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Cablegate: Nigeria: Presidential Business Forum On Hiv/Aids

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

REFS: (A) ABUJA 2651 (B) ABUJA 03297

1. Summary: On Saturday morning February 15, 2003, President
Olusegun Obasanjo invited approximately 50 managing directors of
Nigeria's most influential national and international companies
to the Presidential Villa to discuss the creation of a Nigerian
Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS. By the end of this meeting,
the managing directors of Chevron/ Texaco and MTN, the leading
Nigerian wireless communication company, had accepted to co-chair
the Coalition along with the President, and the business leaders
had agreed upon an organizational meeting in Lagos in March.
The President acknowledged at length the pioneering role of
Ambassador Howard F. Jeter in advancing the involvement of the
business sector through his luncheons with the U.S. business
community focused on the national HIV/AIDS effort (see above
referenced cable 03297). The Chairman of the National Action
Committee on AIDS (NACA) also acknowledged the pivotal role of
Ambassador Jeter in this area and of USAID in its support of
NACA. In less than 6 months, as a result of Ambassador Jeter
and USAID's interventions with the US business community, the
involvement of the business sector in the HIV/AIDS effort has
gone from an idiosyncratic affair to one of organized public

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2. Remarks by the NACA Chairman: After words of welcome by
President Obasanjo, the Chairman of NACA, Professor Babatunde
Osotimehin, opened the Presidential Forum by reviewing the
epidemiological profile of HIV prevalence in Nigeria and the
Federal Government of Nigeria's response to date. He cited
the contributions of major donors, including USAID, to the
national effort and reported that the federal government and
donors have pledged over US$400 million in HIV/AIDS funding
for the next three years. Professor Osotimehin also stated,
however, that Nigeria would require at least US$ 500 million
annually for the next 5 years to contain the epidemic. He
cited the following activities as the most critical ones to be
implemented: a) mass campaigns to raise public awareness and
scale up community involvement; b) voluntary counseling and
testing (VCT); c) care and support interventions, especially
treatment of opportunistic infections and the scaling up of
antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programs; d) services
targeting particularly vulnerable groups such as long distance
truck drivers, sex workers and youth both in and out of school;
and e) the continuing need for capacity building for all levels
of actors.

3. Quoting Lee Smith, former President of Levi Strauss that
'It is inevitable that a company doing business in the
developing world will pay for AIDS, it is just a question of
when and how much', Professor Osotimehin then proceeded to
outline potential private sector contributions to the national
effort. These included i) company HIV/AIDS policies ii)
awareness programs that include workplace discussion; iii) peer
education; iv) IEC materials; v) condom distribution; vi)
in-house counselors and VCT services; vii) post ' exposure
prophylaxis policy and procedure; viii) ARV treatment and ix)
home based care for AIDS symptomatic employees.

4. Professor Osotimehin emphasized, 'The earlier the Nigerian
business community engages with the issue, the greater the
chance it has to mitigate the types of economic impacts already
seen in Southern Africa'. He quoted a recent study undertaken
by the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association to underscore
the critical need for greater business sector involvement.
According to this study, only 24% or slightly less than one
quarter of managers in the private sector perceive the potential
impact of HIV/AIDS on business concerns; only 32% or less than
a third of firms undertook employee HIV/AIDS activities in
fiscal 2001; and 45% or almost half of employees receive
information about HIV/AIDS only from outside their workplace.

5. As an outstanding instance of business sector involvement,
Professor Osotimehin commended Coca Cola for the use of its
trucks for distribution as a major contribution to the massive
awareness campaign. He also offered the following examples of
how other companies might contribute: i) telecommunication
companies: assistance in tele-networking, management
information systems and monitoring and evaluation; ii) oil
and related companies: technical assistance in project
management and procurement; iii) other subsectors:
contributions of their marketing skills, use of brand to
carry messages, e.g. cell phone companies could display
short HIV messages on a regular basis, provide toll free
numbers for hotline information services; iv) hotel industry:
provision of information and commodities to guests. He
concluded this portion of his remarks by suggesting that all
companies could espouse the 'Adopt a PLWA concept'. In this
way, according to Professor Osotimehin, needy people living
with AIDS (PLWA) would receive assistance and the business
sector would also help reduce stigma.

6. Specifics of Business Sector Involvement: However,
Professor Osotimehin was empathic that he was asking for more
than private sector policies and programs. In his words,
'involvement of the private sector should go beyond the
workplace' we are also asking the private sector to add its
core competencies to the overall response. The NACA
Chairman then summarized his request for private sector
involvement as i) the establishment of work place initiatives;
ii) the extension of these initiatives to the immediate
communities where the companies work; and iii) active
participation in the national response, e.g. private sector
participation on the NACA board and, especially, in the
establishment of the Nigerian Business Coalition Against

7. President Obasanjo's Remarks: Both in his impromptu and
prepared remarks, President Obasanjo echoed the theme of
Ambassador Jeter during his organizational luncheons with the
U.S. business community and by the NACA chairman in his
presentation to the Forum. That is, even more than its
financial resources, the business sector involvement in
the national effort must include the contribution of its core
competencies. In his opening remarks, the President
specified that it was not the financial resources of the
business sector that he wanted but rather their involvement
in the national HIV/AIDS effort: 'Don?t give me money, just
help me put an end to HIV'. In his prepared remarks, the
President reiterated this sentiment, 'Ladies and
Gentlemen for the avoidance of doubt let me state quite clearly
that this event is not meant to be seen as a fund raising
exercise but one that seeks to raise the consciousness of
corporate Nigeria to the facts about the epidemic and seek
to recruit this important sector to join us in the fight.
We expect that 'the private sector will allow us to utilize
their core competencies in the fight and also let us share part
of their sunk costs to leverage the fight.'.

