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A Conversation With Olusegun Obasanjo

Speaker: Olusegun Obasanjo, president, Federal Republic of Nigeria
Moderator: Princeton N. Lyman, Ralph Bunche senior fellow in Africa policy studies, Council on Foreign Relations
September 24, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations

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Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.


PRINCETON LYMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations this early morning. We’re very privileged to have with us this morning President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. Before we get into the formal program, I have to do the protocol of the Council.

First of all, everyone should turn off their cell phones. That’s a very important step. Today’s meeting is going to be on the record. And— [inaudible.]

PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: I think— I—

LYMAN: No, no, the tag, the thing— [inaudible].

OBASANJO: Yeah. Well, you get used to these things when you are—

LYMAN: [Inaudible.] [Laughter.] We do have members of the press with us. But I would remind the press that the question and answer session is strictly for the members of the Council.

It is a great pleasure to have with us today President Obasanjo. I think everyone here is quite familiar with him. It’s a particular privilege for the Council. As many of you know, the Council on Foreign Relations has had, for the last five years, a special project on Nigeria, working with Nigeria on its economic reform program. The president was with us a year ago, and his minister of finance, [Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala], has been here, and we have just come back from a major investment conference and other meetings in Nigeria.

President Obasanjo is, without question, one of the most distinguished leaders in the world today. He has a long, distinguished career, first in the military, then distinguished himself and, really, the cause of democracy, by turning over the government from military to democratic, elected government in 1979.

Nigeria went through a very, very bad period in the 1990s. And President Obasanjo, who has long been a spokesman for democracy, for sound governance, for human rights, for economic policy reform, was jailed for his opposition to that regime. Now, he’s the president of Nigeria, elected in 1999, and re-elected last year, and has the enormous task of bringing Nigeria back from years of misrule, and decline in infrastructure, and levels of living.

But in addition to that, President Obasanjo is chairman of the African Union [AU] and has played a major role in bringing peace and stability to the continent— not only in West Africa, but as many of you know, Nigeria, under the direction of the president and the foreign minister [Ambassador Olu Adeniji], who is with us also this morning, have been leading the talks to bring an end to the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. And the African Union is the only organization right now in a position to carry forward those negotiations and to lead in organizing a peace force in that.

So, Mr. President, we are absolutely delighted to have you with us this morning. And perhaps we could start on the Nigeria side, a country of such importance going through such a difficult time now. You’ve launched a major economic reform effort. Let us hear how it’s going.

OBASANJO: Princeton, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

I want to first of all thank you for your continued interest in Africa generally, but in Nigeria in particular. And as Princeton has rightly said, I’m not a stranger to Council on Foreign Relations. In fact, if I can claim to have been formed in my foreign relation or foreign affairs ideas— foreign relations— the Council on Foreign Relations has contributed immensely to my formation in whatever my view and ideas are.

All I will say, though, is that for us, it is important that we have friends like you— friends who can look at us objectively and say to us, as friends should say to themselves: Have a pat on the back for this that you are doing right, and let us tell you— if you like, behind closed door— what we believe you should improve upon.

I will want to go on two platforms this morning, as Princeton has suggested: the Nigerian reform platform, on which I have spoken here before— I spoke on it here last year, and I think since then our finance minister also spoke on it; and then after that, I will want to put my AU cap on and talk a little bit about the AU, and particularly about Darfur, because that is the first challenge of our new AU in its effort to grapple with the issue of conflict resolution, conflict management, conflict prevention.

I did say when I was here last year that the first— my first term was— my first four years was the year of, if you like, digging the foundation for building— or for rebuilding Nigeria. And if you have a house that has collapsed, which was the situation of Nigeria more or less, you need to dig a new foundation. You need to know how far the old foundation was, what made it to collapse, and then you need to underpin the new foundation— what do you exactly— you need to do. And the first four years was more or less— what was done.

In addition to that, of course, I came out of prison. I didn’t have the political base at first, I didn’t have a political party. I’ve never been a political party man. So, I was more or less drafted. And then I have to learn the ropes of what political parties do, how they do it, and then become a party political man, and also be able to etch my own stamp on my own political party.

Now, after that, we came to the new term, or the second term, and the economy became a major issue. I had done some previous— some work in what we need to do, how we needed to do. And of course, because I have a little bit more leeway, I was able to pick my team with little interference by the political parties this term.

