Viewing cable 02ABUJA2736

02ABUJA27362002-09-24 16:04:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Abuja
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 ABUJA 002736 
E.O.12958: DECL: 09/23/12 
REF: ABUJA 2435 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Once dismissed as another hollow 
threat by a feckless National Assembly, the ongoing 
impeachment drama is now the central political issue 
in Nigeria, eclipsing even voter registration. 
Obasanjo's removal from office remains unlikely 
however the odds against him are stronger than last 
month when the impeachment threat was first issued. 
With many in the once pro-Obasanjo Senate allying with 
the President's foes in the Lower House, the plot has 
developed into a serious effort to derail Obasanjo's 
quest for a second term. The aim of most Assembly 
Members is not Obasanjo's immediate removal from 
office but to weaken him so that he drops his 
reelection bid or fails at the PDP convention. At 
first slow to respond, Obasanjo has begun some catch- 
up politicking to solidify his remaining support. 
Still, members of his staff privately worry the threat 
cannot be easily extinguished because powerful anti- 
Obasanjo interests are behind the effort. Legislators 
claim good faith guides them but their critics assert 
they are after Obasanjo because he opposes their 
reelections and thus refused to fund "constituency 
projects" Assembly incumbents had sought to bolster 
their electoral prospects. 
¶2. (C) Summary Cont: Concerned the National Assembly 
did not fully appreciate the effect its move would 
have on Nigeria's political stability, traditional 
rulers, state governors, and religious leaders have 
waded into the maelstrom, attempting to reconcile the 
two sides, to little avail thus far. The impeachment 
saga has brought the ethnic electoral battlements into 
sharper focus. Almost all leaders from the Southwest 
oppose impeachment while many Northern politicians 
support the move, an ironic role reversal from the 
1999 election in which Obasanjo's support base was the 
North with the Southwest voting overwhelmingly for the 
opposition. Clearly, the impeachment drama has 
increased political tensions. A quick resolution where 
Obasanjo acknowledges the need for a working 
partnership with the National Assembly and the 
Assembly drops the impeachment threat is in Nigeria's 
best interests. This will require a spirit of 
compromise heretofore lacking, particularly in the 
Assembly. If this crisis continues, it will only 
reinforce the zero-sum mentality that shapes too much 
of political conduct in Nigeria. End Summary. 
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¶3. (C) The impeachment crisis primarily is the result 
of four factors: 1) Obasanjo's unpopularity and 
truncating political strength, 2) Assembly Members' 
own electoral uncertainties, 3) Obasanjo's 
unwillingness to implement politically popular deficit 
spending on capital projects, and 4) Three and one- 
half years of feuding and acrimony between the 
President and the National Assembly, particularly the 
House. There have been previous impeachment threats 
against the President, each easily defused through a 
combination of presidential cajolery, intimidation and 
horse-trading, with some money changing hands as well. 
These prior attempts were tactical designs to show 
displeasure with the President's cursory treatment of 
the National Assembly and to extract a few concessions 
from him. 
¶4. (C) The current impeachment saga also revolves 
around money, but the stakes are higher. The 
impeachment threat has graduated from an avenue to 
gain lucre to a zero-sum electoral survival strategy 
pitting the President against the National Assembly. 
Thus, the price for ending this challenge will be more 
costly and politically more labor intensive than the 
resolutions that came before. It all boils down to 
timing. With elections over the horizon, many National 
Assembly members are struggling for their political 
lives and sense President Obasanjo opposes their 
reelection.  In some cases, he has even worked within 
the party to stifle their re-election bids; this is a 
reason that the strongest advocates of impeachment 
come from the President's own party. 
