Cablegate: Visit to Nigeria's Northeast

DE RUEHUJA #2077/01 2701216
R 271216Z SEP 07





1. (U) Summary. Charge d'Affaires Gribbin and entourage spent the
week of September 17-22 visiting Borno, Bauchi and Gombe states to
open an American Corner in Maiduguri, donate school books, host
Iftaar dinners, meet governors, emirs and the local press. We were
warmly received everywhere. During the current rainy season
Nigeria's distant northeast is green and growing. Newly elected
governors enunciated long lists of desires, but were well focused on
local economic development, especially infrastructure and jobs.
They hoped that President Yar'Adua, a former governor, will be more
sensitive to their concerns. Traditional rulers professed moderate
Islam and friendship for America. End summary.

2. (U) I flew to Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, on September 17
to link-up with a road convoy from Embassy Abuja for a tour of the
northeast. Audiences were delighted to learn that I was both the
father of Peace Corps trained Kanuri speaker and had last been in
their city 37 years earlier. They wondered how much I thought it had
changed. A spread out city of several million people, Maiduguri has
a sense of timelessness about it. Although spacious, it is not very
modern. Aside from a few new government buildings and banks,
expansion has been ramshackle. Most of the economy falls into the
informal sector. The number of half finished petrol stations is
astonishing. Reportedly they flourish because once the owners get a
fuel allotment, they promptly smuggle the goods to Niger or Chad.

3. (U) Due to plentiful rains, the entire northeast is green. The
rivers are overflowing. Some flooding was evident. Guinea corn,
sorghum and millet stalks fill the fields, and scrawny cattle wander
about. The roads are adequate, even excellent in places, and more
construction is underway, but electrical power is intermittent at
the far end of the national grid. Additionally, many poles and
wires are down. The railroad has not worked for years. New cell
phone towers, however, dot the road sides providing good
communication for those who have phones.

4. (U) The purpose of the trip was to open an American Corner in
the Ramat Library at the University of Maiduguri, as well as to give
away book collections to 11 schools. (Note that the eleven American
Corners in Nigeria provide marvelous opportunities for outreach to
thousands of people who otherwise would have little contact with the
U.S. and who would not hear our messages.) Elaborate ceremonies in
Maiduguri and later in Gombe provided opportunities to stress our
focus on education, especially for girls ("the girl child" in local
parlance) and to wish everyone peace and friendship during Ramadan.
We also visited existing American Corners in Bauchi and in Jos.
Press coverage was excellent.

5. (U) Especially impressive at the University of Maiduguri (30,000
students) was the Institute of Trans Saharan Studies. It is an
academic organization that preserves old Islamic manuscripts,
publishes scholarly articles and books about ancient and modem
societies, water resources and geology. The Institute has also
brought expertise on conflict management between herders and
cultivators to bear on the situation in Darfur.

6. (U) I called on the Shehu of Borno, the second ranking of
Nigeria's traditional leaders who commands the allegiance of
millions and who can trace his lineage back a thousand years. I
also met with the Emirs of Bauchi and Gombe. The settings inside
their respective palaces were Hollywood Africa with fancy guards,
turbaned retainers, drums and chanters. Two emirs had previous lives
as civil and foreign service officers prior to accepting traditional
roles. Each fondly recalled visits to the U.S., favorable relations
with Americans - including the visit of Governor Jeb Bush to the
area in the early nineties. They all appreciated my courtesy call
and reciprocated my wishes for peace and tolerance. Similar
positive sentiments were exchanged during two Iftaar dinners I
hosted for about one hundred prominent personages from the modern

7. (U) Set pieces were exchanged during protocol laden meetings with
Governor Senator Ali Modu Sherrif of Borno State, Deputy Governor
John Lazurus Yoriyo of Gombe State and Governor Malam Isa Yuguda of
Bauchi State. In private they elaborated on their priorities and
needs. They all saw agriculture as the backbone of their economies
and in need of modernization. Jobs were a second concern. How to
harness the millions of unemployed? They had few answers. Gombe
State is doing public works and seeking to restart a major
hydroelectric irrigation project. All hoped to facilitate small
businesses. Education - inadequate schools, poor level of teacher
training, and insufficient materials - posed another challenge as
did the woeful state of health care. Deputy Governor Yoriyo asked
especially for support for women's activities. I listened.
Comment. It was interesting that the state executives felt that
these were the issues they had to deliver on and that doing so was
their responsibility, not that of the federal government. End

8. (U) Two of the three governors Borno (opposition ANPP) and Gombe
(ruling PDP) said they were reelected for a second term because they
produced results. The governor of Bauchi (now AANP, but formerly PDP

ABUJA 00002077 002 OF 002

and a minister in Obasanjo's government) defeated his arch rival to
take power. He castigated his predecessor as a corrupt show boater
who, for example, let a 5 billion naira contract for road
rehabilitation that should cost 2 billion and for passing out luxury
cars, bought with state funds, to political supporters. The
governors expressed the conviction that President Yar'Adua was good
for the north and good for them. Because of his previous service as
a governor, they said Yar'Adua understood state issues. They said
relations with the Villa were already much improved and they
expected more. Comment: Not for lack of contact, each governor
spends an inordinate amount of time in Abuja seeking to shake the
federal money tree. End Comment.

9. (U) Protocol was heavy throughout. Our convoy often numbered 20
vehicles. Police support was extensive; guys in riot gear,
plainclothes and uniformed officers accompanied us everywhere.
Presumably extra coverage was due to the Embassy's recent issuance
of a terrorist warning. No one in the north wanted trouble on their
watch. Or our side, trip coordinator Henry Mendelsohn and his
public affairs team did a superb job of organizing the events,
invitations, travel, lodging and press.

10. (U) Conclusion: It was a great trip. We showed the flag,
pressed the flesh and made all the correct observations about
Nigerian American friendship. Those sentiments were fully
reciprocated as northeastern leaders enjoyed basking in American
attention and having the opportunity to present their region in a
positive light.


© Scoop Media

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