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*But in which direction?

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor, Anthonia Onwuka

As the self-professed largest party on the continent of Africa, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is on the march again to another presidential contest. There are intrigues at play and each time the party sets about choosing a presidential candidate, there is always tension.
There was also high wire politics which preceded the declaration of then sitting President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term bid. Ahead of President Jonathan’s declaration yesterday, the polity was overheated (is still being overheated, and unduly so). This is a report of how PDP conducts its affairs and how it chooses its candidates for presidential elections.

Why would President Olusegun Obasanjo send a team of party leaders in a private jet to Adamawa State in the first quarter of 2002?
Who did they seek to meet?
What was the purpose of their visit?
What was the strategic importance of such a visit?
And what was Obasanjo looking for?

* As It Was In 2002

For a contest that already had an aspirant with a head start in then President Olusegun Obasanjo who had declared earlier in April that year, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme had set for himself a high bar when, after months of speculations whether he would be re-contesting the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential primaries with a view to securing the presidential ticket of the party, he made an unusual declaration in Minna, Niger State, in December 2002. The Second Republic Vice President had visited former military President Ibrahim Babangida on a Sunday and from there made his intention to seek the nomination of the party known.

But because this was the same PDP where a Barnabas Gemade had been caused to defeat a Sunday Awoniyi to become party chairman and a party where state governors had hijacked the affairs of the party at the state level, anything could happen.

In the last week of April, 2002, Obasanjo finally declared his presidential ambition for a second term in office at the International Conference Centre, ICC, Abuja. In attendance were party chieftains from across the country including all PDP state governors.

The declaration had been postponed severally owing to some high wire politicking going on between Obasanjo and his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. In fact, at the last minute, according to information available to Sunday Vanguard, Obasanjo had to dispatch a team of PDP leaders to Adamawa to confer with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, on the impending declaration by the president to run for a second term in office.

A member of that team, Chief Olabode George, who was then National Vice Chairman, South West, of the party, according to sources, was not particularly interested in the visit to Adamawa State.

Sunday Vanguard was made to understand (according to a source) that George, who had worked slightly close with late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the political mentor of Atiku, “could not understand why Atiku should be proving difficult in supporting Obasanjo’s second term bid”. But Atiku was said to have his reasons.

The information made available in 2002 was that there was an agreement that Obasanjo would do just one term of office as President. That was what led to the widely reported idea of a ‘Mandela Option’. The publicity given to that idea was linked, rightly or wrongly, to Atiku’s office. More importantly and upon investigation by Sunday Vanguard, a certain meeting was held in 1998 before Obasanjo eventually got the PDP presidential ticket where he was alleged to have made it clear that he would “require at least 10 years to restructure Nigeria”.

No matter. In the last week of April, 2002, Obasanjo formally declared for a second term at the ICC.

* President Jonathan’s 2010
There is uniqueness about the present circumstances of President Jonathan. For one, Umaru Musa YarÁdua’s death would mark the first time a civilian President would die in office and his deputy would be sworn in to continue.

The only other time this happened was during the Murtala/Obasanjo regime between July 1975 and October1, 1979 when Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on Friday, February 13, 1976; and Obasanjo as second in command was drafted to continue in office – Obasanjo was to later hand over to Shehu Shagari in 1979.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria – even as amended – envisages such a development and, therefore, did not create any lacuna once YarÁdua died.

Then there is the issue of Jonathan’s constitutional right to seek election as President and Commander-in-Chief. But the little matter of the PDP Constitution which recognizes zoning as a directive principle of seeking elective office had to be sorted out.

Whereas Obasanjo’s own problems in seeking re-election stemmed from some intra party power-play, a power-play which also saw an impeachment attempt on him – the problem Jonathan has had to contend with prior to his declaration yesterday had to do with a section of the party’s constitution which addresses the issue of power rotation and zoning.

* A Declaration long in coming

In fact, even before President Jonathan could make any suggestion as to what his political future would be, a few of his aides, confidants and associates had attempted to sensitise the Nigerian public to the possibility of Jonathan seeking re-election to the office of President of the Federal republic of Nigeria.

While the issue of a possible Jonathan attempt raged in the public sphere, the President kept his cool and refused to be dragged into the controversy. At some point, President Jonathan instructed his aides to desist from discussing any matter that had to do with a possible re-election in public.

In fact, in an interview on CNN, Jonathan refused to make any statement that would commit him to either a re-election or what one of his confidants described as “an abandonment of hope and aspiration of the people of the South South geo-political zone”.
While all these lasted, Jonathan kept his cool.

