Viewing cable 03ABUJA719

03ABUJA7192003-04-17 23:20:00 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 03 ABUJA 000719 
DECL: 4/17/2008 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter for reason 1.5 (d). 
¶1.  (C) Summary: Despite a crowded house of 19 Presidential 
candidates, the April 19 contest boils down to President 
Obasanjo and ANPP candidate Muhammadu Buhari.  Holding the 
ace of incumbency, Obasanjo is the likely, but not 
guaranteed, victor.  He has been put on the defensive by 
recent events such as the protracted gas shortage. The 
shortage and other problems served to painfully remind the 
Nigerian people that Obasanjo's first term did not produce 
the expected economic "dividends of democracy."  Meanwhile, 
Buhari started slowly and appeared direction-less yet 
seemed to find his political compass in the later stages of 
the campaign.  Results from the April 12 National Assembly 
elections give the PDP a majority of the votes nation-wide 
while ANPP support is mostly limited to the North.  These 
results add some lift to Obasanjo's presumed lead. 
However, Buhari and the other opposition parties have 
alleged systematic vote manipulation. Buhari is meeting 
with other aggrieved political leaders to discuss an 
eleventh hour alliance.  If the desired deals are struck, 
the dynamics of the presidential election could change 
materially from the April 12 contest.  In any event, April 
19 will be a tense, historic day that severely tests the 
very fiber of Nigerian democracy.  End Summary. 
For Obasanjo - An Election Not Soon Enough 
¶2. (C) In retrospect, President Obasanjo would have wished 
this election occurred in late January. In an election 
immediately after the January PDP and ANPP conventions, 
Obasanjo would have carried the day handsomely.  At that 
point, the gap between him and Buhari was wide and appeared 
unbridgeable. Conventional wisdom was that the PDP 
convention was the real test (exactly what Obasanjo said to 
the Ambassador at that time); the general election would be 
close to a formality that had to be observed but not 
worried about.  On the domestic political front, things 
were relatively quiet after the conventions. There were no 
crises and the Administration was looking forward to a 
minor windfall because of oil prices elevated by the storm 
gathering over Iraq. 
¶3.  (C) Conversely, Buhari did not seem to know what to do 
with the ANPP nomination once he had it.  Moreover, the 
denouement of the ANPP convention had been clumsy and 
fractious.  While Buhari was selected as a "consensus" 
candidate, the consensus was hollow. Several rival ANPP 
candidates boycotted the convention; their widely broadcast 
walkout gave the appearance that the orchestrated PDP 
convention was actually fairer than the ANPP's. 
¶4.  (C) Buhari seemed ineffectual as a campaigner.  His 
campaign hibernated for weeks; his major negatives stuck to 
him, no matter how loudly he disclaimed his past misdeeds 
and missteps.  While incorruptible when it came to personal 
integrity, he was feared by many to be intolerant as a 
public leader. He was viewed as a religious and regional 
bigot more suited to be a third party candidate who could 
energize the Northern "protest", populist vote than to be 
the flagbearer of the main opposition.  Many people thought 
Buhari could win the Northwest without getting out of bed, 
but would lose the other five zones, especially the three 
in the South, no matter how hard he tried.  That his 
campaign appeared dormant only confirmed this assessment; 
it seemed Buhari had already conceded his was a cause that 
could only end in defeat. 
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But Things Fall Apart 
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¶5.  (C) Obasanjo's relative good fortune did not last; 
neither did Buhari's somnolence.  Despite higher than 
expected oil prices, the national economy reminded everyone 
that it was sick; the government's morbidity was equally 
patent. The President and National Assembly bickered over 
the Anti-Corruption Commission in between their cross 
exchanges over the 2003 budget.  Obasanjo and the lawmakers 
could not reconcile their differences over the oil 
dichotomy bill and special derivative income for oil 
producing states.  People in the South-South states started 
to get edgy when many state and local governments failed to 
pay salaries for months. Unionized workers, including 
federal and state civil servants, threatened to strike to 
force the GON to honor the 12.5% pay raise the National 
Labour Congress said the GON had promised.  By late 
February, too much was going wrong.  It appeared the 
country was being yanked from pillar to post, from problem 
to problem. 
