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2011 Presidency: Emerging power play

By Dayo Benson,  Political Editor
Until February 24 unexpected return of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia hospital, the North was already shopping for a Vice President.

At the forefront of the search was the North-West, which is Yar’Adua’s geo-political zone. The calculation was that in the event of the President’s inability to continue in office, the proposed Vice President would be in a good stead as a replacement for Yar’Adua in 2011 presidential race.  Among those mentioned were Bauchi State governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda, who is an in-law to President Yar’Adua, Federal Capital Territory Minister Adamu Ailero and Katsina State governor, Ibrahim Shema.

Also mentioned were Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State and Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau(rtd). The motive behind the move was to ensure that the North retains power in 2011.  However, Yar’Adua’s brusque but secretive return to the country at the wee hours of that Wednesday punctuated the search for a Vice President.

IBB

With the empowerment of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to act as President, via a National Assembly resolution, many had expected that it was a matter of time for him to become a substantive president. What with the President’s critical health condition.

In the event of Jonathan becoming substantive President, the thinking was to have a Vice President in place so as to ward off any untoward tendencies of Jonathan  over 2011 presidency. Not unmindful of a likely presidential ambition of Jonathan, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, recently brought the message home to him succinctly. The party’s national chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, told the Acting President to forget any presidential ambition in 2011, saying that the slot remains the North’s affair.

Yar’Adua’s return

The combination of Yar’Adua’s return and the resolve of National Assembly not to impeach him despite some pressures on it to do so as well as a deal Governors Forum struck with Jonathan have altered calculations.

From who becomes Vice-President, attention has now shifted to who succeeds Yar’Adua come 2011 and the factors that will determine the choice.

Lately, the name of former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi  Babangida (rtd) has been ringing loud in political circles. Some of those who are close to the Minna-born General have said that he would declare his interest as soon as he completes his late wife’s mourning rites sometime this month.

American Connection

It was reliably gathered that the United States is behind the mounting pressure on the retired four star general to have a shot at the presidency in 2011.  Babangida, the source said is seen as perhaps the only strong personality from the North that can have a firm grip on the polity if he becomes president.  He is seen in the mould of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, during his eight-year tenure had control of the politics and the military.

So, the idea is for IBB as he is popularly called to stabilise the wobbling polity.  Also, the US is said to prefer Babangida because of his military background and age because of the feeling that Nigerians respect and defer to old age.  According to the arrangement, Babangida is expected to run for only a single term with a former governor who has sufficient knowledge in business as a running mate. It was reliably gathered that former Abia State governor,  Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has been approached to run with Babangida in 2011.

Interestingly, Kalu, unlike IBB is no longer a member of PDP. But in politics, nothing should be ruled out since there are always room for re-alignments.  If things work out as planned, Babangida who had ruled the country for eight years between 1985 – 1993 would face politics while Kalu is expected to handle some key economic sectors.  “Kalu is preferred as a running mate to Babangida because of his business acumen.   According to the arrangement, while IBB will face politics, Kalu will largely be in charge of some key economic ministries”, said a reliable source. Already, US, as it was learnt, had approached the duo on the issue.

However, a source close to Kalu informed that the ex-Abia governor is more interested in running for presidency rather than be anyone’s running mate.

Return of Gusau

Monday appointment of Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau to replace Major General Sarki  Mukhtar(rtd) as National Security Adviser, NSA, by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, has further altered the schemings for 2011 presidential race. The return of Gusau to the position he vacated in 2006 is viewed by some analysts as placing him in a vantage position.  He was NSA to former President  Obasanjo between 1999 to 2006. He quit the position to vie for PDP presidential ticket in the party’s primary. He has  sustained his interest in the presidency despite his defeat in the last PDP presidential primary.

The interest was rekindled when he was pushed forward by a section of the North  to be Vice President to Jonathan. With his present position, analysts believe that Gusau might have been strategically placed ahead of 2011 contest.

Presidency pundits also contended that his appointment ,which is the first step towards overhauling security apparatus, suggests a possible de facto vice presidential role for him.  According to one of the analysts,  “Expect further changes in the security apparatus in the coming weeks and then Jonathan can assert himself further in the political space with renewed confidence.”

Similarly,  analysts are of the opinion that  the choice of Gusau , who is  also seen as an ally to Babangida  “suggests that the IBB camp has aligned with the Danjuma camp behind Jonathan and that the Acting President now has a quasi-military base,”.

North’s calculation

Among the interest groups routing for the security expert  is  the Political Committee of the Arewa  Consultative Forum {ACF }, which was mandated as far back  as last  December to undertake a study of the North and come up with a possible Vice Presidential candidate in a Goodluck Jonathan Presidency.

Information from the ACF headquarters in Kaduna had  indicated that the Northern group  mandated some political leaders to get across to the Acting President and relay the message that the North was  ready to back Gusau for the Vice President post.

The Political Committee of the ACF was mandated at the meeting, which analysed the critical condition the health situation of President Umaru Yar’Adua has placed the North, to shop for a dependable choice that would work in harmony with Jonathan who according to a source is now regarded as dependable ally of the North going by his respect and loyalty to his sick boss.

Though the ministerial committee mandated to visit the ailing President is yet to submit a report, the North had  come to the conclusion that Yar’Adua is no longer in a position to continue as president.

The group thought of options open to the North in view of the illness that befell Yar’Adua and one of them was to abide by the provisions of the constitution on succession and determine  the right candidate for the Vice presidency.

The position paper prepared for the North at the meeting  reads in part:“We are pleased to report that he(Gusau) is a candidate the North can back with all its vigour for the post of Vice President,” the report stated.

“Goodluck Jonathan is from the South-South, in the spirit of nationhood, the North can back him to the presidency in the unfolding circumstance. We can swallow our bitterness that the Yar’Adua presidency is now a past item. We should however support Jonathan with a stable character and an experienced material.

“We feel that Gusau, with his military background will stabilize the government and provide an opportunity for the North to return to the presidency in the shortest possible time.”

With this development the days ahead promise to be interesting as the race for 2011 presidency intensifies.


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