Viewing cable 03ABUJA715

03ABUJA7152003-04-17 20:42:00 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 000715 
DECL: 4/17/2008 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter for reason 
1.5 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (C) Summary: The United States-Nigeria bilateral 
relationship recently has experienced more friction 
than has been noted for months.  A confluence of 
foreign policy differences, bilateral concerns, and 
Nigeria's domestic politics produced this strain. 
Disagreement over Iraq and our suspension of military 
assistance clearly contributed to the dissonance. 
However, the agent that really ionized the atmosphere 
has been the edginess and cynical political 
considerations influencing the GON psychology during 
this pressurized election period.  In short, some of 
the President's advisors decided that wise diplomacy 
did not make for good politics. Gauging U.S. 
unpopularity due to Iraq, they saw that some 
publicized U.S.-bashing might sway a few votes and 
perhaps even distract some citizens from their 
unhappiness with the GON's poor performance on key 
issues.  Thus, they decided, in an effort to appear 
"even-handed," to bait the electorate by linking our 
military suspension to GON opposition to the war on 
Iraq.  End Summary. 
¶2.  (C) The tripartite letter Obasanjo signed with 
Presidents Wade and Mbeki was an ineffectual effort 
that should have expired in the world of thought 
before it entered the realm of action.  Nevertheless, 
the GON did not vociferously oppose our stance on 
Iraq, not prior to the actual intervention and even 
less now.  Its opposition was consistently moderate in 
both tone and substance.  While we had hoped Nigeria 
would have been more supportive, its position was not 
so extreme as to portend the media fall-out that 
¶3.  (C) However, for the GON, bad diplomacy equalled 
good domestic politics.  Given widespread opposition 
in Nigeria to the war in Iraq, strategists within the 
Administration figured electoral mileage could be had 
by stating that our military assistance suspension was 
in response to the GON stance on Iraq.  By casting 
this willful misrepresentation, they hoped to stir the 
prickly nationalism of elites, Northerners and 
Southerners alike, all too aware of the centrifugal 
forces that affect their country.  Doing so would lay 
to rest accusations that Obasanjo was so intent on 
doing America's bidding that he had become "Yoruba 
First, the United States Second, and Nigeria Third." 
Publicly slapping the U.S. would, these strategists 
hoped, counter the President's pro-American 
reputation, helping him particularly in the North, 
where his support is the weakest and the risk of not 
reaching the 25% threshhold therefore highest. 
¶4.  (C) Moreover, but less importantly, Obasanjo 
strategists felt this tack also would shift attention 
away from the true reason for our assistance 
suspension.  After having said that the suspension was 
due to Washington's anger over Nigeria's policy on 
Iraq, it would be difficult and nigh unpatriotic for 
any opposition politician to correct the record by 
pointing to the unresolved questions surrounding Benue 
massacre.  If so, that politician ran the risk as 
being labeled the new American lackey.  Creating this 
fake linkage with Iraq helped minimize the impact of 
our military assistance suspension as a campaign issue 
and muted people from raising the Benue massacre as an 
issue as well.  The GON's chief flack, Information 
Minister Jerry Gana went a step beyond the original 
words of the never-helpful Minister of State for 
Foreign Affairs (Dubem Onyia), lashing out at the U.S. 
during a regular weekly media brief for presuming to 
know Nigeria's national interests better than its own 
¶5.  (C) In a recent discussion, Presidential Special 
Advisor on International Affairs Ad'Obe Obe told 
Ambassador Jeter "it was not a good time to be the 
American Ambassador in Nigeria."  Among the Nigerian 
political class, it was more popular to criticize 
America right now and that reality had crept into the 
electoral calculations of the President's team.  Obe 
admitted that veracity had become an easy casualty of 
these electoral calculations.  Obe claimed the 
President had ordered a correction of the unfortunate 
statements Onyia had used to precipitate this entire 
episode.  However, the "clarification" issued by Gana 
merely compounded Onyia's sophistry.  Obe said he 
confronted Gana, who replied that the Onyia statement 
was playing too well politically to be retracted. 
COMMENT:  In a spontaneous and undoubtedly somewhat 
exaggerated remark to a Mission spouse at about this 
time, Obe's wife exclaimed, "My whole country hates 
America now, but I still love you!"  END COMMENT. 
¶6.  (C) The Ambassador stressed to Obe that continued 
public mis-statement of the U.S. position might play 
well within this circle of advisors but it had begun 
to irritate Washington.  It projected a negative and 
false image of the United States in Nigeria and 
throughout Africa.  This disservice could not simply 
be cast aside to political exigency.  The Ambassador 
urged the GON to honor its promise to correct the 
record; at the very least, the GON should cease and 
desist from further negative comment on this issue. 
He reminded Obe that if we were forced to clarify the 
record, a USG statement would automatically focus 
attention on the true cause of the assistance 
suspension, the 2001 Benue massacre, presumably not an 
issue that the GON would want to revive on the eve of 
National Elections.  Obe reiterated that a correction 
would be too politically costly to contemplate but he 
also understood that continued misrepresentation would 
be costly as well.  He said he would convey our 
¶7.  (C) Comment: Since the Ambassador's conversation 
with Obe, GON statements on the military suspension 
have ended.  Our message to Obe might have been 
persuasive; but the cessation also likely reflects the 
fact that the tale had lived out its immediate 
utility.  Also, senior GON officials had become far 
too engrossed with the demands of campaigning in their 
local government areas where this fiction and the 
friction arising from it were far less useful tools. 
¶8.  (C) In any event, the clear U.S. victory in Iraq 
and GON preoccupation with the elections have begun to 
lessen the tension in the bilateral discourse. 
However, the bilateral tension will spike again, 
perhaps even higher, if our assessment of the 
elections is critical.  In an effort to impugn our 
conclusion, Gana and Onyia would not be above claiming 
that Nigeria's "stand against U.S. imperialism" (or 
words to that effect) influenced our analysis.