By Tony Momoh
I received a news flash from the Nation on the day a group of Northern elders was to announce the candidate they had chosen to do battle with President Goodluck Jonathan in the struggle for who carries the banner of the ruling PDP during the presidential election of 2011.
The news flash said Atiku was the consensus candidate they had chosen from four of their sons who had expressed interest in flying the flag of the PDP and who had been part of the argument as to whether the rotation policy of the party permitted the participation of Jonathan.
I am not surprised that one of the four – Gen Ibrahim Babangida, Gen Aliyu Gusau. Dr. Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku—emerged. What surprised me was what flashed across the screen of my mind. It was the incident that occurred on the day I was 40 years old. I was then editor of the Daily Times.
It was a Sunday morning and I had prepared for the Hour of Worship which meant that I had to go to Iju. I drove myself in the company’s official car, an air conditioned Audu GLS. I was close to Iju waterworks when a car pulled right in front of me. I told myself that the drivers in Lagos would never change, but someone hopped out of the red Peugeot 505 with a sub-machine gun.
I had the presence of mind to wind down the glass of the door and ask what his problem was. When I saw the weapon of death he carried, I opened the door of the car, and repeated my question, “What is it you want?”
He told me to get out of the car or he would gun me down. I stepped out of the car; and the next I knew was that I made for his sub machine gun! The details have been published in this series and elsewhere (See page 205 of Prince Tony Momoh, A National Bibliotherapist and Cultural Engineer by Dr Oshiotse Okwilagwe, 2009).
I am telling this story because of what someone told me I said before I started to fight to save the company car and myself. He said I said, Let the Battle Begin. And that was what came to my mind when the Northern Political Leaders Forum announced Atiku Abubakar as the consensus candidate.
I sat down to analyse that statement and discovered to my discomfiture that the battle for the soul of the PDP had just started with the choice of Abubakar to face Jonathan for the party flag. My conclusion, which only time will bear out, is that the struggle for the flag will be so hot that it may well provide more ammunition for the opposition parties than they would have had access to if the choice of the party flag bearer had been more cooperative among the interested parties than competitive.
We must start by admitting that there are many false battle lines and that anyone who is sucked in by the diversions would not know where the road leads. What the choice of a consensus candidate to fight for the PDP ticket involves is not a North versus South affair. It is an internal affair of the PDP. It is not even an affair between the PDP in the North and the PDP in the South. So the choice of Atiku as consensus candidate is not a Northern choice of someone to face President Jonathan, who for this unfortunate internal battle, is of the south.
If it were a clear-cut northern and southern PDP struggle, we would not have some states and personages in the North rooting for Jonathan, or some key members of the PDP in the South being pulled in to choose a running mate for Atiku.
The voices emerging from all over show that Atiku must deploy his survival armoury to make an impact in the battle lines that have become very visible within a week of his choice as consensus candidate of some northern interests who would never accept the result of the primaries unless a northern candidate emerged.
Which means that what they are saying is that on principle, the North must present a candidate for the PDP ticket, not because they loved Jonathan less but that they are more interested in respect for agreements. But the battles will be dirty if Atiku wins. And this is my worry. Jonathan will accept defeat and go to Aso Rock to fulfil the promise he made to the world that he would ensure free and fair elections in Nigeria.
He would have then emerged the electoral messiah that had been invisible to us since return to civil rule. But there will be pressure, not dictated by respect for democracy but a demand by the ego to be nourished.
That is the problem with the ego. It demands nourishment through sacrifices. The leaders of those who will fight to frustrate an Atiku presidency, being both promoters of a Jonathan/Sambo ticket, are Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Tony Anenih, unless Anenih is persuaded to respect the dictates of the primaries and fight to recover his leadership of the board of trustees of the PDP, a position which many have been working to wrest from Obasanjo.
Atiku’s strength will be the members of the PDM (Peoples Democratic Movement) who were frustrated out of the PDP during Obasanjo’ cleansing exercise in late 2005 and which later led to Atiku taking the ticket of the Action Congress (AC) and running on that ticket even as an incumbent PDP Vice President.
On leaving the AC, Atiku’s political group returned to the PDP, but not with the force of presence that they had when Obasanjo used it as his platform in 1999 to run for office of president. So what can Obasanjo do to Atiku; or more correctly, what will he do to Atiku? What he will do is more important than what he can do.
For what he can do may well be countered by forces beyond his own control. Those forces will insist on fighting to win the presidential elections for PDP, in spite of who flies the flag. So Obasanjo will not have his way.
But what he will do will be to refuse to campaign for an Atiku presidency. He will review the story from 1999 to 2003 when Atiku/Obasanjo was a very effective team, and Obasanjo could spend a whole year of his four-year tenure abroad because he trusted Atiku to keep the peace at home.
But the governors came to see Atiku more as their leader and so the one to call the shots, instead of Obasanjo; and but for Obasanjo’s ability to really stoop to conquer, he would have lost the nomination of the PDP to Atiku in 2003. I did say then that the first victim of Obasanjo’s return in 2003 would be Atiku. And so between 2003 and 2007, Obasanjo collapsed the offices in the presidency into one and fired Atiku’s staff where he doubted their loyalty to him as the only captain of the presidential ship.
The parting of the ways resulted in Atiku flying the flag of the AC in the 2007 presidential election. His attempt to return to PDP by visiting Obasanjo for reconciliation when he had problems in the AC failed, but he tried and tried again, swallowing his vomit in the process, and did finally return to the party on frustrating and humiliating terms.
But he fought his way to be allowed to qualify to ask to fly the party flag. His endorsement by a group of northern elders is therefore the beginning of a battle which will surface after Atiku has secured the PDP ticket by defeating incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Watch out for an exciting war that may decimate the PDP and grossly undermine its chances to win the 2011 elections, that is if the opposition parties take advantage of the stress and pull their resources together to confront the octopus.