This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 ABUJA 002226
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/06/2011 TAGS: PREL MASS MARR OIIP OPRC PINR KPAO NI SUBJECT: STAR INTERVIEW -- ARMY MINISTER BATAGARAWA PUBLICLY ADVANCES THE MIL-MIL RELATIONSHIP
REF: A. ABUJA 2072
B. ABUJA 1436
(U) Classified by CDA Andrews; Reasons 1.5 (d).
1. (U) In the "Star Interview" section of the Daily Trust newspaper on August 30, Army Minister Lawal Batagarawa expressed his views on the security assistance relationship with the United States and on Operation Focus Relief, in addition to other topics relating to the Nigerian military and Ministry of Defense. The Daily Trust is a newspaper produced in Abuja (unlike the majority of Nigerian dailies produced in Lagos), and has a significant readership in the North. Northerners have been the most suspicious of U.S. activities vis-a-vis the military.
2. (C) Batagarawa had been aware of a desire on the part of the Embassy to have a larger and more focused media campaign on OFR and the MPRI programs, particularly to address rumors of "U.S. espionage," but had stated that the GON should lead this cause (Ref B). Recent public statements by President Obasanjo and Minister of Defense Danjuma on these topics, in addition to this particularly noteworthy interview, clearly demonstrate the Army Minister making good on his promise. The article is reproduced in its entirety in para 5 (particularly noteworthy sections are in all caps).
3. (C) Batagarawa, since the inception of his tenure in February, has played a key role in working with the Mission to advance U.S. and Nigerian interests in regards to military-to-military programs. His willingness to personally intervene as Acting Minister of Defense on the security assistance program (Ref A) led to the eventual transfer of funds for the MPRI program. Moreover, through his good offices, ODC Abuja now meets biweekly with Ministry of Defense officials to work together to advance the Embassy's security assistance program.
4. (C) Batagarawa is clearly intelligent, thoughtful, and unlike many of his colleagues, willing to make decisions on the spot when he perceives them to be in the best interests of Nigeria. Batagarawa may travel to the U.S. in early October. If he does, Mission strongly urges the Department and relevant Washington agencies to engage seriously and "roll out the red carpet" for this impressive interlocutor.
5. (U) The Daily Trust, August 20, 2001
The U.S. is not on a Spying Mission - Batagarawa: Mallam Lawal Batagarawa is the Minister of State, for Defense, Army. In this interview with Hameed M. Bello, our Senior Reporter, he comments on renovations in the barracks, the 'downsizing' of the army, the Nigerian/U.S. military partnership, pensioners within the Army, the War College, and more. Excerpts.
Q: Did your appointment as Minister of State, for Defense, Army, come to you as a surprise?
A: Well, I am not sure I am competent to comment on my appointment, so I would rather leave that question.
Q: How have soldiers in the barracks fared since the advent of this regime in terms of welfare facilities, and so on?
A: Well, first of all, I will split your question into two. One is how do the private soldiers in the barracks feel. The most competent person to answer that question is the soldiers in the barracks. On the issue of the dilapidation of the barracks, we are dealing with these problems at two levels. First of all, there is a presidential committee on barracks rehabilitation, whose chairman is a senior officer from the Federal Ministry of Works, with representatives from the Army, Navy, Airforce and the Police. They are to handle and rehabilitate barracks for these four services. Their modus operandi is that for now they have taken one major barracks from each of the services and they are concentrating their activities on those barracks. The idea is simple. It is to concentrate resources so that we have the maximum effect, rather than spread money in such a way that the effect is not felt at all. I will give you a very simple example. If you allocate N250 million, let's say to rehabilitate police barracks what it will come to about N1 million per barracks, you will agree with me that such an effort will have no impact at all. That is why the decision is that you concentrate your resources on specific barracks so that you achieve the maximum effect. In other words the Army, Navy, Airforce and the Police have money within their budgetary allocation for this year for barracks maintenance and rehabilitation. Now, what we are doing is to pick barracks across the country and try to attend to part of the barracks with the resources that are available. But again we are concentrating efforts and resources in specific locations, not all over the country. Again what we want to do is systematically bring all the barracks to the required standard, but we do not have the resources to do all of that at the same time, so we make selections across the country.