*Opposition to an aspiration

However, that cool was to become overheated by resurgence from the North.
Spearheaded by the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, a body of conservative politicians from the North, the NPLF insisted that the zoning agreement in the PDP should be maintained and that that was the only way to go.

Between the NPLF and President Jonathan arose a plethora of other groups in the country sympathetic to his aspiration. All manner of groups including but not limited to National Movement for Equality and Change, Omoluabi Movement For Goodluck Jonathan, Democrats For Goodluck Jonathan, rose in defence of a possible Jonathan re-ascendancy. Rather than relax the opposition to Jonathan, the NPLF launched a bombast against Jonathan’s presidential ambition just as the old man from Delta State, First Republic Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark launched his own even more caustic attack on the North.
Even the Northern Governors’ Forum, a group of state governors north of the Niger did not leave itself out of the debate (see story on WHAT THEY SAID).

But President Jonathan remained unfazed as he declared yesterday at the Eagle Square in Abuja.

*What the aspirants are offering
Already, Atiku and former military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida have already declared their intentions to run. Atiku on Sunday, August 15 and Babangida on Wednesday, September 15.

What did they offer? Because the Nigerian economy and socio-political landscape suffers a cocktail of afflictions, the declaration speeches of both men tried to capture everything wrong with Nigeria.
For Atiku, he had a clear agenda: “I am not seeking the presidency because I want to be rich and famous.

Given how far I have come from my humble beginnings in Jada, Adamawa State, I feel enormously blessed. But life is not just about individual success; it is, more importantly, about our collective success.
“After due consultations family, friends and political associates, I have come here to formally announce, with humility and a deep sense of responsibility, that I shall be offering myself as a candidate for election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2011 Presidential Election.
I shall do so on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I want to chart a new course for our beloved country and lead our people to their manifest destiny. Iam seeking the presidency of our great country to realize my vision of a prosperous, secure, peaceful, democratic, caring and confident Nigeria. I intend to lead the efforts to create conducive conditions and incentives for productive investment in our country.

“I have picked five key areas for immediate intervention because of their critical impact on all other areas of development. These are: Employment Generation and Wealth Creation
Power Generation and Infrastructural Development, Security, Good Governance and War against Corruption, Education, Health and Social Services, and the Niger Delta”.

In Babagida’s case, he offered the following thus:
“Today, Nigeria stands at the threshold of history. As we celebrate 50 years of independence, the country faces a pressing urgency for accelerated development to actualize the tremendous expectation that our enormous endowments evoke. It is equally distressing that we have not succeeded in remarkably harnessing the enormous human and natural resources to provide the foundation for a productive and caring nation such that we now stand in grave danger of state failure.

“The first requirement of attaining the above is to ensure that the economy grow at such a rate as to absorb the productive labour continuously being generated in the country. In particular, with the growing rate of urbanization in the country and with growing mechanization of the country’s agricultural sector, we must find placements for the surplus labour that is bound to be released.

The key sectors of manufacturing and services will therefore be given importance in this regard, is the programme of boosting small and medium scaled enterprises to improve not just their service delivery and wealth creating potentials, but the capacity to engage the labour of millions of Nigerians. The Nigerian economy can and will be driven to secure two-digit, non-inflationary or minimal-inflationary growth rates a long period at least two decades- as some of Asian economies have done. Clearly, traditional economic management – planning and budgeting methods and norms cannot serve, for essentially they ignore the factor of mobilization, which must be grasped for sustained long-run progress. There is much work to be done by all Nigerians and much benefit for al Nigerians, in the attainment of this objective”.

In the case of Jonathan, he has maintained that his focus is the Nigerian nation and how best its resources can be harnessed for the general good of the nation. Power, Education, Environment, Security, Niger Delta, Agriculture, Youth and Women development, Industries all form the fulcrum of the Jonathan agenda for Nigeria.

* 2003 Presidential
Contestants in PDP

Olusegun Obasanjo
(Ogun State, South West)
Chief Alex Ekwueme
(Anambra State, South East)
Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha
(Imo State, South East)
Abubakar Rimi
(Kano State, North West)
Chief Barnabas Gemade
(Benue State, North Central)
What they said:

These are some comments of some players in the polity over the propriety or otherwise of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s presidential ambition.

