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Cablegate: Attempted Coup in Anambra State: Harbinger Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

251101Z Jul 03

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 LAGOS 001479

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS KDEM NI
SUBJECT: Attempted Coup in Anambra State: Harbinger of
Things to Come?


1. (SBU) Summary. A mid-July attempt by a cadre of
business and political leaders to surreptitiously
unseat a recently-elected state governor has created an
ongoing political imbroglio and leaves Nigerians and
Nigeria watchers asking if, instead of the military
coups of the past, leaders here now face gangster-style
threats to their power and safety. Chris Ngige is back
in power in Anambra state, but for how long and to what
extent remains to be seen. "Coup" plotters have been
expelled from the ruling party and mostly removed from
office, and prosecutors publicly state their intention
to pursue criminal charges. Meanwhile, a federal court
has issued an injunction barring Ngige from acting as
governor, pending a lawsuit filed by those who
attempted to oust him. President Obasanjo and his
closest advisors have remained mostly out of the public
fray, but the botched "civilian coup" continues to keep
his party and political leaders at both the federal and
state level reeling. End summary.


2. (U) Introduction. On July 10, Chris Ngige, governor
of Anambra State, was taken into custody and held
incommunicado by police officers led by Raphael Ige,
Assistant Inspector General of the national police for
the region. Simultaneously, State Assembly Speaker
Eucharia Azodo delivered to legislators a purported
letter of resignation from Ngige, and the Anambra State
Assembly assented to the swearing-in by the state
attorney general of the deputy governor, Okey Udeh, as
new governor. Later in the day, Ngige managed to call
supporters and denied that he had resigned. He was
eventually released and regained control of the state's
affairs the following day.


3. (SBU) April pre-electoral environment. Anambra State
has long been the setting for particularly
dysfunctional politics, and past events presaged what
occurred on July 10. Former Governor Chinwoke
Mbadinuju's relationship with the State's power brokers
had been as difficult as any during the last decade.
Initially beholden to political godfather Sir Emeka
Offor, Mbadinuju had refused to toe the line during
1999-2003, essentially at the expense of the common
people. The closure of schools for a year, salary
arrears stretching ten months, and chronic
individualized and group violence characterized the
Anambra State pre-electoral environment in April 2003.


4. (SBU) Changing of the Guard. Given Mbadinuju's
unwillingness to comply with the wishes of the ruling
power brokers, the People's Democratic Party (PDP)
twice blocked his re-election bid for governor early in
2003. Three weeks before the April 19 gubernatorial
election, the PDP chose Ngige to run against several
contenders including Peter Obi of the All Progressives
Grand Alliance (APGA), who by some accounts would have
carried the vote had it not been for fraud perpetrated
by the PDP. Pre-election side-deals with party power
brokers represented the price Ngige had to pay for PDP
support. These deals would have benefited business
mogul Chris Uba, the most recently self-anointed
kingmaker in Anambra State. Following Ngige's
questionable victory (which his rival is contesting),
Uba expected to name Anambra State commissioners and
other prominent members of the state government, as
well as members of Ngige's personal staff. Uba also
anticipated lucrative contracts and payment of three
billion naira (approximately $24 million USD), which he
said Ngige owed for services related to his election
victory. Reports indicate Uba intended to arrange for
Ngige to eventually cede the governorship to Deputy
Governor Okechukwu Udeh. Ngige publicly admitting
having signed a letter of resignation and preparing a
videotaped resignation before he took the oath of
office.


5. (SBU) Settlement of political debts. Uba had thus
expected deference and a free hand to conduct business
as usual. Once in office, Ngige punctured Uba's
expectations, failing to make expected payments and
maintaining control of the auspices of the governor's
office. Uba responded by sending Ngige's purported
letter of resignation to the Speaker of the Anambra
House of Assembly, Eucharia Azodo, who is Uba's cousin.
Expecting to reap benefits from this raw power play,
the House quickly legitimized the attempted coup and
designated Deputy Governor Udeh, Governor. Meanwhile,
Assistant Police Inspector General Raphael Ige
dispatched 200 anti-riot police to Ngige's office,
abducted him, and held him in the hotel where he
resided until Ngige called for help via an unnoticed
cell phone. Subsequent media reports generated a
public outcry that facilitated Ngige's return to office
on July 11.


