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01ABUJA993 2001-05-04 15:17:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Abuja
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000993 


E.O. 12958: DECLASS ON 4/25/11


Refs: (A) USDAO Abuja 874 (B) USDAO Abuja 877
- (C) USDAO Lagos (D) OFR Difficulties Cable

1. (U) President Obasanjo on April 24 abruptly retired
Chief of Army Staff LTG Victor Malu, Chief of Naval Staff
VADM V.K. Ombu and Chief of Air Staff, AVM Isaac Alfa. MG
A.O. Ogomudia will replace Malu, and RADM S.I. Afolayan and
AVM J.D. Wuyep will replace, respectively, Ombu and Alfa.

2. (C) Reftels provide background on the reasons for the
dismissals, as well as biographic information. The GON is
offering different reasons for the changes to different
audiences. The first public message was that the three men
voluntarily and simultaneously retired. The second public
message was that President Obasanjo had always planned a
"mid-term" change of Service Chiefs (the traditional term
of office has been four years; Malu, Ombu and Alfa became
Service Chiefs shortly after Obasanjo took office in May
1999). Indeed, there was talk of changes in January.

3. (C) The private message to diplomats focuses on
Administration unhappiness with Malu's public opposition to
its policies and suggests that Ombu and Alfa lost their
jobs simultaneously largely in order to make Malu's forced
retirement look somehow routine. Clearly, none of the
affected Service Chiefs was expecting the ax to fall when
it did. Toeing the public line in a phone call to the
Ambassador, LTC M.I. Idris, military assistant to NSA Aliyu
Mohammed, said the retirements were "normal" and that no
"backlash" was expected from the Nigerian military. He
said that the decision to remove Malu was unrelated to the
former COAS's well-publicized complaints about Operation
Focus Relief. Idris admitted, however, that Malu's recent
statements to the press (ref D) had influenced the timing
of the dismissals.

4. (C) However, Idris also told the Ambassador that Malu
and his colleagues had created "other problems" of which
the USG had not been made aware. Reporting in other
channels tends to confirm that Alfa and Ombu had their own
problems with senior Administration civilians.

5. (C) Reaction to the forced retirements has been mixed.
For many, the key question is whether the previous regional
and ethnic balance was maintained. In that sense, there
has been a marked shift toward the Southwest. The Chief of
Army Staff (COAS) position, by far the most important, has
slipped from Northern hands for the first time in over 20
years, going to an officer (Ogomudia) who is from Southern
Edo State, an area with kinship ties to the Yoruba.
Officially, however, Edo is part of the South-South
"geopolitical" region, so Ogomudia's elevation gives this
region a replacement for Ombu, who we believe may be from a
northern Bayelsa State minority with kinship ties to the
Igbo. News media report that Afolayan is from the North-
Central region. His name has a Yoruba ring to it, so we
think he is probably from Kwara State. Wuyep is a
Christian from Plateau State. His elevation is a more-or-
less even trade for the removal of Alfa, who is from
Plateau State, also in the North-Central region.

6. (C) Thus, the Obasanjo Administration has formally
maintained the existing regional balance: Two Chiefs from
the North-Central region (Wuyep and Afolayan) and one from
the South-South (Ogomudia). However, two of the new Chiefs
will be assumed (at least in the North) to be allied with
Yoruba interests, where before none was seen as ethnically
close to the Yoruba. Moreover, one of those two Chiefs is
the one who really matters -- the COAS.

7. (C) Northerners, predictably, have reacted negatively
to the loss of what has traditionally been the top military
job. Northern Senators claimed in press interviews the day
the retirements were announced that the move was a
"vendetta" against the North, and could be potentially
destabilizing--a code work that it violated what the North
views as the proper "zoning" of the position. They also
alluded to the possibility that the change was instigated
by the U.S., whose participation in Nigerian military
matters Malu opposed. While this rhetoric is somewhat
hyperbolic, it does reflect anger in the North that two
years into a democratic administration it has lost the
position from which it ruled the country for the better
part of the past twenty years. Some Northern members of
the House of Representatives have indicated plans to
convoke Defense Minister Danjuma to explain the dismissals,
as well as the resence of American troops, ho they
claimed to have been in Nigeria for over six months.
(Note: All troops left before the end of 2000. End Note.)

8. (C) It is also believed in some circles that Malu's
removal may have been precipitated in part because of his
growing popularity with vocal Northern critics of the GON.
Malu's complaints about U.S.-Nigerian mil-mil relations had
struck a resonant chord in certain Northern circles where
the memories of the Abacha years are not unpleasant. Malu
had made a point to assert the moral correctness of his
service under and loyalty to the Abacha regime when he
appeared before the Oputa Panel. Some observers believe
that Malu's increasing popularity in the North may have
emboldened him to take actions that bordered on (perhaps
even crossed the line into) insubordination, forcing the
President to remove him. Regardless of the role this may
have played in the decision to remove Malu, his replacement
with a Southerner (viewed by many Northerners as Yoruba)
does appear intended to send a message to Northern elites,
particularly those advocating for Ibrahim Babangida to run
for the Presidency in 2003.

9. (U) Comment: We had anticipated that Nigerian news
media, always eager to see a foreign conspiracy in the
national closet, would have quickly picked up on the
Northern senators' hints that the U.S. instigated the
Chiefs' removals. We had a categorical denial ready for
use when the need arose. While a few articles have implicitly
alluded to this theory, no allegation has been so blatant that
we have had to issue a denial on something that is probably
a domestic, Nigerian move. End Comment.