Atiku came under heavy criticism for the comments from the presidency, and U.S. Ambassador John Campbell made a point of delivering new equipment to the national police while reminding Nigerians the U.S. has given the police more than $2 million in aid since 2002.
The culprit this time, at least according to Vice President Atiku Akubakar, is London's staid Financial Times, which was one of several major publications that reported the comments he now says he never made.
The last time this sort of thng happened, the son of President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly criticized Abubakar, and then quickly turned on the reporter whose paper printed the interview the younger Obasanjo said he never gave.
As in the first case, President Obasanjo deliberately distanced himself from the comments.
ERHC On The Move reported the criticism earlier this week.
Here is the Daily Independent story on the Atiku affair:
NG News: Atiku Denies Castigating U.S. Over Niger Delta Crisis- ex Daily Independent -
By Chesa Chesa
Senior Correspondent, Abuja.
Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Wednesday, denied media reports quoting him as saying the Federal Government had opted to purchase military hardware from China following the United States reluctance to assist Nigeria protect its installations in the Niger Delta.
Atiku’s denial came as the Presidency also dissociated itself from the report.
Financial Times of London had claimed in its report, also published by some Nigerian newspapers, that Atiku criticised the U.S. for failing to help protect its oil assets from attacks by militants in the Nigeria Delta. The report also claimed that Nigeria had consequently turned to the Chinese for military equipment.
But in a swift reaction, the Vice-President, through his spokesman, Mohammed Yakub, described the report as false, although he admitted granting an interview last week to one Dino Mahtani, the West Africa correspondent of the Financial Times.
“At no point in the interview did the Vice President criticise the United States government for not responding quickly enough to the crisis in the Niger Delta. And he did not say that military equipment orders from China were motivated by the failure or reluctance of the U.S. to supply same to Nigeria. In fact, the U.S., more than any other country, has contributed to the overall security, not just in the Delta, but in the Gulf of Guinea”, said Yakub in a statement issued in Abuja.
He added: “Although the Vice President advocated that talks on security arrangements between the U.S. and Nigeria should move much faster considering the rapidity of unfolding events and the overall interests of the countries, this could not have been interpreted as a criticism of the U.S. government.
“The Vice President at a point reminded Mr. Mahtani that the problem in the Delta is Nigeria’s problem, not America’s, and that the purchase of equipment for Nigeria’s military and police forces was for that overall strengthening of those forces for improved security in the country, which is critical for attracting investment and not simply for the Niger Delta”.
He expressed surprise that “the report would make different attributions to the Vice President, although the reporter recorded the interview on tape, just as the office of the Vice President did”.
Atiku’s denial of the report came almost simultaneously with Aso Rock insisting that the alleged statement was not the representation of the mind of the government.
Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Femi Fani-Kayode, said in Abuja, Wednesday, that the statement credited to Atiku was not at all in consonance with the position of the Federal Government or that of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Fani-Kayode explained that Obasanjo had maintained a close personal relationship with his US counterpart, George Bush, which had fostered healthy diplomatic ties between both countries.
In his words: “The position of Mr. President is that the relationship between the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Nigeria has never been as good, as close and as cordial as it is today”.
Here is the report on presidential criticism of the alleged comments:
Views on US: Atiku On His Own, Says FG
I was misquoted-Vee Pee
From Josephine Lohor in Abuja, 03.01.2006
The Presidency yesterday dissociated itself from the views expressed by Vice President Atiku Abubakar in an interview he granted the Financial Times of London and which was reproduced in some national dailies yesterday
In the interview, Atiku was quoted as critising the governmnet of the United States for failing to protect its oil assets in the Niger Delta.
The Special Adviser to the President on Public Affairs, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, said Atiku expressed his personal opinion and not that of the Federal Government.
The Presidency’s reaction however came on the heels of denials by the Vice President that he ever made those remarks credited to him.
The Presidency also took exception to Atiku's purported statement that Federal Government’s decision to look to the Chinese for military equipment orders was born out of the fact that the US Government did not show enough enthusiasm or outrightly refused, a statement which the Vice President also denied.
Femi Fani-Kayode, speaking on behalf of Government, emphasized that as far as Government was concerned, it continues to have a cordial relationship with the United States and as such, Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s position was at cross purpose.
The presidential aide said, ìthe position of Mr. President is that the relationship between the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Nigeria has never been as good, as close and as cordial as it is today. Quite apart from that, the personal relationship and close ties that exist between President George W. Bush and President Olusegun Obasanjo are not only exemplary, but also legendary.
The suggestion that the Federal Government of Nigeria or the President of Nigeria is not happy with the United States government or that the relationship between the two countries is in any way strained does not represent the position of the president of the Federal Republic, President Obasanjo. Our ties are getting stronger by the day and it will continue to get stronger.
The Vice President also said that it is untrue that he stated that the decision of the Federal Government to order for military equipment from China stemmed from the reluctance or refusal of the US over the issue.
However, the Vice President who indeed accepted granting an interview to the Financial Times that dwelt on a wide range of issues including the situation in the Niger Delta, added that his opinion on the security arrangements between Nigeria and the US is that the talks should move at a much faster pace.