* Their strengths and weaknesses

….And the possible collateral damage to come

This report ,the first in a series ahead of next year’s presidential race, examines the present undercurrents that are swirling in the contest.  More importantly, the report examines the chances of the main contenders and how the ambition of one stands to affect the aspiration of the other.

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor

 It happened on the same day; for strategic reasons. As one was  declaring in the open fields of Ibadan, the other was making his ambition known in Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.  The former was Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who declared, in absentia, his presidential ambition in Ibadan, Thursday, July 29, 2010; the latter, Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President, who went to Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, to inform President Goodluck Jonathan of his intention to contest the 2011 presidential election.

Nigeria has never had it so good, at least, not since 1992/1993 presidential contest whereby political heavyweights throw their hats into the ring.

This race is bound to redefine the shape of politics in Nigeria in the coming years and decades.

The reason is the raging controversy over whether the zoning arrangement of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, should be retained or  jettisoned. First, is the confusion in the ruling PDP as to how it would resolve its internal contradictions arising from the zoning controversy.

Atiku and IBB

Next for PDP leaders is  the issue of how, should President Jonathan win the primaries, there would be no backlash in the election proper  next year. In addition, politicians across the North/South divide would have to decide whether they are capable of handling a renewed feeling of cheating, one way or the other, by either the North which would feel cheated that it has been robbed of another four-year tenure, or the South, specifically the South South zone, which would feel strongly about  robbing their son and an incumbent of his constitutionally guaranteed right of seeking re-election.

Then, for the ruling PDP, there is the concern of not allowing either a Muhammadu Buhari of the little known Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, or Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, to win the presidential election by default should the party go about handing President Jonathan the presidential ticket of its party.  Suddenly, it appears that Attahiru Bafarawa’s presidential aspiration may have fallen by the way side. Should Jonathan’s choice by PDP come in a generally consensual manner, his path to success at the presidential election would  have been sealed.

However, if Jonathan’s handlers do not engender a broadly consensual atmosphere for his emergence, then there are bound to be countless collateral damages along the line.

On the other hand, the likes of Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, incumbent National Security Adviser, NSA, former military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida;  and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, whose presidential ambitions had hoped to cash in on the demise of late President Umaru  Yar’Adua – believing that the presidency would still be retained in the North – have suddenly been confronted with what has been termed the ‘Jonathan Issue’.

The Jonathan Issue is the sudden move in many quarters that as an incumbent, Jonathan has every right to seek re-election.

Already, the issue is polarizing the polity along the North/South. So much so that President Jonathan himself warned against the trend, and declared he would not want to preside over a divided Nigeria. Even as he spoke  the minorities of the Middle Belt and the North East geo-political zones were swinging southwards (Read Ameh Ebute in the Sunday Interview).

Then there is the floundering Action Congress, AC, that may soon likely change its name on account of a possible merger or rebirth as another political party.  When all its present consultations crystalise, a presidential candidate would emerge therefrom.

Interestingly, while  the six geopolitical zones of South South, South East, South West, North Central, North East and North West have been making sensible noises about where they intend to stand there is yet no very clear pattern other than that the South East and the South West would be mere hunting grounds for the front runners. 

As for the North West, it is strongly behind zoning; for the North Central it is massively fragmented between supporting and not supporting zoning but the North East appears to be swaying for the anti-zoning movement. As for the South south, it is Jonathan all the way. But there are still challenges ahead.

The following is a mini-profiling of the six major presidential contenders, four of whom are PDP members:

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau,  ANPP
Born in Kurmawa Quarters of Kano City, Kano State, Nigeria on November 5, 1955, but hails from Giginyu, Nassarawa Local Government, Kano State, Nigeria.

Many Emirs were consulted and they agreed to back him.  Even Umaru Yar’Adua wanted him to decamp to the PDP, with assurances that if he were to want to handover to anybody in the event that he would not be able to seek re-election, it would be a Shekarau.  But the steely man in Shekarau refused to dump ANPP, his first love.

Even a pilgrimage to Minna, Niger State to hold talks with Ibrahim Babangida, formed part of his earlier wide consultations.

In fact, the title of Sardauna of Kano, which was conferred on him by the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, was one of the events slated as a build up item pursuant to his presidential quest.  In his earlier preparations, wide consultations had been made with Emirs across the northern region and all seemed set for Shekarau’s ascendancy, especially in the face of a floundering Yar’Adua presidency.

