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Why Clinton Will Not Go Outside Abuja

By Emma Ujah & Yinka Olusanya, Vanguard Daily (Lagos), 23 August 2000

The restriction of President Bill Clinton of United States of America (USA) to Abuja during his forthcoming visit has nothing to do with security, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ms. Susan Rice said yesterday.

Another report on the visit suggested that President Olusegun Obasanjo would be pushing for debt-reduction as against debt-cancellation for Nigeria during Mr. Clinton’s visit.

Ms. Rice speaking from Washington, DC in a special interactive programme via television with journalists in Abuja, yesterday said the visiting US President would not go outside Abuja because of his crowded scheduled in the FCT.

Her words: Contrary to reports that President Clinton will not visit other parts of Nigeria outside Abuja because of security reasons, we would have loved him to visit other places but for time.

It is false to say that Mr. Clinton will not visit other parts of Nigeria due to negative security reports, she said.

On the benefits of the visit, Ms. Rice said Nigerians should not ask what the USA could do for them but what the two nations could do together for their mutual benefit.

Nigerians should not be asking what America can do for them. I think it should be what can we do together for the mutual benefit of the two nations, she said.

The US and Nigeria, she said are natural partners given their backgrounds, and the longstanding relationship between the two nations.

She said further that Washington recognised the importance of Nigeria, especially on account of its enormous human and natural resources and influence in ensuring a stable and economically strong Africa.

Mr. Clinton’s visit, she added would strengthen the already strong relationship between Nigeria and USA and that it would enhance the economic cooperation between them.

Answering a question on Nigeria’s quest for debt cancellation, Ms. Rice said the USA would lead the campaign for debt relief for developing countries but that there was little it could do in practical debt cancellation.

She explained that Nigeria’s debt to her country was only four per cent of its total debt.

She said since the bulk of Nigeria’s debt was owed European creditors, it should put in place, economic policies that would enable the freed funds be ploughed into the social sector.

Ms. Rice said that although outright debt cancellation would be difficult for Nigeria since it does not qualify as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) the USA would vigorously pursue a significant debt relief for Nigeria next year.

The secretary denied that the her county planned to build a military base in Nigeria, explaining that the on-going military assistance from the USA was to help in restoring stability in Sierra-Leone and the entire sub-region.

Obasanjo to plead debt-reduction

Presidency sources in Abuja confirmed yesterday that President Obasanjo was more interested in seeking debt-reduction as against debt-cancellation from Nigeria during Mr. Clinton’s visit.

Already, the President has directed the Federal Ministry of Finance to compute an authentic debt profile of Nigeria with the assistance of the World Bank ahead of Mr. Clinton’s arrival.

Different reports on the 1999 financial review anchored by IBRD, IMF, IFC and IDA put the external debt-stock of Nigeria at $32.3 billion.

Presidency sources informed Vanguard that though the Federal Government of Nigeria claimed less than $27 billion as its total debt-stock, and over $17 billion repayment has been made, but the debt-stock from Paris Club, Toronto Club, Venice Club, London Club has remained higher.

Sources said Nigeria’s debt-stock was high because of default in debt-service, debt-rescheduling, concession on amortisation, cumulative interest differences and policy inconsistency on the part of government.

According to one source in Abuja, there was no serious effort by past governments and most especially ministers of finance during the period of 1986- 1999 to take the matter of debt-stock negotiation seriously.

The politics of international community concerning debt-cancellation, rescheduling, reduction or relief is first and foremost, use what you have to get a bail. Rather, Nigeria’s experience has been a case of debt-rescheduling, rescheduling and rescheduling galore, the source said