That former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the previous and first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, have had more than a passing relationship has been popular street gossip in Nigeria for a long time.

But the Americans took the matter beyond chatter. In an October 19, 2007 cable to Washington, Lisa Piascik, the Charge d’Affairs of the US embassy in Nigeria, stated that both politicians were sweethearts.

The cable is part of a cache of secret US diplomatic dispatches leaked to the whistleblower site Wikileaks and made available to NEXT. In the dispatch, which details the different contending groups pulling and pushing for the soul of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, Ms. Etteh was described not only as a member of the former president’s network of the PDP, but also as Mr. Obasanjo’s girlfriend.

In profiling Ms. Etteh, the American official described her as: “former hairdresser, romantic interest of Obasanjo, current Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Other party chiefs profiled as members of Mr. Obasanjo’s camp were Senate President David Mark; multimillionaire businessman, Aliko Dangote; businessman Chris Uba; former presidential aide, Andy Uba; former governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu; former governor of Bauchi State, Adamu Mu’azu; former PDP national deputy chairman, Bode George; former PDP national chairman, Ahmadu Ali; and Ojo Maduekwe, former minister of foreign affairs.

Dubious rise

Ms. Etteh rubbished political permutations in 2007, when, in spite of her little education, she emerged the House Speaker, beating stronger and better educated contenders. It was believed at the time that she rose to the position on the back of Mr. Obasanjo.

Four months after she became speaker, Ms. Etteh and her deputy, Babangida Nguroje, were accused of financial malfeasance by their colleagues. They were accused of authorizing the spending of N628 million for the renovation of their official residences and the purchase of 12 official cars.

While majority of the members of the House demanded Ms. Etteh’s resignation, Mr. Obasanjo and the PDP leadership insisted and lobbied that she remain in office. But the opposition to the speaker was massive and overwhelming, and about eight weeks after the allegations were first levied against her, Mrs. Etteh and her deputy resigned from office on October 30, 2007, although they remain members of the House.

Although Mr. Obasanjo left office as president about four years ago, as chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, he has remained an influential member of the ruling party. Both politicians have remained close. Ms. Etteh was one of the few party chiefs at Mr. Obasanjo’s 74th birthday celebration in Abeokuta last Sunday.

‘I can romance anybody’

Contacted yesterday, Ms. Etteh responded that she was at liberty to have a romantic affair with whomever she chose. Raising her voice, the former speaker said, “I don’t bloody care. I can have romantic interest with anybody. I am free to romance anybody. I don’t fear you media boys anymore. Go and write whatever you like.”

Adeoba Ojekunle, spokesman to Mr. Obasanjo, did not answer his calls and has not responded to text messages sent to his phone.