 In terms of present support base, Shekarau has an uphill task ahead. First is the fact that his ANPP leaders are not coherent in their support for him.  The Borno State governor, for instance, is doing a one-leg-in, one-leg-out  dance. Modu Sheriff is a Jonathan sympathizer.  Then there is the fact of a polarized North, with aspirants emerging in the threes and fours. No doubt, one of the performing state governors, Shekarau’s quest for the presidency would not be hinged on mere performance; the fact of real politick would count. Shekarau declared his intention to contest publicly last Thursday at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, before a  large crowd, considering the fact that he mobilized people to the place.  But in Shekarau some see a  principled Islamist.

He is the first civilian governor to serve two terms in Kano State.

Muhammadu Buhari, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC

He has not hidden his aspiration to become President since 2002. In 2011, it would mark the third consecutive time Muhammadu Buhari would be seeking the presidency of Nigeria.  He has his own ideas about how Nigeria should be run and he demonstrated this between December 31, 1983 and August 25, 1985, when he was Nigeria’s military leader.  A stern disciplinarian, Buhari believes that with the virtue of discipline, a great Nigerian state can be created.  He may be right.

However, in the construct of Nigeria’s high wire politics, discipline as a virtue almost always serves as a discount.  Buhari can not claim not to know. In the 2007 presidential elections as it was in 2003, right under Buhari’s nose, his colleagues in the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, specifically most of the state governors, worked for Olusegun Obasanjo’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, against their own party’s candidate who was Buhari.  They not only worked for Obasanjo, they also (openly in some instances) worked against Buhari.

But Buhari believes in one thing:  His own popularity. Perhaps, Buhari remains the only Nigerian presidential contender to date on whom there is yet to be hung a baggage.  Not that Buhari is a saint; but the perception of Buhari in the estimation of members of the public is of an individual who is clean.

But there is a paradox:  Why then has Buhari not always succeeded at the polls, at least twice earlier?

The answer lies in the fact that politics is not about being clean or dirty.  It is about mobilizing and aggregating the sum of goodwill and popularity for the singular purpose of appreciating that politics is about consensus building.  That is Buhari’s baggage. It is that absence of a will to build consensus that continues to pour cold water on Buhari’s every move to become Nigeria’s president.

Once during the discussions for a megaparty, a meeting had been called.  Buhari was the chair of the meeting, which also had the likes of Olu Falae, Atiku Abubakar, Ben Obi and Usman Bugaje in attendance.  But once Buhari had finished his presentation, he skipped about “three to four items on the agenda and moved to closing remarks. It took  the intervention of Senator Ben Obi, Sunday Vanguard was told, “who insisted that there was an agenda for the meeting and which had to be followed”.  In fact, a parallel is being drawn between Buhari and Obasanjo: Whereas Obasanjo could be self-conceited and deceptive, Buhari’s sternness and bullish disposition is easily betrayed.

Which is why Buhari decided that he could not suffer the ignominy oozing fort from leaders of the ANPP; he simply chose another platform for his aspiration, little known Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. Where this would lead Buhari, only Buhari knows.

Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, NSA, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP
Being the one who almost single-handedly re-sold Obasanjo to both the political, intelligence and military elite in 1998, an Aliyu Mohammed Gusau’s relevance can never be understated.  The task confronting Gusau today, however, is that of selling himself to the people of Nigeria as the PDP presidential candidate.

For Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the question to ask is:  Why would Germany, Republic of Korea, South Africa and Ethiopia bestow on him the following respective honours:  Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Das Crosse verdiestkreuz, Germany; Republic Order of National Security, Cheonsu Medal Republic of Korea; National Intelligence Service Medal, Gold Republic of South Africa;  and Grand Collar of the Order of Emperor Haile Selassie (GCHS)?

It is because Gusau typifies the man of the state.

But this man of the state is about to make another bid which would make him President and Commander-in-Chief, after the earlier failed attempt of 2007, an attempt which was frustrated by his boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, the man he served as National Security Adviser, NSA, for over seven years.

For observers of the concept of governance, the state is a completely different entity from the government of the day.

When operators in the corridors of power make reference to the state, they are not  talking about  the government of the day  or  referring to the man on the throne.  There are certain institutions of state that remain sacrosanct and on which other structures are based.  It is for that reason that some people are seen as operators of the state, beneficiaries of the state and protectors of the state.

It is the last category that defines men of power, steel, connection and for whom the dictum, information is power means everything.  That is the category where Gusau falls.

