Viewing cable 03ABUJA2205

03ABUJA22052003-12-24 07:39:00 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 02 ABUJA 002205 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/12/2013 
REF: A. ABUJA 1385 
     ¶B. LAGOS 2574 
¶1. (C) Nigerians remain in the same funk as in August (Ref 
A).  Throughout the country the loudest sound is that of 
grumbling, both stomachs and mouths.  While the economy 
continues to fester, President Obasanjo's policies -- whether 
reform or asserting his authority -- stoke the coals of 
discontent in virtually every walk of society.  Obasanjo's 
two international spectaculars occurred on schedule and 
without disruptions, he has been winning on gasoline 
deregulation (although the GON apparently just pegged the 
price again -- Ref B) and slimming the government (and 
removing those who have incurred his wrath), and the Court of 
Appeals has not thrown out his election.  The Nigerian 
masses, however, see neither benefit nor reason from any of 
this and, in fact, grumble more because of the President's 
apparent insensitivity to what they feel is important. 
Obasanjo's famously vindictive nature and penchant for 
revenge on anyone he perceives as challenging his ultimate 
work alienate even his supporters.  Most of the original 
leaders of his ruling PDP have since left the party.  And 
this funk carries across most segments of Nigerian society. 
End Summary. 
¶2. (C) The most common theme among politicians today is 
despair and anger.  Whether members of the opposition or the 
ruling party, whether winning or losing, politicians 
encountered in all regions of the country say President 
Obasanjo is entirely focused on creating an international 
image for himself at the expense of Nigeria's interests.  The 
political class generally does not see Nigeria, or 
themselves, moving forward -- only Obasanjo.  It would seem 
as sour grapes on a massive scale, except that it also comes 
from many working in the ruling PDP and Obasanjo's 
¶3. (C) These politicos' reaction ranges from "why bother" to 
"its time for a revolution."  Why bother appears to hold a 
winning hand, although talking about revolution is popular 
among intellectuals and those unable to eat from the trough. 
Many of those who do have their snouts in complain that 
Obasanjo treats them as "family staff," hiring and firing 
them at will.  The politicians not on Obasanjo's payroll do 
not expect him to last out 2004, and they debate among 
themselves whether his downfall will be accomplished by 
politicians, the military or the masses.  But the politicos 
are not yet ready to advance plans for action, let alone 
resolve the outstanding issues in Nigeria.  They are merely 
cognizant that at every turn in Nigeria's history it was the 
military who came to sort out the mess made by the political 
class, and they would like to avoid that this time. 
¶4. (C) Still reeling from the price hikes of fuel 
"deregulation," more Nigerians than ever are sinking into 
poverty.  There is more gasoline in Abuja and Lagos, but 
retrenchment is the word of the day among government workers, 
with NNPC already slashing another 1,300 jobs and the 
expectation that the government as a whole will slash up to 
forty percent of its staff in the next few weeks (many of 
whom are already not getting paid their salaries/pensions, 
benefits or both).  All of the newly out-of-work civil 
servants will join the approximately forty percent of the 
nation's workforce already unemployed.  (Among recent 
university graduates, the rate is closer to 75 percent.) 
Most Nigerians are still longing for the "dividends of 
democracy," but Obasanjo is asking them to suffer longer to 
improve the nation.  One even occasionally hears, among 
civilians, of longing for a return to the military, comments 
that "at least things worked." 
¶5. (C) Others among the masses are ready to battle the 
non-representative system and officials imposed through the 
faulty 2003 elections, but remain skeptical of who would lead 
them.  During the July fuel strikes, they were ready to fight 
to the finish under the NLC; today there is precious little 
support for a strike and most folks believe the NLC 
leadership will sell out labor's interests in return for 
government favors. 
¶6. (C) The military's respect for democratic institutions is 
still strong but could be eroding.  The GON has not paid 
military pensions for months.  In a series of lectures this 
fall to officers on issues of the day, Obasanjo alienated 
many officers when he left out military issues.  According to 
officers attending several of the various meetings held in 
about eight locations around the country, the President 
sought no advice from the military on the current security 
situation in the country.  Instead he harangued them for not 
doing their jobs well, and told them that they had no choice 
but to back him "in the name of democracy."  Perceived as 
unconcerned about the welfare of the soldiers, Obasanjo 
brushed off questions and embarrassed the officers in front 
of their subordinates.  According to the wife of one general, 
"the (enlisted) ranks are grumbling that the officers do not 
care about them and believe that they should intervene to 
save the country." 
¶7. (C) Talk in the barracks is openly critical of the 
President, and allusions to coup plots are openly bruited. 
According to one GON intelligence officer, the admonition 
from Nigeria's founding fathers that the "worst democracy is 
better than the best military government" is being 
discounted.  "Most believe we have no democracy," he said. 
While most soldiers want to feel loyal to the constitution 
and the country, the awareness that they are being asked to 
sacrifice for parochial interests rather than the good of the 
nation abounds.  He asserted that 80 percent of the votes 
cast in the barracks during the presidential elections were 
for Buhari; comparing that with the rather different results 
announced for Obasanjo would indicate the degree of danger. 
In another recent meeting, on COJA security, one high-ranking 
general reportedly upbraided Vice President Atiku for the 
regime's insensitivity towards the needs of the military. 
The general told the VP that the military would not respond 
to security calls without a clear mission guideline, 
transport for the troops and logistical support on the 
ground.  "None of these existed during COJA," he said. 
¶8. (C) Military officers tell us the bottom line, however, is 
that individually and as an institution they believe 
civilians do not want a military coup, much less another 
military government.  President Obasanjo has been successful 
in forcing out military officers who would seek government 
power for power's sake, and has also placed fellow 
southerners or Christians in virtually every position 
commanding significant numbers of soldiers. 
¶9. (C) Grumbling continues unabated, and Obasanjo is not 
changing course despite the criticism.  Most interlocutors 
contacted recently predict that the Obasanjo administration 
will not survive until 2007.  The politicians, however, 
remain unwilling to cooperate with each other to bring that 
about by political means.  In the absence of political 
movement, a coup can only come from the military stepping in 
to effect change, or from the frustrated and angry masses 
coming onto the streets.  The NLC strike threat seems to be 
fizzling, although a decision against Buhari in the courts 
could bring mass action.  More likely than either, given 
Nigerians, well-known patience in the face of suffering, 
most people will continue to muddle along without any 
resolution of the underlying problems.  Perhaps the Obasanjo 
administration can turn its attention to them, now that 
international shows have departed the Nigerian stage.