Although he was the nation’s number two citizen at the time, the United States did not consider Goodluck Jonathan worthy of inclusion in a list of our country’s most influential personalities of the period. On October 24, 2008, former US ambassador Robin Sanders sent a cable to her principals in Washington detailing “a list of Nigerian leaders who would play a major role in keeping Nigeria either on track, off track, or trying to put it back on track”.
Arguing that Nigeria lost its way as soon as Umaru Yar’Adua, now deceased, took over as president, Ms. Sanders said her list contained administration officials, businesspersons and other individuals “who wield tremendous influence and can shape the outcome of whatever current crisis is threatening to unsettle the country”.
But conspicuously missing on the list — which had Turai, the late president’s wife, members of Mr. Yar’Adua inner circle, some governors, legislators, businesspersons, regional leaders and traditional rulers — was our country’s vice president at the time. It is curious that he was omitted from the list despite being a person of tremendous influence in the Niger Delta region and presiding over the amnesty programme (which tried to get the Niger Delta insurgency to abandon militancy). He also performed his very important constitutional role of overseeing the National Economic Council at the time.
The exclusive list
In seven categories, the Americans named their top five most influential people constituting of governors, businessmen, military, traditional leaders, and politicians who would determine Nigeria’s future. Number one on the list was Turai Yar‘Adua, the president‘s wife, who was described as “having a vicious personality; causes great fear among ministers”. It was revealed that ‘Mrs. President’, as she was known, begged her husband “to stay the course as president” when two weeks earlier he had wanted to step aside.”
US officials had contempt for Michael Aondoakaa, Nigeria‘s attorney general at the time, who was tagged “not to be trusted” despite being in Mr. Yar’Adua’s inner circle. The minister was compared to Darth Vader, a character synonymous with evil in the Star Wars movies. He was condemned for his interference in the prosecution of disgraced ex-Delta State governor, James Ibori, and his cronies; and his role in the removal of Nuhu Ribadu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Also mentioned as part of President Yar’Adua’s inner circle were wealthy businessman, Dahiru Mangal, said to have close links to fundamentalists in the north; Taminu Yakubu, the president‘s chief economic advisor, believed to be involved in unlawful enrichment schemes; and Yayale Ahmed, present secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) and a former classmate of President Yar’Adua’s. The only time the US ambassador mentioned Mr. Jonathan was while making reference to Edwin Clark, a former commissioner of information with seeming influence over Niger Delta militants, and access to the former VP. While Mr. Jonathan was ignored, House of Representatives’ member, Farouk Lawan, was recognised for “spearheading the removal of corrupt Speaker of the House Patricia Etteh”; while Ledum Mittee, leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was also acknowledged for his efforts in the Niger Delta, ironically the region Mr. Jonathan comes from, and where he had served as deputy and later governor of Bayelsa State.
A cocky senate president
Under a special category, the Senate President, David Mark, holder of the nation’s number three position, was portrayed as “cocky and brash”. A former military general described as a “Babangida boy”, Mr. Mark was regarded as an opportunist who would capitalise on a Supreme Court annulment of President Yar’Adua’s 2007 election to head the country. According to the US cable, Mr. Mark, a supporter of President Obasanjo’s third term bid, had reportedly spent millions of dollars to keep his Senate seat. There were reports, the cable said, that Chief Justice Kutigi was looking into allegations that Mr. Mark bribed judges in order to ensure that he won his appeal against an Electoral Tribunal ruling (the Tribunal largely ruled against Mark).
The governors’ caucus
Five northern governors were singled out for wielding “tremendous influence”. The Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekerau, under the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) was described as a “disappointment as he has done little for his state”. It was however remarked that he “helped stop PDP from stealing state elections in 2003 and 2007”.
American concerns also dwelt on a key advisor to Mr. Yar’Adua, the Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, and his family, who the US say was “involved in some questionably illicit deals”. The Saraki family was also accused of choosing current EFCC chairperson, Farida Waziri, in order to avoid prosecution. Five southern governors also made the list. The US official noted that Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State under the Action Congress party (AC) “leads the most populous state in the country (despite what the 2006 census claimed)”. In the Niger-Delta, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State was quoted as telling the American ambassador he received $700 million in oil revenue yearly, while his Rivers State counterpart, Rotimi Amaechi, received $1 billion yearly in oil receipts. Both governors were said to be supporters of the military’s Joint Task Force against militants in the Niger Delta.
Godfathers, traditional leaders and elders
Past heads of state and presidents were listed as political godfathers. Ibrahim Babangida was defined as “always a factor in Nigeria‘s politics”; Yakubu Gowon and Shehu Shagari were said to “both command respect from the street and elite”; while Muhammadu Buhari was described as having “showed principled positions on anti-corruption and electoral issues” in the 2007 elections. It was different for former military ruler and president, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose political influence was described as waning while being termed as “exceptionally wealthy”. Also in the exclusive list were traditional rulers, notably the Ooni of Ife, the Obi of Onitsha, the Emir of Kano, the Lamido of Adamawa, the Emir of Zazzau, and the Emir of Katsina, who the cable said helped in the past to broker elite compromises.
US diplomats constantly looked for who had the ears of the “elite” in government. They, in turn, wormed their way up to those personalities. In the cable, Ms. Sanders said she knew well and had access to Aliko Dangote, “a major PDP financier”; and Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank, “with whom the Mission enjoyed a favourable relationship on a number of public diplomacy and AID projects.”
Also on the US list were Femi Otedola of Zenon Oil and Ndi-Okereke Onyiuke, then director-general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), both close associates to former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Ms. Onyiuke’s relationship with stockbrokers was termed “questionable” for reportedly manipulating shares in favour of her friends. The Ibru family, running strings of companies, including Oceanic Bank and the Guardian Newspaper, were also identified as personalities the US government should watch. Peter Esele, the Trade Union Congress leader, and Olisa Agbakoba, the former Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) president, were mentioned along with Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Nigeria’s number four man, as being part of the younger generation of influential Nigerians.
Also of concern to Ms. Sanders was President Yar’Adua’s aide de camp (ADC), Mustapha Onoyiveta, whom she concluded, “we believe he is not to be trusted”. The American ambassador said Mr. Onoyiveta, an army colonel, and primarily responsible for Mr. Yar’Adua’s personal security, was to be watched “closely”.
“We also have heard (including from Governor Saraki) that he is not loyal to Yar’Adua,” the ambassador said. “We believe he is a wild card, being the man standing behind Yar’Adua, primarily responsible for his personal security.”