So I pick an economic team. Some people call it dream team, [inaudible] also for them. But, I pick an economic team and probably it will be more than economic team, because I have the foreign minister here, who doesn’t know his left from his right as far as party politics go. [Laughter.] I don’t even know whether he knows which party I belong to. [Laughter.]

Now— so I was able to do that. Twelve of them— I call them 12 disciples, and I say that I hope none of them will be Judas Iscariot. [Laughter.] And we then decided what we have to do with my full backing, and I’m the chairman of that economic team. We meet every week before our cabinet meeting, and we look at what we need to do, how we need to do it. And we have a reform package, which is put under the acronym NEEDS: National Economic Empowerment and— Empowerment and Employment Development Strategy, NEEDS.

When we coined that acronym, I said to them that, “Look, you are treading a dangerous point, because you know what Nigerians cynical of the— [inaudible]--will say that Obasanjo’s needs have not met the needs of Nigeria now,” and they want to throw it away. But fortunately, I think we have— well, we started that way with the Nigerian— [inaudible]--cynicism and skepticism, but we did go around. We convert these— we consulted and compared this reform package widely. We talked to almost every group that needed to be talked to: military, liberal, traditional, and a whole lot— market, women, the students, the whole lot.

And initially, they thought that, well, it’s like other reforms and policies of the past, so they were rather unsure about it. But the thing is that it has started to pay it off, and it has started to show results. I will give two or three areas where surely it has started to pay off.

Our agricultural production last year improved— increased, rather, by seven percent. In the recent past, we have not had anything like that. In fact, in history, probably only early in the— after independence, have we had anything close to that.

It was so good that we were able to keep a strategic reserve of grain of well over 150,000 pounds; and so good that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the World Food Program is setting up an office in Nigeria; so good that the World Food Program is buying initially 3,000 tons of grain from Nigeria for Chad; so good that for this year, we are expecting that we will be able to, in fact, have about 250,000 tons of [grain]--added to the over 150,000 tons we had last year, and now have challenged ourselves that we should be able to— within the next three years— be able to have a strategic grain reserve of 1 million metric tons. That fact is something we’ve never done before.

Total GDP [gross domestic product] growth last year was about 10.7 percent. And that is a reality, not something [about which] we say oh maybe, maybe not.

The attitude has also started to change. Those who believe, Oh, yes, they will do this, and they will soon get tired, and that would be the end of it— now they are believing that, Oh, yes, this one won’t get tired, so we might as well conform, since we won’t get tired. And we are making reform and carrying out reform, and the public sector have made— started delivering one major means of checking whether we are making progress or not making progress.

And there are two areas where we have achieved success in a change of attitude— a change of orientation— and it’s there for Nigerians to see and for the world to see. We have something we call NAFDAC [National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control]. This is the control and monitoring of drug and licensing of— in that area. And the lady in charge [Dora Nkem Akunyili] has just— she’s been getting award upon award from all over the world. This year faked drugs entering Nigeria has been stopped. And as a result of that, Nigeria is now producing drugs for countries in our sub-region of West Africa.

Another one is our postal system. If any postal system was bad in the world, the Nigerian postal system was bad. And that was why [private postal carrier] DHL was very successful in Nigeria. We have a number of others. Now that the postal system is working— I see their slogan is that whatever you post will be delivered within 72 hours wherever you post it in Nigeria, and that they are doing. It is been so successful that DHL may be running at a loss in Nigeria. I will sympathize with DHL, but I will not— I won’t— feel too bad that we are succeeding in our own reform package.

I just give these two as an example of how to assess whether we are succeeding in these reform areas or not. Of course, they are two small areas, one would say. But I have always believed that success begets success, and before you need to see that things are happening and they’re happening right, and then you can say, Well, this is a success story, now why can’t you be that success story?

I see somebody here who is conversant with the banking industry in Nigeria. We are also carrying out reform in the banking industry. Banking— banks have just mushroomed in Nigeria overnight. We have over [inaudible] of them, and in about three— within about three or four years, over 30 of them collapsed— [inaudible.] And now we have to— look, we have to reform in the banking area. And that reform, as one will expect in all areas of reform, there is always the first resistance: Oh, it can’t be done. No, it will not be done. And then, when you persist, then resistance has to give way. And if you again persist, then the system will collapse. And then you move in, and you do what you need to do.

