If you are wondering how the seemingly cool relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice Atiku Abubakar became frosty until recently, former Chief of Army Staff, Theophilus Danjuma, appears to know why.

Danjuma, said former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, manipulated former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice, Atiku Abubakar, “to drive a wedge” between the two in the first term of their administration between 1999 and 2003.

Danjuma said this at a meeting on October 25, 2002 with then United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter, in Abuja.

A diplomatic cable dated November 5, 2002 which recorded the meeting was published by Wikileaks.

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At the time of the meeting, the relationship between Obasanjo and Abubakar had been poisoned especially by politics ahead of the presidential election of 2003 and Obasanjo was facing an impeachment threat from the House of Representatives then led by Ghali Na’Abba.

According to the cable in the custody of Public Library of US Diplomacy, Danjuma, who was at the time the Minister of Defence, said Babangida had been “painstakingly pursuing a strategy to divide and conquer Obasanjo and Atiku for over a year.”

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He said Babangida first tried to persuade Obasanjo to dump Abubakar to ease Obasanjo’s “image problem” in the North.

“After nine months of failing to convince Obasanjo to eject Atiku, IBB decided to focus on manipulating Atiku,” Danjuma said.

The cable continued: “According to Danjuma, IBB has hoodwinked Atiku, who now believes he has IBB’s support. Noting that IBB once fired Atiku from his job as head of customs because of rumored links with ’drug barons’ and that he considers the Vice President to be ‘lazy and corrupt,’ Danjuma said he thought Atiku had been blinded by his own ambition, saying ‘Babangida is singing a song he (Atiku) wants to hear.’”

Danjuma said as part of his plan to weaken Obasanjo, “Atiku planted the ‘Mandela Option’ stories in the Nigerian press leading to calls for the President to step down after his first term in order to cement the transition to democracy.

“Danjuma sees this as playing right into IBB’s hands. If Obasanjo can be convinced not to run, Atiku would represent an easy opponent for IBB or his surrogate. If Obasanjo stays in the race, Danjuma said the notoriously tight-fisted President would need to spend far more money to insure his victory in the PDP primary.”

A week before the meeting with Danjuma, the US ambassador meet with Abubakar for 90 minutes on October 10 at the Vice President’s residence.

Another diplomatic cable dated October 16, 2002 recorded Mr Abubakar at the meeting telling Mr Jeter that his relationship with Obasanjo was in tatters and provided a detailed chronology of the relationship.

“Atiku said that he and Obasanjo were relative strangers before the 1998 prelude to the 1999 elections. Their nexus was the late Shehu Yar A’dua. Yar A’dua was second-in-command during Obasanjo’s stint as military Head of State. Yar A’dua was also Atiku’s political mentor. Atiku inherited leadership of Yar A’dua’s political machine, the PDM, when the general died in detention, likely at the sinister hand of the late Sani Abacha.

“Atiku recalled not only working for Obasanjo’s release from prison but also assisting in his ascent to the Presidency. Atiku stated that he along with former Heads of State Babangida and Abdulsalami and current NSA Aliyu Mohammed were the four men most responsible for Obasanjo’s successful climb.

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“Seeking to redeem his image after the 1993 electoral debacle, Babangida convinced Obasanjo to run, then placed his considerable clout and money into the ‘Obasanjo Project.’ While Babangida pulled the strings from Minna, General Mohammed performed much of the legwork while also drumming up other support.

“Then Head of State Abdulsalami backdated Obasanjo’s pardon, an act that allowed him to be eligible to contest in the election. Abdulsalami also funneled money into the campaign and steered the considerable powers of incumbency to Obasanjo’s favor.

“Atiku’s contribution was political. Exploiting the PDM (People’s Democratic Movement, a political group formed by Mr Yar’Adua) machinery, Atiku successfully engineered Obasanjo’s primary victories in the PDP. Along with Babangida and the others, he recalled working hard to ensure Obasanjo’s nomination at the convention.

“It was at that point, Obasanjo asked Atiku, already Adamawa State’s governor-elect and very content with that status, to be his Vice-Presidential running mate. Atiku accepted.

“On paper, Obasanjo had the credentials of a perfect leader — a perceived detribalized Yoruba with ties to the North, a former military leader with a good record, and good standing in the international arena; but, in practice, he had fallen far too short of the mark, Atiku lamented.”