There seems to be no end in sight yet to the embarrassingly entertaining revelations being provided by the thousands of United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks on Nigeria. In one of the cables, it was revealed that foremost Yoruba monarch and Arole Oodua, Oba Okunade Sijuade begged the US Government to endorse former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term bid. The monarch was accompanied to the meeting where he solicited for support from the US Government by his son, Tokunbo and Femi Fani-Kayode, one of Obasanjo’s Special Assistants who later became a Minister.
The cable dated 28th February, 2006 and marked “secret” reads:
SUBJECT: OONI OF IFE REQUESTS U.S. THIRD TERM ENDORSEMENT
FOR PRESIDENT OBASANJO
REF: ABUJA 430
Classified By: Ambassador John Campbell for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
1. (S/NF) The Ooni of Ife requested a meeting with the Ambassador in Lagos on February 25 to make the case for U.S. support for a third term for President Obasanjo. One of the President’s special advisors, Femi Fani-Kayode, also attended, bolstering the Ooni’s arguments and giving them a
Presidential stamp. The Ambassador replied that the U.S. in principle supports term limits as part of the process of strengthening democracy and opening the political process. While acknowledging that any country had the right to amend its constitution, friends of Nigeria would seek assurance and evidence that the process was open, transparent, and conducted according to the rule of law. He also emphasized the importance of credible elections in 2007, and expressed concern at the lack of visible progress in preparation for them. Both the Ooni and Fani-Kayode reiterated that the
President was the only man capable of keeping Nigeria stable and on the right track. Should the President not seek a third term, the Oni predicted a dark future for Nigerian unity. See para 9 for comment. End Summary.
Background on Meeting, Participants
2. (C) The Ooni of Ife, the senior traditional ruler of Yoruba people world-wide, had asked the Ambassador to lunch at his Lagos residence to discuss what he described as “a matter important to the Presidency”. There was none of the usual hype–the copious attendants and formulaic homage rituals that usually surrounds the Ooni. Instead, the Ooni was accompanied only by his nephew, Femi Fani-Kayode, and his son, Toks Sijuwade. Fani-Kayode is the President’s Special Assistant for Public Affairs and has acted as his spokesman. Toks Sijuwade is widely considered to be the son who will succeed the Ooni. The presence of the President’s spokesperson and the Ooni’s presumed successor both emphasized the close connection between the southwest’s paramount traditional ruler and the President and gave the
meeting added weight. President Obasanjo himself is a Yoruba and pays public respect to the Ooni as the paramount Yoruba traditional ruler. He also involves himself deeply–interferes, some say–in traditional Yoruba
chieftaincy issues. At the conclusion of lunch, the Otunba Ojora of Lagos, the chairman of the AGIP board and a traditional ruler subordinate to the Ooni, also appeared.
Ooni of Ife Lays Out Third Term Argument
3. (C) The Ooni argued Obasanjo was the only leader capable of holding Nigeria together. Among other achievements, he credited Obasanjo with combating corruption and improving Nigeria’s international reputation; increasing Nigeria’s foreign reserves from $1 billion to $32 billion; and
reducing Nigeria’s debt. The Ooni said that only Obasanjo could play the critical referee role needed to keep the North and South of Nigeria together, and of potential presidential candidates, only Obasanjo was above pay-offs and graft. He named Rivers State Governor Peter Odili as the President’s only possible Successor in the future, but claimed the
President himself needed more time in power to consolidate democratic institutions and the economic reform program.
4. (S/NF) The Ooni also claimed Obasanjo was the only man capable of managing the inherent instability in the Delta region. He said the President, after consulting the Director General of the State Security Service, the DG of the Nigerian National Security Agency, and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had approved in principle a contract
with Saladin Security Ltd. to train and advise the Nigerian military on security matters in the Delta. (Note. According to Toks Sijuwade, Saladin Security had provided an armoury for ECOMOG and security networks for the British in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the President was speaking with
Saladin’s David Stuart Gay and David Walker and would make an arrangement for Saladin to provide assistance to the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) in the Delta by early March. End Note.)
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5. (C) As soon as the Ooni finished what appeared to be a standard list of approved third-term arguments, Femi Fani-Kayode eagerly took the lead. He said Obasanjo had begun the process of attracting foreign investment and was being asked by top business leaders to stay in office. He noted the lack of viable alternatives to an Obasanjo third term and the resulting instability should the President leave office in 2007. The Ooni interjected that absent a third term, a coup is likely. Fani-Kayode repeatedly defended the President’s integrity, saying that he was above the corruption, bribery and intimidation that are characteristic of much of Nigeria’s political life.
Ooni Requests U.S. Endorsement
6. (S/NF) At the end of his comments, the Ooni said Obasanjo would need at least another 5-7 years for his reforms and initiatives to take root–and that Obasanjo should remain in power that long. He specifically asked the Ambassador if and how the U.S. might assist in facilitating the third term.
7. (S/NF) In response, the Ambassador noted that without any explicit statement made by the President that he wished to remain in office, and with a constitutionally-imposed presidential limit of two terms, the third term issue remains hypothetical. The U.S. in principle favors term limits as opening the political process and strengthening democratic institutions. The Ambassador recalled that the U.S. had imposed term limits by constitutional amendment following the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency. The ambassador expressed concern about the lack of visible progress in the
preparations for the elections scheduled for 2007. When the Ooni raised the possibility of Nigerian constitutional revision, the Ambassador acknowledged that countries had the right to change their constitutions. However, he continued, should such an effort be undertaken, Nigeria’s friends would be watching closely: Was the process open and transparent and
conducted according to the rule of law, or was it done through intimidation and bribery.
The Ooni Makes Further Arguments for the Third Term
8. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked whether a third term would be de-stabilizing, given that the North, the South East and the South-South believe that it is their turn for the presidency. To the contrary, the Ooni replied, only Obasanjo could maintain stability. He said he had polled other traditional leaders, especially in the North, and he was confident that a third Obasanjo presidential term enjoyed considerable support. Only Obasanjo, he continued, had the personal strength, integrity and ability to keep Nigeria together. The Ooni quoted the Kano State Speaker of the House as saying that the “heavens will not fall” if the
Southwest (Obasanjo’s native region and the Ooni’s Yoruba heartland) keeps the Presidency. He noted Obasanjo had a mixed cabinet with many ministers coming from the North and the East.
9. (S/NF) The Ooni and Fani-Kayode represented themselves as speaking on behalf of the President, and they want explicit American support for a third term. The arguments they used are familiar: stability and consolidation of the economic reform program and the war on corruption. Already on the street rumours are rife of bribery, intimidation and coercion by the President’s supporters to build support in the National Assembly and state governments for a constitutional amendment to permit a third term. Mission has already reported on the lack of concrete progress in preparation for the elections (reftel), scheduled for the spring, 2007. Both Embassy Abuja and ConGen Lagos have also reported on the wide-spread view that pursuit of the third term option would be destabilizing all over the country, but especially in the North, the South-East and the South-South, all of which believe it is their region’s turn for the presidency. Many mission interlocutors anticipate that an unambiguous sign of President Obasanjo’s intention to stay in power could well lead to his removal. New to us was discussion of FNG engagement of a British private security
company, Saladin, to help resolve the Delta crisis. End
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10. (U) This cable has been cleared and approved by Embassy