2005-06-20 10:45:00
Embassy Abuja
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001079



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/19/2015

Classified By: Ambassador John Campbell for Reasons 1.4 (B & D).

Addresses: State, EUCOM, Lagos, ECOWAS collective

!. (C) Summary: The Vice President with no visible agenda
provided a tour d'horizon of Nigerian politics, with
commentary on social and economic developments at the
Ambassador's residence on June 18. He is confident that
through his mastery of the PDP party machinery, he will
ensure his nomination for the presidency in 2007. He still
believes the President is tempted to manipulate the
constitution and political system so that he can remain in
office after his Presidential term expires -- and, Atiku
judges, Obasanjo will fail. Atiku discussed extensively the
President's own health, and provided autobiographical
comments about himself. End summary.

2. (C) At his suggestion, Vice President and 2007
presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar came to dinner the
night of June 18, staying just under three hours. He was
accompanied into the Residence only by a businessman friend,
Lawal Abas, and two staff/security personnel. As is typical,
there were at least eleven additional security people who
remained outside. With the Ambassador was the Political
Counselor and Poloff. As his office had requested, the Vice
President, the Ambassador and Political Counselor dined in a
room separate from the rest of the party. The dinner
occurred the day following the closure of the U.S. Consulate
in Lagos because of a security threat and precipitating other
Lagos diplomatic closures, an event that drew widespread and
sensationalist media coverage and, according to one
Presidential Villa staffer, annoyed the President.

Lagos Closure

3. (C) The Ambassador thanked the Vice President for the
outstanding response of the Nigerian security services to our
requests for additional protection in light of a credible
security threat. The Vice President said that as soon as the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs had informed him of the threat
and our planned closure in Lagos, he had ordered the security

services to provide all necessary assistance.

The Political Environment

4. (C) Atiku repeated that the President is not reconciled
to leaving office in 2007 as provided for by the
constitution. However, he said that the Political Reform
Conference (Confab),the National Assembly and the states are
unlikely to make or allow any significant change in the
constitution (other than minor adjustments to the
Federal/state revenue sharing formula) before the elections.
The President would only be reconciled to leaving office by
the end of this calendar year when he would see he had no
other choice. Then, he would turn to deciding whom to
support for 2007. Meanwhile, the President is seeking to
manipulate the PDP party machinery, making "unconstitutional"
changes in its leadership and generally acting in an
autocratic manner. However, Atiku showed great confidence in
his own ability to control the party. He said the party's
convention will have more than 4,000 delegates, and he knew
(he implied he controlled) more than 3,000 of them. So, the
President's current efforts at manipulation of the party's
leadership -- the subject of extensive media attention -- "is
beside the point, it has no relevance because it has no
practical meaning for 2007." "The problem with the
President," Atiku continued, "is that he forgets that the
party is about Nigeria, not about Abuja."

5. (C) Atiku also expressed concern about the 2007
elections and commented that the most important aspect of
preparation was the independence of the Independent Nigerian
Electoral Commission (INEC). When asked, Atiku said that the
amendments to the electoral act proposed by INEC "did not go
far enough." He stressed that the current composition of
INEC did not allow for independence and that much more needed
to be done to separate the body from the Presidency.

6. (C) The Ambassador expressed frustration over the
continued media hype and misunderstanding about the National
Intelligence Council's (NIC) study on Africa. Atiku replied
that the media attention would continue so long as the
Political Reform Conference continues to sit. He said that
talk about the NIC study is a surrogate for direct debate on
issues that the NIC is failing to address directly.

7. (C) The Ambassador asked Atiku about the Delta. Atiku
said that he knows the Delta well, that he has long advocated
a "comprehensive" approach to its problems. In response to a
question, Atiku said that Nigeria needs to establish a Coast
Guard to respond to oil bunkering and general lawlessness in
the creeks. He had made that proposal to the President, who
rejected it, Atiku said, because he prefers more traditional
military structures. Atiku continued that only the Federal
Government of Nigeria has the capacity to undertake the
infrastructure investments that the Delta so badly needs:
roads, hospitals, schools. The state governments simply do
not have the capacity nor the mental attitude to provide
services to their citizens. When the Ambassador asked if
this would weaken the state governors -- and thereby be
opposed by them -- Atiku said the goal would be to get them
to understand that they occupy a sphere separate from that of
the Federal government. He also noted that as many as
two-thirds of the governorships turn over in 2007, implying
that many of the newly elected would likely be his political
allies. As for the Niger Delta Development Corporation
(NDDC),Atiku characterized it as beyond hope. He suggested
that his concept of a federal structure was required to
harness public and private development in the Delta.

8. (C) Though a Northern Muslim politician, Atiku had little
to say about the North during the evening. He agreed with
the Ambassador that development of the agricultural sector is
key to reduction of poverty. He made tantalizing allusions
to the breakdown of law and order and banditry in Bauchi
state and other areas of the Northeast, but quickly drew
back, commenting that security is better now.

