Nigeria Absent At G-8 Meet: Why Obasanjo Was Excluded

  • Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - FROM LAOLU AKANDE NORTH AMERICA BUREAU CHIEF
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More details have now emerged on the exclusion of Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo from the G8 summit which opened this morning-Sunday in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Guardian can now reveal that the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin were the first to propose lists of presidents and heads of international organizations to invite and the name of President Obasanjo was missing right from the draft of invited leaders drawn up by the Russians.

At some later point in the planning process after the Russians have drawn up the list, other G8 leaders were believed to have also had the chance to make suggestions and amendments, but none came up with the idea of including President Obasanjo, who will be missing the G8 leaders meeting for the first time in recent years.

An authoritative US government source, who spoke to The Guardian on background in New York from the US capital Washington DC during the week via videoconferencing confirmed that

"the Russians make the decision in terms of who to invite to participate in the summit in conjunction with the G-8 leaders."

The Guardian had asked specifically why Nigeria's President was left out for the first time in recent years.

Below is the response of the US official, who preferred anonymity, during his briefing of Foreign journalists on the G8 summit during the week.

"In terms of the participants, as with the international organizations, the decision of who to invite from which country is one that's the responsibility and the prerogative of the host, so the Russians make the decision in terms of who to invite to participate in the summit in conjunction with the G-8 leaders."

He explained that the G8 leaders have invited the current leader of the African Union, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and also President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

According to him, " the leader of the Republic of Congo, who is the chair of the African Union, has been invited and will participate. The President of South Africa has also been invited and will participate as well."

Obasanjo was at the G8 summits in Okinawa, Japan in 2000, Kananaskis, Canada in 2002, Evian, France in 2003, Sea Island, Georgia,US in 2004 and in Gleneagles, United Kingdom in 2005. He has been known as a key figure in Africa and his leadership role regarding such developmental initiatives like the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, have ensured his constant invitations to G8 meetings in the past, according to diplomatic sources, even before he assumed the headship of the African Union.

However the Russians and other G8 leaders are also believed to have preferred South African President Thabo Mbeki. This preference may not be unconnected with Obasanjo's perceived intention to seek an extension of his two-term limit at a time he was leading NEPAD, which had as its cardinal point the end of the era of sit tight leaders in Africa. Besides, the Russians are not known to be very keen on the idea of NEPAD and promptly dismissed moves by Nigeria that the NEPAD agenda be actively pushed in the G8 meeting in Russia and so Obasanjo as Chairman of the NEPAD Implementation Committee should participate.

The Guardian also asked the top US government official about the African agenda in the G8 summit considering the determination by the Russians that the main thrust of the G8 summit this year would be energy security, infectious diseases and education. According to the official "on the agenda, you may remember from last year Africa was very much of a focus that last year's host, Prime Minister Blair, had selected as a topic of special attention and so the Africa -- the issue of Africa was a prominent part of last year's summit and ultimately resulted in the Gleneagles Africa Action Plan that was issued."

Continuing he said "this year President Putin has included the topic of Africa for discussion both when the G-8 meet on Sunday the 16th as well as on Monday when the G-8 leaders meet with the outreach participants on the 17th." The implication being unlike Blair, President Putin has only included Africa as one of the outreach participant not a "special attention, " as it was last year in the UK.

The US official suggested that Africa would still likely be mentioned in the final communique which he said was already being considered ahead of the opening of the meeting to enable the presidents endorse it at the meeting. Said he, "There's also work being done on a text essentially describing the progress that's been made in implementing the Gleneagles commitment since last year."

He restated that the Russians were the ones to determine the focus of the summit as is traditional with the host of a G8 meeting. According to him "over the course of that first day on Sunday, that first working day of July 16th, the meetings will cover a wide range of issues, including the priority topics that the Russians have selected. These are energy security, infectious disease and education, as well as in other topics that have been identified as being of interest to the other G-8 members, including ourselves, such as trade, security, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, Africa, intellectual property rights, as well as a number of regional and global challenges."

He added that tomorrow the G8 leaders summit will continue "but this time the G-8 leaders will be participating in meetings in conjunction with leaders from other countries and international organizations that Russia has invited. These are the leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, as well as the President of the Republic of Congo, who will attend on behalf of the African Union, and the President of Kazakhstan, representing the Commonwealth of Independent States."

According to him, "there will also be the leaders of a number of international organizations such as the UN; the IAEA; the IEA, the International Energy Agency; the WHO, the World Health Organization; UNESCO and the World Bank. As with the meetings on Sunday, the meetings on Monday with the outreach countries will cover topics such as security, regional issues, trade and Africa."

But Nigeria, through the former Finance Minister Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had participated at the finance ministers level of the pre G8 meetings last month in Russia.

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