, saying the right things 
about each.  The Ministers' participation in the meeting 
was mostly symbolic, and we can only wonder if they are as 
committed to Obasanjo's policies as the President himself 
seemed to be.  END SUMMARY. 
¶2.  (C) President Obasanjo hosted a breakfast meeting for 
Senators Daschle (D-South Dakota), Reid (D-Nevada), 
Nighthorse-Campbell (R-Colorado) and Bingaman (D-New 
Mexico) on August 31 at the Presidential Villa.  The 
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Commerce, 
Integration and Cooperation, Education, Environment, and 
Agriculture as well as the Attorney General were present. 
The Senate delegation was accompanied by Ambassador Jeter, 
Codel staff, and Poloff (notetaker).  Obasanjo gave the 
delegation a brief history of the Federal Capital Territory 
and the origin and construction of the Presidential Villa 
before inviting Daschle to speak.  Senator Daschle outlined 
several issues which the U.S. Senate views as important to 
bilateral relations, including HIV/AIDS, NEPAD, counter- 
terrorism, bilateral assistance and trade, Nigeria's 
economy, and the implementation of Shari'a law in northern 
Nigeria.  Obasanjo responded to each in order. 
¶3.  (U)  Obasanjo began by saying that Nigeria's present 
republic, not yet three and one half years old, is still 
developing.  He pointed out that he had ushered in the last 
civilian government in Nigeria, which lasted only four 
years.  This brief interlude of civilian rule, he went on, 
was followed by 15 years of military rule.  "A forty year 
old Nigerian has never seen a functioning democracy," 
Obasanjo underscored. 
¶4.  (C) Obasanjo said he identified HIV/AIDS as a critical 
issue immediately on assuming office.  "When I came in, the 
subject was taboo," he said.  The President realized that 
public debate and discussion were important and established 
a Cabinet-level commission.  This group held a summit on 
the problem and launched the Strategic Program for 
Combating HIV/AIDS.  As a sign of his commitment, Obasanjo 
reminded Daschle of his presence at the White House when 
President Bush launched the Global Task Force against AIDS. 
According to Obasanjo, statistics indicate partial GON 
success in slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  He commented 
that the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria when he took 
office was about 5.4 percent of the at-risk population. 
"After two years, it was only 5.8 percent."  Obasanjo said 
that his experts had informed him that since the rate was 
rising "arithmetically instead of exponentially," Nigeria's 
efforts to slow the epidemic were having an impact. 
(Comment: While Obasanjo's interpretation is plausible, it 
is not the only one.  A less roseate view held by many 
experts is that Nigeria's actual HIV/AIDS prevalence is 
under-reported. These experts believe Nigeria is slowly but 
steadily approaching the point where the HIV/AIDS 
prevalence rate could increase much more steeply; moreover, 
the rate in many urban centers and some rural areas of the 
country is much higher than the national average.  Unless 
present trends are arrested in these areas, many locations 
may begin to approach prevalence rates similar to those 
seen in Eastern and Southern Africa. End Comment.) 
¶5.  (C)  On NEPAD, Obasanjo explained his role in helping 
to launch the initiative.  Reciting the genesis and history 
of NEPAD so far, Obasanjo said that he (as head of the G- 
77), along with South Africa's Thabo Mbeki (NAM Chairman) 
and Algeria's Bouteflika (OAU Chairman) had coincidentally 
presented similar views of underdevelopment to the G-8 in 
Japan in 2000.  Meeting on the margins of the Japan 
meetings, the three leaders came up with the initial 
design.  Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa, along with 
Senegal and Egypt who became involved in the subsequent 
planning, presented the program at the 2001 Lusaka OAU 
Summit.  At that time, fifteen OAU members became involved 
in developing the initiative and presented it in detail to 
the 2001 G-8 in Italy. 
