Cablegate: Nigeria: Ambassador's Meeting with Governors Forum

DE RUEHOS #0376/01 2680737
O 240737Z SEP 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LAGOS 000376



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/25/2016

REF: A. ABUJA 1898
B. ABUJA 1595

Classified By: AMBASSADOR ROBIN R. SANDERS Reasons 1.4 (B,D)

1. (C) Summary: During Ambassador,s first trip to Kwara
State in western Nigeria, she had an opportunity to have
several meetings with Kwara State Governor and head of the
powerful Governor,s Forum (GF), Bukola Saraki September
21-22. He met with the Ambassador just after finishing a
3-hour session with Yar,Adua, where he said they were
"finishing up touches on personalities in the next cabinet."
In the hour long one-on-one with Ambassador, Saraki reviewed
the current state of play in Nigerian Northern and national
politics, President Yar,Adua,s health issues and the impact
on the atmosphere in Nigeria, the upcoming cabinet reshuffle
and Niger Delta issues, and made comments about some of the
key people around the President such as National Security
Advisor Muktar, and (in response to the Ambassador,s
questions) about the President,s Aide de Camp (ADC). Saraki
is in his mid-forties, a medical doctor, dynamic, and hails
from a strong, powerful family, rumored to have made their
wealth in oil, which has controlled Kwara State off and on
for generations. Under his leadership, the GF, in combination
with other northern governors including the Governors of
Kaduna, Borno, Kano (although not from the ruling PDP), and
Katsina, have become the new power entity within the North.

2. (C) Saraki and these younger Northern governors believe
that they have demonstrated their prowess over the last eight
months as they have gotten President Yar,Adua to respond to
many of their requests, including, they believe, controlling
the PDP and blocking both former Presidents Obasanjo and
Babingida from seating their candidates as PDP chairmen. On
the southern side, in addition to the Governor of Lagos,
Niger Delta Governors of Rivers and Bayelsa States also have
come into their own, influencing issues for their region by
virtue of their access to President Yar,Adua. Saraki noted
in the meeting that most governors like Yar,Adua "because he
does not meddle in their State affairs, quite different from
former President Obasanjo." In addition to this background,
Saraki made comments on the state of play in politics, the
upcoming cabinet reshuffle, personalities around Yar,Adua,
and ex-Delta governor James Ibori as he relates to the EFCC
and the U.S. position on the EFCC.

Ibori, the EFCC, and U.S.

3. (C) Governor Saraki began our discussion with the words
"let's be frank," as he opened up about the sentiments of the
President and his inner circle (which includes Saraki) on the
U.S. posture on the EFCC. He noted that overall neither the
President nor any of his key advisors are too keen on how the
U.S. has approached this issue, underscoring that we needed
to get the bilateral relationship back on track. He added
that the main challenge is "not so much the USG concerns
about the EFCC and it doing better -- we get that and
appreciate that -- but the way that we were talked to, as
well as the closing down any dialogue with EFCC chairwoman
and not giving her a chance, is what bothers us. "The Brits
feel like you do on the EFCC and wanting to see results on
key cases, but they have gone about it in a much better
manner so that we are willing to listen to them." Ambassador
pushed back, pointing out that without progress on cases such
as that of ex-governor Ibori, there is probably not any
likelihood that our posture would change, but that she would
dialogue with him and others to continue to push for these
prosecutions to be done in a transparent manner, with action
that would bring Ibori and his ilk to justice.

4. (C) The Ambassador then asked Saraki point blank what
Ibori had on the President that prevents him from being more
forceful on seeing this through. Saraki said because we have
had good chats over the last several months that he would be
straightforward. He stated that there is no way that
Yar,Adua would ever "pick up the phone to try to influence
the EFCC or Chairwoman Waziri." Despite what the
international community might think, Yar'Adua is committed to
the rule of law, but Ibori contributed financially in a big
way to his campaign -- everyone knows this. So the President
is not in a political position to ban Ibori from some limited
access to him. The Ibori situation is a problem for the
President and he knows it and is doing his best to convince
Ibori to hand himself over to the British authorities so that
the country can move on. "We are all trying to convince Ibori
that this is the best option for the country and the
President, but Ibori is not on board yet to do this," he
concluded. "Meanwhile, he added, the USG and the rest of the
international community need to appreciate that Yar'Adua is
not going to do anything to interfere with the EFCC
investigation of Ibori, of any of the other ex-governors, or
of anyone else who is brought before the EFCC.