Q: The Defense Minister has said that military commanders would be involved in the renovation of the various barracks. Since government is emphasizing the reprofessionalization of the military, won't that go contrary to government's efforts in this direction? A: I think you are approaching it from the wrong perspective. A commander in any particular location is responsible for the welfare and upkeep of his troops with their families. That includes ensuring that the barracks is habitable. So if you do not involve him at the level of supervision, who else can supervise this work? Is it just the professionals who will come today and go away? He knows the minute details of what is wrong in those barracks. He has to certify that those weaknesses or defects in the barracks have been dealt with, and that is the involvement that the Minister of Defense is talking about. It is not that he (the commander) would be the one awarding contracts, supervising the contracts and satisfying the contractors. That is a professional job meant for architects and quantity surveyors and engineers. He is to ensure that things are done correctly to the satisfaction of his officers and men. That is the level to which he would be involved.
Q: Some two years ago when this administration came into power, one of the visions of the regime was to downsize the military to make it mobile and provide facilities for them. It seems as if this downsizing has been stopped. What is responsible for the stoppage sir?
A: Well, you have supplied part of the answer yourself. You will agree with me that this government in each situation where it has committed itself to a particular activity, we normally study the situation based on the objective we want to achieve, and then study is thoroughly analyzed and then on the basis of the detailed knowledge we then go about meeting our objective. We are in the process of studying the components that will determine what is the optimum size of the military we require. What sort of equipment do we need to provide for that military? So this is not something that you will jump into. It is something that you have to study thoroughly, you know. You have to take into account the training you require. You decide what is the optimum level of the military you require, then you straighten-out the hardware on the basis of that. Then you work out the training requirements on the basis of that also. It is when you do all this work and you have all the different components in perspective, that you begin to act. Another issue that you have to take into consideration, which is something you know very well, is the fact that the military is not like all human institutions. It is not something that is static; it is dynamic. Certain circumstances have changed between 1999 and today, and whatever we have to do we have to talk them into consideration, and we are taking those factors that have changed into consideration to determine what we are doing.
Q: NIGERIA AND U.S. HAVE A MILITARY PARTNERSHIP, WHICH GAVE BIRTH TO OPERATION FOCUS RELIEF (TRAINING FOR COMBAT READINESS). NIGERIANS DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS PARTNERSHIP. SOME ARE EVEN SAYING THAT AMERICANS ARE ON AN ESPIONAGE MISSION. WHAT CLARIFICATION CAN YOU MAKE ON THIS?
A: OKAY, FIRST OF ALL, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF COUNTRIES NIGERIA HAS DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENTS WITH. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS ONE, THE RUSSIAN REPUBLIC IS ANOTHER. OTHERS ARE SOUTH AFRICA, IRAN AND A NUMBER OF OTHERS. WE HAVE MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENTS WITH THEM. AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THESE MILITARY AGREEMENTS, WE HAVE TWO PROGRAMMES WITH THE U.S. ONE IS OPERATION FOCUS RELIEF. FOCUS RELIEF IS TARGETED AS FOLLOWS: A NUMBER OF NATIONS ARE INVOLVED IN THE UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING MISSION IS SIERRA LEONE AND NIGERIA IS ONE OF THEM. THE U.S. ASSISTS THESE COUNTRIES INVOLVED IN THE PEACEKEEPING MISSION IS SIERRA LEONE WITH TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT. SO, IT IS ALL THE COUNTRIES THAT ARE INVOLVED IN THE PEACEKEEPING MISSION IN SIERRA LEONE. FORCUS RELIEF IS TARGETED AT ALL THE COUNTRIES PARTICIPATING IN THE PEACEKEEPING MISSION IN SIERRA LEONE. THE SECOND IS THE MPRI PROGRAM.
