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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
02ABUJA2337
2002-08-06 08:26:00
SECRET
Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

NIGERIA: PRESIDENT OBASANJO AND A/S

Tags:   PREL  PBTS  MOPS  CM  FR  NI 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002337 

SIPDIS


LONDON FOR GURNEY
PARIS FOR NEARY


E.O. 12958: DECL: 1.6X5, 1.6X6
TAGS: PREL PBTS MOPS CM FR NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: PRESIDENT OBASANJO AND A/S
KANSTEINER DISCUSS BAKASSI


REF: ABUJA 2268


CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER. REASON
1.6X5 AND 1.6X6.




1. (C) Summary. During their July 25 meeting at Aso
Rock Villa, President Obasanjo and Assistant Secretary
Kansteiner discussed major regional conflicts and the
potential crisis on Nigeria's southeastern border --
the Bakassi. This cable reports the discussion on
Bakassi. Other topics are reported septel.




2. (S) On Bakassi, President Obasanjo asked our help
urging Cameroon toward a negotiated "political
solution" rather than waiting for a winner-take-all
ICJ judgment that might heighten tensions between the
two countries. Joining President Obasanjo in the
meeting were NSA Aliyu Mohammed, Minister of
Cooperation and African Integration Bimbola Ogunkelu,
the President's Chief of Staff and MFA Americas
Officer Director Basil Ukpong. Ambassador Jeter, Lagos
Consul General Hinson-Jones, A/S Senior Special
Advisor Jim Dunlap and PolCouns (notetaker)
accompanied A/S Kansteiner. End Summary.




--------------------------


Bakassi Is A Problem!


--------------------------






3. (C) During most of this 90-minute meeting, Obasanjo
was in relaxed good spirits. But as discussions swung
toward Bakassi, the President's look turned to one of
deep concern and his speaking cadence became more
deliberate, as if to underscore the gravity of the
situation.




4. (C) When he was military Head of State, Obasanjo
recalled, the border friction with Cameroon was
contained and had not assumed the ominous significance
it has today. Twenty some years ago, he was able to
manage difficulties and maintain good rapport with
Cameroon's leader Ahidjo. Successor leaders in both
countries, unfortunately, allowed the dispute to
percolate. (Comment: Obasanjo offered his personal
historical perspective to set the stage for his
request to us. In attesting to his own "innocence," he
also was casting blame at the military rulers who
followed him. Because someone got him into this mess,
he feels he has the moral standing to ask someone else
-- the United States and others -- to help him out of
it. End Comment.)




5. (S) Immediately after his 1999 election, Obasanjo
made a goodwill visit to Yaounde. At that time Biya
wanted to discuss Bakassi; however, believing the
discussion inappropriate since he was not yet
inaugurated, Obasanjo demurred, saying he lacked the
authority to consult at that time. Once sworn in, he
would eagerly talk Bakassi, Obasanjo told the
Cameroonian. Obasanjo told Biya that he had come so
soon after the election as a goodwill gesture but that
he could not discuss such a weighty matter without
formally being in office. That his temporary reticence

came when the moody Biya was ready to talk might have
permanently "turned Biya off" from talking to him,
Obasanjo speculated.




6. (S) Since taking office, Obasanjo tried several
times to communicate but Biya has rebuffed him and his
emissaries at every turn. Believing Cameroon might
listen to the French, Obasanjo raised Bakassi with
President Chirac, asking the Gallic leader to act as
an intermediary. He recalled translating for Chirac a
Yoruba adage " that you don't go to court against
someone and come back as friends." Obasanjo advised
Chirac to take the "African way" by not labeling
either party as completely right or absolutely wrong;
instead, he counseled the French President to
apportion both blame and credit to each side. This way
neither side would lose face or gloat completely.
Chirac initially accepted the assignment with
enthusiasm; however, after talking to Biya, Chirac's
enthusiasm waned. Biya, confident of his chances
before the ICJ, had turned a stubborn and deaf ear to
the French President.




7. (S) Obasanjo and Chirac had their most recent
discussion on Bakassi on the margin of the Kananaskis
G-8 Summit. During this meeting, Obasanjo stressed a
court decision completely negating all Nigerian claims
would be very "hard to swallow politically." However,
he explained, a "political solution" could be
fashioned to make the negative impact more gradual and
thus more palatable. Even if Bakassi inhabitants had
to change their nationality, a deliberate approach
that protected their rights and did not generate
upheaval or panic should be explored, Obasanjo told
Chirac. At the end of their talks, Obasanjo asked
Chirac to intercede once more. Chirac responded that
he would raise the matter with Kofi Annan and ask
Annan to talk to Obasanjo. (Comment: Apparently,
Obasanjo was unable to elicit from Chirac a firm
commitment to talk to Biya; if Chirac had committed,
Obasanjo probably would have told us. From Obasanjo's
own rendition of his last encounter with the French
leader, Chirac seemed less than keen on revisiting
this matter with Biya. Attempting to pass the baton,
Chirac appears to be pushing Kofi Annan into the spot
Obasanjo wants Chirac to occupy. End Comment.)




