Viewing cable 02ABUJA3313

02ABUJA33132002-12-16 09:41:00 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 05 ABUJA 003313 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/10/07 
REASON: 1.5 (B) & (D) 
¶1. (C) Summary: Roughly a month has passed since the 
impeachment threat against Obasanjo was effectively 
shelved; however, its repercussions continue to be 
felt throughout the Nigerian polity. President 
Obasanjo has been made painfully aware of his 
electoral vulnerabilities, and is trying to 
dramatically change his political style.   With the 
PDP convention less than three weeks away, he seems to 
have done more politicking and outreach in the past 
month than all the previous months of the year put 
together. A gradual d ente between Obasanjo and his 
Vice President would enhance re-nomination prospects 
and one appears to be emerging. Most insiders report 
Atiku has decided to cast his lot with Obasanjo. 
Nevertheless, opponents were encouraged by the 
impeachment drama. Other PDP candidates have emerged, 
Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekweume being the 
most formidable. Outside the PDP, the ANPP is 
canvassing the Southeast in search of a Southeast- 
North presidential ticket to oppose Obasanjo. The 
impeachment battle further accentuated regional 
politics and exposed latent fissures in the National 
Assembly. End Summary 
President Obasanjo - Wounded and Wary 
¶2.  (C) The impeachment threat against Obasanjo was 
doused because of the sustained intervention of PDP 
party officials and former Heads of State Yakubu Gowon 
and Shehu Shagari. Even with the intercession of these 
former leaders, the settlement cost Obasanjo more than 
just his political standing and embarrassment. After 
acting dismissively toward the National Assembly for 
three years, he was compelled to assent to Assembly 
demands, inter alia, to increase spending on capital 
projects while also suspending the controversial 
privatization sales of rickety Nigerian Airways and 
the National Mint Company. 
¶3.  (C) True, ending the impeachment threat 
temporarily decreased the level of political suspense 
but did little to erase underlying tensions that led 
to the move in the first place. In reality, the 
impeachment threat was nothing more than the 
continuation of electoral politics by other means. 
Thus, while escaping this challenge, Obasanjo was in 
position to revel his survival.  More than any other 
event during his Presidency, the impeachment showed 
Obasanjo the limits of presidential power and the 
depths of his unpopularity among the political elite, 
including those in his own party.  Obasanjo was unable 
to repel the threat unilaterally. He needed the 
intervention of Gowon and Shagari to pacify the 
maverick PDP-dominated Assembly.  Smugly ensconced in 
the lap of incumbency, Obasanjo had been guilty of 
hubris up to this point. Now he has taken on the 
contrite posture of a man who needed the help of Good 
Samaritans and passers-by to squelch a house fire 
willfully ignited by his own relatives, i.e. PDP 
National Assembly Members. 
¶4. (C) Some of the support Obasanjo received during 
the impeachment was double-edged, however. As 
individuals and groups stood up to criticize the 
impeachment challenge, some Obasanjo advisors thought 
they could turn this to his electoral advantage. Their 
mistake was assuming a tight correlation between 
opposition to impeachment and support for reelection. 
Unfortunately for them, membership in the former group 
was larger than the latter.  Several groups, including 
the Nigeria Bar Association and the "Patriots" group 
issued public statements opposing impeachment but 
endorsing a constitutional amendment for a five-year 
term for the President and Governors.  These public 
statements particularly hurt; both groups have strong 
Yoruba contingents and are dominated by Southerners. 
The most important Yoruba social group, "Afenifere," 
also opposed impeachment but was non-committal on 
Obasanjo's reelection. At least, the Bar Association 
and "Afenifere" members agreed to meet the President. 
"Ohaneze Ndigbo," the pre-eminent Igbo political 
organization, not only asked Obasanjo to step aside, 
they refused his invitation to meet. In a protocol 
conscious society, that rebuff was almost 
unprecedented.  Instead of meeting Obasanjo as a 
group, Ohaneze sent former Biafran leader Ojukwu to 
talk to the President, symbolically a jab at Obasanjo, 
who, as a general, had led the defeat of Ojukwu and 
his Biafran succession. ("Ohaneze" claims the 
objective of an Igbo President is sine qua non for 
¶2003. For them, there is no way the Yoruba Obasanjo 
can change his ethnic stripes.) 
