US embassy cable - 02ABUJA1943

IBB, ALIYU AND THE RACE FOR NIGERIA'S PRESIDENCY

Identifier: 02ABUJA1943
Wikileaks: View 02ABUJA1943 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2002-06-27 17:22:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PGOV PINS PINR KDEM NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001943 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NOFORN 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/20/2017 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PINR, KDEM, NI 
SUBJECT: IBB, ALIYU AND THE RACE FOR NIGERIA'S PRESIDENCY 
 
REF: A. ABUJA 1850 
     B. LAGOS 1273 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY CDA ANDREWS.  REASON:  1.5(B) and (D) 
 
 
1.  (C) Summary: IBB is not running, for now, and neither is 
Aliyu Mohammed, according to several political insiders.  But 
both retired generals are deeply frustrated with incumbent 
retired general Olusegun Obasanjo.  There are pressures on 
IBB to run, but he carries heavy baggage.  If the North can 
coalesce around a consensus team, perhaps one headed by a 
career civilian, OO will face a campaign trail as potholed as 
most Nigerian roads.  End Summary. 
 
 
2.  (C) Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999 with the 
support of fellow former military head of state Ibrahim 
Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and an erstwhile Customs officer 
named Atiku Abubakar.  Atiku had inherited the political 
machinery of the late Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, OO's deputy 
following the assassination of Murtala Mohammed.  Unlike 
Obasanjo, Yar'Adua did not survive imprisonment by their 
former subordinate, Sani Abacha, but his Peoples Democratic 
Movement (PDM) evolved into the core of today's ruling 
People's Democratic Party (PDP).  Playing a strong supporting 
role in the IBB camp was retired Lieutenant General Aliyu 
Mohammed (political folklore has it that Mohammed helped 
convince a skeptical Obasanjo that IBB was sincere when he 
stated that he would support Obasanjo for president in 1999). 
 Aliyu, Oladipo Diya and Sani Abacha comprised the 
triumvirate of active generals that told Interim National 
Government Chairman Chief Ernest Shonekan to resign in late 
1994.  Abacha outmaneuvered Aliyu, taking the top job and 
retiring his fellow Northerner.  Diya held the number two job 
under Abacha until he, like Obasanjo and Yar'Adua, was 
convicted of coup-plotting.  Today, Aliyu is Obasanjo's 
National Security Advisor, Atiku is Vice President, and IBB 
looms darkly in the background -- perennial potential 
candidate, the dream of some and nightmare of others. 
Together, they form the new (retired) generals' triumvirate 
and will figure critically in Obasanjo's prospects for a 
second term. 
 
 
3.  (C) From about September of last year, Nigeria was awash 
with rumors that Obasanjo might drop Atiku in favor of a 
running mate from the Northwest.  Kaduna Governor Makarfi was 
prominently mentioned, and his staff were busily preparing 
their boss.  The intensity of speculation grew as Obasanjo 
repeatedly pushed back the official announcement of his 
re-election plans.  Obasanjo's eventual announcement that he 
planned to retain Atiku on the ticket seemed lukewarm to many 
observers here.  Atiku himself privately acknowledged to CDA 
June 24 that there had been some strains but averred that 
everything had now been worked out.  Another political 
insider commented that cooler political minds had prevailed 
in the struggle for Obasanjo's attention, convincing him that 
he could not win without the political machinery Atiku 
controls.  Atiku privately alluded to this reality, noting 
with some pride that this control and his winning the day on 
the question of whether to fight for every state (septel) had 
helped to attenuate political violence during the electoral 
cycle thus far. 
 
 
4.  (S) More recently, rumors have been rife that Aliyu had 
plans to run against his boss, either as a stalking horse for 
IBB or as IBB's candidate.  According to a political figure 
close to Aliyu and IBB, Obasanjo decided to check out those 
rumors by paying some Northern political figures, including 
at least one governor, to approach Aliyu and urge him to run. 
 One of the men approached apparently told Aliyu.  In early 
June, the source continued, Aliyu asked for a meeting with 
Obasanjo and Atiku (as witness) and complained bitterly that 
Obasanjo had lacked sufficient respect for him to ask him his 
intentions directly.  He had put his life at risk to support 
Obasanjo and had faithfully implemented Obasanjo's decisions, 
Aliyu reportedly continued, so he deserved better than this 
sort of skullduggery.  Obasanjo quickly apologized, the 
source concluded, but had lost stature in the eyes of both 
Aliyu and Atiku as a result. 
 
