Cablegate: Codel Hastert Meets Obasanjo, National Assembly
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000875
E.O. 12598: N/A
TAGS: OREP PREL EFIN BEXP MASS SNAR NI
SUBJECT: CODEL Hastert Meets Obasanjo, National Assembly
1. Summary. In a six hour visit on April 17, CODEL
Hastert met with President Obasanjo, and, separately, with
Speaker of the House Ghali Na'Abba and other assembly
members. With Obasanjo Speaker Hastert emphasized USG
commitment to AGOA, and to HIV/AIDS programming assistance
and basic healthcare assistance for Nigeria. Obasanjo
replied with praise for AGOA, and with recitations of both
the Nigerian fight against HIV/AIDS, and Nigeria's
extensive efforts to promote peace in the West African
region and in other African countries., In a largely
ceremonial meeting at the National Assembly Speaker Na'Abba
called for a joint committee to explore areas of mutual
interest between the National Assembly and the US Congress.
Speaker Hastert indicated privately to the Ambassador that
he would explore the idea but thought that annual meetings
between the staff of the two legislatures was a better and
more viable course of action. End summary.
2. On Tuesday, April 17, in the course of a six hour visit
to Abuja, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Dennis Hastert and nine House colleagues met with President
Olusegun Obasanjo at the Presidential Villa, and with
Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives Ghali
Na'Abba and several dozen of his fellow members at the
National Assembly. The Hastert CODEL also lunched with
Speaker Na'Abba and approximately 75 members of the House.
At the Presidential Villa, Speaker Hastert began the
meeting by highlighting three areas in which the USG had
undertaken particular efforts to strengthen its
relationship with African nations generally and with
Nigeria in particular. With the African Growth and
Opportunity Act (AGOA), said Hastert, the US Congress had
"worked hard" to offer an avenue for enhanced economic
growth and for mutually beneficial trade. Speaker Hastert
then noted that the U.S. Congress had doubled funds for
HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. He then emphasized the
fundamental importance the USG placed on assistance with
health care programs in Nigeria. "We are trying to build
on our already strong relationship with Nigeria," the
Speaker said. He then turned to his colleagues to add
3. Representative E.B. Johnson, ranking Democrat on the
CODEL, and Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus,
noted this was her third visit to Nigeria, a sign of her
personal commitment to Nigerian progress. The USG, she
went on, meant to encourage democracy both in Nigeria and
on the continent as a whole. Speaking of the multi-racial
and multi-cultural society of the United States, she said
that "we are a diverse people, but this does not divide us,
it defines us." Johnson offered this concept of
cohesiveness-through-diversity as a proper formula for
Nigeria as well, with its many language and ethnic groups,
and its religious diversity. "We will work with you, and
help build democracy in Nigeria."
4. Representative Bobby Rush noted the great interest of
the African-American community in events in Nigeria, given
long-standing historical and cultural ties. Further, Rush
said he had many Nigerians living in his Chicago district.
He expressed his personal regret at the CODEL's delayed
arrival (the Hastert party came two days later than
originally scheduled), and its resulting inability to
worship with President Obasanjo on Easter Sunday at the
Villa Chapel. Rush emphasized the USG's keen interest in a
more stable and democratic Nigeria, and he hoped that such
continental efforts as the Millenium African Program (MAP),
begun by President Mbeki of South Africa in consultation
with President Obasanjo, would bear fruit and enhance
African unity and progress.
5. President Obasanjo replied with a gracious welcome to
Speaker Hastert and his colleagues. He briefly observed
that the GON had "copied" key sections of the U.S.
Constitution and that its government styled itself on the
U.S. model in many ways. Taking up Speaker Hastert's three
points in turn, Obasanjo said that "we are working hard" on
AGOA, and good progress was being made. On the HIV/AIDS
front, Obasanjo said bluntly that HIV/AIDS was "a very
serious problem," and that "we pretend it is not only at
our peril." He then elaborated on two major initiatives
undertaken by his government. President Obasanjo said that
he had established a Cabinet-level body, composed of key
Ministers (Health, Youth, Education), chaired by himself
and co-chaired by the Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to
oversee the GON response to the crisis. His government
would also convoke an African HIV/AIDS Summit at the end of
April, patterned after the African Malaria Summit convened
in Abuja by the GON last year. Obasanjo said that "the
technical efforts" needed to combat HIV/AIDS were clear,
and were well understood by his government, but that the
crucial task was to "raise the political and social
consciousness" of the Nigerian population.
