By Dayo Benson Political Editor
Wednesday last week passage of former President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua has further widened the frontiers of 2011 presidency struggle. Even before Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s death, it was certain he was not in contention given his critical health state.
Between November 23 last year when Yarâ€™Adua was flown out of the country for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia to the time he was brought back in the odd hour of February 24 and his eventual death last week, a lot of waters had passed under the nationâ€™s political bridge especially as it concerns the 2011 presidential contest.
For the North, Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s ill-health was a dangerous signal for its continued hold on power beyond 2011. The fear arose from zoning arrangement between the North and South of the presidency. After former President Olusegun Obasanjoâ€™s tenure between 1999 to 2007, intra party agreement of ruling Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party PDP, dictates that the next eight years of the presidency would reside in the North. This was in spite of subsisting arguments that the North has held power for much longer period than the South.
Apart from late Gen. Thomas Aguyi-Ironsi and late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the accidental ascendancy of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as military head of state, other past leaders have been from the North.Â The late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, late Gen. Murtala Mohammed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda, Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar are all Northerners. Obasanjo who had emerged as head of state following Murtalaâ€™s assassination in 197
6 botched military coup was a product of prevailing political circumstance in 1999 when be became president.
Obasanjoâ€™s presidency was to assuage the fouled feelings of the South over the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential poll which late Chief Moshood Abiola won. Till date, that election is regarded as the freest and fairest the country has had. The annulment was seen as a political sin the North committed against the South because it was done by Gen. Babangidaâ€™s administration.
Thus, it was politically expedient for the North to allow South produce the president in 1999 as the nationâ€™s survival was threatened. The North conceded and Obasanjo who was inside Abachaâ€™s gulag over a fathom coup plot was pardoned by Gen. Abdusalamiâ€™s administration. Within the ruling Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party PDP, it was agreed by the leadership that the presidency would rotate between North and South. It was that understanding that saw Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s emergence in 2007.
However, due to the vagaries of health situation that eventually led to his transition to the great beyond, Yarâ€™Adua was unable to complete his tenure.
Shortly after he took ill especially when it was apparent that he might not be able to continue in office, forces who want power retained in the North went to work. Watchers of power game inside the presidency said the struggle actually began when Yarâ€™Adua was being flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia. The first move was to ensure that he did not hand over power to the then Vice-President.
This,Â they did by making the president not to transmit a letter to the National Assembly as required by the constitution. Former Attorney-General of the Federation Mr. Micheal Aondoakaa (SAN) did everything inside and outside the courts to justify the glaring omission to transmit a letter of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s absence from the country to the Senate.
He also fought the legal battle against his own constituency, Nigeria Bar Association NBA, to frustrate invocation of relevant sections of the constitution over the late Presidentâ€™s incapacitation. Similarly, Aondoakaa sought and procured judicial pronouncement to the effect that the then Vice President could only exercise executive functions rather than act as president. The calculation was the fear of the unknown if presidential power should change hands.
Elsewhere, outside Aso Rock portals of power, search had began for a possible replacement for Yarâ€™Adua. In a move that took many by surprise, President Goodluck Jonathan, then as Acting President sacked the National Security Adviser Maj-Gen. Sarki Muktar, who was replaced by Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau who had earlier held the position between 1999 to 2006. Gusauâ€™s return was seen by analysts as a strategic positioning ahead of 2011.
Gusau, a security Czar, was a presidential aspirant in 2007 on the platform of PDP. As at the time he returned as NSA, he had the backing of some influential figures within Arewa Consultative Forum ACF. Perhaps, it was out of the need for the North to throw up a strong personality for the 2011 presidency that made former military president Gen. Babangida to declare interest in the race.
Surprisingly, Babangida enjoys the backing of some foreign countries like U.S. and China. In international community, he is seen as one who can hold the polity together just as Obasanjo did, due to their military background. Since he declared his intention, Babangida who is still being held responsible for June 12 election cancellation has been telling anyone who cares to listen that he still has what it takes to rule the country. Also former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who recently returned to PDP is also a potential candidate.
His return to the ruling party is believed to be a deftÂ political move at a time when the North is searching for a suitable candidate for 2011 presidential race.
A twist was however introduced to the whole affair with recent calls on President Jonathan to context the next year poll. What started as murmuring in political circles after he became acting president has grown into strident calls by some interest groups.
During his recent visit to America, Jonathan, in an interview with cable Network News CNN had given a hint to that effect. When asked whether he would run, he was neither categorical in his response nor rule himself out. Said he â€œI can contest as Vice President with somebody or run for president.â€
That was then as Acting President. Certainly, the suggestion of contesting as a running mate does not arise anymore now that he is president. Since the calls on Jonathan to contest began, there have been arguments and counter arguments especially over zoning.
For those who are rooting for Jonathan to run, the thesis is that because he is the first Ijaw man to become President, he should be given an opportunity to fully actualise the long yearning of the Izon nation. Also, there is also a position that since Yarâ€™Adua/Jonathan presidency is a joint ticket, the President should be allowed to complete the eight-year tenure which ends in 2015.
Those who are against PDP zoning have described it as intra-party agreement which is not binding on the whole nation. For such people, if Jonathan is theÂ best material for 2011 so be it.
However, for those who are against the presidentâ€™s rumoured ambition, it wouldÂ amount to betrayal of trust to deny North second term slot because of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s death. They urged further that since North is expected to be in power for eight years, the PDP zoning arrangement should be respected.
A moral persuasion was brought into the argument. According to them, Jonathan is the only Nigerian who became acting governor, governor, Vice-President, Acting President and President without printing a campaign poster not to talk of contesting election. As they put it, God has been kind and gracious enough to him and he should not stretch his goodluck too far.
However, a fear being expressed in some circles is the possibility of what may happen in 2015 even if Jonathan decides not to run in 2011. There are insinuation that even if the North is allowed to have the second term slot in 2011, it is not impossible for the president to seek another turn.
Those who expressed this view said the fact that Yarâ€™Adua did not complete his first term may become an issue to justify such move. These are all scenarios that only time can unfurl.