Cablegate: National Assembly Making Waves

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

011416Z Sep 04




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Nigerian legislators are suddenly
making news. The House of Representatives was
applauded for passing the Freedom of Information Bill,
making government information open to the public and
protecting whistle blowers. The Senate yesterday
unanimously demanded that President Obasanjo fire FCT
Minister Nasir El-Rufai within 48 hours, and suspended
work on all bills sought by Executive. The Senate last
week accused El-Rufai, an influential member of the GON
Economic Team, of improperly employing two personal
aides, although some Senators tell us that they would
accept a public apology from El-Rufai. In a separate
action, the Senate also took upon itself court-like
duties in ordering Royal Dutch Shell, one of the main
companies pumping Nigerian crude, to pay 1.5 billion
usdols to Nigerian communities as a fine for its
causing "severe health hazards and economic hardship."
End Summary.


2. (SBU) The House passed on August 24 a Freedom of
Information bill to ensure that citizens have access to
public records. In the past, all government
information in Nigeria was classified, limiting
transparency to what the GON decided to publish. This
bill criminalizes hoarding of information by public
servants and institutions, and protects government
workers from harassment if they disclose certain types
of government information without authorization from
their superiors. Rep. Farouk Adamu, Vice Chair of the
House Committee on Information, told us Section 3 (1)
of the Bill states: "every person, whether or not a
citizen of Nigeria, has a legally enforceable right to,
and shall on request, be given access to records under
the control of government or public institutions."


3. (U) The Senate, on August 31, unanimously demanded
that President Obasanjo fire Nasir El-Rufai, the
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and also a
senior member of Obasanjo's economic reform team,
within 48 hours. A week earlier, senators demanded El-
Rufai resign or face charges concerning two personal
aides the senators alleged were illegally hired. El-
Rufai responded to reporters that "Silence is the best
answer to a fool," which the senators claimed was
calling all of them fools. President Obasanjo
apologized in an August 31 letter to the Senate for
Minister El-Rufai's words, but the Senate rejected the

4. (SBU) We spoke to Senator Mamora from the AD, and
Senator Shuaibu of the ANPP in separate meetings
September 1. They said the Senate was infuriated by El-
Rufai's attitude and public comments that were
disrespectful of the Senate. They made no mention of
policy differences with El-Rufai or the GON as a whole,
and Shuaibu said he thought the Senate might relent on
demanding resignation if El-Rufai apologized publicly.


5. (U) On August 24, the Senate passed a resolution
ordering Royal Dutch Shell to pay 1.5 billion usdols to
Ijaw residents of Bayelsa State, in response to a
petition from a group claiming to represent them. The
petitioners claimed environmental damage from oil
spills and other oil operations had killed, injured and
ruined the Ijaws economically. Senators said they
acted because violence in the Delta was getting out of
hand, and this would appeal to Delta residents.

6. (U) In a similar case, the Abia state assembly voted
to call on another oil major, Agip, to appear before
the assembly to explain how it would pay damages to
Abia constituents. Neither Shell nor Agip has agreed
to pay, and Shell has taken out newspaper ads to
explain that most of the oil spills resulted from
sabotage by local communities in Bayelsa instead of
Shell activities.

7. (U) Members of the House of Representatives,
including one ex-journalist, have tabled a bill that
would establish a code of ethics for journalists. The
code would criminalize "irresponsible journalism" and
force journalists to reveal their sources and provide
other evidence if taken to court. After some outcry
comparing the bill to military-rule era decrees, the
House stopped action on the bill.


8. (SBU) The House is also still working on the labor
reform bill, and Senators mentioned specifically that
they would take no action on the labor bill until the
El-Rufai affair was settled. (Our House and Senate
contacts tell us the labor bill is unlikely to pass
either house in its present form anyway.) The various
bills in play could affect U.S. interests in a variety
of ways, and we will keep monitoring their progress.


© Scoop Media

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