¶6. (C) According to Obasanjo, the outstanding issue (other 
than funding) on the NEPAD proposal is the peer review 
mechanism.  He said that the African Union should finalize 
the mechanism at its November meeting.  He described the 
peer review mechanism as voluntary rather than compulsory; 
its appeal was that review would be accomplished by other 
AU members rather than outsiders.  While the mechanism is 
voluntary, he said, a state could not be a full member of 
the AU without subscribing to it.  Obasanjo predicted that 
most African countries would adopt the mechanism in 
¶7.  (C) Obasanjo expressed his appreciation for the USG's 
accolades on Nigeria's stand against terrorism; however, he 
said that Nigeria took the stand as a member of the 
international community and in its own self-interest. 
"Allowing terror to expand would put Nigeria at greater 
risk," he stated, pointing to Nigeria's underdevelopment, 
poverty and its ethnic and religious diversity.  "We have a 
conservative, traditional element, but Nigeria will not 
condone terrorism and will not harbor terrorists," Obasanjo 
declared emphatically.  He said that combating terrorism is 
not always popular in Nigeria, as it is viewed as a 
"reaction against Muslims," but he and Nigeria remained 
fully committed. 
¶8. (C) Shifting to the economy, Obasanjo commented that 
when he took office, the "economy equaled oil."  He said 
that his goal was to reform and diversify the Nigerian 
economy.  By the end of the decade, he planned to expand 
Nigeria's oil production capacity within the OPEC 
framework.  "It is in the interests of both producers and 
consumers to maintain a stable supply of oil," he observed. 
According to Obasanjo, the GON wanted to maintain the price 
of crude near the $25/barrel mark and that it is "in 
Nigeria's interest" to remain in OPEC in order to play a 
"moderating role."  He said that increased natural gas 
production was the second major area for economic 
expansion.  Obasanjo claimed that by the end of 2002, three 
of the planned six LNG trains should be operational and 
steps had been taken to ensure the completion of the 
remaining three trains ahead of schedule. 
¶9.  (C) The third element of Obasanjo's economic diversity 
goals is the increased exploitation of solid minerals. 
According to Obasanjo, commercially viable deposits of 
bitumen, gold, tantalite and diamonds exist in Nigeria, and 
as soon as preliminary surveys are completed, Nigeria would 
be interested in outside investment to help develop these 
minerals.  The final element of Obasanjo's diversification 
strategy is agriculture.  He highlighted the vast potential 
for agricultural production throughout the nation and hoped 
the sector could be revitalized.  Obasanjo mused that the 
best results could be achieved by concentrating on one or 
two products, such as cassava (which could be marketed for 
both human and livestock feed as well as individual use.) 
Obasanjo stressed that Nigeria would remain within the WTO 
and would seek to benefit from AGOA I and II provisions. 
¶10. (C) Turning to Shari'a law, Obasanjo embarked on a 
history of Nigeria's legal code.  According to him, Ahmadu 
Bello mandated jurists to produce a "penal code" in 1958 
which substituted imprisonment for stoning and amputation. 
This penal code (with some modifications) was affirmed by 
the 1979 Nigerian Constitution. "So Shari'a has always been 
part of our law," he claimed.  As for the recent passage of 
new Shari'a laws in northern Nigeria, Obasanjo said the 
impetus was "more political than religious."  However, 
attacking it would be viewed as an assault on Islam.  He 
commented that he definitely could not fight it head-on or 
"I will lose."  The Federal Government's strategy, 
according to Obasanjo, was to give Shari'a advocates their 
political space by not confronting them directly while, 
working discreetly behind the scenes, to prevent any 
"dastardly act" of stoning from being perpetrated. 
¶11. (C) Obasanjo pointed to the resolution of the Safia 
Husseini case in Sokoto as a success, but complained that 
the Katsina State Governor (who delegated the case to his 
Attorney General, whom he thought had the case under 
control) had mishandled the Amina Lawal case by not 
pressuring the lower courts to reject the stoning sentence. 
