Cablegate: Obasanjo Tasks Northern Governors: Improve

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2005 10:32 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
111032Z Aug 05
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: At the Presidential Villa on
August 8, President Obasanjo tasked several northern
Governors with improving their states' poor social
conditions. In group discussions, attendees agreed
that public health services had collapsed, and that
local government had failed to deliver services.
Obasanjo said that savings from debt relief would be
redirected to primary health care. End Summary.
2. (SBU) On August 8, President Obasanjo invited the
Charge d'Affaires and the AID Mission Director to a
meeting between the President and the Governors of
several northern Nigerian states, as the President had
said at a July 27 meeting regarding the poor state of
health and education services in Northern Nigeria
(reftel). Poloff served as notetaker.
3. (SBU) The meeting took place in the Council
Chambers, a large conference room at the Presidential
Villa in Abuja. About 60 attendees were seated around
a U-shaped table with the President at the head.
Another 30-40 attendees filled other seats in the room.
Present were the state Governors of Kano, Sokoto,
Katsina, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa, and Borno, the Deputy
Governor of Kaduna, the Ministers of Health, Women's
Affairs, and Education, numerous Advisors and Special
Advisors, a traditional ruler from the Sokoto
Caliphate, an Anglican bishop, and many Local
Government Area (LGA) representatives. From the "donor
community" (as President Obasanjo called the non-
Nigerians present) were the Mission team, a DFID
officer, and representatives of WHO, UNICEF, and UNDP.
4. (SBU) Obasanjo distributed copies of the six-page
USAID map presentation that showed worse social
indicators in the north of the country than in the
south, and worse indicators for Nigeria overall than
many of its West African neighbors. He stressed that
the data came from "our own figures, not from abroad."
(Note: The source document for the USAID analysis was
the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, published in
2004 by the Nigerian National Population Commission
with USAID technical assistance. End Note) He read
many of the statistics on the maps, highlighting the
areas where Nigeria or northern Nigeria was
underperforming. For example, he pointed out that
child mortality in Nigeria was higher than in Cameroon
and asked, "How can anyone say that we are poorer than
Cameroon?" He went on to say that Nigeria's
immunization rate was lower than "Cameroon,
Ghana...even Benin Republic," his mention of Benin
drawing laughter.
5. (SBU) Obasanjo listed the many different
officials, agencies, and commissions represented at the
meeting, and stressed that these social problems
required "all hands on deck." He told a joke about a
prayer that ended, "and God, this is important; don't
send your son!" When the laughter stopped, he directed
the northern Governors, "this is important; don't send
your Deputy Governors." He turned to the chief
executive of the National Program of Immunization (NPI)
and sarcastically asked, "What does NPI stand for? Oh
yes, immunization." He began the open discussion by
asking what the Governors planned to do.
6. (SBU) The group then spent the next 90 minutes
discussing the problems with the health sector. One
conclusion reached was that the LGA structure was
simply not working: services were not being delivered,
and federal funds were being wasted by LGAs. Regarding
the health care sector, the Minister of Health said
that the primary health care system, for which LGAs
were responsible, "has collapsed totally." The Katsina
Governor agreed that "LGAs are not functioning," and
that any policy that relies upon LGAs to perform is a
"defective policy." Obasanjo finished the health care
discussion by directing that efforts be coordinated at
zonal level, and that the group meet again in six
months and report their progress to the President.
(Note: "Zones" are the six geo-political regions of
Nigeria: the Northwest, the Northeast, the North-
Central or "Middle Belt," the Southwest, the Southeast
or "Igboland," and the South-South or "the Niger
Delta." End Note)
7. (SBU) Note: In a meeting with the NPI chief
executive two days later, the USAID Director was told
that, after the President closed the meeting, most of
the Governors and the health officials continued past
midnight in a discussion of how to respond to the
President's challenge to upgrade health conditions in
the North. End Note.
8. (SBU) The Minister of Health suggested that the
GON create a Primary Care Trust Fund, similar to the
Education Trust Fund. Obasanjo answered, "You won't
get what you are suggesting," but said that savings
from debt relief would be redirected to primary health
9. (SBU) When the discussion moved to the education
sector, the group agreed that there was a shortage of
teachers. Obasanjo felt inadequate school meals were a
problem and held the Governors responsible for
achieving the goal of "one good meal a day." When the
discussion turned to why girls do not attend school in
the North, Obasanjo faced the governors and told them
"You know why they don't," referring to cultural
practices that discourage girls' attendance. Obasanjo
said to the governors, "You were elected to do the hard
things, not just to be popular. You must do the hard
things for this generation and for the coming
10. (SBU) Obasanjo added that infectious diseases were
a problem, and if Nigeria could make progress against
HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, average "life
expectancy would increase by four years."
11. (SBU) Comment: The most significant thing about
this meeting is that it happened. These problems have
been overlooked for many years. Some observers believe
political discontent in the North is fueled by
inadequate delivery of social services. The President
has now acknowledged serious shortcomings in the
nation's health and education systems with an emphasis
on the North. He directed all three levels of
government (Federal, State, Local) to work together to
improve things in the North and report back to him at
six month intervals. It is encouraging that he said
Federal funds would be allocated and that he would hold
the Governors accountable for progress. End Comment.
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