Q: WHAT IS MPRI?
A: MPRI IS: MILITARY PROFESSIONAL RESOURCE INCORPORATED. IT IS ESSENTIALLY A GROUP OF RETIRED, RESPONSIBLE MILITARY OFFICERS OF AMERICAN ORIGIN WHO ARE EMPLOYED BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE U.S. TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO FRIENDLY COUNTRIES LKIKE NIGERIA THAT HAVE MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENTS WITH THEM. WHAT DO THEY DO? IT IS A SIMPLE THING - WE SIT IN NIGERIA AND LOOK AT OUR MILITARY AND IDENTIFY WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES IN OUR MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT. THE MILITARY AND THE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE WOULD SIT DOWN AND IDENTIFY WHAT ARE OUR AREAS OF WEAKNESSES. THEN WE SIT DOWN WITH THESE MILITARY PERSONNEL FROM THE UNITED STATES WHO HAVE SERVED IN A NUMBER OF COMMANDS AND STAFF POSTS. WE WILL ASK THEM IN WHAT WAY SHOULD WE DEAL WITH THESE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS. THE POINT IS SIMPLE, WE LEAD, THEY SUPPORT US. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A SPYING MISSION. IF WE HAVE PROFESSIONALS WHO HAVE VARIED EXPERIENCE IN NIGERIA, WE WILL USE THEIR SERVICES. THE U.S. OFFICIALS PARTICIPATING IN MPRI ARE PAIRED WITH NIGERIAN MILITARY OFFICERS, AND WHATEVER THEY DO, IS CARRIED OUT JOINTLY. WE DON'T ALLOW THE AMERICANS TO GO INTO AREAS WE CONSIDER SENSITIVE TO OUR SECURITY.
Q: I RECALL THAT THE NIGERIAN ARMY HAS A RESERVE LIST WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO BE A LIST OF OFFICERS WHO HAVE BEEN RETIRED FROM THE ARMY AND SOME OF THEM HAVE SEEN BATTLE, ESPECIALLY IN BIAFRA. WHY HAVEN'T WE DRAWN FROM THE POOL OF THESE VETERANS? IS THERE ANYTHING UNIQUE ABOUT THE MPRI THAT WE NEED TO LEARN FROM?
A: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, LET ME START WITH THE SIMPLEST POSITION. YOU CAN ALWAYS LEARN SOMETHING NEW FROM ANOTHER PERSON. YOU LEARN EVERYDAY FROM YOUR CHILD. THAT IS A FACT OF LIFE. SO, FOR EVERY OFFICER IN THE MPRI PROGRAMME, WE HAVE HIS NIGERIAN COUNTERPART, BOTH SERVING AND RETIRED IN WHICH CASE WE ARE ALREADY TAPPING INTO THE EXPERIENCE OF SOME OF OUR RETIRED PERSONNEL AS COUNTERPARTS TO THOSE AMERICANS. SECONDLY, THERE IS SOMETHING UNIQUE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. FIRST, TECHNOLOGICALLY, THEY HAVE AN EDGE OVER US. NUMBER TWO, IN TERMS OF MANAGEMENT SCIENCES, THE AMERICAN ECONOMY HAS DEVELOPED MANGEMENT SCIENCES TO AN ART, AND THERE IS SOMETHING WE CAN LEARN FROM IN THIS REGARD. IN INFORMATION TECHNOILOGY, WE CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM THEM. WE ARE ALSO LEARNING FROM THE NIGERIAN VETERANS.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK THE AMERICANS STAND TO GAIN FROM THE PARTNERSHIP?