Obasanjo The Man

9. (C) Atiku said that he had known Obasanjo well since
1990, and commented warmly on their partnership during the
days of the Abacha dictatorship. He also told anecdotes
about their political alliance during the transition
following Abacha's death and the establishment of the 4th
republic. Clearly Atiku viewed himself as a senior
politician mentoring a relatively unsophisticated ex-military
man -- who happened to have been a military chief of state.
Based on Atiku's previous conversation with the Ambassador,
the Vice President believes he had a commitment from the
President that the latter would step aside in 2003, making
way for the Vice President to run. When Obasanjo did not,
the two fell out. That said, from the Ambassador's
observations of their behavior together over the past year,
there remains some sense of colleagueship, if no longer
friendship, and at dinner Atiku at times commented on the
President with warmth -- at least from the perspective of
"what might have been."

10. (C) Nevertheless, Atiku characterized Obasanjo's current
political behavior as autocratic and erratic. "The President
has always been restless; he can't stay in one place," Atiku
continued. The President does not know how to work with
ministers and does not use well his enormous staff. "He
insists on doing everything himself." The President travels
incessantly, often without notice -- to his staff or to his
hosts. Atiku told a story of Obasanjo giving another head of
state two hours notice of his arrival -- delivered after he
was already in the air. Atiku said that the convention is
that if the President is out of the country, the Vice
President must be in Abuja. This means, complained Atiku,
that it is hard for him to pursue his own travel agenda and
thereby burnish his international reputation -- or to take

11 (C) Atiku said that the President consistently behaves
"unconstitutionally," whether the focus is the party or the
nation. This behavior, Atiku continued, reflects the
President's background and experience as a military man
rather than a politician. The President, Atiku continued,
lacks political skills and makes up for it by an
authoritarian approach with a low threshold of frustration.

12. (C) Atiku said that the President's health is not good.
"He abuses his body," Atiku continued, "through violent
exercise, lack of sleep and incessant work and travel."
"Don't be surprised if he simply drops dead." Because
Obasanjo will not delegate, insists on doing "everything," he
will work all night -- calling the Vice President at 2 am.
The President, Atiku continued, is diabetic. With this life
style, Atiku said, the President has had periodic collapses
-- such as happened two weeks ago. Rumors then swept the
country that the President had died; in fact, Atiku said, he
had suffered from a short-term "diabetic coma".

Atiku The Man

13. (C) As he has in previous conversation with the
Ambassador, Atiku emphasized his links to the U.S.: an
American wife of Nigerian origin, three American children,
his education by Peace Corps volunteers, a house outside of
Washington. He dropped hints that his Americophilia dates
from the Abacha years. He told the Ambassador a story about
how "coldly" he was received by the UK when he tried to rally
opposition to the Abacha regime, "even though I had had a
house in London since 1976." In contrast, he said, he was
warmly received in Washington and at a high level. Shortly
thereafter, he transferred his foreign focus from the UK to
the U.S., "where I take all of my vacations."

14. (C) Atiku said that his American wife has almost
finished her Ph.D. at American University in Washington in
"small arms transfers", and that she has been offered a job
by the UN system. (He implied that she would not accept it.)
He also confirmed that she had been his link to American
University for the establishment of Abti American University,
an American style institution that, he said, will open in
September and already has on ground in Yola more than thirty
American staff.


15. (C) Comment: Atiku believes that Obasanjo will be
compelled to step down in 2007 because he will be unable to
make any alternative constitutional arrangements. (Atiku
does, however, allow a whiff of suspicion that Obasanjo might
move illegally to prolong his government, with his references
to persistent "unconstitutional" behavior.) Atiku also
believes that he controls the party machinery sufficiently to
ensure that he will be the PDP presidential candidate. And
Atiku clearly still hopes that he will ultimately get
Obasanjo's nod. Indeed, Atiku's nomination chances are
probably better now than six months ago, given Obasanjo's
inability thus far to change the constitution. Atiku is said
to be immensely rich and that he is prepared to spend money
to secure the nomination. (He is also known for his
generosity, while Obasanjo is miserly.) A moderate, he is
probably more acceptable than most other Muslim rivals to the
Christian community. If the party machinery functions
according to the rules, Atiku stands a good chance of winning
the PDP nomination, even if he probably overstates his degree
of control over the delegates. But, at this point, it is by
no means certain that the PDP will survive in its present
form, or if it does, that it will play by its current rules.
There is also the open question of whether the 2007 elections
will be conducted remotely according to democratic norms, or
whether the process will be thoroughly manipulated by the
"Big Men" in favor of a candidate guaranteed to protect their
own interests. (In that milieu, Atiku, a "businessman" whose
fortune appears to be based on his tenure in the customs
service, and with a non-military background, is something of
an outsider.) The Nigerian political system is also hostage
to fortune, such as the President's health (his death would
make Atiku the President, with all of he advantages of
incumbency),the political stance of the politicos in the
West, the East, and the South/South, law and order in the
Delta, and the levels of violence leading up to the 2007
elections -- and the perceived legitimacy (or lack thereof)
of the elections themselves.

16. (C) Comment, continued: Atiku's pro-American sentiments
appear genuine, with his family links to the U.S. playing an
important role. (According to Lawal Abba, however, Atiku
also has wives and children in Yola, Abuja and Lagos.)
Nevertheless, the Ambassador has met with all of the serious
presidential candidates with the exception of Ibrahim
Babangida, and all of them give assurances of their
pro-American outlook. All of them appear to exaggerate
American influence over the 2007 elections -- just as they
exaggerate the U.S. role in sustaining in power the deeply
unpopular Obasanjo.