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The Picking of a Vice President

Just when some Nigerians were getting agitated about the ability of President Goodluck Jonathan to be his own man, he shocks Nigerians with his choice of vice presidential nominee in the person of Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo, the governor of Kaduna State.  This report presents the pressures Jonathan has had to stave off.

By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor,

In 1979, after Alhaji Shehu Shagari emerged as the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, he had to pick a running mate.  The slot was zoned to the then states of the South East – Anambra and Imo.  A committee was set up to screen and produce a running mate for Shagari.  The committee did not succeed.  In fact, the name of a woman was suggested but it was turned down.

A source who was part of the politicking of the Second Republic, said, “In fact when it was mentioned that it was about quota, one of those who was very keen on getting the number two ticket said why should the ticket be ceded to the womenfolk when there were very capable men and that if the party was so keen on giving women the quota, why must it be the quota of the East that people now want to give to a lady and that we could as well have given the presidential slot to a lady.”

In an interview with Sunday Vanguard, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, the man Shagari eventually picked as his vice president, made some revelations: “Shagari was to start his mobilization for votes in all the states to get people sensitized about his campaign.  When he came to Enugu, after the campaign that night, they invited the NPN leaders in both Imo and Anambra States to a suite at Hotel Presidential.

He told us that since the thing had been zoned to the East, and there was yet to be a candidate, for him, he said he would like people who had actually supported the party in the two states.  He then asked Anambra State to nominate one person who they would all support if he accepted the person and also asked Imo to do the same.

Anambra State nominated me and Imo nominated Mr. Macaulay Nwankwo, a very good friend of mine too – he used to work for Shell. Shagari then asked that should he pick anyone of these two, would the person be accepted and supported by everybody, they said yes.  So, he requested for our CV.  But then he reminded us that the decision would still be taken by the executive committee of the party.  The day after, we finished the campaign in old Anambra and then we went to see him off at the Anambra/Benue border, after Obulafor.

“When we got to the border, the people from Benue State were waiting to receive Shagari and we parked, did some back-slapping and just while all that was happening, Shagari drew me aside and said he wanted to tell me himself and that he would like us to work together once the NEC approves, that he wants to work with me; but he said I should still keep it to myself.  I thanked him right there at the border; but again, something very interesting happened.”

But because politicians have their ways, “as we were returning to our state, some people who were still interested in the job still went with him to Benue State and all along with the campaign until he came back to Lagos on January 20”.

But unknown to Ekwueme, Shagari had actually mentioned the offer to Matthew Tawa Mbu.  Mbu could not accept the offer because he was of the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP.

When Sunday Vanguard spoke to Mbu, this was what he said:

“It was I but we agreed that I may not be able to consent because I was in the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, while he was the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN.  I told Shagari flatly that I can not accept the offer.  It was a matter of principle firstly.  Then there was the issue of me belonging to NPP, so do you expect me to leave my party because of the offer of the vice presidential slot?  My people in NPP would kill me; they would say I have decamped.  You know whom I suggested to him? Alex Ekwueme, to be his vice president!

“I told him that he had just lost nomination to Christian Onoh, your fellow party man. Shagari immediately responded that, ‘but I don’t know him M T’. I said it doesn’t matter; he’s a good hand, an intellectual, professional architect, use him and he will be a very good vice president to you’. “Even Ekwueme did not know this at that time.  It was here in my house, right here (in Ikoyi, Lagos)”.

All these were the politicking which eventually produced Ekwueme as vice president to Shagari. But because Nigeria’s political evolution had suffered so many idiosyncrasies, yet the politicians remained incrementally worse, Goodluck Jonathan was in a quandary when he was confronted recently with the dilemma of who to choose as his deputy after the demise of Umaru Yar’Adua.  Olusegun Obasanjo and some other politicians of note wanted their nominees to be picked.  Even the Governors’ Forum flexed its muscles.

Sambo

Unknown to all of these individuals and groups, Jonathan had something up his sleeves. He had had talks with Mohammed Namadi Sambo, the governor of Kaduna State. While all the pressure was mounting, Jonathan equally consulted widely but had his choice very close to his chest.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that Jonathan made it clear to Sambo that he wanted somebody who could be trusted and he found that person in Sambo. It was also agreed between Sambo and Jonathan that their discussions would be kept as a secret.

Both men agreed. Therefore, while the Senate came out public with what it described as its choice of nominee for Jonathan, the latter simply lapped it up. On the part of Governor Sambo, the Senate’s choice of his predecessor, Senator Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi, as nominee to Jonathan, did not bother him. Reason:  Jonathan never requested any such nominee from the Senate.

Just as the Governors’ Forum also flexed its muscle on a possible vice presidential nominee, Jonathan never requested the forum to forward a name. What Sunday Vanguard was however told was that Jonathan kept it very open. He consulted as widely as possible.

In fact, according to an Aso Rock source, Obasanjo was made to “believe that whoever he presented to Jonathan would eventually get the job.  But that was a dummy.”

The source further told Sunday Vanguard that “in truth, President Jonathan deferred to the former President but there was never a time that guarantees were made or given on the matter”. Therefore, when Sambo got the nod, many could not understand.

However, what they could not understand was that “Jonathan and Sambo had struck a relationship which was nurtured into something wonderful. “While both men were on the committee on power which the late President Umaru Yar’Adua instituted, they worked together and the trust was built. “During the work of the committee on power, Governor Sambo and then Vice President Jonathan forged a relationship that was based on trust and understanding.

“The trust was built so much so that there were times when the Vice President would not approve anything except Governor Sambo had vetted the bills as appropriate. “I think Jonathan also saw in Sambo a man who did not put pecuniary and primordial interests ahead of national interests and national developmental goals and objectives.”, a source who has followed both men closely told Sunday Vanguard last Friday.

Sunday Vanguard was also told that when Jonathan visited Kaduna State during the KADA Games, the national sports festival hosted by the state, Jonathan was so impressed with the calisthenics that he requested from Sambo that “the people involved in the demonstrations should be brought to the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, for the Under-16 World Cup.  For the Vice President to have made such a request relates to the level of confidence he has in the man.  And it is mutual.

“Even while some hawks were pushing Jonathan to do certain things while Yar’Adua was not around, good counsel from some quarters prevailed and you can guess from where”, another source disclosed.

Interestingly, in the list of those who were considered as front-runners were:

Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, National Security Adviser, NSA;
Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, Chairman, Governors’ Forum
Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State
Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State
Muhktar Shagari, Deputy Governor, Sokoto State
Murtala Yar’Adua, son of late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua
Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State

The National Assembly could not decide on the choice last week because both chambers do not sit on Friday.

The first business of each of the house when they sit on Tuesday would be to clear the nominee.


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