Born on 18th May, 1943, in Gusau, Zamfara State, this disengaged four star Army General has been working for the state for all of 40 years, a career which started in 1967 as Commanding Officer, 126 Infantry battalion, January 1967 to December 1967and Commander, 1 Platoon, B Company, 5th Battalion, Nigerian Army, March 1967 to December 1967.

At the mention of Gusau’s name, a feeling of nostalgia is what immediately imbues many people.  His is the stuff of legends in the intelligence community – and that, in fact, is the reason why countries like Germany, Korea and South Africa would honour him.

Between fact and fiction, there are many tales about the person of Gusau, some, even bordering on the queer or unbelievable.

If an individual is referred to as one of the best in his trade, how do you tackle him?

In concrete terms, what is the relevance of Gusau today?  It is about neutrality and deep understanding of the state and its apparatus. Trusted and known worldwide, a Gusau Presidency packs with it the potentials of repositioning Nigeria because of his reach and global network. However, getting the politicians to trust him enough not to keep looking over their shoulders would be a task he and he alone has to accomplish.

Atiku Abubakar, PDP

His greatest asset is his political acumen.  To date, at least within his PDP fold, Atiku Abubakar is seen as a major rallying point and he also knows that.  Whether he allows that sense of self importance to befuddle his political calculations is another thing.  At the height of the jackboot politics of the PDP and the Obasanjo presidency between 2002 and January 2003, Atiku it was who virtually brought then President Olusegun Obasanjo to his knees before the latter could secure a second term ticket on the platform of the PDP.  Most of the state governors were at the beck and call of Atiku.  They understood him and he understood them, sometimes, taking care  of their interests where Obasanjo would bully them into submission.  But Atiku was forced  out of the PDP which he helped form in 2006 after he had also ensured, with politicians of like minds in the country, to frustrate Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda.

But it is only Atiku who can tell Nigerians why he went to reconcile with Obasanjo in Abeokuta, early last year.  Many had said he did that just to find a back route into the PDP.  That did not materialize immediately as his every move to rejoin the party at that time was fruitless.  However, once the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s health crisis started, Atiku found a way back into the PDP but with some challenges from his state chapter and his state governor.  His critics insist that Atiku’s presidential ambition verges sometimes on the desperate.  That may not be fair.

In truth, his massive goodwill across the length and breadth of Nigeria continues to wax incremental because of his deep understanding of the game of politics, particularly in this Fourth Republic.  He may have just rejoined the PDP from his Action Congress, AC, Atiku has been able to build so many bridges.  For instance, there is no overstating the role Atiku has played and is playing in bringing the issue of zoning as agreed at an expanded caucus meeting of the PDP to the front burner.  He is at the fore-front of championing the retention of zoning in PDP.

From his days in the Social Democratic Party, SDP, where he was a protégé of late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku’s weakness may be his sense of self-belief.  Even at the time he was forming AC with some other politicians, Atiku insisted  that “the fight for democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria has enriched our laws, strengthened our judiciary and deepened our democracy. 

Today, no one can be disqualified from contesting elections except by a competent court of law.  Today, there is a strong push across the country for electoral reforms because of the abuses that were perpetrated in 2007.  Thanks to our struggle, the PDP set up the Ekwueme Committee to ensure reconciliation of aggrieved members and their return to the PDP, as well as the return of the party to the ideals of the original PDP, including a move toward greater openness and internal democracy”.  Atiku’s return to the PDP has galvanized a new sense of competition, especially as some state governors and legislators see in him the man.

Still in control of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, the political machinery which had wrought many a political victory, Atiku’s chances at the polls next year would first have to be put to the test by securing the ticket of his PDP.  How can that be made possible?  He would first need to defeat the other contenders which include but may not be limited to Babangida, Gusau and, of course, President Goodluck Jonathan.  Can he succeed. His campaign, which kicks off publicly next Sunday, is work in progress!

Ibrahim Babangida, PDP
Today, Babangida, a disengaged  General of the Nigerian Army, may have just realized that it is time to disembark from his arrangee posturing and enter the field of practical pursuit of democratic power for governance.    Babangida’s trade mark had always been to play the role of a kingmaker.  

The legend behind Babangida’s roles in installing past heads of state dates back to December31, 1983, when Major-General Muhammadu Buhari toppled Shehu Shagari to be come Nigeria’s fifth military head of state.
And by August 27, 1985, Babangida toppled Buhari to become military President.