5. (C) On Waziri, Saraki claimed that going by her resume
alone she is highly qualified for the job, personally
motivated to see these big cases through, and thus should be
given a chance, instead of cutting the legs out from under
her. A dialogue should be maintained even if the USG holds
off on its training, he emphasized. "Give her six months do
her job before you condemn her." Waziri now feels she has an
EFCC team which is loyal to her and that is not trying to
undercut her. She has stated that, with this new team, she
hopes to be able to close some of these big cases soon.
Ambassador stated that it was unlikely that dialogue could
continue with Waziri, but wanted to encourage it with others
in the government on this and other issues. Saraki again
noted the concern the Nigerian leadership with the tone and
style (threats, etc.) that were reflected in the recent U.S.
demarche (Ref B.)

Niger Delta Next Steps

6. (C) Ambassador decided to move on and take the Ibori issue
one step further by asking Saraki if the rumors that the
government was considering making Ibori the Minister of the
new Niger Delta Ministry were true. Saraki laughed, stating
that the international community has to accept that hyperbole
is the foundation of the Nigerian press, including blogs like
Sahara Reporters. Given that he had just left Yar'Adua's
three hour meeting on choices for the next cabinet, Saraki
said that "picking a good candidate for the Niger Delta
Ministry was what was holding up progress on announcing the
new Ministers." The Kwara Governor said that he and others
working on the new cabinet list had provided the President
with several criteria for this position: no previous
involvement in politics, no ex- or current governor; and no
EFCC skeletons. "What we are looking for is a technocrat
from the region, who has credibility among regional leaders
-- this has not been easy to find," Saraki said. (Note: The
Saturday, September 20 Vanguard reported that the President
"was believed" to have picked Albert Okumagba, an ethnic
Urhobo who is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BGL
Limited, an investment banking firm. Okumagba, like several
others whose names are being discussed, appears to meet the
criteria Saraki describes above. End Note)

7. (C) On other Niger Delta issues, Saraki informed the
Ambassador that an informal agreement had been reached with
the factional Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger
Delta People (MEND) to announce a ceasefire until such time
that all parties to the conflict could find a good candidate
for the Niger Delta Ministry. (Note: Two days after the
Ambassador-Saraki meeting, the Nigerian press reported that
MEND had agreed to a temporary cease-fire with the goal of
stemming the violence in River State in particular. In
addition Secretary to the Federation (SFG) Ahmed told
Ambassador September 15 that he would be meeting with Tom
Polo's people and others to try to find a way to work out a
deal so that things could move forward. End Note.)
Ambassador mentioned that the United States and the UK had
worked jointly together on a paper that could support GON
efforts and that we had delivered an operational assistance
non-paper to the President back in July. To date, she added,
we have not gotten a response to the July demarche, while the
US-UK paper had been delivered to the Foreign Minister and
the Secretary of the Federal Government. Right now, Saraki
said, people are still "smarting" over the U.S. behavior on
the EFCC, so responses to overtures by the U.S. on the Niger
Delta are probably lukewarm, Saraki said. "If we make a step
the U.S. doesn't like on the Niger Delta are you going to
pull your support, as you did on the EFCC?", he asked.
Ambassador emphasized that the offers to assist on the Niger
Delta are genuine.