¶5. (C) Comment: Obasanjo is especially indebted to 
Gowon and Shagari for their roles in ending the 
impeachment drive.  However, the President would 
rather not be indebted to these two Northern 
stalwarts. In the public eye, they could hold a 
special leverage over him. He would be very sensitive 
to a call from either or both for him to step down. 
People would give their statements much more credence 
since these men were allies who so recently and 
energetically fought for Obasanjo. They would see any 
negative reaction by Obasanjo to these statesmen as 
symptomatic of a person afflicted with a stubborn lust 
for office and power. Now with Alex Ekweume entering 
the race, Obasanjo has to be concerned that Shagari 
may ultimately be compelled to publicly support his 
former Vice President. End Comment. 
¶6. (C) The impeachment showed several weaknesses in 
Obasanjo's Administration.  Few of his Cabinet 
Ministers and others rose to his defense. Their 
relative silence was resounding and demonstrated a 
lack of deeply committed politically support. Second, 
his public relations machinery was languid. His spin- 
doctors seemed to suffer from professional anemia; 
their passivity allowed the President's opponents to 
control the media agenda. 
¶7. (C) However, all has not been gloomy for Obasanjo. 
In fact, his stock is better than it was in mid- 
November. Given the frenetic pace of events, the 
effect of many of the negative public statements made 
in November and October will have been dulled by the 
January 3-5 PDP national convention.  Moreover, 
Obasanjo has been actively politicking and has 
replaced his general's scowl with a politician's 
smile.  His triumphal visits to Osun, Oyo and Lagos 
states created positive press, varnished his 
Presidential patina and solidified his base in the 
Southwest. He was buoyed by the public exclamation of 
Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu that Obasanjo could 
count as his the "5 million" voters in Lagos State. 
Tinubu's statement indicates that Obasanjo must have 
made electoral peace with the AD Governors of the 
Southwest, presumably eliciting their support by 
promising not to actively oppose their reelection.  If 
so, Obasanjo has gone far in securing his Yoruba home 
¶8. (C) Obasanjo also formally jumpstarted his PDP re- 
nomination campaign in Enugu, in the Igbo Southeast. 
The symbolism could not be more apparent.  In doing 
so, he was extending a hand in hopes of minimizing 
Igbo defections from his camp.  (Igbos voted massively 
for Obasanjo in the 1999 election.) 
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¶9. (C) Governor Tinubu's endorsement of Obasanjo, if 
genuine, would indicate Vice President Atiku was 
having second thoughts about challenging his boss for 
the PDP nomination. Tinubu and Atiku are close friends 
and political allies albeit in different parties. 
Tinubu probably would not have so extravagantly lauded 
Obasanjo without a nod from Atiku. The Lagos 
Governor's statement could be unmitigated flimflam; 
however, that is unlikely.  Stooping to such a crass, 
public deception would border the unconscionable even 
by Nigeria's forgiving standards of political 
¶10. (C) There is other evidence that Atiku does not 
appear as eager to bolt as he did one month ago. 
Realization of his own political liabilities might 
have tempered the Vice-President's ambitions. 
Moreover, several sources have informed us Obasanjo 
recently confronted Atiku with a dossier of financial 
improprieties to be made public should the Vice 
President defect. Atiku apparently did not purchase a 
presidential nomination application, a requisite to 
contesting as PDP standard-bearer in the upcoming 
convention. Although a Northerner, Atiku did not raise 
a peep when the PDP announced that it had "zoned" the 
presidency to the South, a move that would eliminate 
him from contention.  He likely came to understand 
that many "supporters" were trying to inveigle him, 
hoping that an Obasanjo versus Atiku collision for the 
PDP nomination would disable them both. Instead of 
acting prematurely in the 2003 election, Atiku might 
now think he should bide his time until 2007. One of 
Atiku's fears has been that Obasanjo might dump him. 
