S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 LAGOS 001277
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: REPORTED AL QA’IDA ACTIVITY
Classified By: Consul General Brian Browne for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)
1. (S) Summary. Professor Ukandi Damachi, a long-time Mission contact and close advisor to former head-of-state Ibrahim Babangida, recently told us about a chance encounter he had with pro-Obasanjo members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) executive. These partisans alleged an association between Vice President Atiku, Lagos Governor Tinubu and Al Qa’ida. According to Damachi, the PDP members told him the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), a loose and curious amalgam of some Yoruba politicians, street thugs, and other ne’er-do-wells, founded in the late 1990’s, had received funding from Al Qa’ida. The PDP official claimed both Vice President Atiku and Lagos Governor Tinubu were involved in this transaction, which was intended to finance the OPC destabilization of southern Nigeria. Damachi
maintained the PDP members said President Obasanjo was aware of these events. Vice President Atiku and Governor Tinubu, both in Obasanjo’s doghouse, have been long-time allies and are in ongoing discussions about forming a presidential ticket for the 2007 elections. This information has not/not been corroborated and may be intended to shape USG thinking on Nigeria’s presidential aspirants. End Summary.
2. (S) Damachi asserted that he encountered senior PDP leaders July 22 at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos. The party figures were awaiting the arrival of PDP Chairman Ahmadu Ali and President Obasanjo. Damachi told the Consul General that the PDP officials, including the party’s vice-chairman for the Southwest, began to discuss this matter openly with him. Then they also raised this issue with party
chairman Ali who arrived at the airport before the President. Ali purportedly expressed both his and the President’s awareness of the alleged transaction. Ali, however, terminated this discussion, asserting that the groups’ top project at the moment was the impending PDP political rally in Lagos. After the rally, they would discuss this sensitive issue.
3. (S) Damachi asserted the PDP officials told him that Atiku and Tinubu were supporting this Al Qa’ida/OPC nexus out of political desperation. Both men would likely have their 2007 national political ambitions dashed by President Obasanjo. In response to this likely predicament, they would attempt to make parts of Nigeria ungovernable, in hopes of crippling
Obasanjo or even forcing his ouster. In the midst of the resultant turmoil, they would be able to revive their ambitions for the Presidency and Vice Presidency.
4. (C) Damachi also heard from his PDP interlocutors that President Obasanjo planned to dump Vice President Atiku in early 2006 on corruption charges and that this alleged Al Qa’ida/OPC link could be one of the reasons given at that time. Damachi continued that Obasanjo had recently conferred with Senator Jubril Aminu, former Ambassador to the U.S., and
Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, former governor of Gongola state (now Adamawa and Taraba states), about taking over from Atiku. Both Aminu and Tukur hail from Adamawa state, as does Atiku; both are political enemies of the Vice President. (Comment. In 1998, Tukur was in contention to be Obasanjo’s running mate, but Atiku successfully outflanked him at the time. End
5. (C) We believe Damachi is relaying to us what he heard and that he himself also gives credence to these allegations. IBB, Damachi’s political boss, is viewing the PDP nomination as is Atiku. IBB and Atiku are rivals, which means Damachi would be prone to believe and spread information damaging to the Vice President.
6. (C) Without any further corroboration, we view these charges with a dose of skepticism. However, we relay them in the interest of conveying information received about any possible Al Qa’ida presence in Nigeria. There are a few points in this tale that tend to make it suspect. Both Atiku and Tinubu have ample political war-chests; they would not need Al Qa’ida or any other entity to give them 2 million dollars to fund a local group. Second, they can communicate directly with the OPC or other such militant groups throughout the country. Bringing in an exogenous agent like
Al Qa’ida adds little value except the risk of global opprobrium. Also, the linking of Atiku and Tinubu, two of Obasanjo’s biggest political headaches, in such a terrible scheme is almost too neat politically.
7. (C) That this story is making its rounds may ultimately reveal more about the turbid state of Nigerian electoral politics than about Al Qa’ida activities in Nigeria. That such a sensational story is discussed so cavalierly and is accepted as true is an early indication that the 2007
political campaign will be one of no-holds-barred political charges and counter-charges. If this is any indication, this means politicians will be spending significant time finding new ways to destroy old enemies. For example, we have heard that the Governor of Sokoto is accusing the Governor of Zamfara (who is a declared presidential candidate) of spending significant amount of state funds to send “large number of young men” to Saudi Arabia for religious education. 2007 aspirants may try to use the specter of security to sway our thinking and in hopes of prompting us to act in a manner for them and against their opponents. We predict this
will not be the last time we hear charges linking a politician to a terrorist group.
8. (S) We note that when Consulate Lagos temporarily closed in late June 2005 due to a specific Al Qa’ida related threat, some newspapers erroneously attributed the closure to a threat from the OPC that was supported by Governor Tinubu. At that time, Tinubu denied the charge, claiming opponents in the PDP were paying the dirtiest of tricks with the most sensitive of security issues. End Comment
9. (U) This cable has been cleared by Embassy Abuja.