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Cablegate: Nigeria - the Ambassador's Iftar

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 003236

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL OEXC PGOV PREL NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA - THE AMBASSADOR'S IFTAR

1. Ambassador Jeter hosted a very successful
Iftar on Wednesday, December 12. Although FSOs
assigned to the (former) Embassy Office in Abuja
had hosted Iftars in the past, Ambassador Jeter
was the first U.S. Ambassador accredited to
Nigeria to host an Iftar in the national
capital. I sent a strong message of goodwill to
the Nigeria Muslim community and served as part
of a larger effort to build mutual trust.


2. Attendees included several Ministers,
Presidential Advisors, and the Inspector-General
of Police, as well as three key figures in the
nexus between Islam and Nigeria's broader civil
society: Justice Bashir Sambo, a renowned
Islamic jurist and author who serves as
Secretary of Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the

SIPDIS
largest Muslim civic group in Nigeria;
AbdulMumin Bello; a leading official of the
Islam in Africa Organization (IAO); Dr. Hadi
Dahiru Bauchi, a Koranic radio commentator and
son of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, one of the most
influential scholars of Islam in Nigeria today;
and Kabiru Yusuf, editor-in-chief of the "Trust"
newspapers, the most influential print media in
northern Nigeria. "Trust" and most of its
columnists have generally responded with
skepticism to and sometimes rejected outright
USG explanations for actions and policy in the
war on terrorism. Most of the Ambassadors and
High Commissioners from Islamic countries who
were in Abuja attended as well.


3. Guests were impressed with (in some cases
pleasantly surprised by) the authenticity of the
event -- from the provisions for a prayer area
to the mix of Middle Eastern and traditional
Nigerian fast-breaking food and drink. A number
stayed hours beyond the anticipated end of the
event to talk about issues of the day, availing
themselves of the prayer area for Isha'i as well
as Magrib prayers. The Ambassador's welcoming
remarks elicited a positive response from
Justice Sambo, deputized by other guests to
reply. Sambo emphasized the importance of
events such as the Ambassador's Iftar to
building inter-cultural awareness and
understanding. He recalled how much he
benefited from a 1998 USIS-sponsored program of
travel to the U.S. that included Archbishop of
Abuja John O. Onaiyekan. Sambo said the number
of guests would have been far greater but for
the fact that many prominent Muslims had
traveled to Saudi Arabia for Umra. He
emphasized the importance of contact and
dialogue, saying,"There is a lot of ignorance
and mistrust among us. The real terrorist we
need to fight is ignorance."


4. Justice Sambo made it clear he expected the
U.S. Ambassador's Iftar to become a tradition.
We anticipate doing just that, but with some
modifications. First, we plan to arrange a
separate women's Iftar next year. There was
insufficient time to arrange two Iftars this
year. While some in the Mission felt women
should be included in the Iftar, our senior
Muslim FSNs unanimously opposed the idea, saying
that some invitees would feel the Embassy was
trying to "impose" Western norms. Since the
major purpose of this event was to demonstrate
respect for Islam and for the culture and norms
of northern Nigeria, we chose to make this a
male-only event. Second, the Ambassador Iftar
should be held mid-way through Ramadan in order
to make certain we do not miss prominent
personalities Who may be performing Unra.


5. There was considerable interest in and
discussion of U.S. policy toward the Middle East
-- particularly in respect of the conflict
between Palestinians and Israel. The Mission
will by septel seek support for a speaker on
this subject.


6. One of the guests decided just before
leaving that the Ambassador and DCM should join
in the Eid El-Fitr call on President Obasanjo.
The call, preceded by brunch at the home of Vice
President Atiku Abubakar, took place on
Saturday, December 15. The Ambassador and DCM
were the only diplomats present in a group that
included essentially all of the senior Muslim
figures in Abuja that day.


7. The Vice President told the Ambassador how
greatful he was that we had come to this
important event and; President Obansanjo
publicly thanked the Ambassador and DCM before
the entire assemble group and the media.


Jeter

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