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Cablegate: Obasanjo Offers to Resign If It Would Gain Debt

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

011359Z Jun 04

UNCLAS ABUJA 000962

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EFIN NI
SUBJECT: OBASANJO OFFERS TO RESIGN IF IT WOULD GAIN DEBT
RELIEF FOR NIGERIA


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, NOT FOR PUBLICATION ON THE
INTERNET OR INTRANET.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: President Obasanjo celebrated Nigeria's
"Democracy Day" with two speeches. An address to the nation
reiterated platitudes on what his first and second
administration have done for Nigeria, but the other speech, a
lecture at the International Conference Center in Abuja gave
his audience more than they had expected. Obasanjo declared
he was ready to resign if that were necessary for the Paris
Club and other international financial institutions to write
off Nigeria's foreign debt. It was so astonishing, and
wreathed in caveats, that Nigerians paid little attention,
but his audiences at the Sea Island Summit June 8-10 should
be prepared for him to raise debt relief with similar depth
of feeling (although probably not a similar offer). END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) President Obasanjo last week declared May 29 a
national holiday, the anniversary of his first inauguration
as Nigeria's civilian president bringing military rule to a
close. It was to be a celebration of his administrations'
accomplishments, and more broadly of democracy in Nigeria.
Few paid much attention to either of the two events where he
spoke, basically being held for his supporters, and there was
not much to listen to in the address carried nationally.

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3. (SBU) At the other, a seminar on democracy at the
International Conference Center in Abuja, Obasanjo told the
audience that Nigeria could not sustain paying debt service
on the 30 billion USD he said Nigeria owes creditor nations.
For this reason, he said, his administration fighting for
debt relief and it had become a political rather than
economic issue. "The truth is that debt relief, debt
cancellation, debt whatever, is only a political issue. It
is not an economic issue. We reject it (the debt). If we
reject this, we believe that our brothers in the West can
take a firm position and say in their own countries and
indeed to the world, that the debt is unpayable and
unsustainable if we really want to have a world that will be
regarded as an equitable world."

4. (SBU) Obasanjo reminded the sparse audience that most of
Nigeria's debts were penalties imposed when previous Nigerian
military governments had not paid on time or not at all. The
original borrowing had basically been paid back already. "We
have paid some of these debts two times over; for the
original 10 billion, 30 billion is being asked. Why?" he
queried.

5. (SBU) Obasanjo asked why creditor nations canceled the
debts of Pakistan and Iraq, and then said he would resign if
someone's downfall was needed to make debt relief happen.

"If the debt of Pakistan can be written off because Pakistan
and Afghanistan are now U.S. allies, and the debt of Iraq can
be written off after the downfall of Saddam, we do not want
the downfall of anybody in Nigeria before you can write off
the debt. But if actually a downfall of some sort is needed,
I will volunteer to step down."

6. (SBU) Obasanjo quickly added that should such need arise,
he would have to consult the National Assembly first before
resigning.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: Debt relief remains a cornerstone of
Obasanjo's hoped-for legacy, and he will continue to raise
the issue at every venue, including the upcoming Sea Island
Summit. His Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has very
persuasively talked of waiting six months before re-opening
discussions on debt relief, in order that Nigeria can provide
the concrete results from its reform policies necessary for
any consensus to be reached among Paris Club and other
creditors. Obasanjo speaking off the cuff is a bit less
nuanced, and he reflects a widely held disappointment among
Nigerians that debt relief has not been among the fruits of
democracy.
CAMPBELL

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