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THE QUEST FOR PDP PRESIDENTIAL TICKET: In the throes of renewed confrontation

*The quest for consensus running mate, *Atiku, IBB, Gusau, Saraki in crucial talks
This is a report of how, expectedly, the announcement of the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF, is reshaping the contest for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential contest.

Having announced Turaki Atiku Abubakar as its choice, the Mallam Adamu Ciroma Committee of the NPLF has been answering questions on how it came about the choice of Atiku.  And as the momentum gathers, there is a frenzied move in some quarters on who becomes the choice of Atiku as running mate.

Commitment to Consensus
On Monday, October 18, 2010, it was doubtful whether Mallam Mohammed Dikko Yusufu, simply known as MD Yusuf would make the trip. It was to be the commencement of consultations by the nine-man Mallam Adamu Ciroma led committee of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF.

The skepticism about Yusuf’s involvement in the trip had to do with the fact which, according to a source, related to his “being involved in a domestic accident”.

From right, former National Security Adviser, Alhaji Aliyu Gusau; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar;former Head of State, General Badamasi Babangida and Kwara State Governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki briefing journalists after the meeting on the choice of Atiku as the PDP Northern Consensus Candidate at Asokoro, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

The source told Sunday Vanguard that “one of the most striking instances of the commitment of these old men to the job of seeking out a consensus candidate was the fact that just two weeks before they set out for the consultations round the country, MD Yusuf who had been involved in a domestic accident just two weeks earlier pulled himself together and accompanied his colleagues in the committee.  So, how else could anyone have demonstrated commitment to the cause”.

The question which elicited this response was on the most striking indication that members of the Ciroma Committee did not compromise or were fully committed to their task.

Presently, however, there is a new reality which the NPLF is confronted with:  The need to build a block consensus before the national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from whence would emerge the party’s presidential candidate for next year’s presidential elections.

Clearly – and, except, of course, any new form of political voodoo is hatched – the contest would be principally between Atiku and incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.

IBB, Umaru Yar’Adua, Obasanjo Connection
The political voodoo being referred to is the constant reconfiguration and realignment of the political forces in the PDP. Just before the health challenges of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took a turn for the worse, the calculation in some quarters was the possible persuasion of the late President not to seek re-election. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was part of that plan. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, former self-styled military President was expected to be a beneficiary of that arrangement.

In fact, it was consequent upon the arrangement that Babangida openly came out as the earliest contender for the presidency shortly after the death of Yar’Adua – based on the arrangement being worked out then. It was the sudden about-turn of Obasanjo which made a fool’s errand of the initial arrangement – Obasanjo suddenly emboldened President Jonathan to go for it. That same platform which would have thrown up Babangida has now, in a manner of speaking thrown up Atiku.

The New Game in the NPLF
Having presented its choice of consensus presidential candidate, the NPLF is now saddled with another challenge: How to consolidate of the choice of Atiku.

The first step, it has been learnt, is the possibility of ensuring block delegate votes from the South East geo-political zone. During the open campaigns of Atiku and Babangida, it had been made clear that the South East Zone would present a running mate for either men.

They both also declared openly that in the event that they win the presidential elections of next year, they would serve just for a term of four years. But to get to a point where they would serve for a term of four years, the ticket of the PDP must first be in the bag.

It is part of the quest to bag the ticket that the NPLF is looking to the east. The calculation in the NPLF is to supplant Jonathan’s possibility of making any serious inroads into the geo-political zone, with the NPLF banking on the ;possibility of making political capital in the zone.

On account of this, already, the quartet of Atiku, Babangida, former National Security Adviser, NSA, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Kwara State governor, Abubakar Bukola Saraki – who took part in the consensus arrangement – are exploring options of who best would be a running mate to Atiku.

This is with a view to going into the convention with a team arrangement. Earlier, as reported by Sunday Vanguard, the group is moving ahead with the creation of a completely new campaign structure and team for Atiku.

Sunday Vanguard was told that the campaign team of each of the contenders had forwarded two names each to form a larger committee which was saddled with the responsibility of drawing up a new structure. The structure is ready.

This would run from the Federal, state and the local government levels in such a way that, according to a source, “the synergy that would be struck would be such that the seamlessness of the operation would be manifest and self evident.

And barring any last minute change of plans, the quartet of Atiku, Babangida, Gusau and Saraki were expected to meet at the residence of Atiku yesterday, Saturday, November 26, 2010.

Sunday Vanguard was informed that what was expected to be done at yesterday’s meeting would be to appoint persons into the new offices for the emerging Atiku Campaign Organisation.

For Atiku, who had been in and out of the PDP – even running on the platform of the Action Congress, AC, at the 2007 presidential elections, the fight ahead and its eventual outcome would either reestablish the dominance of the north as being more politically sagacious and adept at the game or whether President Goodluck Jonathan would be able to, once and for all, demolish the myth that the North remains invincible..

