Whilst the great debate on zoning raged, the leaders and elders of the North responsible for protecting the region’s interest, were in a frantic search for a consensus Northern presidential candidate.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Northern Union (UN) are racing against time: they have just two weeks to produce the consensus candidate for the primaries, which will hold across the nation between September 11 and October 30th.
The elders are conducting their search across the political parties. But because of the pressure of time, they have narrowed the search to the more serious political parties – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
They are looking for the best candidate to field against President Goodluck Jonathan.
They don’t want to go to the primaries with a multiplicity of candidates, which will weaken the Northern vote against such a strong candidate as the sitting President who has the added advantage of controlling the party machinery.
In their crucial meeting in Kaduna, the ACF demanded that all political parties present candidates of Northern origin. Three of the parties – ANPP, CPC and ACN are well on their way to complying with the ACF position. It makes political sense: the North has always determined the direction of electoral victory in the country. Barring the unexpected, the ANPP will present Governor Shekarau, the CPC Muhammadu Buhari, the ACN Nuhu Ribadu.
It is with the biggest party, the PDP, that the Northern elders have the big challenge. It is widely accepted that the party will again sweep the polls. The presidential candidate of the PDP will win the presidency in 2011. It does not take a crystal ball to know that.
Only unexpected developments of earthquake proportions can prevent it; but there is none on the horizon.
The question therefore is: How is the PDP to produce its presidential candidate? Where does the party stand on this?
At its NEC meeting in Abuja, they decided to retain the zoning policy, which meant that the official candidate of the party will be a Northerner. But they also decided to throw the race open, clearing the way for President Goodluck Jonathan to run.
The PDP managed by their decision to contradict themselves: they support the zonal arrangement, but are also allowing the arrangement to be neutralized by a candidate of the South.
Unofficially, and quite openly, they are putting the party machinery behind President Jonathan, who has appointed six Governors to spearhead his campaign in the six zones of the country.
That is supposed to give the President an advantage over any candidate, or candidates of the North. Whether it actually does is another matter.
The North is determined to field its candidate and then put its block vote behind such a candidate. They will present a candidate strong enough to beat Jonathan in the primaries coming very soon.
Therefore, the Northern elders are racing against time. They must produce their consensus candidate in order to avoid divided votes. The direction of Jonathan’s campaign is to divide the Northern block votes.
Under the severe constraint of time, the Northern elders have narrowed their search in the PDP, to three aspirants: Atiku Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Gusau, in that order.
Atiku Abubakar has the headstart because of the zoning policy being used in the selection. He is the beneficiary of an elimination process based on the record of past heads of state produced by each of the three geopolitical zones of the North: North-West, North-Central, North-East.
North-West has produced five heads of state: Murtala Muhammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, late Sani Abacha and late Umaru Yar’Adua. The North Central has has produced three heads of state: Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida, and Abdulsalami Abubakar. They also produced a deputy head of state; Tunde Idiagbon, and three Senate Presidents – Ameh Ebute, Iyorchia Ayu, and David Mark, all from Benue.
The North East has produced the only Prime Minister and Head of Government – Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. But the North East has never produced a head of state.
Therefore, by the calculations of the elders, the North East is favored to produce the Northern consensus candidate. That is where Atiku comes from. No other aspirant has emerged from that zone.
It is not expected that the North West and North Central should show any further interest in producing a presidential candidate, until it has gone round all the three zones of the North.
However, the other aspirants don’t quite see things that way. This option has been discussed among the candidates, especially between Atiku and Babangida. While each has expressed readiness to step down for the other if necessary, it has not happened.
Ibrahim Babangida, from North Central, has just launched his campaign. General Gusau, from the North West is speculated to be getting ready to launch his campaign after his boss, President Jonathan, has declared.
The elders therefore find themselves with the problem of what looks like the rejection of the zoning policy by the aspirants. It is an irony that the aspirants fought tooth and nail for the retention of the PDP zoning policy, but are now opposed to the policy being used to produce a consensus candidate from their region.
Governor Saraki (North Central) is also speculated to be joining the race. His father, Olusola Saraki, is the Chairman of the Northern Union. They are opposed to the choice that the ACF leaders have reportedly made, which is Atiku Abubakar. The NU issued a statement which denied that such a choice has been made.
The elders are said to prefer Atiku over Babangida, Gusau and Bukola Saraki, because they calculate that the former Vice President will command greater acceptance by the general electorate in the country.
Babangida, who was military president for eight years, and was responsible for the June 12 annulment is considered to have too many issues that the electorate may not like. General Gusau and Governor Saraki are relatively unknown quantities.
Therefore, Atiku Abubakar is in the pole position, clearly ahead of others, as far as the Northern Elders are concerned. Will that choice be confirmed in the time available before the primaries kick off? That remains to be seen.