Babangida, three months ago, said the persistent rumour by many  Nigerians including his political associates and admirers about his intention to return to Aso Rock as a civilian President “is correct”. He said the electoral reform exercise was the only panacea for the emergence of credible leaders without questions about their character and ability to deliver on the dividends of democracy.

It was with that statement that Babangida entered the presidential race of next year.  But some Nigerians did not immediately take Babangida serious when that declaration was made.  Here was a man whom many had believed was going to contest the 2007 presidential election.

Obasanjo, it was, who stopped Babangida from contesting but the latter gave two reasons why he would not be contesting that election:  First, he said it would be a moral burden for him to contest against his friend, General Aliyu  Gusau who served as National Security Adviser, NSA and who has been a very long standing friend of his.  So he said he could not contest against him.  Second, he said Umaru  Yar’Adua, the brother to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua is like a brother to him too and he could not see himself contesting against either of these two men. 

Therefore, the best thing for him to do in 2006 was to pull out of the contest.  For a Babangida who had said that by the time Umaru  Yar’Adua would have finished his two terms as president it would be 2015 – by which time he would be 74years old. But even next year, Babangida would be 70years on August 19.  But Babangida’s statement was made at a time when Yar’Adua appeared hail and hearty.  The calculations are quite different now.

Having a head-start, Babangida was the first Nigerian politician to declare that he would be contesting next year’s presidential election.   In recent times, Babangida has been making  useful noises about the state of the Nigerian nation. Ideas once thought alien to the conservative leadership or elite in the country suddenly became a buzzword for even Babangida.  For instance, Babangida gained instant applause recently when he espoused the ideals of meritocracy and even went ahead to warn that unless and except the Nigerian nation toed such a path, development would continue to suffer massive discounts.

But what are Babangida’s chances?  Relying on his old alliances and new network of friends across the country, Babangida believes that as an astute tactician, he has all it takes to make Nigeria work.  His critics insist that the only crime he committed was the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections.  But his admirers make it clear that he is ready to make amends. 

In PDP, his platform, he has aligned with those insisting that the party should respect the zoning arrangement it entered into.  In terms of loyalty, the pilgrimage to Minna by many politicians to commiserate with Babangida when his wife Maryam died is enough to convince Babangida that he is liked.

But a commiseration visit and mobilization for votes are two different things altogether.

President Goodluck  Jonathan, PDP
He is the incumbent and his name should tell those in the opposition to his ambition that with patience comes good luck.  His wife’s name is Patience.  His emergence as President speaks a lot of good luck.  Some of those pushing for his candidacy have put forward so many arguments to dump the zoning arrangement in PDP and move on.

Arguments in favour of Jonathan seeking the presidency include but are not limited to the fact that zoning short circuits the search for a qualitative political engineering in the polity; that it limits the search for quality within any time frame; it disenfranchises prospective competitors from other parts of the federation other than the area where the office has been zoned;  it creates a negative feeling of de javu in the zone where power currently resides; that it creates a sense of absoluteness in the zone or the occupier of the office; and that it forces a candidate from a particular zone on the polity.

For Jonathan, he has been building his support base with his endorsement by the South South governors, the zone where he hails from.  More importantly, however, Jonathan’s aspiration has rekindled a new fire in a large segment of the minorities of the north.

In fact, a new movement, Movement for Equality and Change, led by Third Republic Senate President, Ameh Ebute, who insists that nobody should gag President Jonathan. Lately, the Movement claims to have the support of the six states of the South South as well as the more than half of the states of the north central and the entire north east geo-political zone.  Then there is the South West zone and the South East zone which would both serve as hunting grounds for presidential candidates. Ten northern governors have voted to retain the zoning arrangement in PDP.

Conversely, however, those rooting for Jonathan insist that “with the presidency in firm control of the PDP, getting the PDP ticket will not be a problem. But one thing is the PDP ticket, the other is the general elections.  The collateral damage to be avoided by the Jonathan people would be not to damage the same tools that would be needed for a general election when attempting to secure the PDP ticket.  This relates to an inadvertent backlash should be avoided while attempting to secure the PDP ticket. Yet, Jonathan is also not resting on his oars in this great battle.
He is blessed with some political tactician and he wields the power of the state.

He is yet to come out openly with his aspiration but Obasanjo, too, took quiet a while before he made his public declaration for his second term aspiration.

Disclaimer

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