A: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, LET ME START FROM PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS. EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD HAS SOMETHING TO GAIN IF THE WORLD IS AT PEACE. THE ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES OF THE WQORLD WOULD FLOURISH. WE HAVE SEEN THE CATASTROPHES IN SOMALIA, IN THE WAR BETWEEN ERITREA AND ETHIOPIA, IN THE MIDDLE EAST. AMERICANS HAVE AN INTEREST IN PEACE RETURNING TO THOSE AREAS JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. IF THERE IS PEACE IN NIGERIA, THEY WILL COME AND INVEST, AND MAKE PROFIT.
Q: What is the cause in the delay in the payment of pensions? Why does the Ministry default in payment as and when due?
A: First of all, as you are aware, pensions in the last two years have been reviewed about three times. The increase in the amount of pension has gone up about 400 percent or more, about 600 percent, if I am correct. That has increased the volume of money we are to pay as pension. The second thing that has happened was that a lot of people who were entitled to pension, were not collecting pension because the previous amount was meager. All of them have come back into the pension scheme because the money is now important to them. Those not in the system before, you are not aware of them because maybe they have died, or for whatever reason they are not there. Now that they have come, it will change your budgetary allocation making it inadequate. These twin problems are basically things that have created a backlog. The third issue is that there are a lot of people who are not entitled to pension but who are doing everything they can to ensure they get on the pensioners' list. Because of the activities of these bad eggs, we have to be cautious so that due process of establishing who is entitled to pension is followed, and these massive increases have taken place on the basis of the two things I have identified means that we have to make adjustments. The budgetary system now if different from what is was before. This time, once you go before the National Assembly and they approve the budget, if you wish to change it, you have to take a supplementary appropriation bill to them, which has to get through due process. A combination of these factors is responsible for the delays. We hope that these problems will be solved between now and December and with effect from January 1, we should not have any problem with the pensions. We hope by them, we would have had our facts and figures ready.
Q: Sir, there has been this allegation that even the selection process to the War College has been so politicized that those who do not merit to be there have been admitted. What comment do you have on this?
A: I do not comment on speculations. If you say it has been alleged, then what is the basis of the allegation? Unless you have certain specific cases on the basis of which I can respond, I don't think I will respond to that question. Q: In the 70s and early 80s when there was professionalism in the military, soldiers interacted among themselves in the officers' messes. Now the messes are deserted, ministers don't honor functions in the mess. What is responsible for these developments?
A: Let's get our understanding correct. I will not say that going to the mess is what constitutes professionalism in the army. Number two, I don't know how many messes you have been to, that you can say with any degree of authority that officers are not going to the mess. Number three, it is not all functions by the military that the minister has to attend. A lot of functions conducted by the army are not even attended by the Chief of Staff or his principal staff officers. Let us not trivialize the issue of professionalism.
Q: The present administration is keen on reprofessionalizing the military and the best way to achieve that is to train and retrain the military and equip it. What special training is the Army giving its men to keep them combat ready?
A: From the day a young man enrolls in the Defense Academy his career pattern is worked up to the time he will become a General. Okay, there are a minimum number of courses he has top attend. There are certain postings he must do, directing staff in training institutions and command. And these training facilities that have been allowed run down are now being rehabilitated and upgraded and that is the difference.
Q: There was a report that troops participating in the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission are in low morale, especially those from Ukraine, is the Nigerian troop having a similar experience? What is the cause?
A: I have been in Sierra Leone and I found the morale of our officers and men very high.
Q: In relation to the ex-Biafran soldiers who are agitating for absorption into the Nigerian Army, we don,t know what your ministry is doing on that and what the implications are for the Nigerian Army itself. What would happen if the army wish to reabsorb them?
A: You have just been asking me about "downsizing" the Nigerian Army and now you are asking me to reverse gear and go the another way. Let,s face it, the Biafran Army was involved in treason. To fight your country or against your country is treason, alright? These people were not staff of the Nigerian Army, so how do you reabsorb them? Reabsorbing means you were in before and you are being taken back. They were never in before, so how can they be taken back? Unless you are saying we should go and recruit the former Biafran Army into he Nigerian Army. That,s a different ball game altogether. They cannot talk of reabsorbtion because they were never part of the Nigerian Army. Biafra is not Nigeria, Nigeria is Nigeria. So you can,t reabsorb soldiers from another country into your own country.