We are doing that in the banking, and I hope by the time we finish we probably will— over 90 banks will probably come down to about a dozen, but they will be a dozen strong and viable banks; a dozen banks that— in which you can put your money and go to sleep. That is also necessary. It’s very important. And if we do— if we do it successfully in banking, we will do it successfully in insurance.

I just want to mention this area, we have— of course, we have done things in the privatization, the areas that are very easy. We have done banking. The government has no shares in any bank today, hotel and such like. But we are still not able to do, or go as far as we will have wanted to go, in the area of telecommunications, in the area of power. We are persistent in a few other what I will call hard industries— in the steel industry, the cement industry— we have been able to get that out of the way. Commercialization, we are— or if you like— [inaudible]--as we call it, we are doing that in the [inaudible] and looking at the number [inaudible] where we can either commercialize or [inaudible].

Now, but I must say that it’s not only— because I now want to tie it up to Africa— it is not only Nigeria [inaudible] because I try to see what’s going on personally. Now, if you take countries like Cape Verde, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Seychelles, their growth rate has been between 7 and 8 [percent] in the last year or so. One may say, ‘oh, yes, these are not large countries like Nigeria.’ But if small countries start doing it, and large countries like Nigeria are doing it, it— one must take it for granted that even medium-sized countries will be able to do it. And while Cape Verde, Mauritius may be regarded as not so large, Mozambique and Tanzania are definitely medium in size, or even large size by many other countries.

The case of Malawi, that has increased within a year or two school enrollment by 30 percent; Mali has increased its access to potable water by 12 percent; Eritrea has reduced child mortality by 20 percent. And these are things that are— what I’m trying to say is that it’s not only in Nigeria. Nigeria, being the largest and the most complex country, is making it; other countries, too, are making it.

Now that takes me to the issue of AU. AU came about because we believed that OAU [Organization of African Unity], whatever may be its effect or failure, has done one thing that we must admit, and we have all admitted that, that’s the [inaudible] in the area of decolonization of Africa and the elimination of apartheid.

Then where do we go? The structure of OAU has to change to meet what I would call the modern demand of Africa and the world which we live in. So we moved and established a new organization, the AU. AU is not the same as OAU, because it has a number of organs that even AU couldn’t— OAU could not contemplate during its own time when it was established— the parliament, the court of justice, a central bank. Now, those were impossible to consider when OAU was run, and these are major, major organs today of AU. And in addition to that, established a Peace and Security Council for AU.

Some people have said we are imitating the United Nations. Well, if you have something that has worked, there is nothing wrong in imitating it, if you will adopt it and adapt it to serving your own [inaudible]. And I believe that’s what we have to do.

So, at the same time— as you know— while the AU was being established, three or four initially, and five of us later, started working on what has now become NEPAD [New Partnership for Africa’s Development]. NEPAD, of course, is not a new organization or a new institution. NEPAD is the same as a program of the AU. AU owns NEPAD; NEPAD does not own AU. And this is important, because some people tend to see AU— NEPAD as an organization by itself. It was very important, significant [inaudible] of AU— of NEPAD, which is this thing we call African Peer Review Mechanism [APRM]. We started— this is voluntary. And we say, “Look,” to all of our [inaudible] in AU, “If you are a member, you are a member.” But the APRM is voluntary because it is a means by which we look at best of practices— best practices, the best policies— and we can learn from that, also can adopt it. We can also sanction ourselves and [inaudible], because once you subject yourself to it, you cannot be— you have [inaudible] you cannot do. And already from 12, we have now gone to 23 [members] who have voluntarily [inaudible], and eight countries are now being peer reviewed. Nigeria is one of them.

Now, we do realize, whether in an AU document or in a NEPAD document, that the basis for development— for progress— in Africa, is peace, security and resolution of conflict. It is important. I’ve talked about [inaudible], we now realize that we must move on. And we— in the constitutive act of AU, we make it clear that the AU can send AU troops— African troops— to any country where the AU considers it necessary. And that would not be regarded as foreign troops. That’s new. That— we decide that we have also put in the constitutive act that if you haven’t come to power by democratic process, we will not allow you to speak to those in the assembly of heads government. That was, again, new, and we have— we will have been tested on that, and we have been able to say, “Rulers, you will not be there, you will not [inaudible].”

Now, having said that, the first challenge, as I said, to how we handle conflict management, conflict resolution, how our peace and security council will work, how the AU will work to establish peace as the foundation— peace and security as the foundation of development, peace in Darfur. I will assert on Cote d’Ivoire— that Darfur is more intractable than Cote d’Ivoire. So Cote d’Ivoire came a little bit before Darfur. Darfur is one that the world really gave attention to.