Reverend Yusuf Obaje, Obasanjo's Chaplain, told 
Ambassador Jeter that recent conversations between 
Atiku and Obasanjo have helped clear the air: If he 
actively supports Obasanjo, Atiku will remain on the 
¶11.  (C) Obasanjo's olive leaf to Atiku was not the 
product of altruism. Given the strength of Atiku's 
position within the PDP and the Ekwueme's candidacy 
(which surprised Obasanjo), Obasanjo needs Atiku more 
than ever to be re-nominated. However, complete trust 
between the two will be very difficult to restore. 
Atiku and his supporters remain wary that Obasanjo 
might retain him just long enough to win renomination, 
then dump him. (Comment: This post-nomination ejection 
seems unlikely as it would hurt Obasanjo in the 
general election by splitting the party and further 
undermine Obasanjo in the Northeast. Moreover, 
Obasanjo's reputation for loyalty is already suspect; 
dropping the Vice President after using him to win the 
nomination would paint Obasanjo with the brush of 
ruthlessness, undermining the dual image of reform and 
new-found affability he is trying to convey.  End 
¶12. (C) Sensing that Obasanjo is wounded, several 
candidates have emerged in the PDP, none more 
formidable than current PDP Board of Trustees Chairman 
and former Vice President Alex Ekweume.  That the 
urbane Ekweume, a Southeastern Igbo, made his public 
announcement from Minna, the home of former Heads of 
State Babangida and Abdulsalaam, was symbolic.  It was 
intended to convey that Ekweume, not Obasanjo, has the 
backing of these two former leaders.  This is an 
important omen to PDP watchers; if true, it represents 
a change in fortunes from 1999 when Babangida's 
intervention allowed Obasanjo to snatch the PDP 
nomination from Ekweume's hands at the eleventh hour 
of the party convention. 
¶13. However, the fact that Babangida absented himself 
from Minna the day of Ekweume's declaration might have 
diluted the intended message, leaving everyone still 
wondering about Babangida's intentions. Ironically, 
Ekweume's candidacy might push some Igbos toward 
Obasanjo. There are several younger Igbos who desire 
to be Nigeria's First Citizen, but see 2007 or 2011 as 
their dates with destiny. If Ekweume wins in 2003, 
another Igbo might not get a chance to contest for the 
presidency for nearly twenty years given the 
predilection to "zone" offices among the six 
geopolitical regions on a rotational basis. End 
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¶14. (C) Meanwhile, the leading opposition party, the 
ANPP, moved to capitalize on the anti-Obasanjo 
sentiment exposed during the impeachment drama. 
Ironically, the ANPP has been attempting to shed its 
image as a Northern-dominated party by acknowledging 
its Northern domination.  The party is using the 
carrot of its solid support in the North to entice 
politicians in the Southeast and South-South to 
abandon the PDP.  Consequently, the ANPP held large 
rallies in Port Harcourt (South-South) and Enugu 
(Southeast) in late November.  Additionally, the ANPP 
has been courting the leadership of "Ohaneze Ndigbo" 
and various South-South groups, dangling before them 
the possibility of a Southeast/North or a South- 
South/North presidential ticket to oppose Obasanjo. 
Moderate ANPP Northerners hope this tack of keeping 
the Presidency in the South in 2003 would attract 
anti-Obasanjo Southerners to the party. The presidency 
would then be zoned to the North in 2007. This would 
suit the likes of players like ANPP acting National 
Chairman, Sokoto State Governor Bafarawa, who 
reportedly have their eyes on the 2007 ANPP 
¶15. (C) The ANPP stands to gain defectors from PDP 
National Assembly Members who openly endorsed 
Obasanjo's impeachment. These PDP Members fear for 
their careers should they remain in the PDP and 
Obasanjo win re-nomination. Already, former Senate 
President Okadigbo has bolted to the ANPP.  Current 
Senate President Anyim and others have been 
contemplating the move for months. They might find a 
safe place to land in the ANPP.  Devoid of serious 
candidates in many areas of the Southeast and South- 
South, the ANPP has been offering many PDP office 
holders the counterpart ANPP nominations if they 
crossed the carpet.  In the final analysis, the ANPP 
stands to gain numerous defections and win more 
support in the Southeast and South-South unless 
Obasanjo convinces mutinous National Assembly Members 
that he will not act vindictively if he wins. For his 
part, Ekwueme need to keep as many National Assembly 
Members as possible in the PDP; he will need their 
voted at the national convention where they are ex 
officio delegates. 