¶6.  (C) In late March, things went from bad to worse.  The 
fuel shortage brought back marathon gas lines, longer and 
more intractable than those in Abacha times.  The fuel 
crunch caused transportation and food prices to rise, 
further pinching the too-lean wallet of the average 
Nigerian. Moreover, the thousands of Nigerians who had to 
wait hours in long gas lines, sometimes for days, could not 
be overly enthralled with the incumbent government that 
failed to spare them from this ordeal. Then, the ethnic 
crisis in Warri spilled into the oil fields.  Well-armed 
ethnic Ijaw militants rendered these rich oil installations 
inoperable, reducing Nigeria's daily output by over forty 
percent and completely cutting crude flows to those 
refineries still operating.  For a government that derives 
over eighty percent of its revenues from selling oil, the 
reduction had the makings of potential economic disaster. 
At a time when Obasanjo should have been demonstrating his 
mastery of the ship of state, the general impression was 
that the President's grip had become unsteady and the 
country was veering out of his control. 
¶7.  (C) While Obasanjo was being sorely tested, Buhari was 
imperceptibly moving from weakness to relative strength. 
His humble coffers forced him into a lean campaign. He had 
to pick his spots judiciously; by starting late however, 
Buhari's campaign had an unexpected salutary effect; 
because he was not visible early, the public did become 
inured with him. Moreover, his slowness to campaign and 
failure to splash money around in the traditional political 
mode, once seen as a demerit, turned into virtue.  His 
campaign stops -- little reported in official media and 
much of the Lagos-based press -- drew tens of thousands 
without need for the financial inducement that was slowly 
making a mockery of well-publicized PDP events.  It all 
reinforced the notion that Buhari, although a former Head 
of State, was a new breeze -- that he would not conduct 
business as usual because he was not a full-fledged member 
of the country's discredited and venal political elite. 
¶8.  (C) Consequently, as Buhari started to campaign more 
actively, he cashed in on his image as the upright 
politician, the acme of rectitude.  More people came to see 
him as a man who might be able to impart some of his 
legendary self-control onto an unruly nation. Conversely, 
Obasanjo was seen as drifting from crisis to crisis, 
shackled by an Administration racked by corruption and 
incompetence.  Faced with the emergencies of today, many 
people forgot the excesses of Buhari's past.  While 
Obasanjo fiddled or was unconcerned because he and his 
cronies had fuel, Buhari would do something to end the gas 
lines.  Many people began to identify with Buhari because 
he was not a man of great privilege or wealth. To some 
degree, he began to connect with the common man in places 
outside the North. While there were still deep reservations 
about Buhari's perceived ethnic and religious chauvinism, 
and his past performance as a mediocre Head of State, 
perhaps that connection would turn to votes. 
¶9.  (C) Going into the April 12 National Assembly election, 
it appeared that Obasanjo was leading but with Buhari 
gaining ground.  A close race seemed unlikely but possible. 
Nigeria was tense going into the election. Uncertainty was 
in the air.  Could INEC do it?  Would there be violence? 
Generally, the conduct at the polls on election day went 
reasonably well by local standards.  Also, the very act of 
casting votes was partially cathartic for the general 
public.  Consequently, there was a temporary relaxation of 
tensions that would have redounded to Obasanjo's benefit 
had his party not over-reached.  Instead, Nigeria's journey 
through this week would be more like a frenetic roller- 
coaster than a certain, well driven road. 
¶10. (C) With election results showing the PDP maintaining 
its National Assembly majority and gaining over 50 percent 
of the nation-wide vote (its majority in the Senate likely 
will grow significantly), opposition parties vociferously 
assailed the process.  They accused the PDP, INEC and the 
Army of massive, systematic vote manipulation.  There were 
scores of reports of pre-stuffed replica ballot boxes. 