6. (SBU) The Presidency and the PDP. In testimony
before an investigative committee of the Senate,
Governor Ngige stated that Inspector General Ige told
him the orders to restrain him came from "the big men"
in Abuja. However, immediately after it appeared that
the attempted coup in Anambra State had failed, the
Presidency and the PDP denounced it. (Comment. A
recurring complaint heard by Emboffs is that Obasanjo
did not personally condemn the attempt, but only said
"differences should be handled within the party." End
comment.) We have heard that at the insistence of VP
Atik, the PDP dismissed the putschists from the party,
and PDP governors called for a judicial commissio of
inquiry to probe the botched abduction of Ngge.
Professor Itse Sagay, a well-known constitutonal
lawyer in Lagos, has suggested that such a tep would
only serve to postpone and delay the cause of justice.
What the country faces, he said, s not a political
crisis, but a crime against th Constitution.


7. (SBU) Critics at large. In letters to the editors
and other channels, critics have roundly condemned the
bungled coup. They consider it an affront to
democracy, and many wonder how long Nigeria will
continue to be held hostage by "money-bags" who care
little about their people's general welfare. For
example, novelist and political commentator Okey Ndibe
told Econoff that the link between the attempted ouster
of Ngige and President Obasanjo is clear. Ndibe, a
former Fulbright scholar, resides mostly in the U.S.
but writes for the Guardian newspaper while in Nigeria.
Ndibe insists that Uba's wealth, his business dealings
with Stella Obasanjo, the President's wife, and his
brother's status as one of Obasanjo's personal
assistants gives him easy access to the President, who,
according to Ndibe, knew full well that members of his
party were planning an ouster of an uncooperative
governor. Ndibe wrote a scathing editorial to this
effect on July 17 in the Guardian.


8. (U) Possible legal actions. Section 1(2) of the
1999 Nigerian Constitution stipulates that "the Federal
Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall any
part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions
of the Constitution." And Section 41(B) of Nigeria's
Criminal Code stipulates "any person who forms an
intention to effect the removal of a governor of a
state during his tenure in office is guilty of a
felony." Relying on these provisions, Bukhari Bello, a
constitutional lawyer and Executive Secretary of the
National Human Rights Commission, states there is
enough evidence to bring charges of treason against Ige
and others. Many of the players may benefit from
immunity, however. Section 308 of the 1999
Constitution protects Deputy Governor Udeh from
criminal and civil prosecution, if not investigation,
unless he is impeached; currently an unlikely prospect
given the extent of support he received from the state
Assembly.


9. (SBU) Political accommodation. On July 14 Obasanjo
met with twenty-one PDP governors to review
developments in Anambra State, and the next day he
invited key players to Abuja. On July 17 the PDP's
National Working Committee dismissed from the party
several of the actors involved in the attempt to remove
Ngige from office, including Deputy Governor Udeh and
Speaker of the Assembly Azodo. The Anambra State
Assembly also removed Azodo from the Speaker's chair.
According to Presidential insiders, Police Inspector
General Tafa Balogun ordered Assistant Inspector
General Ige to retire, a rather cosmetic gesture since
Ige had planned to retire soon, and reorganized the
security teams assigned to the Government House in
Anambra. Anambra state prosecutors have stated they
intend to file criminal charges against the plotters
behind the governor's kidnapping and attempted removal.
But on July 22, Justice Wilson Egbo-Egbo of the Federal
High Court in Abuja issued an injunction preventing
Ngige from acting as governor, and the PDP from taking
action against the coup plotters, until a hearing is
held on a lawsuit filed by Uba. Ngige vowed to ignore
the ruling as inoperable against a sitting governor.
Earlier, the PDP leadership had also censured Ngige,
expressing "deep disappointment" with his
"comportment."


10. (SBU) Comment. Chris Ngige is a medical doctor by
profession and a political novice. He may be back in
charge of Anambra State, but given the scope of the
plot against him, it is unlikely that he will be able
to muster support or maintain authority if he does not
learn to play ball with to those who put him in power.
It is probable that he will have to struggle for his
position in the state and in his party unless he makes
amends quickly. His personal safety may also be in
jeopardy.


11. (SBU) Comment continued. While the Presidency has
condemned the coup attempt, the President himself has
been strangely mute on the issue except to say that the
PDP should deal with the "disagreement" as if were a
family affair. Observers of the Nigerian political
scene will be scrutinizing subsequent developments to
see if the cabal will get away with what nearly became
the hijacking of Anambra State. Should they remain
immune to the law, plotters with far greater ambitions
will be scanning the political horizon for similar
opportunities on a broader field. This incident has
reflected politics in its crudest form, and revealed
that the underlying system of political payoff that
seems to be part of Nigeria's burgeoning democratic
process may crack the stoic veneer the ruling party has
tried to apply to its second term in power. What has
been described as an attempted civilian coup d'tat at
the state level suggests that the country's democratic
framework is shakier than its leaders acknowledge. End
comment.


Hinson-Jones

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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