Viewing cable 03ABUJA1327

03ABUJA13272003-08-01 17:14:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Abuja
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 02 ABUJA 001327 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2013 
Classified By Charge Dawn Liberi. Reasons 1.5 (b) and 
¶1. (S) President Obasanjo's policy of active 
diplomatic engagement on and military troop deployment 
to Liberia has the support of the many Nigerians who 
believe that their country's status as the sub- 
regional power requires an activist foreign policy. 
However, most Nigerians probably either oppose or are 
negatively indifferent to Obasanjo's Liberia policy. 
The asylum offer to President Taylor has attracted the 
brunt of this expostulation but significant media 
criticism also has been directed at the imminent troop 
deployment.  Recalling the prolonged and often trying 
ECOMOG experiment in Liberia, politicians on both 
sides of the aisle have questioned the wisdom of 
returning Nigeria troops so soon to Liberia.  Credible 
sources indicate that elements in the senior ranks of 
the military strongly oppose deployment to Liberia. 
Despite this opposition, President Obasanjo will be 
able to carry out his policy, but not without some 
political opposition and some temporizing by his 
military brass.  End Summary. 
¶2. (C) Obasanjo's readiness to play the leading role 
in Liberia is based on his personal belief that West 
Africa is Nigeria's backyard; that Nigeria has the 
right and responsibility to deal with any troubled 
turf within the confines of this sub-regional fence. 
Many influential opinion-makers inside and outside of 
government share this view and have publicly supported 
¶3. (C) While there is an inchoate national consensus 
that Nigeria generally should take a leading role in 
sub-regional and continental affairs, the country is 
much more politically divided over the President's 
actual Liberia policy.  This is the most dominant and 
controversial foreign policy issue so far this year 
and opposition to Obasanjo's initiatives has been 
¶4. (C)  Some pundits complain that Nigeria has too 
many internal problems to exert itself in Liberia at 
this time.  They see the Liberian exercise as a costly 
expenditure of resources better used addressing 
challenges much more local.  After having undergone a 
painful and costly eight-year deployment in Liberia, 
many people are afraid that this deployment would 
similarly mire Nigeria.  More sophisticated observers 
are apprehensive that a protracted stay or failure in 
Liberia will dull foreign policy activism and 
encourage a more passive isolationist sentiment. 
¶5. (C)  Most Nigerians oppose the Taylor exile offer; 
some are viscerally against it.  The reasons are 
several.  After hosting Roosevelt and Prince Johnson, 
Nigeria has taken in their share of Liberian 
misanthropes; there is no stomach now to host the 
worst of the lot.  During his heyday as warlord and 
President, Taylor specialized in public broadcasts 
that degenerated into either anti-American or anti- 
Nigerian diatribes.  Taylor's forces were also known 
to have brutally killed several Nigerians, including 
two journalists, simply because of their nationality. 
Thus, Nigerian journalists who remember these acts 
have turned their pens and typewriters against asylum 
for Taylor, arguing that Nigeria should be the last 
country to give Taylor safe haven given his Nigeria- 
bashing antecedents.  Last, many people fear Taylor is 
incorrigible and that he would bring his penchant for 
destabilization to Nigeria. 
¶6. (C)(Comment: During a recent visit to Cross River 
State, Charge was told by Cross River Governor Duke 
that preparations were quickly being made for Taylor's 
arrival in Calabar.  Duke admitted however that 
Taylor's advance team found the accommodations too 
modest.  When Taylor's people asked to purchase 
additional land, Duke said he refused because Taylor 
would only be in Calabar for six months.  There was no 
need for him to become a landholder in Calabar for 
such a short duration.  This begs a question.  Where 
do the Nigerians plan to move Taylor after six months? 
End Comment.) 
¶7. (S)  While attracting less resentment than the 
Taylor asylum, Obasanjo's troop deployment decision 
does not have unalloyed support either.  Predictably, 
most opposition politicians are against it.  Some 
members of the President's own party even have 
questioned whether the President is leaning too far 
forward.  Unfortunately, perhaps the strongest 
opposition may be in the military itself.  Two 
experienced West African journalists who have covered 
the Liberian beat for over a decade have told us that 
the overwhelming majority of Nigerians officers who 
served in Liberia under ECOMOG bitterly oppose the new 
¶8. (S/NF)  These veteran reporters have decided not to 
publish this story because of its sensitivity. 
However, they stated that most officers fear that the 
Liberian factions are still not convinced to take the 
road toward peace and that the Nigerian forces will 
neither be given the clear mandate nor the operational 
wherewithal to forcibly escort the recalcitrant 
Liberians down the irenic path.  Thus, they foresee 
their soldiers getting bogged down in a tense 
environment while hamstrung by an ambiguous mandate. 
We also know from previous discussions with President 
Obasanjo, that Chief of Defense Staff Ogomudia has 
been lukewarm, at best, to this deployment.  DAO 
reporting also indicates significant senior level 
reticence to the planned deployment. (Ref. A) 
¶9. (C)  On the other hand, in a show of support and 
party solidarity, the PDP-dominated Senate assented to 
the troop deployment but conditioned its approval on 
the provision of adequate logistical support from 
international donors.  Under Nigerian constitutional 
law, it is still unsettled whether Obasanjo needs 
legislative approval before deploying.  Most scholars 
believe he does, however, Obasanjo has given short 
shrift to the Constitution in the past when it suited 
his purpose.  He will likely do the same this time. 
Yet, because of the political friction he has been 
experiencing, he may have to take steps that give the 
appearance of meeting the Senate conditions. 
¶10. (C)  President Obasanjo has basically staked out a 
position on Liberia consonant with USG interests. 
This position is perhaps as forward leaning as 
possible in Nigeria's current political climate. 
Obasanjo's stance has not come without political costs 
and he has reacted.  His acerbic July 30 comments 
criticizing the USG for not being sufficiently engaged 
were likely the result of his frustration at having 
staked out what he saw as an enlightened policy, only 
to become the recipient of some tough domestic 
criticism for doing too much and of international 
criticism for moving too slowly.  Nevertheless, 
Obasanjo is in control of Nigeria's foreign policy and 
his basic strategy on Liberia will not change. 
However, he probably will have to alternatively cajole 
and hector his reluctant military bureaucracy to march 
to his tune.