8. Epidemic Impact on Nigeria: President Obasanjo began his
prepared statement by discussing the economic threat of HIV/AIDS
to the economy of Nigeria. He said that the pandemic is
threatening 'the fabric of our economy' and that 'Nigerians
cannot afford to wait any longer to redeem themselves from this
dreadful infection'That is why I have called you together?.
President Obasanjo also stressed that the burden of the epidemic
is greatest in Africa. He quoted UNAIDS statistics that of the
40 million people infected with HIV, 28 million of these are in
sub-Saharan Africa and that of the 14 million children
orphaned by AIDS, 11 million of them are in the region. The
President also estimated that the number of Nigerians infected
with HIV is between 3.4 million and 4.5 million. This latter
figure represents the highest estimate of the number of HIV
positive persons in Nigeria ever given publicly by a top Nigerian

9. National Intelligence Council Report Quoted: The President
also quoted at length the recent National Intelligence Council
report on the five 'next wave' countries that will double or
triple the number of global HIV/AIDS cases by 2010. Reiterating
his previous theme, the President stressed that of these five
countries--- Nigeria, China, India, Russia and Ethiopia---two
are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to President Obasanjo the
consequences of this report on Nigerian international
relationships is immense. To quote the President, 'The
implication of this report is that all nations of the world
will be focusing on Nigeria and its reaction or response to the
epidemic. If nothing is done quickly, this will affect our
bilateral, economic and political relations with other

10. Marching Orders to the Business Sector: President Obasanjo
ended his address by specifying his requests to the business
sector: 'We are looking forward to your organizations setting
up workplace initiatives and within the larger context of
communities in which you work you will contribute to the national
response'.Furthermore we also see today's forum as the beginning
'of constructive engagement' we propose to launch the Nigerian
Business Council (sic) on HIV/AIDS which I will co-chair
with two other distinguished leaders from the private sector'The
Council will be expected to provide the platform for subsequent
discussions and decisions for the private sector in their effort
to stem this epidemic'.

11. Appreciation of Ambassador Jeter: Before concluding his
address, President Obasanjo cited the contribution of Ambassador
Jeter: 'I particularly will like to extend the gratitude of our
government to the American Ambassador Howard Jeter who
independent of our thinking has institutionalized a
consultative process with the American community in
Nigeria sanitizing (sic) them to the HIV/AIDS situation in Nigeria.
We believe a good number of them are here today because of this
interaction'. Professor Osotimehin who credited the Ambassador
for initiating efforts with the business community on behalf of
the national HIV/AIDS effort echoed this appreciation. He also
singularly expressed appreciation of USAID for its support of this
effort and for its support of NACA.

12. Appointment of Two Business Sector Co-Chairs: Before he left
the Forum to begin campaigning in the Delta, President Obasanjo
invited Jay Parson, the Managing Director for Chevron/Texaco,
and Adrian Wood, the Managing Director of MTN, the leading
wireless communication company in the country, to co-chair with
him the Nigerian Business Council on HIV/AIDS. In his words,
'I will not chair but will co-chair' we will be in the driver's
seat together' and to emphasize this point he called the two
co-chairs to sit with him at the Presidential Podium for the
media to record this event. Parson immediately assumed the
mantel of responsibility and promised to convene a meeting of the
business sector in March. In his words, 'We will combine
collective talents and skills and we will come back with
decisions and strategies for the way forward'.

13. Summary: The success of this Forum must and will be
judged by the future actions initiated by the Nigerian Business
Coalition on HIV/AIDS. However it was a remarkable event and
one that six months ago would have hardly been imaginable.
The dynamic leadership of the new NACA Chairman who appears to
have the confidence of the President has created a milieu for the
national HIV and AIDS effort in which such innovation and
concerted effort can occur(see above referenced cable 2651).
Professor Osotimehin immediately took advantage of the
opportunities resulting from Ambassador Jeter's initiative with
the U.S. business community and the technical assistance and
knowledge of the business world offered by the USAID consultant,
Mr. Percy Wilson. The results of the luncheons proved that many
businesses in Nigeria either were already involved in some more
or less idiosyncratic fashion or that they were ready to become
involved. These luncheons obviously were the stimulus behind
and inspiration for this groundbreaking Forum. Mr. Wilson has
become a confident of the NACA Chairman and mentors his
dealings with the business community. In conclusion, the
Mission would like to express its appreciation of AFR/SD for
their role in the initiation of this activity with the offer
of a consultant, Mr. Wilson, to develop a pilot business related
activity in Nigeria.


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