¶5. (C) Viewing the President's actions through their 
narrow electoral optic, Assembly members did not see 
Obasanjo's refusal to finance budget-busting capital 
projects as fiscal virtue; they saw the refusal as a 
betrayal of the President's earlier pledge to funds 
such projects and as a mortal blow to their reelection 
strategies. Many of these Assembly Members correctly 
sensed that Obasanjo's image was tarnished and his 
armor had serious chinks: he is neither as strong nor 
as popular as even one year ago. The best defense 
against the attack of a weakened opponent is the 
counterattack, they figured. Members claimed concerned 
that Obasanjo's unpopularity would further diminish 
their reelection chances should they be forced to 
campaign with him on the party ticket. Thus, Assembly 
Members came to view impeachment not as a means of 
upholding the constitution but as a fight for their 
political lives.  In the Members' zero sum world, 
Obasanjo's political survival equals their political 
¶6. (C) Because this is an election year and the 
topography of the electoral playing field is at stake, 
many influential and would be influential actors are 
now interested in the National Assembly's battles with 
the President. They are stoking the National 
Assembly's ardor from behind the scenes. These players 
are not champions of the National Assembly and largely 
indifferent whether Obasanjo violated the 
constitution. They are students of Machiavelli whose 
political calculations will be maximized if Obasanjo 
is further weakened or knocked out of the picture. 
With Obasanjo sidelined, the playing field opens up. 
These real and ersatz king-makers could then advance a 
malleable presidential ticket more to their liking. 
¶7. (C) Overestimating his own personal authority and 
popularity as well as being inured by the prior 
impeachment tempests that quickly receded, Obasanjo 
was slow to recognize the severity underlying the 
current threat. Underestimating the disruptive role an 
incensed, unified and somewhat desperate House could 
play, he waited several weeks before moving to protect 
his flank. Once aware of the danger, he has conferred 
several times with governors and other opinion leaders 
from various parts of the country, including key 
traditional rulers. 
¶8.  (C) He has also taken a carrot and stick approach 
to the National Assembly. Wielding the hard wood, the 
Presidency iterated the months-old threat of auditing 
the Assembly's finances. A pro-Obasanjo House Member 
petitioned the ICPC (anti-corruption commission) to 
investigate implacable Obasanjo foe, House Speaker 
Ghali Na'Abba. The petition against Na'Abba has some 
traction, with the ICPC determining that the 
allegations are plausible and that the Speaker must 
respond. He is scheduled for questioning on September 
24 but has also filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the 
ICPC investigation. Further, there are credible 
reports that Obasanjo is also trying to dislodge 
Senate President Anyim from his leadership of the 
upper Chamber. (Comment: If rumors are true, Na'Abba 
may have cause to worry.  He reportedly is a liberal 
spender who has dipped into House coffers to reward 
and maintain support within and beyond the House. He 
also has been accused of unwarranted spending in order 
to maintain the pomp and surroundings he feels befit 
his high office. End Comment.) 
¶9. (C) Dangling the carrot, Obasanjo recently sent a 
supplemental budget to the House releasing funds for 
"constituency projects," the very type the lawmakers 
clamored for prior to their impeachment threat. To 
shore Obasanjo's image with the public, the government 
released civil servant back salaries for July and 
August.  He has also forwarded a bill to the Assembly 
that would resolve the highly contentious oil resource 
allocation dispute by eliminating the offshore/onshore 
dichotomy currently on the books.  This would restore 
the revenue stream to South-South states, increasing 
his stock in that key area and making it  difficult 
for the region's Assembly Members to vote against him. 
He also reached a widely publicized agreement with the 
National Labor Congress for a 12.5 percent pay raise 
to begin next year.  Now, organized labor should want 
to keep him around to honor this personal pledge. 
¶10. (C) Behind the scenes, Obasanjo spoke with 
potential rival and former military Head of State 
Ibrahim Babangida. According to a Babangida ally, 
Babangida was deeply annoyed that Obasanjo summoned 
him from Minna to Abuja only to accuse him of funding 
the impeachment threat. Babangida's annoyance grew 
when Obasanjo switched from tendering accusations to 
entreating him to talk to rebellious House members. 