8. (S) In their conversation, Obasanjo told Annan that
Nigeria had established a senior level implementation
commission to plan how to handle the ICJ decision,
whether negative or positive. He stressed to Annan,
however, that Nigeria and Cameroon should be working
toward a peaceful political solution before the
verdict. Annan endorsed the idea, according to
Obasanjo. Obasanjo then asked Annan to discuss this
approach with Chirac. (Comment: Obasanjo has
initiated a diplomatic round-robin that thus far has
yielded only half of what he seeks. He talked to
Chirac who shuffled him to Annan as the one to see. He
conferred with Annan whom he asked to talk to Chirac.
Seems the trio agree on a general approach, but
Obasanjo does not appear to have successfully
convinced either Chirac (again) or Annan (first time)
to approach Biya directly. End comment.)




9. (S) Irrespective of the outcome of the ICJ verdict,
Obasanjo told Kansteiner, both nations would have to
cooperate to implement cardinal aspects of the verdict
dealing with boundary demarcation and movement of
people. Awkward as it might be, Nigeria was open to
talk because it could not wish Cameroon away. Try as
he could, Biya "might be able to wish me away but he
could not wish Nigeria away," Obasanjo quipped.
Obasanjo added that while he wanted to work for a
peaceful solution, the GON was receiving reports of
increased harassment of Nigerian inhabitants in the
Bakassi by Cameroonian authorities. These reports only
increased the temperature and could be a source of
provocation, the President implied. (Comment: Alluding
to his domestic political woes, Obasanjo half-joked
that before long Biya's wish to be rid of him might
come true. End Comment.)




10. (S) A/S Kansteiner responded the USG wanted
Bakassi resolved peacefully; therefore, we would help
where possible but our influence with Biya was less
than that of France. Kansteiner mentioned new French
Foreign Minister de Villepin, although only a few
months on the job, had taken a keen interest in things
African. Nigeria would likely find France's new top
diplomat a helpful interlocutor. Kansteiner offered
that we would be willing to raise Bakassi with de
Villepin. Perking up somewhat, Obasanjo interjected
that working through the French Foreign Minister might
be a good avenue to encourage France to re-engage
Biya.




11. (S) Immediately before the session with the
President, A/S Kansteiner met NSA Aliyu Mohammed where
Bakassi was also discussed. Mohammed claimed Nigeria
was prepared to forcibly settle Bakassi 20 years ago
but President Shagari refused to go to war. Since
then, there had been numerous flare-ups regarding the
peninsula. With the advent of the Obasanjo
Administration, Mohammed claimed the GON had done its
utmost to talk to Biya. However, the Cameroonian,
smug in the belief that he has the stronger legal
case, rebuffed every Nigerian overture. Mohammed
recalled going to London with a letter from President
Obasanjo to hand to Biya, only to discover that Biya
had scotched the rendezvous at the last minute, even
though the two were staying at the same hotel. After
summarizing Obasanjo's efforts with Chirac and Annan,
Mohammed stressed the GON wanted to be engaged in
negotiations with Cameroon quickly in order to resolve
the matter by November, the month the Nigerians
project the ICJ will render its decision.


--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------






12. (S) Clearly, President Obasanjo and his foreign
policy team are deeply concerned about Bakassi.
Obasanjo did not explicitly state Nigeria would go to
war if it lost the ICJ case and if Biya remains
steadfastly intransigent. However, with the President
twice stressing his hope for a "peaceful political
solution," the implication is inescapable that a
Nigerian military response is possible should Biya
continue to refuse to engage. To a degree, some of
these dire insinuations may be to stoke the USG, the
French and others to intercede. Nevertheless, this is
not simply a negotiating tactic. Nigerian concern is
real that domestic pressures might compel a military
response if Cameroon overplays its hand by refusing
even the possibility of negotiations.




13. (S) To lessen the possibility of military action,
Biya and Obasanjo should talk. Herein, lies the rub.
While Obasanjo might have gotten sympathetic hearings
from Annan and Chirac, neither apparently committed to
directly asking Biya to soften. Obasanjo is now asking
the USG to approach Biya as well as to persuade the
French to do so. Biya will be a very difficult sell.
While we defer to the opinion of our colleagues in
Yaounde regarding Biya's modes and moods, convincing
him to negotiate will likely take a lot more than a
subtle nudge. What advantage does he derive by
removing from the game the ICJ trump card he currently
holds in order for the Nigerians to have their desire
for a reshuffled deck? For negotiations to have a
chance, it appears the parties would have to agree
that the expected outcome of the ICJ opinion should be
the "informal basis," the starting point for
apportioning the relative rights, claims and duties of
the two sides in a compromise arrangement on the
Bakassi.




14. (S) Ambassador Jeter has briefed French Ambassador
Simon on the Obasanjo-Kansteiner discussion of
Bakassi. Simon was grateful and agreed with the
proposed approach of us engaging Foreign Minister de
Villepin. Simon is a close friend of de Villepin and
thinks the Foreign Minister will try to be helpful.
Simon also believes Chirac has more influence with
Biya than anyone else; nonetheless, Simon is uncertain
that Biya will listen to anyone, including his
respected mentor.
JETER