"The majority of Nigeria's states do not support Shari'a 
law," he said, "but the GON is still looking for a way to 
enforce the constitution on the states."  Obasanjo stated 
that it is "only a matter of time" before one of the cases 
makes its way to the Supreme Court where the issue could be 
finally laid to rest.  (Comment:  More than half of the 
Ministers present at the Codel meeting were Muslims; none 
disagreed with his explanation of GON policy.  End 
¶12. (C) Questions from Senators Reid and Campbell prompted 
Obasanjo to address two issues important to Nigeria - debt 
relief and Zimbabwe.  When Reid commended Nigeria on its 
participation in PKOs, Obasanjo said that Nigeria's 
neighbors are always "pulling for us to succeed," if only 
to keep Nigerians at home lest an exodus overwhelm 
Nigeria's smaller neighbors.  Pointing to Nigeria's PKO 
expenditure of $12 billion in the region over the past few 
years, Obasanjo asked rhetorically, "Why is it difficult to 
write off our debt?"  If it were set aside for health, 
education or water supplies, "that would be something," he 
¶13. (C) On Zimbabwe, Obasanjo reminded the Codel that he 
had been the military Head of State when Zimbabwe became 
independent. "At the time, land was an issue."  According 
to Obasanjo, both the British and the American Governments 
agreed to assist with land reforms "on the basis of willing 
buyers and sellers."  "Promises were not kept," he said. 
According to Obasanjo, Mugabe was prohibited from amending 
the Zimbabwean Constitution to provide for land reform 
until 1991. When the prohibitions on amending the 
constitution expired, African leaders advised him to "wait 
for success in South Africa" before making any changes. 
This he did.  During the recent Zimbabwean elections, 
Obasanjo tried to counsel Mugabe, but Mugabe's response was 
that the only important issue remaining for the country was 
land redistribution. 
¶14. (C) "If I resolve it," Mugabe told Obasanjo, "in the 
next two or three years I can go."  Obasanjo said that much 
of the land redistributed previously was "not well 
managed."  He also said that Mugabe indicated that Zimbabwe 
was appreciative of the white farmers and continues to 
require their expertise. (Comment: This last statement 
jars. Thus far, Mugabe's show of appreciation has been to 
show the farmers the door. Obasanjo continues to believe 
his talking to Mugabe will ultimately soften the Zimbabwean 
leader; however, Mugabe has not given any indication that 
his position is moderating. Thus, Obasanjo's recitation of 
Mugabe's statement not only rings hollow, it seems a bit 
disingenuous.  End Comment.) 
¶15. (C) Obasanjo was relaxed, jocular and hospitable 
throughout the more than two-hour breakfast, joking several 
times with his Ministers and staff.  However, by hosting 
this Ministerial roundtable himself, Obasanjo and his 
dominant presence ensured that the Ministers would have 
virtually nothing to add to the substantive discussions. 
The Attorney General was the only Minister to speak during 
the session, and then only to reinforce points previously 
made by the President.  Obasanjo spoke in general, 
strategic terms, and did not ventured into much detail on 
any of the domestic or foreign policy matters discussed. 
This two hour meeting was informative and upbeat, allowing 
the Codel to get some measure of the man at Nigeria's helm 
and what he sees are major issues on his domestic and 
foreign policy agenda.  However, the Codel did not get much 
of an indication whether Obasanjo's Ministers were 
sufficiently able shipmates to their captain to navigate 
through the many domestic and regional challenges that face 
his Administration. 
¶16. (C) In a way, the meeting was reflective of the actual 
way the Presidency functions. Obasanjo is a leader who 
likes to deal in large, broad strokes; however, only a 
handful of his Ministers take the initiative and drive to 
turn his broad directives into action without further 
instructions from the President.  Out of apprehension and 
deference, many senior officials wait to get detailed 
directives from the President before acting. Partially 
because of the fact that so many decisions are postponed 
until they have the President's approval, action and reform 
is very slow and uneven.  This is one of the major problems 
of the Obasanjo Administration, a problem that Obasanjo 
will have to resolve if he gets a third chance to rule this 
very complex and difficult nation. 
¶17. (U) Codel did not have a chance to clear this cable 
before its departure.