Cablegate: Cross River and Akwa Ibom: Waiting Peacefully For

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

031319Z Mar 04





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 2003 LAGOS 2293

1. (U) Summary. On a recent familiarization visit to the
southeastern States of Cross River and Akwa Ibom, PolOffs
found officials with many plans for economic development in
the region. All are targeting agriculture and tourism as a
way to diversify and lessen dependence on income from oil.
Private citizens are forming and funding social service
organizations to provide services the new democratically
elected governments can not. There was no evidence that four
years of civilian government after a decade of military rule
has improved the quality of life of the average citizen in
these States. End summary.

Calabar - The famous Obudu Ranch and the infamous Charles

2. (SBU) The Cross River region, renowned for its beauty and
bio-diversity, has been a definable area of Nigeria since
pre-colonial time. Its population of around two million
ethnic Efiks, Ejagham and Bekwara has not migrated to other
regions nor mixed with other ethnic groups. Though the
actual borders have varied, there has been a Cross River
State since Nigerian independence in 1960 and its capital has
always been the ancient trading city of Calabar. One of
Cross River's claims to fame these days is the Obudu Cattle
Ranch, established in 1951. The "Ranch" is the State's
often-touted hope for the development of a revenue-generating
tourist industry sufficient to relieve its dependence on oil
income. Calabar was most recently in the news because it is
the place the Government of Nigeria (GON) offered as asylum
to the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. Taylor
has been charged with committing war crimes against Liberia
and other African countries. However, PolOffs visited Cross
River State the week of February 9, and saw neither the
"Ranch" nor Charles Taylor. In fact, the universal responses
to our questions about the whereabouts or future of Taylor in
Nigeria, were averted eyes, uneasy laughter and attempts to
direct the conversation elsewhere -- to the "Ranch", for

But what have you done for me lately? - A meeting with the
Speaker of the Assembly

3. (SBU) PolOff and PolSpec met with Cross River Speaker of
the State House of Assembly, the Hon. Bassey Eko Ewa, Esq.,
and several officials in charge of State Ministries.
Officials in charge of agricultural development did not
attend, and the Speaker told us that there is no separate
ministry for tourism. At the end of prepared welcoming
remarks, the Speaker turned to what the USG could do for
Cross River. He said the State would be pleased to send
Assembly Members to participate in democracy-building
seminars in the US, or any exchange program for legislators
between our two countries. He said there had been no
follow-up to a 1999 USAID-sponsored democracy workshop and
seminar in which Cross River legislators had participated and
that they had found very useful. He then asked a public
affairs official to take over the briefing. This official
gave us a summary of the State government's plans for the
next four years. He said Cross River suffers from an
unemployment rate of around 50% which the administration of
Governor Donald Duke plans to address mainly through
agricultural development. The government wants to promote a
return to "money crops" such as palm oil nuts and rubber that
were profitable for Cross River in the distant past. Also
encouraged is the planting of potentially lucrative new crops
such as pineapple. The government has announced it will
provide "soft money" (low/no interest, easy repayment)
micro-loans to unemployed men and women, as well as free
fertilizer to jump-start its agricultural plans. The
government plans to focus also on security to entice private
investors. The Polytechnic Training College in Calabar has
been upgraded to University status (complete with medical and
law schools). This official predicted that future graduates
of the University would find jobs created by the private
investors enticed to Calabar by the improved security.

4. (SBU) Cross River is, like the rest of Nigerian States,
dependent for its operating budget on the Federal
Government's allocation to it of a share of national oil
revenues. Not surprisingly, Cross River officials claim
their allocation is insufficient and the smallest in the
nation. In addition, the State wants to address another
problem plaguing the Nigerian economy: there are almost no
good jobs in the private sector, so most of the work force
works for the government or goes into the military. The
State has two top priority projects to address these
problems. It is developing a free trade zone about five
kilometers outside the city of Calabar. The project is named
"Tinapa" which means "fun and leisure" in the local Efik
language and is expected to bring in about 300 jobs. In
addition, a large part of the current budget is reportedly
devoted to the promotion, maintenance and further development
of the Obudu Ranch. which everyone in Cross River hopes will
bring in additional private sector investment and jobs.

5. (SBU) Comment. Tourism, as a way to diversify away from a
dependence on oil, may be a non-starter for Cross River
(reftel). There is no capital investment in capacity
(hotels, motels, restaurants etc.), in infrastructure
(reliable electricity, potable water, passable roads), and no
trained labor pool or training currently available. The
recently upgraded University of Calabar, like every other
university and technical school in Nigeria, has no courses in
hotel management, culinary arts, or travel and leisure
services. PolOffs spent two nights in the best hotel in
Calabar. Every room we saw was dirty, fixtures were hanging
from walls, faucets leaked rusty water, and it was obvious
that nothing had been properly repaired or replaced in years.
Not one single item on the breakfast menu was available at
the hotel "restaurant", the tablecloths were dirty from the
previous night's dinner customers (and stayed dirty for our
two day stay), and managers as well as servers were obviously