The first thing that happened was, when Darfur came up, were [inaudible] say, Well, what do we do? Chad raised the alarm and there was a humanitarian cease-fire. As a result of that humanitarian cease-fire, AU came into it, formed a commission, and then we provided [an] observer team. Humanitarian, of course— the world has been wonderfully kind to us, and has been in that area.

What can we do for ourselves? We [the AU] met in Addis Ababa in July. We realized that the observer team is not enough. We now have to introduce what we call a protection force. Of course, initially, Sudan, as it would be expected— would be expected, was a little bit reluctant. But we convinced Sudan that this is necessary, and Sudan agreed. We moved in with about 300 protection force[s]. Then we also said— and that was not enough, because the question I was asked in Addis Ababa after my election as chairman of AU that, “Your protection force, who is it meant to protect?” And I said, “Anybody who needs protection. That force will protect anybody who needs protection.” And then the next question is, “With 300 men, will you be able to protect everyone who needs protection?” And [I] said, “Well, let’s wait and see.”

Now, we have waited a little bit, and we have seen that we haven’t got enough force to [inaudible] protect even those who are imperative for us to protect, let alone those who may even be on the fringe requiring protection, and we have now said we need more. And, well, we are going for about 3,000, 3,500 [troops]. And we are at this moment working out which country will supply troops, what number will be supplied, what would be the logistics for them, how will they be deployed. This is the first test and real challenge for AU because we have never done this before. AU has never put a force— multinational— in the field, and controlling— and had command and control— [inaudible]. This is the first time, and we must be able— we must try to do it well. And there’s a lot of preparation that we have to do, because the eyes of the world will be on us. And if we do it badly, what we have been crying for— “Look, give us the tools, we will do the job”--the world would then say, “We have given you the tools, but you have done a bad job.” And that’s one thing we must never allow to happen.

And that is the way we are going, I hope. But I had a meeting with the President [Alpha Oumar] Konare [of the Republic of Mali], the chairperson of the AU Commission, last night, and we will continue. I suggested to him to get his chief of staff, chief of army staff or chief of defense staff and members of the peace and security council to discuss how this whole organization command and control and all that will be worked out.

Now, I just want to briefly talk about the talks on Darfur in Abuja [in late August]. The talks started, and what I thought would be difficult was not as difficult as I thought— that is, agreeing to an agenda. Within the first two days they agreed to an agenda of four items: humanitarian issues, security issues, then political arrangement, and the fourth one is economic and social arrangement. The last two are permanent sort of things— how will Darfur, as part of Sudan, will be governed in the future. And that is the one where we are realizing that there will be a lot of negotiating.

Within a short space of time, they agreed to the humanitarian issues. The security issues, a proposal is on the table. The resistance movement asked for time to go and consult. Now, we probably should allow them to go and consult, because they are feeling fatigued. And they should come back within the last part of this month— no, last part of October— sorry— and resume. But, what we have got is, to me, enough to build upon. They agree on humanitarian protocol, which is there now for them to sign. I don’t believe that it would be too difficult for them to agree on a security issue and a protocol.

Where, of course, there will be a lot of give-and-take and negotiation, is in what— how will Darfur, as part of Sudan, be governed? What will be the formula for power-sharing? What will be the formula for their new allocation and security and all that?

I believe also that, taking experience from what has happened [with cease-fire agreements between government forces and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army] in southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile, I don’t think that it should be too difficult for them to come to agreement [inaudible].

Now, this is the way I see it. And I see in Darfur, coming out of this [inaudible]--Sudan becoming a different country in terms of the political arrangements and economical [inaudible] of the country, and of course that being better for Sudan— being better for the sub-region, and being better for Africa, and the world.

LYMAN: President, thank you so much. And you’ve opened up so many issues. I think, before I open it up, let me ask you one question on Darfur. I can think of a dozen questions I’d like to ask, but I’m going to open it up in a minute.

But on Darfur, given the state of the negotiations and the way they’re going, what is the impact of the debate over genocide, the nature of the Security Council resolution [1556, calling on the Sudanese government to disarm the janjaweed militias], which doesn’t quite talk about sanctions, but does sort of hint at them? How does that play on the process?