 
5.  (C) CDA mentioned the rumors to Aliyu during a June 25 
meeting and asked what he thought.  Aliyu said he worked for 
the President and was a member of the ruling party.  He said 
the rumors arose from a list the Arewa Consultative Forum 
(ACF) had compiled of possible Northern contestants.  ACF had 
no one's mandate to produce such a list, Aliyu continued, but 
its existence had led the backers of several nascent parties 
to ask him to join them.  He was not interested in joining 
any party other than the PDP and had rebuffed all entreaties. 
 COMMENT:  We note that Aliyu did not specifically rule out 
running for President.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
6.  (C) Several players from different parts of the political 
spectrum have told us recently that IBB is not planning to 
run against Obasanjo.  However, an occasional IBB adviser 
told Consulate General Lagos (ref B) that the former Head of 
State would announce his candidacy on August 17, and two of 
the newly-registered political parties (NDP and UNPP) want 
IBB as their flag-bearer.  IBB is also nervous about the 
Buhari candidacy, fearing that the man he overthrew in 1985 
would probably order his arrest within 24 hours of assuming 
office.  Babangida's strong ties to the elite would trump 
Buhari's popularity with the Northern masses and preclude the 
tiny possibility of Buhari (who would have great difficulty 
attracting votes outside the far North) actually winning the 
election.  IBB is renowned for changing stories to suit his 
changing audiences, so interlocutors tend to hear what IBB 
thinks they want to hear.  He's not running yet, but he's 
clearly keeping his options open. 
 
 
7.  (S/NF) Meanwhile, British Deputy High Commissioner met 
with Atiku, who said that the "triumvirate" would continue to 
support Obasanjo for the time being.  However, if he (Atiku) 
decided to pull up stakes, he was sure Aliyu would come with 
him.  If Atiku and Aliyu were to switch their support to IBB, 
a prospect we find unlikely given Atiku's own ambitions, OO 
would have a very hard time winning anything resembling an 
open and transparent election. 
 
 
8.  (C) Atiku told CDA privately that he felt the 
Obasanjo-Atiku ticket would prevail.  But Emeka Ihedioha, one 
of his strategists, said immediately afterward that the 
ticket was in deep trouble in the South; there were only 
seven where the team could feel "comfortable."  Outside the 
Northeast, the North was mostly hostile territory - a point 
on which most observers are in agreement. 
 
 
9.  (S/NF) Party Chairman Audu Ogbeh thought it likely IBB 
was not himself quite sure which way to jump.  Ogbeh pointed 
out that IBB carried heavy baggage from his years in office. 
Aside from the damage he inflicted on national institutions 
(a point that influential Northern elder Liman Ciroma often 
makes), IBB faced serious unresolved human rights charges, 
notably complicity in the assassination of journalist Dele 
Giwa.  Moreover, Ogbeh continued, IBB's financial resources 
were not of the magnitude many assumed; he had lost a fortune 
when Aliyu Dasuki suddenly died (Aliyu Mohammed subsequently 
married Dasuki's widow, Jamila) and probably could not 
finance a Presidential campaign without significant help from 
his friends.  Ogbeh said IBB had specifically disavowed any 
interest in the 2003 election in a recent private chat, but 
Ogbeh just as quickly added that IBB could not be trusted to 
speak frankly about his intentions.  Ogbeh sharply criticized 
President Obasanjo, however, saying that his penchant for 
international travel and inattention to waste, corruption and 
decaying terms of trade left the PDP vulnerable. 
 
 
10.  (C) COMMENT: Because IBB tends to say what people want 
to hear, he has become many different things to different 
people.  His support in certain circles runs strong because 
various groupings are vying to make him their leader.  If IBB 
eventually decides to run, he will have to choose his venue 
from among three parties - ANPP, UNPP and NDP.  The former 
offers him a way to knock Buhari (his personal nightmare) out 
of the running early.  The other two are filled with people 
desperate for his profile and presumed deep pockets as the 
vehicle to ride to larger electoral success.  Once he picks 
(assuming he eventually decides to run), some of the 
praise-singers will line up behind other candidates.  He will 
have to face more scrutiny and start answering at least a few 
questions concretely.  In the process, some who now see him 
as their political messiah will grow disillusioned. 
 
 
11.  (C) Conversely, Obasanjo and Atiku are not in quite as 
bad political shape as Ihedioha thinks.  Yes, they are deeply 
unpopular, and that is because their government has failed to 
deliver material "democracy dividends" to most Nigerians. 
But the opposition candidates who have announced intentions 
thus far manifestly lack the potential to win national office 
(Buhari has high name recognition but cannot overcome strong 
negatives).  Obasanjo and Atiku suffer because the country is 
in poor shape and, as its leaders, they are being blamed.  At 
some point, parties will hold primaries and conventions and 
nominate flag-bearers.  To win, these individuals will have 
to overcome the powerful perquisites available to incumbents, 
and they will have to show disillusioned Nigerians why they 
can do better than the incumbents have done.  Since most, if 
not all, of the likely challengers are tainted by service 
with past non-performing governments, that task may prove 
difficult to accomplish. 
 
 
12.  (C) The first 11 paragraphs of this message focus on 
generals and retired generals.  Generally, Nigerians are 
tiring of retired generals.  Cynical calculations of regional 
balance will probably govern the selection of those who will 
seriously challenge Obasanjo and Atiku for national office. 
A Southeast-Northwest axis (ref A) would be the best choice 
from that depressingly familiar perspective.  But the party 
that can come up with strong candidates who meet the needs of 
regional balance while avoiding the temptation to recycle 
former military rulers into the top slots of its ticket may 
find it has what is needed to resonate with the electorate 
and give the incumbents a run for their money. 
ANDREWS 

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