- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nigerian outrage

The Nigerian government this week accused a top U.S. diplomat of showing “disrespect” to President Olusegun Obasanjo because of her comments over a tangled tale of scandal and bribery involving a U.S. congressman and Mr. Obasanjo’s main political rival in the oil-rich African nation.

Jendayi E. Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, angered Mr. Obasanjo when she characterized a long-running dispute between him and Vice President Atiku Abubakar as a political “smear” campaign.

Mrs. Frazer, responding to a reporter’s question last week at the Foreign Press Center in New York, noted that Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, is the target of an FBI investigation into a corruption scandal that includes suspicions that he tried to bribe Mr. Abubakar to win a lucrative telecommunications contract for an American firm.

“And I, frankly, am not privy to the case, but it’s a case against our congressman. It’s not a case against the vice president of Nigeria,” Mrs. Frazer said, according to a transcript of her remarks. “And so politicians will do whatever they will to — sorry — to smear the reputation of their opponent.”

In Abuja, an official said yesterday that the vice president was suspended by his party for three months because of the corruption charges, preventing him from running for president on the party’s ticket. Mr. Abubakar loses only his party membership and will retain his title and powers as vice president, said Ojo Maduekwe, national secretary of the People’s Democratic Party.

Mrs. Frazer’s words were taken as a violation of diplomatic protocol and drew a harsh rebuke from presidential spokesman Akin Osuntokun.

Mrs. Frazer “has exhibited the tendency of straying from ethics and protocol of diplomatic engagement to disrespect and denigrate the leadership of Nigeria,” Mr. Osuntokun said. He accused her of trying to “politicize and interfere” with a Nigerian investigation into corruption charges against Mr. Abubakar by the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, although Mrs. Frazer never mentioned the domestic Nigerian probe.

Mr. Osuntokun said his government “condemns the suspicious attempt at casting doubt and aspersion on the integrity of a globally acclaimed Nigerian institution and by extension American institutions at whose request for collaboration the investigations were carried out.”

The FBI probe into the charges against Mr. Jefferson included a raid last year on Mr. Abubakar’s $2 million mansion in Potomac and a taped conversation in which Mr. Jefferson is heard discussing the need to bribe the vice president to get a contract for the Kentucky-based IGate Inc.

Mr. Abubakar’s Washington attorney, Edward Weidenfeld, released a statement from Mr. Abubakar in July in which the vice president denied having any corrupt contacts with Mr. Jefferson.

“I have no relationship with Mr. Jefferson, personal or private, other than the usual diplomatic courtesies extended to a high-ranking U.S. official who states that he is interested in promoting trade, investment and the transfer of technology to Nigeria,” Mr. Abubakar said.

Mr. Weidenfeld said the FBI found nothing in the raid to connect his client with the congressman.

Furor in Fiji

The U.S. ambassador in Fiji is worried about rumblings from the military leader about a potential coup against the government of the South Pacific island nation.

“The United States government strongly believes that the military must be subordinate to the elected civilian leadership in a democracy,” Ambassador Larry M. Dinger told reporters in the capital, Suva, this week.

Mr. Dinger was responding to comments last week by Voreqe Bainimarama, commander of Fiji’s military, who is angered over a proposal by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to offer amnesty to organizers of a coup in 2000 that overthrew Mahendra Chaudhry, the nation’s first ethnic-Indian prime minister.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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