Cablegate: No Celebrations in Zamfara: Reports Inaccurate

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) ABUJA (B) ABUJA 2290 (C) ABUJA 2331

1. Summary: Post has investigated the story reported by a
BBC stringer in Gusau, capital of Zamfara State, that there
were celebrations there following the September 11 attack on
the U.S. All sources indicate that this story was
exaggerated. Reports of unrest in Kano on Friday, September
14, also appear to have been fabricated, according to reports
from private and official sources there. This is a stressful
time in Nigeria, independent of events in the U.S. At times
like this, Nigerian "news" reports can unfortunately be
intended more than ever to sell newspapers--through marketing
ethnic and religious prejudice--than to report objective
facts. Unfortunately, irresponsible journalism can have
severe repercussions, in Nigeria and elsewhere. End Summary.


2. Poloff contacted the (Christian) Commissioner of Police
in Gusau, Aaron Ibiloye, on September 12, and he reported
that there had been no demonstrations whatsoever in Gusau on
the 11th, adding that most people in Gusau had been preparing
for the arrival of President Obasanjo on the 13th. Political
Specialist contacted two long-term stringers in Zamfara, Sani
Abdullahi Tsafe (VOA) and Umaru Waziri (Reuters), to verify
the "jubilation" story. They were both angry about the BBC
story, and reported that their BBC colleague could not
provide a source, or even a location for his story. They
added that the BBC stringer, Ibrahim Dosara, was a recent
hire who, in reporting this story without adequate
investigation, failed to maintain proper standards of
journalistic professionalism. No private citizen contacted
by Post could confirm the report. Unfortunately, the damage
has been done, and Zamfara state has now been registered in
the U.S. consciousness--and that of the rest of the world--
as one of a very few places where the attacks of September 11
were publicly celebrated.

3. Officials in Government House, Gusau, issued a press
release from Governor Ahmed Sani condemning the terrorist
attacks and denying any demonstrations in support of the
violence on September 11. They indicated that the Governor
would have responded earlier but for President Obasanjo's
all-consuming, first visit to Zamfara on September 13-14.
Alhaji Mohammed Bello Umar, Permanent Secretary for Zamfara
State Government, called on Charge on September 19 to deliver
a letter and a personal message of condolence from Governor
Ahmed Sani. Umar mentioned that the Governor was very upset
about the reports in the press. He added that the BBC
stringer, Dosara, had disavowed sending in a story, saying
that he responded to a telephone call by BBC, which he
claimed then distorted what he said. (Comment: While some
radical Muslims in the North certainly may have been pleased
by the attacks, that is a long way from a public
demonstration, which is what BBC reported and some other
media picked up. Because of Zamfara's notoriety as the first
state to adopt criminal Shari'a, many Nigerians believe the
reports and dismiss the Government's denials. End Comment.)


4. Embassy contacts in Kano have denied that there was
unrest there on Friday, September 14. There were rumors of
violence, and more rumors of Muslims "jubilating" in Kano
over the September 11 attack on the U.S. These rumors were
widely reported in the Lagos media, and almost universally
received as the truth in Southern Nigeria where the media and
population are predisposed to believing the worst about
Northerners, especially Hausa who happen to be Muslim. The
only confirmed violent incident in Kano was the burning of a
residence being used as a church in Shagari Quarters on
September 10. According to the Commissioner of Police, this
resulted from a long-term conflict between neighbors turning
violent--and does not appear to have been a response either
to events in the U.S. or violence in Jos (REF B). Governor
Kwankwaso himself castigated journalists assembled in Kano to
accompany Minister of Information Jerry Gana. He reportedly
asked them, "Did you see smoke coming from the city? Did you
see violence? Then why did you write this?" He exhorted
them to practice responsible journalism, rather than
ratcheting up ethnic tensions with falsehoods calculated to
sell newspapers. Investigations by ConGen Lagos into reports
of violence in Aba, Abia State, proved that they were equally
fictitious. (Note: Reprisal attacks in Aba following the
February 2000 riots in Kaduna reportedly resulted in over 500
Hausa deaths there. End Note)

5. Rumors that reprisal violence would erupt in Abuja over
the September 15-16 weekend had Nigerian and AmCit residents
of the Federal Capital Territory on edge. Approximately 25
missionaries who temporarily relocated from Plateau State to
Abuja in the wake of the Jos killings were particularly
concerned. GON security was much tighter than usual in
Karmo, a sprawling unlicensed slum suburb of perhaps 250,000
souls, after rumors circulated that churches there would be
attacked. Many Karmo residents are refugees from the Kaduna
ethno-religious conflicts of February and May 2000, so there
is ample dry tinder there.


6. The Sultan of Sokoto, sitting in Kaduna as chairman of
the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the leading Islamic
religious organization in Nigeria, issued a strong statement
condemning the terrorist attack against the U.S. This
follows his statement, issued days after the attack, from
Sokoto as the foremost Muslim traditional ruler in Nigeria in
which he also condemned the attack. Reports on unrest in
Kaduna over the weekend also appear to be without foundation.

7. Comment: Disregarding what has happened in the U.S.,
this has been a very difficult few weeks for Nigeria. Ganiyu
Adams, the leader of the OPC's militant wing was arrested,
sparking large protests by the OPC in Lagos. This raised
tensions among Lagos' Hausa, who fear a repeat of last
October's attacks in Ajegunle, in which over one hundred
Hausa are reported to have died. Inter-ethnic violence in
Jos on September 7-9 apparently has claimed more lives than
last year's outbreaks in Kaduna, and Hausa refugees have left
Jos and other parts of Plateau State in the thousands.
Tensions are high, and rumors of planned reprisals by Muslims
are a constant drumbeat--even in cities as far away as Abuja,
Aba, and Lagos.

8. Comment Continued: In this context, irresponsible
journalism--printing inciting rumors as facts--is akin to
yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. The press in Nigeria
has certainly undergone a renaissance since the return of
democracy, with an astonishing number of dailies and weekly
publications vying for readership. No-one would accuse it of
being overly concerned with the truth, especially when a
story can serve to reinforce established prejudices. While
some media sources here are more reliable than others,
publishers, reporters and those they interview view events
through the prism of collectively held ethnic, regional and
religious biases. This tendency is only exacerbated during
times of crisis--when half-truths and falsehoods are most
incendiary. This lack of professionalism has resulted in
many stories that purvey the accepted myths of a particular
group--in this case, the Southern myth that the Muslim
Northerners are happy about what has happened in the U.S.
While some Muslim extremists in Nigeria may be pleased by
events, there simply is no evidence available to us of public
celebrations or demonstrations. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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