6. (SBU) Comment contd. We also visited a fish farm and
outdoor restaurant built a few years ago by a local
physician. Half a dozen grounds keepers were languidly
raking up the few pieces of debris on the paths through this
attractive, garden-like setting. The actual ponds where the
fish breeding is done and that supply the restaurant were so
stagnant and choked with algae that we could not see the fish
until one of the grounds keepers threw crumbled crackers in
the water. Then hundreds of fish, so many that they appeared
to be one animal, boiled to the surface of the green and
slimy water. We also visited the Calabar National Museum,
which is well-kept and housed in the former residence of the
colonial governor. After waking up the two attendants dozing
in the afternoon heat in the gift shop, we noted that the
last visitor had signed the guest book four month prior.
There was a two month gap between him and the next previous

7. (U) Comment contd. Two weeks after our visit, newspapers
reported that the federal Nigerian Tourism Development
Corporation (NTDC) had been demanding payment of "license
fees" from Cross River hotels and restaurants. Governor
Donald Duke issued a statement saying that "henceforth no
hotelier or hospitality operator...should pay
(the NTDC) until further instructions are received from the
newly established Cross River State Tourism Board which is
the body regulating tourism and hospitality business in the
State." End comment.

A few good women

8. (U) In addition to familiarization with the region, a goal
of the visit was to establish or re-establish contact with
NGOs in the area. PolOffs visited the Director of the Women
in Detention Rights Initiative (WDRI), Margaret Okopko.
Okopko is a practicing lawyer and was recently named a
Special Advisor to the Governor for Women's Affairs working
with the State's First Lady on these issues. She told us
that she started WDRI in 1999 and has, with occasional
contributions from friends, funded it almost 100 per cent
with her own money since then. She says that, five years
ago, she was visiting a (male) client in a Calabar jail when
she heard a baby crying. She went looking for the source of
the crying and discovered a woman and infant sitting on the
floor in the hallway of one of the cell blocks. The woman
told her that her husband had her arrested for domestic
violence, and she and her child had been sleeping and sitting
in the hall for three days. Okopko left, rallied a group of
her friends, and went back two days later to help the woman.
This was the beginning of WDRI. She, and her staff of three,
try to provide free legal services in six southeast States.
Currently there are about thirty women detained in their
region; five in and around Calabar. She says the
organization wants to expand and enhance its services, and
especially to develop educational programs that will change
the treatment of Nigerian women accused of crime. Okopko
says that a woman charged with a crime can be incarcerated
indefinitely and will certainly, immediately, and probably
permanently, be ostracized. This happens without formal
charges, trial, conviction or any other examination of facts.
Okopko would, obviously, like help funding her
organization's activities, and we advised her to submit
program proposals for consideration.
University of Calabar

9. (U) The University of Calabar has a large and well
maintained campus and boasts a student population of more
than 15,000. We met with Georgette Antigha, who manages the
University's health education programs dealing with HIV/AIDS,
STDs, teen pregnancy, and illegal drug use. She is also a
Professor of Theater Arts in the Drama Department. Antigha
said the University program started in 1991 with funding from
several sources, including UNICEF and USAID. She said that,
since the first Nigerian HIV/AID case was found in Cross
River, programs like the one at the University are accepted
and have benefited from high visibility early on. At one
point, the program was reaching thirty new students per week.
Funding began to dry up in 1999 and now the program reaches
only about sixty students per year. To maximize the impact
of the program, Antigha says they have revamped the program
to a "train the trainers" format. Students volunteer and pay
a token fee for the training. She said she would like to see
the program reach even more university students than it did
in the beginning, as well as extend to secondary students.
We encouraged her to submit program proposals.

Akwa Ibom - More good women

10. (U) Akwa Ibom was part of Cross River until it became a
State in 1987. The majority of its population of about three
million are ethnic Ibibio, Annang and Oron, which lends logic
to separating it from the administrative control of members
of the three different ethnic groups that make up the
population of Cross River. Akwa Ibom is also one of the
oil-producing Delta States that has a sea coast as its
southern border. In addition to its federal allocation of
revenues from on-shore production, the recent GON move to
allow the States a greater share in off-shore production will
add significantly to Akwa Ibom's operating funds. Our
contact in Akwa Ibom, Comfort Umanah, is a young, energetic
union leader. She is an organizer and representative for the
State's radio and television workers, and very well known to
State officials up to and including the Governor.

11. (U) We met with Deputy Majority Whip of the State House
of Assembly Mabel Udongwo who is also chairperson of the
Assembly Committee on Women, Children and the Media. Udongwo
lamented the fact that there are few women in politics
nationally as well as in Akwa Ibom. She said this was due
more to cultural factors than to lack of financial backing.
Although women are a majority of the Nigerian population,
fifty percent of them are illiterate, and most girls,
particularly in the villages, are not encouraged to aspire
beyond an elementary education. In addition, most Nigerians
consider politics a violent business for men only, and few
husbands would encourage their wives to enter the political
arena. Politics for Udongwo, however, is a family affair.
Mr. Udongwo is a Local Government (LG) Chairman and
encouraged his wife, then working as a professor of
management at the Polytechnic Institute, to run for LG
office. She says she saved for ten years to finance her
campaign herself because she wanted to "be where the action
is." She ran twice and lost, but on her third try she aimed
higher and won a seat in the House of Assembly. She has
formed her own NGO, Women in Politics, because she says
"Women are more honest and sincere than men and, thus, are
able to fight corruption better." Udongwo says she has 26
local women ready and able to run for LG office on March 27,
and her aim is to get at least ten women into the House of
Assembly in the 2007 elections. Her focus has been on
grassroots issues such as poverty, potable water, reliable
electricity, good roads, and she has sponsored the State's
first agricultural development bill.