Q: The government has been talking about transparency in public life for the nation to move forward/ What efforts are the Army making to ensure that there is transparency in all its activities.
A: You see, transparency requires a number of things, but the most fundamental is that there must be checks and balances ad we are complying in the Nigerian Army with all the rules and regulations. There was a retreat for the military in Kaduna and Ibadan and we are going to go round to all the military formations to do this retreat as part of the effort for the campaign for transparency and accountability. Also specific programs are being worked out at different locations to deal with these issues.
Q: At the retreat in Ibadan, the president called upon the officers to open up so that government would tap from whatever complaints they may have and find out how to satisfy the rank and file of the military in terms of morale and so on. How was your experience in the course of the retreat?
A: It was very beneficial, very educative and it was a good training ground for me.
Q: What measure is the Nigerian Army taking, especially with your leadership to ensure that the Army does not make any incursion into politics?
A: We have agreed that one of the best ways to keep any mischief-maker in the military from making any incursion into politics is basically good government and you will agree with me that this government is providing that. Two, the press has always been involved in promoting extreme disharmony in the society in a fundamentally negative fashion. That provides the military boys the excuse they are looking for. So, the responsibility is not that of the government alone. It is for all of us. What do we say about ourselves if mistakes are made, how do we approach the resolution of those mistakes? In 1983, some people were openly calling for the military to take over. The press was urging the military on. In 1993 when Chief Shonekan was the Head of State, some people were openly telling Sani Abacha to come and let the military finish what they have started, hand over to, Abiola and all that. The Press and other influential members of society can play their own part.
Q: Sir, would you support an Obasanjo/Atiku ticket come 2003?
A: You don,t need to ask that question.
Q: For what reason sir?
A: Look, let,s get it right. First of all, why in the first place do we support Obasanjo? All the reasons that recommended Obasanjo to be supported by all Nigerians are still valid today, two years later. Added to that, you will testify there is greater hope in the Nigerian system. In 1999, Niger Delta was a total no go area. It affected the important economic activities going on in Nigeria, especially the exploration of oil. The Niger Delta is peaceful today. There is no vandalization of pipelines, no kidnapping of oil workers, economic activities are picking up in the place and express roads have been constructed. Even in Abuja, today there is relative security and there is calm all over the country. In the year 2000, the economy grew, for the first time above the rate of population growth. You can see electricity supply stabilizing in Abuja and it is the same all over. In some par4ts of Lagos, especially the industrial area, there is a continuous power supply for 22 hours non-stop. Proper lights, not the mini-mini lights (laughs). The cost of food items has gone up since the inception of this government and salaries have also gone up, so that people could afford various items. We should be happy about that. Out of your salary you can pay school fees comfortably. Most civil servants are even buying cars.
Q: (Cuts in) Tokunbo cars?
A: Still, it is a car (laughs) no be car? Is it not better than walking over long distances? There is qualitative improvement in our lives in the past two years. Some people out of genuine ignorance have not articulated this. Some do so out of mischief, some out of dishonesty, but the truth of the matter is that the achievements are there on the ground for people to see. We wish to extend the borders of peace on the African continent. That is very important, we should never underestimate peace. This government has brought peace. It has brought greater security for life and property, and when you take all these together, you don,t need to ask me whether I would support Obasanjo or not come
Q: Finally sir, what legacies would you like to leave for the Army?
A: That is left for history to judge, not for me to say. One thing I would say is that I am prepared to give my best in order to improve the situation beyond the level at which I have met it.
Q: What sort of Army would you like to leave behind?
A: The most efficient, the most effective and the most respected Army in the world. Andrews