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08LAGOS153 2008-04-24 17:38:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Lagos
Cable title:  

NIGERIA: IBB CONFIDANT SAYS YAR'ADUA HAS FOOD

Tags:   PGOV KDEM NI 
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1. (C) Summary: Professor Ukandi G. Damachi (strictly
protect throughout), confidant of former military head of
state Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) told Pol-Econ Chief
that President Yar'Adua is ill with food poisoning. The
remainder of the conversation followed a line of argument we
have heard from other southern interlocutors: Northern elites
fear the Presidency will revert to the South, the military is
restive, vague allusions to some sort of action that will
involve retired generals or former military heads of state.
Damachi offered no more proof of his assertions than have
others. However, in light of his close relationship with
IBB, we repeat the conversation here for what it is worth.
Regarding the President's illness, we note that in Abuja
circles we have not heard the food poisoning scenario,
although we have heard the allergic reaction scenario.
National Security Advisor reported to the Ambassador April 21
that the President was due back in-country around April
28-29. End Summary.



2. (C) Pol-Econ Chief met on April 23 with Professor Ukandi


G. Damachi, a confidant of former President Ibrahim Badamasi
Babangida (IBB) and longstanding contact of the Consulate.
(Note: Damachi became a U.S. citizen earlier this year. End
Note) Damachi opened the conversation by saying "There are
lots of problems in Nigeria." The first problem, he said, is
the President's illness; "his food was poisoned", Damachi
alleged. Asked whether he meant "food poisoning" or that
someone had deliberately poisoned the President's food,
Damachi shrugged, replying "The President inherited
Obasanjo's kitchen staff"; Yar'Adua has now fired them all,
and the kitchen has been cleaned out following the incident,
Damachi said. At the same time, Damachi went on, the
President did attend functions on both the Saturday and
Sunday preceding his illness and ate some food at both of
them. "What President eats at a function?", Damachi asked
rhetorically. The President was so sick that the day he
signed the budget, he was unable to sign a second piece of
legislation awaiting his approval, the appointment of the
current Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes
Commission (EFCC) as the new Chairman. (Note: We have not
heard from other circles recently that Lamorde will move up
to the position and actually officially take on the title of
his old boss and mentor Nuhu Ribadu. End Note) The
government is keeping it all very quiet, but the incident
"reflects very bad security," Damachi stated.



3. (C) The President's health exacerbates the other
problems, Damachi went on. The northern leadership does not
believe that Yar'Adua's health will allow him to serve out
his four year term; that would mean that the presidency would
pass to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and to the south,
which is anathema to the North, Damachi said. In fact, the
underlying reason the tribunal ruled against Bayelsa Governor
Timipre Silva was to undercut Jonathan's power base, he
claimed. It is not yet a question of who will replace
Yar'Adua, he said; the more important question at the present
time is how to replace him. Yar'Adua has been in office for
a whole year, and "nothing is happening. It may look as
though things are happening, but it is all theater, before
the television cameras." The ongoing probes, such as of the
electric power generation debacle, suit the North because
they expose the corruption of the last administration,
Damachi said.



4. (C) What happened at the Health Ministry (Note: Former
President Obasanjo's daughter, Senator Obasanjo-Bello,
Nigeria's Health Minister, Minister of State and several
civil servants are under indictment following accusations
that they received naira 300 million (USD 2.5 million) of
Ministry funds for personal use. End Note) has happened
elsewhere, Damachi said, but with different outcomes. For
example, the Minister of Defense was approached at Christmas
time by a group of generals who brought him a gift of naira
500 million (USD 4.3 million). The Defense Minister was
smart, Damachi noted, and went immediately to the President
to tell him what had happened. The Defense Minister also
told the President that the young officers are very critical
of the generals, who they say are corrupt and use monies

LAGOS 00000153 002 OF 002


budgeted for military matters for personal and political use.
It was for that reason that earlier this year the President
ordered long overdue back pay and pensions be paid and
military salaries raised, Damachi said.



5. (C) The decision of the Supreme Court on appeals by All
Nigeria People's Party candidate Muhammedu Buhari and Action
Congress candidate former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from
the tribunal's validation of Yar'Adua's election is going to
be issued on or about May 29, Damachi said. If the Supreme
Court invalidates the tribunal's decision and orders a new
election, Senate President David Mark will assume the
Presidency until the election takes place within 90 days. The
North distrusts Mark, who is a "coup plotter"; as a former
military signals officer, he is trained to "tell the troops
what to do", Damachi said. The North doesn't want Mark in
power for even a short time, Damachi said. (Note: Senate
President David Mark also has his problems as his election
seat was recently overturned in February. End Note)



6. (C) IBB met recently in Minna, Niger State with "the
boys" to discuss the situation, Damachi said. They "planned
to act in June", Damachi said, but are now taking into
account the dates of the Supreme Court decision. Asked to
elaborate, Damachi said he had queried IBB, who did not
respond. "I'm glad I will be in China," Damachi chuckled.
One of his next books will be entitled "Why Democracy is Bad
for Africa", Damachi volunteered. He favors benevolent
dictatorships, along the lines of those in Singapore or
Malaysia, to bring countries along until they are developed
sufficiently to make democracy work.



7. (C) Comment: We have heard this same general story line:
Northern elites fearful the Presidency will revert to the
South, military restive, vague allusions to some sort of
action that will involve retired generals or former military
heads of state, from other southern interlocutors. Damachi
offered no more proof of his assertions than have others.
Nonetheless, in light of his close relationship with IBB, we
repeat the conversation here for what it is worth. End
Comment.



8. (U) This cable was cleared by the Embassy in Abuja.
BLAIR