Babangida reportedly told Obasanjo that it was the 
President's responsibility to visit he House and break 
bread with its leadership; he should not deploy 
emissaries to conduct his bidding.  Since this August 
encounter, Babangida has made a few characteristically 
nebulous public comments, the latest being that this 
Executive-Legislative standoff was a healthy sign for 
Nigeria's young democracy. (Comment: Both the French 
Ambassador and British Deputy High Commissioner have 
told Ambassador Jeter that the President's political 
advisors continue to lament that Babangida is 
directing the impeachment drive and that they are at a 
loss as to stopping him. End Comment) 
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¶11. (C) Obasanjo's appeal for support apparently fared 
better with the traditional rulers than with the 
former military Head of State. The Emir of Kano, one 
of the North's two most influential rulers, made 
statements opposing the impeachment. Recently, a group 
of Nigeria's most respected traditional rulers 
gathered in Abuja.  Emerging from three days of 
marathon sessions, the Ooni of Ife told Ambassador 
Jeter that the rulers have reconciled the sides and 
that the impeachment threat soon would fizzle. 
(Comment. The preeminent Yoruba traditional leader, 
the Ooni did not give the Ambassador details of the 
alleged workout. The Ooni is a savvy veteran of the 
Nigerian political trenches whose insider information 
cannot be discounted; however, but he could be looking 
at this through a decidedly pro-Obasanjo, Yoruba 
prism. In any event, he told the Ambassador that the 
ongoing move against Obasanjo was "all about money and 
graft." Traditional rulers, he said, would not let 
that happen. End Comment.) 
¶12. (C) Given that the impetus for the impeachment 
comes from PDP Assembly Members, the party's national 
leadership has also the tried to reconcile what have 
become the Presidential and Legislative factions of 
the party.  Thus far, these efforts have not born 
visible fruit. Most Governors have also sided with 
Obasanjo on this issue, some fearing the unwanted cue 
their State Assemblies could take from this federal 
episode; but the Governors can little influence the 
Assembly. Assembly Members, particularly, Senators, 
warily view their State's Executives, believing (often 
accurately) the President and Governors are conspiring 
to keep them from being reelected. 
¶13. (C) Meanwhile, many groups and organizations have 
added their respective wisdom or lack thereof to the 
debate. How Nigerians view impeachment has largely 
been a measure of whether or not they support 
Obasanjo. Thus, with the exception of human rights 
lawyer Gani Fawahenmi who offered pro bono legal 
services to help the House against Obasanjo, the 
strongest criticism of the impeachment has arisen from 
the Yoruba Southwest, Obasanjo's ethnic home. Much of 
the North and particularly members of the influential 
Arewa Consultative Forum, whose opposition to Obasanjo 
needs little introduction, have praised the House for 
obeying its duty of protecting the country and the 
constitution from Presidential arrogation. 
¶14. (C) No one has been able to bridge the differences 
between the President and National Assembly 
leadership, particularly Speaker Na'Abba and more 
recently Senate President Anyim. One of the problems 
has been the propensity of both sides to talk 
moderately in private but let rhetorical excess get 
the better of their public statements.  A few days 
after a conciliatory private session with House 
Members, Obasanjo publicly lambasted the effort 
against him as a joke run amok and belittled the 
Members as "jokers." 
¶15. (C) Many House members were not in a joking mood 
after Obasanjo's remarks.  For them, Obasanjo's 
stinging remarks came as a surprise after their 
private session, obliterating any goodwill he wanted 
to build. For a growing number, both Obasanjo's biting 
comments and his conciliatory overtures were 
immaterial. For this expanding circle of PDP hard- 
liners, the Rubicon was passed the day they published 
the seventeen charges against Obasanjo.  Members of 
the opposition ANPP support the impeachment efforts 
because fits their party's interests and because there 
so no downside for them individually. Many members of 
the Southwest-dominated AD oppose the impeachment. 
¶16. (U) House Spokesman, Rep. Farouk Lawan, announced 
last week that 200 members had signed the 17-point 
list of accusations against the President, with a goal 
of 300 signatures. Lawan said that the House would be 
prepared to pass the list of charges to the Senate by 
September 20. (NOTE:  157 signatures are required to 
initiate the procedure.  End Note.) 
¶17. (C) While formal transmission of the House charges 
to the Senate is still pending, the Senate is already 
is on stage and involved in the drama. Most likely the 
House would not have embarked on this collision course 
with the President unless assured of support by Senate 
President Anyim, once a close presidential ally.  A 
few months ago, Obasanjo jeopardized his "governance 
strategy" of maintaining a divided National Assembly 
to advance an "electoral strategy" of allegiance with 
State governors. Anyim and the Ebonyi State Governor 
Sam Egwu were battling for control of the State PDP 
apparatus.  Obasanjo characteristically sided with the 
Governor, and Anyim fell out with Obasanjo. Since 
then, the Senate President has moved progressively 
closer to Obasanjo nemesis, House Speaker Na'Abba. 