OBASANJO: I think, like I have said to the P-5 [five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council] one of the things that the P-5 should do for us on Darfur, is that they should have— they should put their own act together. A situation— with all due respect, a situation where the rebels feel that, oh, yeah, they are being backed by a member of the permanent— a permanent member of the Security Council— the Sudan government feels that they are being backed by a permanent member of the Security Council, [which] doesn’t help in the— at the negotiation table. At least they can— if it will put pressure on the government and the rebels, it will help.

On the resolution of 18 September, to my mind, it hasn’t done any harm to negotiations. If anything, it helps, because we asked that they should insist on the government and the rebels [inaudible] what they have agreed; that is there.

We say that the issue of genocide, as far as we are concerned in Africa, we haven’t seen— have evidence to suggest genocide. We have seen evidence to suggest that there was— the rebels [inaudible], and they nearly overran the government. The government gave some militia, and they said this militia [inaudible]; gave them encouragement to resist the rebels. But that we know, and that we understand. But the government, now we have said, “Look, the earlier you withdraw these militiamen over whom you have some influence, the better it will be.”

Now— and I believe that what the resolution says, is that the U.N. should now establish a commission to investigate and confirm whether or not genocide has been committed. I see nothing wrong in that. If genocide has not been committed, the commission will come out and say genocide has not been committed. And if genocide has been committed, the commission will give evidence to suggest that genocide has been committed.

My own feeling is that you cannot talk of genocide or ethnic cleansing unless there is a prearranged plan of the government at the highest level to eliminate and exterminate a particular group of people.

The other aspect of that— sanctions— also is important, that there should be the threat of sanctions. The government must know that if they do not carry out their responsibilities, and their responsibilities to provide the welfare, well-being and security for all citizens of Sudan, and a government that doesn’t do that— of course such a government, first of all, has lost the right to claim to be a government over that area. And that such a government has also— has lost the right to claim not to be sanctioned. And the sanctions should be both for the government and for the rebels.

LYMAN: I’ll now turn it— I’ll open it up. And ask that you identify yourself, and then ask a question.

Yes? The lady right here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist. Mr. President, this week, your government suspended Halliburton Energy Services from future oil services contracts in Nigeria because of its failure to cooperate on the investigation of radioactive materials smuggled out of Nigeria. This comes after the tax bribe affair and the allegations that Halliburton may have played an important role in the offshore slush fund used for bribes and kickbacks connected to a major liquefied national gas plan project. Are you concerned that there seems to be a pattern of Halliburton misconduct in Nigeria?

OBASANJO: I am concerned. The Halliburton [inaudible] in Nigeria is a little bit complex. Now, there’s an issue, which you may not even know, of they not paying the taxes that they should pay. And we have dealt with that, or we are dealing with that, and it appears that somebody was paid— they paid bribes, so that they will not pay full tax. That’s one thing. Then you talk about this— what is it, the—

QUESTIONER: The radioactive—

PRESIDENT OBASANJO: --the radioactive material. We are looking into that. We haven’t concluded that. The issue of who was paid, I think it’s $180 million, or something like that, who was paid, where it is, and all that— also we are looking into that. But concern, of course we are concerned. And because we are concerned, we are following every twist and every step, and I’m sure that we will get something. And we will announce to the world whatever we get.

LYMAN: The gentleman right there.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, Mr. President. My name is Kofi Appenteng, and I chair the board of the Africa-America Institute. There’s a growing number of Africans that have come to the United States, and are now American citizens. Do you see a potential for this growing population to have a positive impact on U.S. foreign policy towards Africa? And if you could speak to this constituency, what would you ask them to focus on, in terms of two priorities of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa?

OBASANJO: These Africans who have come here and who are now citizens of U.S.?

QUESTIONER: That’s correct.

OBASANJO: Well, first of all, both at the Nigerian level and at the AU level, we identify and we appreciate that these people— I mean, the recent ones, then there are the old ones, and we have to differentiate between the two in the sense that the old ones, yes, Africa is their root, but America is their home. The new ones, I believe that you can say Africa and America is their home. They haven’t even lost their roots yet. They haven’t said, Look, OK, we are— because I’m talking of those who probably their fathers and grandfathers, or if not his father, his grandfather were still there, and all that. They can create their home, they can go there, they can— now, both of them, of course, are of concern— of interest to us, and both of them can impact on the policies of the United States government in the interest of Africa.

What needs to be done is, how do you coordinate, how do you coordinate? I think the only coordination that we have now that is [inaudible] is the [Congressional] Black Caucus, really, that we have. Maybe there are others that I don’t know of, but we know— there may be others but they may not be [inaudible].

