By Clifford Ndujihe, Dep Political Editor
LAGOS—CHANCES of a consensus presidential candidate of Northern origin emerging in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, strengthened, yesterday, after supporters of the four leading aspirants in the Southeast agreed to harmonise their campaigns.
The decision articulated by some of the Southeast’s leading political figures now supporting the four Northern PDP presidential aspirants came as leader of the 17 Northern Wise Men Committee, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, debunked insinuations in Abuja that the committee had narrowed down its choice to Gen. Aliyu Gusau and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
While affirming that Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Governor Bukola Saraki were still in the race, Ciroma said the committee had not met a brick wall despite its failure to meet its earlier promise of picking a candidate at the end of last month.
Ciroma at a news briefing warned that the PDP would lose the presidential elections if the party fielded President Goodluck Jonathan as its candidate.
Meanwhile there was anxiety, yesterday, in the camps of some of the PDP northern presidential aspirants following revelation that membership of the Ciroma committee was lopsided in favour of one of the candidates.
One of the candidates is said to be having at least nine associates as members of the Committee.
The fear in the camp of some of the aspirants is that free voting among the 17-man Ciroma committee would automatically tilt the choice towards the aspirant whose associates dominate the committee.
The assertion immediately brought the ire of the Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation which in a reaction accused Ciroma of bellyaching over the decision of PDP to open the race to all. He was thus admonished to be a good party man.
Meanwhile, one of Jonathan’s support groups, Youths Ask for Goodluck, YAG, has criticised
the decision of the Southeast campaigners of the Northern presidential aspirants to harmonise their campaigns. The group accused them of seeking relevance.
Leaders of the campaign organizations of the four Northern aspirants from the Southeast said they would harmonize their groups to form a united front for an effective and coherent campaign for the candidate in the South-East zone.
Soludo chaired the meeting which was attended by Chief Ken Emechebe, who represented Senator Ben Obi for the Gusau organization; Dubem Onyia who represented the Atiku Campaign Organization with his team; Dr Udenta Udenta, Director General of the Bukola Saraki Campaign Organisation; Professor Nwosu and Chief Obinna Uzor who led the IBB Campaign organization.
They said they had developed an eight-point agenda that would also lead to the emergence of an Igbo President in 2015.
Apart from consolidating their campaign in favour of the Northern presidential candidate that would emerge from the group of four, the South East campaign coordinating groups have also intensified their fight for Igbo presidency in 2015 which has been adopted as a major political project by Ndigbo.
A member of the Ibrahim Babangida campaign organization, Professor Alphonsus Nwosu, spoke with newsmen after the meeting of the four campaign organizations in Enugu yesterday.
Nwosu said: “In realization that we are all going to merge under one candidate who would emerge as the presidential candidate from the North, we have started meeting to harmonize our position and share resources,” adding that the meeting was convened by the Igbo Political Forum led by former Central Bank Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo.
Noting that the meeting was intended to harmonize all the campaign organizations of the Northern presidential candidate for effective and coherent campaign in the Southeast zone was very cordial, Nwosu said participants “have developed an eight-point action agenda to convince our people on the need for Igbo presidency 2015 and share resources to achieve our objectives.”
He added: “We developed a slogan, ‘PDP – Power to Ndigbo and Power to Ndigbo 2015’ to show that our quest for 2015 is non-negotiable. That no matter how kind and friendly our neighbour can be, our destiny as Ndigbo lies in our hands.”
Nwosu, who is the Director of Strategy, Planning and Research for the IBB campaign organisation added that the meeting reviewed the recent endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan by the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and expressed shock over the comment by its President-General, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue that Ndigbo held several meetings with the Ijaw National Congress, INC without giving details of their agreements.
He said: “We were shocked that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo President-General, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, indicated that they had been holding meetings with Ijaw National Congress, INC, and we will like to know what the agreements they have reached so that we consider the agreements and see how they serve the Igbo interest.”