Some of these stories are probably just that, but many of 
them are credible and almost certainly true.  The ANPP 
claimed an accurate vote count would have perhaps given 
them a majority of National Assembly seats and definitely 
much more than the 27 percent vote nationwide that INEC 
results indicate. Chairmen of several opposition parties 
met April 15, issuing a press statement rejecting the vote. 
¶11. (C) On April 17, Buhari flew to Lagos to meet with AD 
leaders who feel equally aggrieved by the PDP's massive 
gains in the Southwest.  The AD, and especially Afinefere, 
are literally fighting for their lives.  Having been 
effectively ejected from its only political home base, the 
AD has nowhere to go except toward irrelevance unless it 
can retain its gubernatorial seats on April 19.  The 
Yoruba-dominated party thought it had a deal with the PDP 
that would protect incumbents in the Southwest in exchange 
for AD votes in the presidential contest.  In earnest of 
that, the AD did not present a candidate for the 
presidential race.  Now, AD leaders worry that voters will 
abandon the AD governors to join the PDP bandwagon, dooming 
the party and its socio-political underpinning, - 
Afinefere.  Whether INEC results of the April 12 elections 
generally reflect the way Southwesterners actually voted 
seems to be of little importance at this juncture. 
12 (C) These developments portend an April 19 election that 
will be significantly more tense than the National Assembly 
election of a week ago. Tensions will be accentuated 
further because gubernatorial races in hotly contested 
states, such as Plateau, Anambra, Kwara and Rivers will be 
that same day. 
¶13.  (C) The opposition parties are afraid that, if they do 
not challenge INEC's conduct of last week's elections, the 
results on April 19 will mirror the April 12 vote tally. 
If so, Obasanjo is assured of victory.  The PDP has over 50 
percent of the April 12 vote; while the AD pulled in just 
12 percent.  Although the AD has backed out of its pact to 
support Obasanjo, many AD members will still support him 
out of ethnic loyalty.  A portion of AD support would give 
Obasanjo a vote percentage comfortably in the upper 50's. 
Meanwhile, the ANPP is hovering around 27 percent 
nationally, with the vast majority coming from the 
Northwest.  However, the ANPP is registering less than 25% 
in 18, mostly southern, states.  If this low Southern tally 
holds for the presidential election, Buhari will be utterly 
unelectable.  The constitution not only requires a winner 
to attain a national plurality, he must also receive 25% of 
the vote in two-thirds of the 27 electoral jurisdictions 
(36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory). Based on 
the April 12 results, Buhari can count on only 18 states. 
¶14.  (C) The controversy produced by the National Assembly 
Election may cause an eleventh-hour shift in alignments. 
First, the crumbling of the AD/PDP pact could cost Obasanjo 
significant support in the Southwest.  Yet, while Buhari is 
meeting with AD leaders, Obasanjo has also reached out to 
the AD; but right now, the trust between Obasanjo and the 
AD is gone. Conceivably the AD could swing its influence to 
Buhari or at least instruct followers not to vote for 
Obasanjo. Yet given ethnic loyalty and the support of the 
Yoruba's most senior traditional leaders, Obasanjo will 
likely carry the Southwest, but his margin may be reduced. 
Second, the ANPP may be able to increase the voter turn-out 
in the North. Third, Igbo favorite son candidates such as 
the APGA's Ojukwu, NDP's Nwachukwu and UNPP's Nwobodo, 
could take a healthy share of the votes in the Southeast, a 
PDP stronghold in 1999.  Alternatively, the three could 
throw their support to Buhari in protest against the 
alleged manipulation of the April 12 exercise.  Fourth, 
there is the immeasurable protest factor among the general 
public.  There could be a turnout of voters who, in 
reaction to the allegations of vote manipulation, decide to 
vote for Buhari. 
¶15. (C) A combination of three of these four possibilities 
would be needed to force a close race.  This concatenation 
is unlikely, yet it cannot be dismissed.  However, at this 
stage, Obasanjo appears to be the much safer bet, although 
that outcome will be messy.