¶18. (C) Anyim's feud with Egwu reflects the 
adversarial relationship between many Senators and 
their State Governors. In many States, Senators and 
Governors have locked horns over control of the State 
party machinery or who will be the next Governor. 
Thus, an electoral strategy that aligns him with the 
Governors has puts Obasanjo in ill humor with the 
Senators. Furthering the acrimony between the 
President and Senate, allies of President have been 
accused of bribing Senators to oppose impeachment. 
There have been media reports of Senators returning 
the alleged bribes after being pressured by anti- 
Obasanjo colleagues to come clean. A veteran 
journalist recounted being told by Senator Jonathan 
Zwingina that numerous Senators admitted to taking the 
one million Naira payoffs. Nevertheless, Zwingina 
claimed that most of those who accepted the bribes 
would eventually vote against Obasanjo when the time 
was ripe. Some claim that over 80 of the 109 Senators 
now oppose Obasanjo. The Presidency has denied the 
bribery charge. The Senate has established an ad hoc 
committee to investigate the allegations. 
¶19. (U) On September 11, explicitly recognizing that 
the impeachment drive had gathered unexpected 
momentum, President Obasanjo issued a detailed defense 
against the 17 charges brought against him. Obasanjo 
explained he never deliberately violated the 
constitution or used his office to enrich himself. 
Obasanjo presented his response to a committee of PDP 
members established to resolve this rift threatening 
the basic unity of the party. Members of the PDP 
committee indicated to us that they were unsatisfied 
with his response.  He refused to meet us for two 
weeks, one member complained.  His change of heart, 
according to another, came only with the indication 
that the House was moving ahead with the process. 
¶20. (C) A presidential advisor recently told 
Ambassador Jeter the situation was increasingly 
disturbing.  While discounting a genuine legal basis 
for impeachment, the advisor noted the President was 
enmeshed in a political struggle, not a legal affair. 
It boiled down to a matter of numbers, not 
constitutionality or legality.  Although he felt 
Obasanjo would survive, the advisor predicted the 
impeachment drive would not end soon. He saw 
influential powerbrokers at the controls of this 
attack. Moreover, he claimed clear evidence of vast 
sums of money changing hands to finance the 
impeachment move. 
¶21. (C) In short, the advisor maintained impeachment 
was all about money and reelection not breaches of the 
constitution. By not playing pork-barrel politics, 
i.e. earmarking funds for "constituency projects" the 
Representatives could point to garner votes in the 
upcoming elections, Obasanjo was harpooning their 
reelection bids.  Other Representatives knew they 
would not win the party nomination again; they not 
only wanted money but to extort Obasanjo into 
supporting their re-nomination. Being sure losers 
otherwise, they had nothing to lose by threatening 
Obasanjo, There was little downside to this vindictive 
misadventure, the advisor concluded. 
¶22. (C) During an extended discussion at the 
Ambassador's residence, British Deputy High 
Commissioner Charles Bird stated that venality and 
personal electoral considerations of House members, 
not conscience, were the authors of the move to oust 
Obasanjo.  Like us, Bird felt the impeachment 
initially was intended to weaken Obasanjo politically 
and perhaps dissuade him from seeking the PDP re- 
nomination. However, he claimed, the longer the threat 
hovered, the more it assumed a life of its own.  Now, 
it has an independent momentum.  Many members of the 
House were now seized by the prospect of toppling 
Obasanjo, rendering this the most serious of the 
several impeachment threats Obasanjo has faced and the 
most serious legislative challenge to the primacy of 
the Executive since the 1999 return of civilian rule. 
After the dust has settled, there would likely be a 
tectonic shift in the power relationship between the 
Executive and the Legislature, Bird thought.  Either a 
strengthened Legislature would achieve par with a 
weakened Presidency or the current situation of a 
powerful Presidency and a laconic Assembly would be 
reinforced, he contended. 