We are now— at the AU and the Nigerian level— we are dealing with the Africans in diaspora, and when we talk of Africans in diaspora, we are talking of Africans there, and Africans in Europe, or Nigeria, in diaspora. So when we are able to identify them, we are hoping that they will be able to organize themselves in such a way that there will be a cross-fertilization of ideas and close exchange of views, so that they can influence things here, and also influence things out there, because they need to influence them in both places.

LYMAN: Jean, and then the gentleman there, and then— just about— we’ll try and get in as many as we can.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. President— oh, sorry, Jean Herskovitz, State University of New York.

Mr. President, it will not be news to you, or anyone in this room, that there’s growing attention to the importance of West African oil for the United States. And in that context, and perhaps a couple of other contexts as well, could you assess for us your view of the pluses and minuses of increased military cooperation with the United States for Nigeria?

OBASANJO: With or without oil, there’s need, and there has always been need, for military cooperation with— between Nigeria and the United States. But I would not want to build that cooperation purely on oil because if we do, we may miss the important point.

The importance of oil in the Gulf of Guinea was a fact appreciated before it becomes a thing of importance either to the United States or to Britain. More than five years ago, I decided to launch what I call Gulf of Guinea Commission. This was as a result of what I found when I came in, which was not there before. We had a problem with Sao Tome and Principe on our maritime border. We had a problem with Equatorial Guinea on our maritime border. We had a problem with Cameroon, both on maritime border and land border. And I thought that we cannot allow this to happen— to continue.

So, we were able to resolve our problem with Sao Tome and Principe. That helped also resolve our problem with Equatorial Guinea. And [the] problem with Cameroon was at the ICJ [International Court of Justice] and I thought, well, once the ICJ [border] issue [between Cameroon and Nigeria] is over, we will be able to [inaudible] resolved, which we are doing. But more importantly, I thought that we need peace, security, and stability in the Gulf of Guinea. That time, I thought starting from my area down to Angola. But since then, countries like Ghana have said they want to join, and I see no reason why they should not join. Even if South Africa wants to join, I see no reason why it should not join. Even Senegal.

Now, my belief is that we need— we in that region need peace, need security, need stability, because this stuff is— we need the money from that— from them, to be able to develop ourselves resources of oil, resources of gas. And what I believe, is that whatever needs to be done, we, like we have said and always said in Africa— we should be in the vanguard of doing it. And if we are able to do it, all that needs to be done is cooperation and collaboration between us and the international community generally, but particularly, between us and the United States, and that we are doing.

LYMAN: The gentleman right here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Mr. President. I’m John Brademas, New York University, former member of Congress, and a member of the International Advisory Council of Transparency International [TI], with which I know you, sir, are familiar.

But TI has, since your inauguration in 1999, continued to rank Nigeria among the most politically corrupt nations in the world, with the World Bank document earlier this year charging that the amount of money stolen by Nigerian government officials having gone up from— and kept in government foreign accounts— having gone up from $50 billion in 1999 to $170 billion last year.

My question: Have any officials of your government, current or former, appointed or elected, been held to account for corrupt activities and sent to prison?

OBASANJO: Let me say— I will answer your last question last— that as you know, I was a member, a foundation member of TI. And TI’s Corruption Perception Index, which is what you have quoted to me, I don’t [inaudible]. But when I came out of prison, and they showed me this Corruption Perception Index, how they do it, I told them that they are wrong.

For instance, one country, they may have as many as 11 people— or 11 groups that they have consulted, that gave them the views; another, it may be three or four. Now, where there are 11 and where there are four, the distance is too wide. That’s number one.

Number two, Corruption Perception Index does not take into account what a country is doing to fight corruption. That’s number two.

Number three, I said to them that, “Look, if you are going with Corruption Perception Index, you should also go on with corruption encouragement index— what are those countries doing to encourage corruption in those countries that are perceived as— where corruption is perceived?”

Now, but having said that, I do not say that there should not be anything like Corruption Perception Index, but it should be fairly done. That’s number one.

Number two is— what is the second part of your question before? I’ll deal with the last part.

LYMAN: Have any—

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]--have any officials— given this extraordinary report—

OBASANJO: OK.

QUESTIONER: --that in the last five years, your country continues to be the bottom of the list in corruption—

OBASANJO: Yeah.