6. Obasanjo said that anti-malarial efforts, an effective
HIV/AIDS campaign, and successful mass immunization efforts
for Nigerian children and adults were three strategic
components of his government's overall health program.
"Achievable, measurable results," he said, were the aim of
the GON in all three areas, and in the health sector as a
whole. He then segued to a broad and very personal vision
of Nigeria's role in the region and in Africa. "God allows
things to happen for a purpose," he said, in an oblique
comment on Nigeria's many problems and its many blessings.
Nigeria had a huge population, he said, a rich resource
base, and two of the five biggest rivers in Africa. "God
must intend," he said, for Nigerians to use these resources
for the benefit of "ourselves and our neighbors." Nigeria
sought a stable, united and harmonious polity at home, and
a dynamic and prosperous national economy. But, "if charity
begins at home, it must not end at home," he said. "We
can't just be an oasis."
7. President Obasanjo then recited the many areas in which
his government worked for peace in the region and in Africa
as a whole, and the many trips he has or will make to
further these goals: Nigeria's overall participation in
peace-keeping, both within ECOWAS/ECOMOG and in the UN; the
recent Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on the Mano River
countries; Cote d'Ivoire ("we are working to solidify
democracy," he said); Burkina Faso ("I am going there in
several weeks"); the DROC ("We will contribute troops, and
look for solutions"); Burundi ("We will also contribute
troops there as well,"); Sudan ("A slightly more
complicated situation," with IGAD and Egypt involved);
Zimbabwe ("Mbeki and I are urging restraint. We both went
to Harare, and are also talking to the British").
8. President Obasanjo then summed up Nigeria's many
efforts at furthering peaceful and stable relations on the
continent. "Nigeria," he said, "is almost at the center of
everything in Africa." But, "we do not act alone."
Nigeria acted in concert with "people of like minds." The
MAP, he said, was a reflection of his desire to work with
other leaders, such as Mbeki, to construct a new African
architecture of peace, stability and growth.
9. Speaker Hastert responded with a "salute" to Nigerian
democracy and Nigerian peace-keeping efforts. "Your
troops' efforts have been outstanding, and we will work
with you," said the Speaker. "Your walk back to democracy
has been impressive." Hastert also praised Nigeria's
recent counter-narcotics efforts. As a "great example" to
the continent, Nigeria would continue to receive strong USG
10. President Obasanjo closed the meeting with several
thoughts on his government's need to show results to the
Nigerian people. "Democracy needs real meaning," he said.
"Freedom, yes, but also results." Trade, investment,
growth, industrialization, these were the concrete means to
obtain those essential results. In a brief and mild
allusion to Nigeria's long-standing international campaign
for debt relief and debt forgiveness, he said that the
"genesis" of Nigeria's debt was largely "immoral" (Comment:
meaning contracted my military governments and subsequently
wasted or stolen). But Nigeria must be "forward looking,"
he said. "Let us make debt less important, and make trade
and growth more important."
11. In an earlier and largely ceremonial meeting at the
National Assembly, Speaker Hastert and his nine colleagues
received a warm welcome from Nigerian Speaker Ghali Na'Abba
and approximately seventy-five of his fellow House members.
After several exchanges of legislative good-fellowship, and
Na'Abba's bravura introduction by name of all attending
House members in a crowded House conference room without
hesitation and without notes or prompting, Na'Abba proposed
a joint US House - Nigerian House committee to further
mutual interests. CODEL Hastert, Speaker Na'Abba and his
colleagues then adjourned for a lunch, hosted by Na'Abba.
12. Comment. The Nigerians, both executive and
legislative branches, warmly welcomed CODEL Hastert and
obligingly accommodated the two-day postponement of the
visit. President Obasanjo particularly emphasized his
commitment to the struggle against HIV/AIDS, and Nigeria's
regional role as a peacekeeper. He only gently touched on
debt relief, and made no great appeals for USG assistance.
This was a very good visit, by every measure. End