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Atiku and the divided house of PDP

By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S been a week since former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, emerged the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) led by Adamu Ciroma who has been in the vanguard of the call for a president of Northern extraction to finish what some members of the Northern political establishment say is the unfinished term of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who died earlier in the year.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for Goodluck Jonathan, Yar’Adua’s deputy, who became president in spite of the shenanigans of a cabal of politicians who thought they could decide who becomes the next president after it became clear that Yar’Adua would not finish his term.

Constitutionally, the Vice President takes over in the event the president cannot finish his term for any reason whatsoever. That, Nigerians thought, was trite knowledge until some power mongers chose to play both God and godfather in a manner that grossly insulted the collective intelligence of us all.

Not only did they keep secret all information concerning the health of our ailing president, having stolen him out of the country and later back; they locked him up and kept sealed lips about his condition until they announced to a beleaguered nation that their president had died.

Nobody knows till tomorrow under what circumstances President Yar’Adua died. Did he die of ill-health or was he simply eliminated in his last days, nobody knows? It was in those circumstances that Jonathan became president but, as I said, it’s not been an easy ride ever since for the President.

For when it became clear that there was nobody else constitutionally empowered to take over after Yar’Adua, those who wouldn’t see power shift resorted to singing a new song, to wit that President Jonathan must vacate power as soon as he completes the first term of the Yar’Adua presidency. It didn’t matter to them that both Yar’Adua and Jonathan had a joint ticket and that they were both members of the Peoples Democratic Party. What mattered at that point was geography.

They talked of some private pact without constitutional legitimacy among members of a party that has taken Nigeria back by many decades in its march into the twenty-first century.

The folly of such private pact, if indeed there was one- the ultimate inefficacy of such old boys’ covenant that did not take into consideration the possibility that a sitting president might not complete their term, to be succeeded by another from a different ethnic background, was not apparent to them.

Now we see the folly of such arrangement and its potential for crisis, one would expect the champions of consensus to think twice before insisting on any plan along such line. But no, we must be railroaded further into the blind alley of consensus.

Let me make clear that I was never in support of President Jonathan going on to contest the 2011 election as any regular reader of this column would know. I thought and still think that he has no business contesting again.

I see his political career up to the time he became president as evidence of God’s blessings in his life and believe he should see his rise as president as opportunity to open a new chapter for Nigeria and Nigerians by ensuring a credible, non-partisan election that would be the benchmark for future developments.

I knew it would be extremely difficult decision not to succumb to the  lure of 2011, not with pressures from his own ‘people’ of the Niger-Delta with legitimate grievances against Nigeria and with equal right as any to the presidency.

I knew it would indeed be quite tough for Jonathan. But I didn’t think it was impossible. It would simply have set in place a tradition of selfless leadership that has been lacking in our polity. I didn’t think it right or legitimate to deny a man, any man or woman, what right the constitution gives them. We are denied too many rights to add to that denial of the right to vote or be voted for.  We know now, however, that Jonathan would contest the next election.

And his camp, we learnt, is heartened by the news they would have to lock horns with the Atiku group. Perhaps Atiku himself knew things would one day come to this, that the time would come when he would be chosen over and above his peers in a contest for power. Hence his single-minded, some might say unconscionable, pursuit of the presidential ticket of his party- a party that once threw dust in his face and into whose immorally accommodating arms he was welcomed after many months of estrangement.

Initially after the announcement of Atiku as Ciroma and Co’s choice (there are other groups too with different agenda/choice in the North), I momentarily forgot he was in the same party as Jonathan. I immediately started looking at his chances in a presidential contest between the two. Of course, the presidential contest looks like an all PDP affair as the other parties seem to have conceded defeat even before the first ballot is cast.

And we know why this is so. It’s the same reason, largely, for the insistence by politicians like Malam Adamu Ciroma that it must be a Northern candidate or nothing for the PDP. The reason, which we all know, is that no Nigerian politician/party would conduct an election they would lose.

They would use what is euphemistically called ‘power of incumbency’, both fair and foul means, to ensure that they win. It’s this unfair advantage, a totally corrupt and corrupting use of power, that others now opposed to Jonathan have used in the past to win elections- it’s this power that they are all afraid of. But now Atiku has the blessing of a section of the Northern establishment, what are his chances?

They would seem bright (though quite surmountable) if we are to believe the support-for-Atiku claims of his fellow politicians that lost in the consensus contest. But this is politics and, moreover, Nigeria where a politician’s word is as honourable as that of a prostitute. Let’s wait and see how long it would take before somebody finds a reason why Atiku can no longer count on their support.

Already the sabre-rattling has started, not unexpectedly, from Atiku’s own backyard of the PDP: Jigawa and Adamawa that earlier shut the PDP door in his face and refused him entry after he returned. Governors Sule Lamido and Murtala Nyako have vowed Atiku would win the PDP primaries over their ‘electoral’ bodies.

They are sponsoring another politician from the North-East, the ‘consensus/zoning’ reason Atiku defeated a formidable aspirant like Ibrahim Babaingida. Where does Atiku go next? The future yawns at us all.


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