Viewing cable 03ABUJA566
Title: NIGERIA: PRESIDENT OBASANJO DISAVOWS HIS MINISTER'S

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
03ABUJA5662003-03-25 17:43:00 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 02 ABUJA 000566 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER 
LONDON FOR GURNEY 
PARIS FOR NEARY 
 
 
E.O.12958: DECL: 03/19/13 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PARM SF SG IZ NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: PRESIDENT OBASANJO DISAVOWS HIS MINISTER'S 
COMMENTS AND TALKS ABOUT THE IRAQ LETTER 
 
 
REF: A) ABUJA 555 
-    B) ABUJA 551 
-    C) ABUJA 513 
 
 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter.  Reason 1.5 (B). 
 
 
¶1. (C) Summary: During a midnight March 21 meeting with 
Ambassador Jeter, President Obasanjo distanced the GON from 
Minister of State Onyia's accusation that the U.S. had cut 
military assistance because of Nigeria's position on Iraq. 
Obasanjo also expressed surprise at Washington's negative 
reaction to the Obasanjo/Mbeki/Wade letter, claiming it merely 
restated the GON's existing position.  End Summary 
 
 
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ONYIA SUFFERS A BOUT OF FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
 
¶2. (C) During a midnight March 21 meeting with President 
Obasanjo following Obasanjo's first Presidential debate, 
Ambassador Jeter lodged a complaint regarding Minister of 
State for Foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia's malicious statement to 
Nigerian media that the United states had stopped military 
assistance to Nigeria because of its Iraq policy. Ambassador 
Jeter told Obasanjo that he had met Onyia earlier that day at 
the Minister's request. Onyia, citing the March 20 meeting 
between the Ambassador and MFA Permanent Secretary Dan Hart, 
accused the USG of cutting military assistance because of 
displeasure over Nigeria's position on Iraq. Onyia asserted 
the United States, in trying to intimidate Nigeria, had also 
affronted its sovereignty. 
 
 
¶3. (C) The Ambassador explained to the President that he 
clearly and unequivocally told Onyia the alleged nexus between 
military assistance and Iraq was nonexistent. He told Onyia 
the March 20 meeting with Hart was to brief the MFA PermSec on 
the Mission's security posture, including the closure to 
public traffic and of consular operations at both the Embassy 
and Lagos Consulate, and to thank the GON for the outstanding 
security support it had provided. The Ambassador also told 
Onyia that, because he had not seen Hart for some time, he had 
used the meeting to brief the Permanent Secretary on several 
key issues, suspension of security assistance being just one 
of them. 
 
 
¶4. (C) The Ambassador also told the President that he had 
assured Onyia that the assistance suspension was not related 
to Iraq but was due to human rights concerns regarding the 
October 2001 Zaki Biam massacres.  Moreover, we had informed 
Onyia that the President and Defense Minister were aware of 
the suspension and reasons behind it because this issue had 
been active for over a year. 
 
 
¶5. (C) However, Jeter told the President that the Minister of 
State apparently summoned the press immediately after the 
meeting to issue his inaccurate statement, notwithstanding our 
assurances to the contrary. Ambassador Jeter said he found 
Onyia's conduct extremely disappointing. Not only was the 
statement recklessly false, it could hurt our relations with 
other African countries by casting the USG in a bad light and 
could also foment resentment in Nigeria toward the United 
States. 
 
 
¶6. (C) After hearing the Ambassador's explanation, Obasanjo 
turned to his Special Advisor on International Affairs Ad'obe 
Obe, declaring, "My God, is that what this is all about?" The 
evening of March 20, Onyia had rushed to the Villa claiming 
Washington was "subtly blackmailing" Abuja due to Nigeria's 
stance on Iraq, Obasanjo revealed. Based on Onyia's 
accusation, Obasanjo instructed him to convoke the Ambassador. 
"I don't take blackmail very well," Obasanjo remarked. 
However, if he had known the fillip behind the accusation was 
the assistance suspension, he would have bridled the Minister 
of State. The suspension was old news and completely unrelated 
to Iraq, Obasanjo stated. Uncharacteristically, Obasanjo even 
apologized for Onyia's blunder and mismanagement of the issue. 
(Comment:  Much less kind, Adobe earlier called the Ambassador 
with the exclamation: "What is Dubem doing? This time I think 
he's gone over the edge."  End Comment). 
 
 
¶7. (C) Asserting that the GON would publicly correct the 
record, Obasanjo instructed Obe to have Foreign Minister Sule 
Lamido make a public statement retracting Onyia's error. 
(COMMENT:  As of 1800 on March 24, the Mission is not aware of 
any correction of the record undertaken by the GON, but some 
newspapers over the March 22-23 weekend carried the Embassy's 
statement on the subject.  END COMMENT). 
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I THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE MY LETTER 
---------------------------------- 
 
 
¶8. (C) Turning to his tripartite letter with Mbeki and Wade, 
Obasanjo expressed surprise about the White House's reaction. 
For Nigeria, the letter simply restated existing policy that 
Iraq should fully disarm as a condition precedent to the 
withdrawal of coalition troops. Obasanjo thought he actually 
performed a favor for Washington by persuading Mbeki to take a 
more moderate position than would have been the South 
African's natural inclination. Moreover, the letter was not 
sent as the "African position" but as the position of three 
individual Heads of State. 
 
 
¶8. (C) Obasanjo's described President Wade's role in the 
entire affair as that of a mercurial, unreliable partner. Wade 
heartily agreed to the initial letter, and even suggested it, 
only to send an alternative letter two days later and one day 
after the originals had been transmitted to President Bush and 
Saddam. Wade's excuse was that, upon his return to Dakar from 
Niamey, his advisors convinced him the letter should not have 
been signed. "When I sign a letter, I sign a letter. I am my 
own boss and I thought he was his; if not, that is his 
problem, not mine," Obasanjo scoffed. 
 
 
¶9. (C) Obasanjo said he would like to put the disagreement 
with Washington over the letter behind him. The war is on and 
will have to run its course, while he has a full menu of 
pressing domestic issues, Obasanjo acknowledged. While wanting 
to relegate the letter to history, the President mentioned, 
however, that he was troubled by a telephone call from a White 
House official about the tripartite letter. He claimed the 
official spoke harshly and "harangued" him. He thought it 
untoward that the official would talk to him so brusquely when 
the letter, he believed, was moderate in tone and substance. 
 
 
¶10. (C) Comment: Given the friction caused by the tripartite 
letter and Onyia's willful distortion of our reaction to 
Nigeria's Iraq policy, Obasanjo seemed ready to end his foray 
into active diplomacy on Iraq. With the battle for Iraq now 
on, he also realizes, if he did not before, that his words 
would have little effect at this point. We expect that he will 
eventually get the Foreign Minister to publicly correct 
Onyia's mistake.  After that, Obasanjo will do well to take 
his own advice and focus on his bevy of problems at home. 
JETER