Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Live Blogging Hillary's Visit

19:15 - Though you couldn't tell it from the body language on display today during Hillary Clinton's meetings in Abuja, PM News reports that she "is said to have received cold reception from Nigerian government officials" The newspaper went on to claim that "Although it was widely reported that Mrs. Clinton will be recieved by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on arrival in the country, the minister was not at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to receive the U.S. Secretary of State." According to the report, all this happened because "the government of President Yar’Adua is pissed off by the relentless criticism by the U.S. over the manner in which he came into office."
However, on AIT's Newshour, Titilayo Alade reported that "on the insinuation that Nigeria might have undermined the Secretary of State's arrival in Abuja, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said protocol and diplomatic tradition were strictly adhered (to), as Nigeria fulfilled all the requests of the US embassy."

18:42 - Secretary Clinton's busy day in Abuja is gradually coming to a close and she's right now attending the town hall meeting with civil society. Earlier this morning, she had a joint meeting with political leaders including former heads of state, Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. Also at this meeting were former Chief Justice Mohammed Uwais and past Senate President, Ken Nnamani.

(Photo credit: AP)

17:26 - Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times notes that "when it came time to address corruption — and Nigeria is notorious for corruption, from the top ministers in the government to the police officers on the street — Mrs. Clinton’s message was muted. She simply said, “We strongly support and encourage the government of Nigeria’s efforts to increase transparency, reduce corruption,” and prepare for a clean national election in 2011, after a problematic one in 2007.

16:16 - Elor Nkeureuwem at NEXT reports a different take on Clinton's visit. Kayode Soremekun, a professor of International Relations at University of Lagos said he expects nothing out of her visit.
"Nigeria will gain nothing except that she will talk down at us and tell us that we have failed," he said. Mr. Soremekun further suggested that the visit hints at the quest for validation by Nigeria's leaders. "When a country's leaders have failed, they go scrambling after external validation. This is a sign of inferiority complex. It diminishes what Nigeria stands for," he added.
On a slightly contradictory note, Soremekun however offered a consolation. "Our leaders are ruining this country, not leading. Talking to our leaders is like talking to the deaf. Maybe if someone else tells them, they might want to listen."

The professor has a very valid position, but on that last point, it appears Clinton is already making some headway.

16:05 - Hillary Clinton & Ojo Maduekwe at a Wednesday morning press conference in Abuja, Nigeria. (Credit: AP Photo)

15:30 - Ojo Maduekwe appears to have backed down from his tough talk regarding critics of his government's programmes. 3 weeks ago in Lagos (in the same speech where he made his Obama gaffe), he gave a strong indication of this regime's governance style. "We will not join hands with those critics, the government will not be distracted by the daily torrent of abuses thrown at its doorsteps by those who do not even know the names of their local government areas," he declared. Going further, he said the critics "are intellectual hit men, seen to pull down every administration and are too lazy to fight for power."

But in an apparent turnaround at his presser with Hillary Clinton, he softened his tone regarding those same critics. Hear him:
"We recognise that when we get criticisms, even from our own people, not all those criticisms are intended to annoy or provoke malevolence. Many of them are based on a genuine concern that Nigeria should do better."

Reuters reports that he "appeared sanguine over Clinton's mild criticism, which U.S. officials had said would be tougher in private."

Clinton's criticism seems to have worked the magic in softening the minister's legendary belligerence.

14:59 - Sue Pleming of Reuters reports on what looks like a substantial takeaway from these type of meetings . Clinton said in her press conference with the Nigerian Foreign Minister that:
"We talked specifically how the United States might be able to encourage the electoral reforms," she said, adding that the two planned a "binational commission" to tackle a range of issues from Niger Delta violence to electoral reforms."

14:25 - The US Secretary of State still appears wedded to her diplomatic talking point niceties (at least in public). I hope she's more frank in her private discussions.

13:58 - Matt Lee of AP (via The Washington Post), also reports on the press conference:
""It is critical for the people of Nigeria, first and foremost, but indeed for the United States that Nigeria succeeds in fulfilling its promise," Clinton told a news conference after meeting Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe.
"We strongly support and encourage the government of Nigeria's efforts to increase transparency, reduce corruption (and) provide support for democratic processes in preparation for the 2011 elections," she said.

Clinton further said the amnesty approach was "very promising" and said Washington would look at ways it might be able to assist. She added that she wanted to help ensure that "money from the earth and its riches should be spent on the people" of Nigeria and other African nations."

13:25 - From AFP's report on Clinton's news conference with the Nigerian Foreign Minister:
"Clinton welcomed the amnesty by Nigeria, which remains the top African oil supplier to the United States.
The amnesty runs from August 6 to October 4.
Nigeria's efforts "we think are very promising to try to bring peace and stability to the Niger Delta."
She said she also met with Nigeria's defence minister, who made "specific suggestions" on how the United States can help end the unrest in the Niger Delta.
Clinton said that no decisions were made but that the US and Nigerian militaries would hold talks to "determine what Nigeria would want from us for help."
But she said the United States would only play a supporting role, stressing: "We know this is an internal matter. We know that this is up to the Nigerian people and government to resolve.

12:15 - Daily Trust reports that the American embassy has invited opposition politicians to meet with Mrs Clinton. The 2nd and 3rd placed Presidential candidates in the 2007 elections, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar were invited "to discuss “the challenges of Nigerian politics and possible way forward for democracy in the country,” an embassy official said.
Aides to Buhari and Abubakar have separately confirmed that their principals received invitations to meet with Clinton.
But Abubakar is out of Nigeria, an aide said, adding that he had asked the US embassy to allow him send a representative to the meeting with Clinton, a request the Americans turned down"

11:25 - AP reports that "She'll also meet religious leaders to discuss recent violence, sparked by the killing of the head of an Islamist sect, that left more than 700 people dead in the mainly Muslim north." Daily Trust confirms that she will "meet with religious leaders under the umbrella of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC)."

11: 15 - Her itinerary for the day includes a breakfast meeting at Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe's house followed by a visit to the American Embassy and then on to the Presidential Villa to meet President Yar'Adua before a 6pm town hall meeting at the Shehu Yar'Adua Center named for the President's late brother. According to Daily Trust, the town hall meet is organised by the US Embassy and Transition Monitoring Group, an NGO.

11:07 - Interesting quote from the Editorial in today's Daily Independent

"That the United States would have to sit us down on a diplomatic mat in order to dialogue on issues of corruption and electoral maladjustment is, frankly, embarrassing. It is like teaching a 49-year-old able-bodied person how to walk. Ordinarily, it should amount to unsolicited interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. But it is the kind of interference that Nigeria now sadly deserves: a painful insult the nation has brought on itself.
This is not the best of diplomatic times for Nigeria."

I couldn't have said it better.

11:00 - Leadership Newspaper has the only picture so far of Clinton arriving in Abuja yesterday night.

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