The "Bag Man"

12. (SBU) The Governor's Political Advisor, Udo Ekpengyong,
could not tear himself away from the televised quarterfinal
of the All-Africa Soccer Championships to talk with us very
long. When he did, he had several long-standing complaints
about Mobil Oil Company's operations in the State that he
wanted USG help in resolving. According to Ekpengyong, Akwa
Ibom had attracted the oil companies because it can produce
at least two thousand barrels per day and has no political or
security problems. (Comment. Actually, Mobil reported that
its Akwa Ibom operations produced over 500,000 barrels per
day in 2003. End comment.) He complained that Mobil has 100
percent of its operations in Akwa Ibom, yet has never fully
compensated the State for environmental damage caused by
those operations. In addition, Mobil keeps its office and
in-country staff in Lagos. Ekpengyong says Mobil should move
all staff, administration, and the jobs they engender to Akwa
Ibom. He continued saying that, in addition to moving jobs
from Lagos, Mobil needs to offer scholarships to Akwa Ibom's
restless, unemployed youth. Without this "encouragement" and
hope for a brighter future, the youths might "explode" in
violence and unrest, making it difficult to do business in
Akwa Ibom. When asked what are the most pressing political
issues on which he was advising the Governor, Ekpengyong said
there are no pressing political issues in Akwa Ibom at this
time. He said there was no problem with the 2003 elections
and the State is not adding new LGs, so there will be no
problem with the 2004 elections. He ended our meeting saying
that the Governor, also, is focused on grassroots issues such
as electricity, clean water, and fighting corruption. He
said that all day, from very early in the morning, he had
been seeing supplicants in his office and been giving out
money to help the people.

The Speaker is upbeat

13. (SBU) Affable House Speaker Nelson A. Efiong cut short a
committee meeting to meet with us late in the afternoon on
our last day in the Southeast. He told us straight-away that
his wife and children are American citizens and that, as Mrs.
Efiong had said she never wanted to live in Nigeria, both she
and the children were living in the US. Efiong said he and
his wife had met and married while they were in college in
Texas. Both were settled into careers in the US when
governor Victor Attah asked him to return and be a part of
his government. Efiong said the Governor had been stymied in
his first term by "disgruntled losers", but now the
administration is moving on important issues such as
streamlining the civil service, internal security, building
and maintaining infrastructure, agricultural development, and
encouraging private investment in the State. He proudly
noted that the Champion Beer Company, once a major employer
in the capital city of Uyo, had recently been bought by an
Indian group. He said that the Champion factory has resumed
production and local distribution, and planned national
distribution by the end of 2004. In addition, he said that
the Meridian Hotels are committed to developing the Nwaniba
Tourist Center on the sea coast. Plans for the Tourist
Center include a five-star hotel.

Politics - No problem

14. (U) Although several states are still wrestling with the
local government issue, Efiong said Akwa Ibom does not have
this problem. The State set up its LGs using the
parliamentary system rather than a presidential system.
According to Efiong, this is a more efficient and less
expensive way to run the LG system, and it insures more State
oversight of how the LGs are run. On the question of whether
the State would create new LGs, he said that the recent
federal decision on the on-shore off-shore allocation of oil
revenues would bring more money into the State, thus doing
away with the need for additional LGs. Efiong said the
Governor wants the people of Akwa Ibom to see the "dividends
of democracy" in a government that serves the people and
meets their needs. The administration is interested in U. S.
seminars, workshops, and exchange programs for legislators.

15. (SBU) Comment. It is becoming clearer that, after years
of watching military dictators and their cronies loot the
national treasury, most Nigerians believed that the way to
"spread the wealth" and "get a piece of the action" is to put
on the trappings of democratic government. Talking to second
term officials is "deja vu all over again." Most have spent
the past four years of elected government building mansions,
stashing cash and paying off past and future supporters.
Most still spout grandiose plans for future development and
better lives for citizens, but country-wide the roads are in
terrible shape, teachers at every level are not paid and
constantly on strike, electricity is unavailable or
unreliable, and even in the major cities drinking water is
delivered by truck -- and only to those who can afford it.
Some States have passed agricultural development legislation,
but none of the officials we spoke to could point to a single
State-funded agricultural project. Every official we have
spoken to has put a high priority on developing tourism to
generate jobs and revenue, but none could cite ancillary
development necessary to a successful tourism industry. By
the 2007 general elections, Nigerians will have waited eight
years for the "dividends of democracy" to make a difference
in the quality of life of the average citizen. Those
elections will tell what type civil society Nigerians want.


© Scoop Media

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