S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 001327
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2013
TAGS: PREL PGOV MASS MOPS LI NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: OBASANJO'S LIBERIA POLICY GETS MIXED
REF: ABUJA NI 1317
Classified By Charge Dawn Liberi. Reasons 1.5 (b) and
Â¶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.
WEST AFRICA: PAX NIGERIANA?
Â¶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
Â¶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
Â¶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.
NO WELCOME WAGON FOR TAYLOR
Â¶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.
Â¶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?
THE ARMY: NO LOVE FOR THIS DEPLOYMENT
Â¶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
Â¶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)
Â¶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.
Â¶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.