By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor & Henry Umoru
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, former Senate President Ken Nnamani and Senator Ben Obi have emerged as the front runners in the race for the running mate to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who flags the consensus flag of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) ahead of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential primary.
Feelers to this effect came even as Ben Obi was yesterday appointed as the Director General of Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation.
The appointment of Ben Obi was announced after a meeting between Atiku and the three former presidential aspirants in the consensus candidacy arrangement, former military president Ibrahim Babangida, erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Gusau and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, as well as the Directors-General of their campaign organisations.
Babangida, who made the announcement, said, himself, Gusau and Saraki would accompany Atiku during the campaigns before the primary until a candidate emerges for the PDP ahead of the 2011 presidential election, adding, ‘’We will be accompanying him to campaigns.’’
Babangida spoke while answering questions from journalists after the meeting.
Before the emergence of Atiku as the consensus candidate, his Director-General was Chris Mammah while Obi was the Director-General, Aliyu Gusau Campaign Organization, Chief Raymond Dokpesi was for that of IBB 2011 Campaign Organisation and Udenta Udenta for Saraki Organization.
The meeting, which took place at the Asokoro residence of Atiku, lasted over three hours.
When asked to comment on Obasanjo over his laughter on the choice of Atiku as the preferred candidate for the north by the consensus candidate committee, Babangida, clad in blue babaringa and driven in a black Mercedes car CLS 350 with registration number Niger AE 396 SRP, said, “I am a junior officer. By tradition, I am not supposed to comment on what a senior officer said.”
When pressed that he is now a politician and Obasanjo is also a politician, the former military president stressed, “he is still a general.”
On the reason for the meeting, he said, “We have come for consultations with the consensus candidate; immediately after the announcement of the consensus candidate, we have not been able to formally meet as a body and that is why we are here.
‘’We approved the appointment of his Excellency, Senator Ben Obi as the Director- General of the Campaign Organisation.’’
On whether the issue of running mate for Atiku was discussed, the former military president said, ‘’no, not yet.’’
When asked if he was going to address the nation, he said, “You can go and read the speech, I never mentioned any address to the nation.’’
Meanwhile, the new Director-General of the Campaign Organization, Obi, who said he could not say who has been made his deputy, disclosed that there will be a meeting of the organization, “in the next twenty-four hours.”
Although it was learnt, weekend, that despite the blowing wind of hustling and lobbying for the running mate to the consensus candidate, the running mate will not emerge until after the PDP presidential primary as the choice of who emerges will be contingent on the value placed on the delegate delivery of each of those angling for the position, at least three tendencies are on ground in the contest.
As reported a fortnight ago by Sunday Vanguard that after the emergence of the consensus presidential candidate of the NPLF, a committee will be set up to search for a consensus running mate, it has now been established that the process for the selection of a consensus running mate is on.
The South East Caucus of the National Assembly is believed to be pushing for Ekweremadu as the running mate to Atiku.
Gusau is believed to be angling for the adoption of Obi..
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 said Obi, who had worked as a political adviser to Gusau during his tenure as the NSA under the Obasanjo administration 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 election.
Also, when he was about to be appointed as the Director General of the Gusau Campaign Organisation, Obi did not just dump Atiku but there was an understanding that existed and which still exists”.
Yet, there is Nnamani.
The former Senate President’s candidacy is being pushed by Babangida.
It would be recalled how Nnamani led the Senate to stop the amendment to the 1999 Constitution, an amendment which would have guaranteed Obasanjo a tenure elongation. He has that going for him. He, in collaboration with some 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 south east states are also in discussions as to whether or not a colleague in their fold should be adopted.