South east supporters
National Coordinator of Youths Ask for Goodluck, YAG, Barrister John Chijena who told Vanguard in a telephone interview that the Southeast supporters of the Northern Four were seeking for relevance, noted:
“They are trying to find relevance in the system. We all know that for stability that there is no better person to support at this time than President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Meanwhile, Ciroma has warned that the PDP would lose the election if it fielded Jonathan even as he denied speculations that the Committee had dropped Babangida and Saraki from further consideration. The denial was upon insinuations that the committee had in consideration of alleged negative baggages against Babangida and Saraki narrowed its choices to Atiku and Gusau.
Ciroma who spoke with newsmen said there was no brick wall among members of the committee and the four presidential aspirants on PDP platform from the North.
He noted that former Military President Ibrahim Babangida, Ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki and the immediate past National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau; had all signed an agreement and at the end of the day, would abide by the decision and outcome of the Committee.
On whether the Committee has ruled out Babangida and Saraki from the North Central, Ciroma said: “We have not ruled out anybody. We are just dealing with people who have been cleared. IBB and Saraki are from the North-Central, they are being considered.
“You have come to the right place to ascertain whether the speculation is true or not. The truth is that we who are involved in this process have not seen any brickwall. Everything is going according to plan and I believe that at the end of our exercise we will produce a consensus candidate that will be acceptable to the aspirants and to Nigerians.”
Ciroma who noted the committee was aware of the issue of time in getting a candidate for the North, said that it must follow a process that would be comprehensive and acceptable to, adding: “We are aware of the time problem because the time problem affects those who are the aspirants.
The aspirants now cannot let go in pursuing campaigning because they don’t know who among them is going to be the consensus candidate? If you are going to spend, you have to know whether you are the one.
“So it is their problem. It is a constraint on the candidates. So we know it. We ourselves want to do it as quickly aspossible, but still we have to follow a process that will be acceptable to them and to anybody who examines what we are doing.
So, we beginning I hope this week, but I cannot tell you when we will be able to do it but we also know but we have to do it in time to enable whoever emerges to campaign.”
Ciroma also said that members of the committee have gone round the North to get views, contributions and inputs from the people and these would be presented at its next meeting for discussions.
On whether there was any agreement that the aspirants would respect the decision reached by the committee, and whether the committee was not considering any other person, he said: “There are four presidential aspirants in the PDP and they are the ones we are considering. In this business of aspiration you can not bring in somebody who has not declared himself on a presidential aspirant.
On Zoning and Nigeria’s Constitution, which takes precedence, Ciroma answered: “Zoning is a party policy. The party in several instances sat down and said that it is in the interest of the party to have zoning and it was used in 1999, it succeeded. It was used in 2003, it succeeded.
It was used in 2007, it succeeded. The party, PDP, has a record of knowing that zoning and rotation works. It’s not against the constitution of Nigeria.
“If it was against the constitution, somebody would have taken the party and everybody to court for acting against the constitution. So, zoning and rotation is a party policy. The constitution of Nigeria allows persons to contest for any election, provided he has a party.
The PDP says these are the conditions for the party to produce a candidate. And people say two things which are rubbish: One is to say allow somebody who is competent to do it. You only allow people who declare to do it. Two, the competent ones are available every where.
“That is why you can justify zoning and rotation every where. Every part of this country, you can find somebody who is capable of running this country. So, zoning and rotation and competence are not exclusive of each other.
They can go together. And we hope it will go together as far as the North is concerned. Our basic problem is that the party has zoning and rotation as its policy. All the people involved in this political situation they know it.”
Asked to react to recent comments by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark on his person and whether he was bothered, Ciroma said: “My position is that at this age, I can not start trading insults with a statesman who is older than myself.
He has said what he wants to say about me. I have no reason to say anything about him. So I keep quiet. Even from the point of view of politics as well as normal human behaviour, my position remains the same.”
Party doesn’t exclude anyone, says Jonathan’s campaign organisation
Director of Media and Publicity of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Sully Abu in his reaction to Ciroma’s claims that the PDP would lose the election if it fielded Jonathan accused him of carrying a campaign to disparage the President.
While charging him to be a good team player, Abu said: “The party decision does not preclude anybody from exercising his or her rights to aspire for the highest position in the land.”
He noted that Ciroma has, on account of the party decision, continued the old song to disparage President Jonathan who has decided to exercise his rights under the constitution to jostle for the presidential ticket of his party.