SUBJECT: GOODLUCK JONATHAN REMAINS ACTING PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA REF: ABUJA 207; FEB 24 A/S CARSON-AMB SANDERS TELCON CLASSIFIED BY: Robin R. Sanders, Ambassador, STATE, EXEC; REASON: 1.4(A), (B), (D) ——- SUMMARY
1. (C) Ambassador met February 26 with Acting President (AgP) Dr. Goodluck Jonathan at the Vice President’s official residence, Aguda House, in Abuja to review the current political situation following the return earlier this week of ailing President Yar’Adua. Moves are afoot, between Jonathan and key northerners in the lead such as former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, to encourage the Yar’Adua family to let go and let the President resign with dignity.
This will allow Jonathan to serve as interim President until elections and also allow him to designate a vice president. Given the dysfunctional level of the current Cabinet, Jonathan said that once this happens, he will dissolve the cabinet, after consulting with the Council of State. Both moves, he believes, will appease Northern politicians, as he suspects that more northerners will support the resignation idea. Jonathan claims he wants to do a good job over the next 12 months, and leave a legacy of credible elections, electoral reform, including replacing the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) chairman and all of the commissioners. He promised the Ambassador that he would look at her suggestion of using terminal leave for the INEC chairman, which could have him out earlier than June. The Acting President also agreed to allow U.S.-UK technical assistance to help improve the voter registry and provide for a parallel vote tabulation. He expects things to calm down in the next 10-14 days, will not leave the country until things are resolved, and has opened channels with the military. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was leaving Jonathan’s private office when Ambassador was entering. End Summary.
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
2. (C) Jonathan told the Ambassador “everyone’s confused” about who is in charge of Nigeria. There has been an increase in the level of uncertainty in the internal political situation following ailing President Yar’Adua’s return, which was shrouded in secrecy, during the early hours February 24. The AgP said he was “unhappy” that the first statement issued following Yar’Adua’s return referred to Jonathan as “Vice President.” The GON issued a second statement February 25 that reversed course and refers to Jonathan as the Acting President. Jonathan said that the Villa received a lot of pressure to correct this error so that the lines of leadership and executive direction were clear.
3. (C) The AgP lamented, “This terrible situation in the country today has been created by four people: Turai Yar’Adua [the ailing President’s wife], his Chief Security Officer (CSO) [Yusuf Mohammed Tilde], his Aide-de-Camp (ADC)[Col. Mustapha Onoedieva] and Professor Tanimu Yakubu [Yar’Adua’s Chief Economic Advisor].” The AgP said he does not know their motives, but expected it was likely for nefarious purposes. He added Minister of Agriculture Abba Ruma and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Adamu Aliero had provided a second-tier of layering to the bubble surrounding Yar’Adua. The AgP noted that “people are angry,” and did not want to allow those surrounding Yar’Adua to replicate the control and access similar to what they had done in Jeddah for the past three months.
4. (C) Jonathan said the CSO and ADC saw him separately to let him know that they did not intend to mistreat the AgP and expressed their willingness to work with him (which the AgP doubts). The AgP said he told them both “then the best thing is to stop the charade.” The AgP told the Ambassador he believes Yar’Adua is in a semi-comatose state without an understanding of what is going on around him.
ENCOURAGE PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
5. (C) The AgP said that Former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who according to Jonathan has become one of his closest advisors, worked out a strategy where he would reach out to other former Nigerian Heads of State, including former Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon, to approach those closest to Yar’Adua, especially his wife Turai, to try to convince them that the best, and most dignified step to take for the country and for Yar’Adua as a human being would be for the President to resign. This action would constitutionally make Jonathan Nigeria’s President. Doing such would also be easier than convincing two-thirds of the 42-member Federal Executive Committee (FEC) to declare the ailing President “physically incapacitated and medically unfit” to continue in the office of the Presidency. Jonathan said he and his wife, Patience, visited Turai as a humanistic gesture to express their best wishes for the recovery of Yar’Adua and out of respect for his ailing boss. The AgP said under no circumstances did he want Turai to come to his official residence.
6. (C) Once Yar’Adua resigns and Jonathan becomes interim President, he said he would choose a Vice President that could appease the Northerners by working with them to identify a candidate. AgP Jonathan also shared that until Yar’Adua resigns, and things come down he would not leave the country.
(N.B. This is in reference to the POTUS invitation to attend the April 12-13 Nuclear Security Summit). The issue of identifying a northerner as a vice presidential candidate, Jonathan underscored this appears to be the thing most on the minds of the northerners as they feel cheated out of the Presidency with Yar’Adua’s illness.
FEARS ABOUT MILITARY
7. (C) Jonathan said “everyone, including the Army Chief of Staff (COAS) [LTG Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau] and Chief of the President Guards Brigade [BG Abdul Mustapha]” are concerned about the confusion over who is the executive of the nation. The AgP said the military chiefs are making sure no politicians are reaching out to the rank-and-file, and encouraging the military to stay in the barracks so that the uncertain political situation does not generate coup-like behavior emanating from the mid-ranks because of the confusion. As the Ambassador began her meeting with the Acting President, he had just concluded a meeting with COAS LTG Dambazau (see reftel A for Ambassador’s conversation with the COAS February 24).