QUESTIONER: --what have you done about it?

OBASANJO: Yeah. No, I’m— OK, I will come to what I have done. At the World Bank— I have said to the World Bank— I have— put it in writing. If you have such information, give me chapter and verse, period. Sir, it’s not good enough to say, “oh, you are corrupt.” Give me evidence.

Today, in Nigeria— you ask what we have done about it. Permanent secretaries, that what you call director general, have been convicted. High court judges have been convicted. Members of national assembly have been convicted.

Right now, I have a governor— governor of a state who is answering, and who has in fact— because of the collaboration we are having with the U.K., who has been arrested.

Now— I have got my own ministers, two who are former ministers, who are in court now, being charged. One current minister has been dismissed as a minister and is in court. In fact, sir, I wonder if there is any country in the world that has done that much.

But, let me also say, when I came into government five years ago, the third bill I sent to government— to national assembly— was a bill, which we called anti-corruption bill. And it’s all in briefings, all [inaudible].

Two, we now have economic and financial transformation— another law that deals with all aspects of economic and commercial and financial crime, which is to fight corruption.

One of the things that we are also saying— we were instrumental, through the U.N. convention now on corruption— and some countries have not signed; they have not [inaudible], and we are saying that, “Look, if we are all going to fight corruption, it’s not a one-country affair, because corruption takes two: the corrupted, the corrupting.” And you have to deal with the both of them.

LYMAN: I’m going to take three quick questions here, and then we’ll wrap up. I know you have to leave. It’s the gentleman here, then Maurice and Frank. And just be brief, and then we’ll give the president the last word.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, Mr. President. I’m Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch. I wanted to bring up the difficult subject of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian dictator, whom you’ve given refuge in Nigeria. I think everybody recognizes that you did a service by removing this dictator at a delicate point in the war, to make peace possible. And when— when you and I met at your residence three months ago in Abuja, we talked about this. And you had said you were reluctant to send Taylor to the Sierra Leone Special Court because you felt you’d given your word that America and the AU were in on that. And you said the one thing that might change your mind was a request from a democratically-elected government of Liberia, which, of course, is some time away.

But, I’m wondering if three factors might today make the honorable thing to do to surrender him: one, that the Sierra Leone elected government would like him back via the Special Court’s request; two, that al Qaeda— that it appears that he was a key financier of al Qaeda through the diamond trade; and three, that it’s difficult to press the Sudanese government to bring to justice the janjaweed at a point when a dictator like Taylor is not being brought to justice.

LYMAN: I’m going to take— let me just take two others—

OBASANJO: No. Let— let— this is very important—

LYMAN: OK.

OBASANJO: --because I don’t understand what you are saying. Are you equating Charles Taylor to janjaweed? Are you?

QUESTIONER: They both were responsible for—

OBASANJO: No. Are you?

QUESTIONER: Yes.

OBASANJO: Well, I don’t agree with you. I don’t agree with you. I’ve said this to you that— look, I am a man of my word. And if I have in Nigeria, and in Africa, to be responsible in actually— in the issue of foreign-policy implementation, I must be able to have credibility. Nigeria must be able to have credibility.

Now, I don’t know why you don’t understand this. Even [Gyude] Bryant [chairman of the new Liberian transitional government] said here, three or four days ago that the issue in Liberia is not Charles Taylor, the issue is that we have to deal with the issue of poverty, the issue of infrastructure.

And I said to you, before Charles Taylor went out, I consulted everybody who needs to be consulted. And I said publicly Nigeria will not be subjected to harassment after we have done this on behalf of the world. And they all agreed.

Now, what now leads you to think that, having given my word, I should take back my word? If that is what you will do in your organization, please forgive me, I will not do that. If that is what you will do in your organization, please forgive me. I will not do that.

And I have said to you that, look— and if the chairman of Liberia said that today, that if you have the democratically elected leader— government in Liberia, and demand for Charles Taylor, I would be the first to say to Charles Taylor: You are not a Nigerian. Now your democratically-elected government wants you back. After they are taking him back, whatever he does with him is entirely his business.

But I will seek to the path of honor, and that is I give my word. And I hope that any man or woman in the world who is a man or woman of honor will expect me to keep to the path of honor.

LYMAN: Well, Mr. President, we’ve come to the end of the time. I apologize to those who didn’t get their question in. But I want to thank you for being very candid, very informative, and we wish you all the best in the two platforms on which you are operating. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

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