¶23. (C) What Bird did not say was that if Obasanjo 
should ultimately surrendered to the demands of a 
rent-seeking legislature, corruption and graft will 
have carried the day. However, if Obasanjo prevails, 
his antagonists in both Chambers will quickly become 
political relics in 2003. 
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¶24. (C) VP Atiku is the primary beneficiary of the 
impeachment drama. Initially, Atiku was being fingered 
as the hand behind the scenes; that charge has not 
stuck, with Obasanjo's people increasingly seeing 
Babangida as the culprit. Nursing strong presidential 
ambitions of his own, Atiku can watch passively from 
the sidelines as the Assembly seeks to destroy 
Obasanjo. Because their relationship has cooled, Atiku 
longer feels impelled to energetically support 
Obasanjo.  Given Atiku's power within the party and 
his popularity within the National Assembly, his 
active support might have helped defuse the standoff. 
However, Atiku knows he is next in line should 
Obasanjo fall. Even if he survives, Obasanjo would be 
too weak to fire Atiku as his running mate.  Moreover, 
Obasanjo might be injured to the extent that Atiku 
could risk challenging him for the PDP nomination. 
Thus, Atiku seems content to let others do the 
fighting while he positions himself to take advantage 
of whatever unfolds. 
¶25. (C) Like most political phenomena, impeachment is 
subjective; its propriety lies in the eye of the 
beholder. Those who support Obasanjo, decry the 
impeachment; those who decry Obasanjo, generally 
support the impeachment. Despite their protestations 
to the contrary, the legislators' motives are suspect. 
What started the process was Obasanjo's reluctance to 
open the government coffers so  House members could 
spread largesse come election time. Objectively, 
perhaps the most serious allegation against the 
President is his role in doctoring the 2001 electoral 
law.  This indiscretion is included in the bill of 
particulars against the President but the House has 
not focussed much attention on this charge. The 
inattention is partially because some Senate and House 
leaders were accomplices in this misdeed. 
¶26. (C) House leaders claim over 200 Members have 
signed the petition; only 157 signatures are needed to 
initiate formal impeachment process. Two weeks after 
the process is initiated, the constitution requires a 
two-thirds vote of both Houses to advance the process 
to a three-month investigation followed by another 
two-thirds vote in both chambers if the investigation 
supports the charges. It is still unlikely the pro- 
impeachment forces can must two separate super- 
majorities in both Houses. If they start the process 
but do not garner enough votes, their threat vanishes 
completely in two weeks. Obasanjo, while crippled, 
would have his pyrrhic victory and could begin to lick 
his wounds. By temporizing, they can keep the shadow 
of uncertainty over Obasanjo until the PDP convention. 
¶27. (C) By sustaining this threat over Obasanjo, 
however, the House is steering Nigeria into a period 
of deepening political instability at a time when 
"normal electoral preparations" provide more than 
enough anxiety. Nigeria would be best served by a 
quick resolution where the President acknowledges his 
"mistakes" and recognizes the need to have a strong 
partnership with the legislature, thereby bolstering 
the role of the Assembly and the principle of checks 
and balances. In exchange, the legislators would agree 
to bury the impeachment hatchet and let Obasanjo's 
fate be decided at the party convention or by the 
electorate. If so, the politicians would have 
succeeded in snatching an important victory from the 
jowls of this crisis. Since Obasanjo's opponents would 
feel no compunction about rigging an election, they 
also believe that he is unhindered by any moral 
restraint about cheating (for himself or against 
them). Because both sides mistrust each other, 
conditions do not favor a statesmanlike compromise, 
¶28. (C) Since 1999, Nigeria has experienced too many 
impeachment threats against the President and too much 
presidential interference with the inner workings of 
the National Assembly. These confrontations are 
indicative of the inexperience and fragility of 
Nigeria's democratic process, with one branch of 
government jockeying to dominate the other. Thus, 
should this crisis linger and deteriorate, it would 
reinforce the belief that political differences are 
not to be resolved by compromise but by marginalizing 
and even removing opponents from office.  The harmful, 
zero-sum nature of Nigerian politics would persist, 
further impeding the country's democratic development.