Powerbrokers Around the President

8. (C) Ambassador took further advantage of the frank
dialogue to ask who, beside Saraki, did the President rely
upon? Saraki replied that his loyalty and assistance to the
President came as a result of his ability to use his GF
position to block Obasanjo and Babingida's candidate at the
last PDP convention, held in April 2008. Since then, Yar'Adua
has continually included him in high level conversations
about federal government issues, such as the new cabinet
line-up. The Kwara State Governor then added the following
other governors to the list of people who can and do have
influence with and access to Yar'Adua, noting that the single
most powerful influence is his wife, Turai. On the list of
influential govenors, in Saraki's view, are the Katsina,
Rivers, Kano, and Kaduna governors. Others include SFG Ahmed
and Economic Advisor Yakubu. Saraki then asked what the
Ambassador thought about National Security Advisor Muktar, as
he did not seem to be doing his job of coordinating the
government well. Ambassador demurred, saying that she
understood Muktar had just had heart surgery and that she had
not seen him in awhile. The Kwara Governor went on to add
that he felt that Muktar had been ineffective in the
position, as so many things requiring coordination just
seemed to fall through the cracks. On the Muktar heart
surgery, Saraki added that he seemed to be recovering well
and was back on the job. Ambassador then asked about the
President's Aide de Camp (ADC), wondering whether he was
considered part of Yar'Adua's inner circle. Saraki explained
that the "jury was out on the ADC," given his ties in the
past as an Obasanjo loyalist. "Right now those of us close
to the President are carefully watching the ADC," he
explained. (Note: Ambassador's encounters with the ADC have
always left the impression that he is not working in the best
interest of the current government. He was promoted to
colonel under Yar'Adua in early 2008, but also worked in the
Villa under Obasanjo. So comments that he is loyal to
Obasanjo are not surprising. End Note.)

Cabinet Reshuffle, Timing

9. (C) Saraki told Ambassador that the timing of the cabinet
reshuffle was imminent. He added in meeting with President
Yar'Adua earlier September 21 that those in attendance agreed
that at the upcoming Federal Executive Committee meeting
(Nigeria's cabinet meeting) that the Ministers who were being
let go would be announced. (Note: We are assuming that
Foreign Minister Maduekwe will be staying on as he is
currently representing the GON and Yar'Adua at the UNGA).
However, he did not think that the names of all the new
ministers would be ready at the same time, so those names
will probably be announced later. The Kwara Governor said
that the GON could announce Ministers who are fired after the
September 24 or October 1 FEC meeting.

Yar'Adua's Health and the Supreme Court

10. (C) In wrapping up the meeting, the Ambassador asked
about the state of President Yar'Adua's health and the
pending Supreme Court decision. Saraki responded by saying
"I a medical doctor so I am not going to soft peddle the
issue; the President has serious health problems." However,
he added, "despite his kidney problems, I believe he can
manage his illness with the right care and regular check-ups.
This is something the country is going to have to
understand." The Kwara Governor noted as an example that in
the three hour session with Yar'Adua on the upcoming cabinet,
the latter was articulate and had command of the issues. "He
is not Obasanjo and not gregarious, but he is able to do the
job," Saraki stated. On the Supreme Court ruling, the
Ambassador reminded Saraki that when they last met in July
2008 he was confident that Yar'Adua would prevail in the high
court's decision. She was curious given the recent health
scare if he felt the same today. The Governor said he did
not know, but thought the odds were more in the 50-50 range,
and that the health issue did raise an additional specter of
concern on the national psyche. He noted, however, that he
did not expect the Supreme Court to render a decision until
probably sometime in January or February 2009. Press reports
showed on September 23 that the Supreme Court would begin
hearing appeals testimony starting September 25.

11. (C) Comment: All in all Saraki seems to be becoming more
of a key player on the national level and certainly has the
ear of Yar'Adua. He was a lot less optimistic about how the
Supreme Court would rule than he had been in his previous
meetings with the Ambassador as health issues of Yar'Adua are
more paramount on the minds of Nigerians. Succession
scenarios on Nigeria's future are playing out with elites
both in the North and South with bets being taken over
whether the Northern group would allow VP Jonathan to assume
a transitional leadership role at all if Yar'Adua became
incapacitated. The new cabinet which is scheduled to be
announced soon is also supposed to reflect more of Yar'Adua's
small inner circle of friends as he seeks to consolidate his
power more now than he has in the past, and better control
his cabinet. This could be a good thing or bad, depending on
whether the wall on access to Yar'Adua gets higher. It is
already difficult to get in to see him. With the decision of
the Supreme Court weighing heavily on Yar'Adua coupled with
trying to manage the country's nervousness over his health,
he probably sees Saraki's leadership in the Governors' Forum
as a way to help him within the PDP, particularly as looming
health questions continue to arise.

12. Ambassador drafted this cable while at CG Lagos.

© Scoop Media

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