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¶16. (C) From the looks of things in the Senate, it 
appears that Obasanjo is not very interested in 
mending fences with the National Assembly leadership 
and those members who advocated his ouster.  During 
the impeachment drive, the Assembly leadership not 
only attacked Obasanjo but also removed his real and 
suspected supporters from key committee memberships. 
Obasanjo supporters sought retribution through the 
Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).  A 
House Member filed a petition against House Speaker 
Na'Abba for allegedly diverting government funds to 
private purposes.  In a much more sensational move, 
Senator Arthur Nzeribe filed a petition with ICPC 
claiming he distributed over 300 million Naira to 
Senators, including the Senate leadership, in bribes 
to end the Obasanjo impeachment.  The amoral Nzeribe 
filed the petition after being suspended from the 
Senate when his attempt to impeachment Senate 
President Anyim failed. 
¶17. (C) Anyim and Na'Abba rushed to court in late 
November, obtaining injunctions to suspend the ICPC 
investigations.  They also hurriedly established 
special committees to consider repealing the ICPC 
enabling legislation.  In an act of nearly 
unparalleled shamelessness, the two lawmakers filed 
suit to have the law establishing the ICPC declared 
unconstitutional; this despite the fact that they were 
the ones who shepherded the measure through their 
respective Chambers. Sadly, the politicization of the 
ICPC, which was to be the GON's anti-corruption 
flagship, has been an unfortunate offshoot of the 
impeachment machinations. 
¶18.  (C) While most of the intrigue has been among the 
political elite, public psychology also has been 
influenced. Perhaps the most noticeable consequence 
has been the exacerbation of regional identification. 
Part of the reason Obasanjo could solidify his base in 
the Yoruba Southwest was that Yorubas saw impeachment 
as an attempt by Northerners to snatch power not just 
from Obasanjo but from them. Many non-Yoruba 
Southerners also saw it as a Northern ploy to wrest 
power. Yet, instead of rallying around Obasanjo, these 
non-Yoruba measured Obasanjo's popularity, found it 
wanting and sensed he could be defeated.  Thus, many 
politicians in other areas of the South began to 
clamor more loudly for a Southern President other than 
Obasanjo.  In the North, the impeachment reinforced 
negative views of Obasanjo held by large swaths of the 
population.  The sense that the president was weakened 
and susceptible to further embarrassment by his 
opponents might also have indirectly encouraged the 
instigators of the Kaduna and Abuja anti-Miss World 
protests, and the rioting that ensued. 
¶19.  (C) The impeachment and developments surrounding 
it have brought the challenges to Obasanjo's re- 
nomination into sharper focus. He has a better sense 
of his allies, opportunistic straphangers, his enemies 
and the questions that must be answered if his re- 
nomination run is to be successful. Obasanjo was 
clearly wounded by the impeachment. It was akin to 
dropping a weight on the foot of an unsuspecting 
sprinter as he approached the starting line. However, 
the benefits and trappings of incumbency and his 
influence over the electoral bodies make Obasanjo's 
race to the finish line shorter than his opponents'. 
While he is far from a shoe-in, there is a sense that 
he has rebounded to some extent.  If Obasanjo can 
retain Atiku's allegiance and minimize Babangida's 
dabbling in the PDP, he still has the inside track to 
the nomination, albeit with the well-respected Ekweume 
close on his heels.