Northern Governors

“On zoning, the forum recognizes the fact that the issue of zoning is a PDP affair as contained in section 7(2c) of the party constitution. Therefore, in acknowledging the circumstances of forced Majure arising from the demise of late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua and subsequently ascendency of Preisdent Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the presidency. The forum resolves that wider consultations should continue at all party levels within the PDP with all stakeholders across the nation to address the concerns of all in the interest of peaceful co-existence and advancement of democracy in our dear country, Nigeria”.

Ameh Ebute (National Movement for Equality
and Change)

“We have observed with concern some unpatriotic statements by a group in the northern part of Nigeria intended at emasculating other Nigerians into submission to their sectional views that the presidency must be zoned to the north; we use our numerical strength to win and so on, and wish to say that we say no to these unacceptable threats. This group should be reminded that the minority ethnic nationalities of the north contributed more to keeping this country a united entity and would continue to do so now and in the future. The numerical strength of numbers and perpetual retaining of power in the north is not possible without a united north and the larger population of the north says no to primitive sectional domination and all divisive tendencies. Just as the northern minority ethnic nationalities were in the past ignorantly manipulated into supporting parochial and personal sectional agenda of the few in the north, the south south also allied and partnered with the north ignorantly to promote the parochial agenda of the few”

South South political leaders and governors

“We urge Nigerians to support Jonathan to move Nigeria forward beyond 2011.
The forum affirms the right of President Jonathan to contest in 2011 especially as this zone has not produced a president in the 50 years history of the nation.

“The summit supports the team of Jonathan and Namadi Sambo, and their efforts to take the Yar’Adua reforms to the logical conclusion. “If the people of the south west were given the presidency in 1998 to assuage a hurt, then no one has suffered more than the people of the south south, and no one deserved the presidency more than them,” said former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alaimeiyeseigha.

For 56 years, our resources have been used to develop Nigeria. We did not complain. We are waiting for a time like this, and the time for Nigerians to show reciprocity is now”, said another speaker.
It is time to transcend primordial sentiments and build democratic blocks for peace.”

The communiqué was signed by the Cross Rivers State governor and chairman of the South South Governors Forum, Liyel Imoke; Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi; Bayelsa State governor, Timpreye Sylva; and Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio.

Northern Political Leaders Forum

The people of the North never demanded for zoning of any political office in Nigeria. However, they acceded to the demands of their compatriots in the South who see zoning as the only mechanism for ensuring equal and easy access to power by every Nigerian regardless of geographical location. If anybody now believes that the principle of zoning is no longer required for equal or easy access to power or no longer relevant to the political stability of Nigeria, let them come out clearly and say so, not resort to puerile legal and constitutional arguments.

Constitutional arguments do not necessarily solve political problems, a fact made clear by the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President in March 2010. That the North is calling on politicians and other stakeholders to respect political agreements and allow the principle of zoning to run its full course, should not be construed as weakness on its part. Northerners have all it takes to win free and fair elections without special arrangements.

Francis Arthur Nzeribe

“I call for 8 years compensation in return for 40 years of extortion. In short, after 40 years of marginalization and suffering, Nigerians must allow the Niger Delta region to produce the President for eight [8] years through Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. This is the only way genuine peace, progress and stability will be achieved in our country”.

Chief (Dr.) Tony Anenih,

Today, the present situation in the PDP requires a re-examination. President Jonathan is on the same ticket with the late President Yar’Adua for 8 years (4 years of two terms). One half of that ticket dropped as a result of President Yar’Adua’s death.

That half has now been restored, with the appointment of the Vice President, to allow Jonathan complete the remaining part of the tenure. In view of the special circumstances facing the nation today, the most important issues that the President must pay attention to are: Machinery for free and fair election, Good performance, Respect for the multi-ethnic groups and sections in Nigeria, Peace in the Niger Delta region, Implementation of the Amnesty programme and, Religious tolerance, Security of life and property in the country

Okwesilieze Nwodo, PDP Chairman

In 2007, there were more candidates from Southern Nigeria than Northern Nigeria and I think if that election was allowed to hold without interference; may be anybody among Peter Odili, Donald Duke or Sam Egwu would have won. They all paid. Nobody returned their money. Nobody stopped them. “Nobody talked about zoning. They all contested. Why zoning now? Why? We have jettisoned it but we can revisit it. I’m not afraid about revisiting it.

If we think that we need to revisit zoning today, let us revisit zoning. But the one we did in 1999, no, no, no, no, it has been jettisoned by PDP itself. So those who are talking about that agreement are not following the history of the party. The party has never stopped anybody after 1999 on the altar of zoning. But if they want us to zone now, we will go through the process. We will start from the National Working Committee; we will prepare a memo on the advantages and the disadvantages of zoning.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.