Permutations and Interests
Politicians, being very good at positioning, are already positioning themselves for the eventual outcome of who would be the running mate to Atiku.

Whereas there is a committee chaired by Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Alex Ekwueme – actually patterned after the Ciroma committee of the NPLF –  which has set for itself the task of producing an acceptable running mate to Atiku, Sunday Vanguard has been made to understand that the contest for the running mate’s slot has become very fierce.

Take, for instance, the personality of the current deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremmadu. The South East Caucus of the National Assembly is believed to be pushing for his choice as running mate to Atiku.  The odds against him are stark.

Meanwhile, there is Gusau, a contestant on the consensus ticket. Gusau is believed to be pushing for the adoption of Dr. Ben Obi, the Director General of his campaign organization as the ultimate individual who can take the slot of the running mate to Atiku.  He may have some explaining to do regarding his shift of loyalty.

Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that whereas Obi has been in the corridors of Babangida, Gusau and Atiku, he is not a stranger to the Saraki family.

A source with good understanding of  the workings of the NPLF told Sunday Vanguard that Obi, who  had worked as a political adviser to Gusau during his tenure as the National Security Adviser, NSA, under the Obasanjo adminis-tration in 1999 “got the blessing of Gusau before he became the running mate to Atiku on the platform of the AC in the 2007 presidential elections.

Also, when he was about to be appointed as the Director General of the Gusau Campaign Orgnaisation,  Obi did not just dump Atiku but there was an understanding that existed and which still exists”.

Yet, there is Ken Nnamani, the former senate president. Nnamani’s candidacy is being .pushed by Babangida. It would be recalled, how Nnamani almost single-handedly stopped the amendment to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an amendment which would have guaranteed Obasanjo a tenure elongation.

He has that going for him.  He, in collaboration with a number of politicians, also saw to the momentum which the wave of change in the PDP seems to have garnered in the last couple of months.

Still, there is Saraki, who has the support of a number of state governors to deliver their delegates to the consensus team. Apart from Saraki, the governors of the Soiuth East states are also in discussions as to whether or not a colleague in their fold should be adopted.

In all of these, there is one single thread that runs through: The fact that Atiku has promised to do just one term of four years. What this means, in effect, is that whoever becomes the Vice President in an Atiku administration is almost likely to succeed Atiku after four years..

The Presidential Contest Proper
But it would not come as a very easy choice. The dangers of nominating a running mate before a party primaries are heavily weighted against the principle of crossing the bridge when an individual gets there.

And that is exactly what the consensus candidate is doing.. Therefore, there is a very strong proposition that the only time a running maste would emerge for Atiku would be after the presidential contest in the PDP. The reason for this is simple:  All those aspiring to become running mate would have to demonstrate what an insider described as “strength” during the presidential contest.

That is, they must deliver on delgates into the consensus basket.

Atiku & PDP: In, Out and In Again
In September 2006, Atiku was in his office at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, when Ahmadu Ali, the then tough-talking National Chairman of PDP was ushered in.

His mission was remedial.  Having been thoroughly embarrassed by the action of Obasanjo and the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the PDP, by re-registering members of the PDP, a move that was aimed principally at the associates and supporters of Atiku, and also having refused to register Atiku at his Jada Ward in Adamawa State, there was need to save face. Therefore, that day, Ali’s mission was one laden with complete unorthodoxy.

The registration of party members is usually carried out at their ward level.  But since Atiku had been denied registration by the link man for PDP in Adamawa State, Senator Jubril Aminu and the outcry was thoroughly embarrassing, Ali and Obasanjo decided to save face.  So, Ali brought Atiku’s PDP card to him in the Villa.  Soon to follow this move was the indirect expulsion of Atiku from the PDP.

The only option open to him was to join and declare for the AC.

The Jonathan Response
Perhaps, but for the comment made by Obasanjo last Thursday after the Council of States’ meeting, poking fun at the choice of Atiku by the Ciroma committee, nothing much of a strong response came from the Jonathan camp.  And whereas the statement credited to presidential spokesman, Ima Niboro, that Atiku as the choice of the NPLF would make it a lot easier for the incumbent to clinch the PDP ticket, the weight of that message was lost because of the stature of the messenger.

In truth, had such a statement come directly from the Director General of the Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo Campaign Organisation, the full import of the message would have resonated.

No matter. Sunday Vanguard has been told that the Jonathan team has swung into action regarding how its response to Atiku’s choice would be. Already, some Northern governors are being re-mobilised and are being urged to come out openly to speak in favour of President Jonathan. They are also being admonished to swing the angle that the choice of the NPLF by whatever reasoning can never be the choice of the entire North. The governors are already doing that.

In addition, the spate of consultations going on in the Jonathan/Sambo camp on the one hand, and the other further high level consultations going on between the Jonathan/Sambo camp and other stakeholders in the polity, including, of course, the North, has also engaged a more frenzied gear. All these are being done to further consolidate on President Jonathan’s goodwill especially as garnered during his declaration at the Eagle Square, Abuja, last month.


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