By JIDE AJANI & EMMANUEL AZIKEN
LAGOS — INTERESTS and intrigues among party chieftains are stalling the final choice of a vice-presidential candidate for the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN ahead of the commencement of electioneering campaigns on Wednesday.
The party’s presidential candidate and erstwhile anti-graft czar, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, it was learnt, is rooting for former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige, and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani in a descending order.
However, party elders from the Southwest and notably a former Governor believed to be a financier of the party, are pushing the Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze.
Akabueze, from Imo State, served in the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu administration as Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget and was retained in the same portfolio by Tinubu’s successor, Babatunde Fashola. Vanguard learnt that Ribadu has tabled his choice as Ngige but the party elders are not satisfied and are canvassing Akabueze.
Ribadu’s choice of Ngige was believed to be based on electoral acceptability and the democratic credentials he presented when he served as Governor of Anambra State between 2003 and 2005. Ngige was also chairman of the party’s National Convention Committee.
Vanguard learnt that at a meeting of Thursday, February 10, held at the ACN National Campaign Headquarters late in the evening, about 10 members of the party were present and the issue was on how to resolve what was described as the “emerging face off between Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu over the choice of presidential running mate for the party”.
Vanguard gathered that among those present at the meeting were Chief Bisi Akande, National Chairman, Senator Lawal Shuaibu, National Secretary, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Uche Onyeagocha, Chido Onuma and Lukman Salihu.
A source told Vanguard that whereas Ribadu is insisting on choosing his own running mate, Tinubu declaring that it was for him to determine who runs with Ribadu.
Whereas, the source continued, Ribadu wants a professional as his running mate from the South East geo-political zone, Tinubu is of the view that “two professionals may not be in a position to effectively mobilize against the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
“Tinubu’s position is clear and it is obvious that even Ribadu himself is a professional and, therefore, pitching him with another professional would not be in the electoral interest of the party.”
Dropping of Okonjo-Iweala
Vanguard was reliably informed that, three days earlier, February 7, 2011, the meeting of the leadership of the party had disagreed and eventually dropped the name of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as running mate, a choice ostensibly put forward by Ribadu
At the February 10 meeting, Chief Akande reportedly told the gathering that “Ribadu should be advised on the implications of having problems with Tinubu” because the latter did everything possible to ensure that Ribadu emerged as the ACN presidential candidate.
In fact, one of those present at the meeting said the “matter was being compounded by comments of those pitching their tent with both Ribadu and Tinubu and, there, advised that comments to be made must be weighed thoroughly so as not to further create more confusion.”
The meeting acknowledged that the party was wasting precious time, while one of those in attendance noted that “the President is already traversing the entire country on campaign tour while we are here talking about the issue of running mate”.
One of those in attendance warned of the dangers of not “getting it right this time around because this is our last chance and if we fail, may be we should all go and join the PDP and accept that the PDP has conquered all of us”.
The ACN had in the interim slated one Stanley Ogochukwu as the presidential running mate. Ogochukwu choice, Vanguard learnt, followed disagreements over the definitive choice of a running mate. Normally reliable party sources told Vanguard, yesterday, that the substitution was going to be made within the next few days.
A top party choice told Vanguard: “I can confidently tell you that it is between Ngige and Ken Nnamani,” though other party sources cited the emergence of Akabueze as a potential surprise. Akabueze, a former top banker has been hailed for bringing professional expertise to the management of budget and economic planning in Lagos.
The party which is flagging off its presidential campaigns, Wednesday, has until next Monday, February 21 to alter its presidential ticket. It could not be confirmed, yesterday, whether the alterations would be made ahead of the commencement of the presidential campaign beginning with the colloquium in Abuja. The party is also expected to unveil its manifesto on that day.
The ACN in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the decision to flag off the campaign with a colloquium, instead of the usual jamboree, was an indication that the party would make its campaign issues-based and ensure that all hands are on deck for the rapid transformation of Nigeria, once it is voted into power at the centre.
Mohammed said the colloquium would make it possible for Nigerians from all walks of life to make their inputs into the party manifesto and agenda, adding: “This manifesto and agenda encompass our contract with Nigerians. Therefore we intend to use the colloquium not only to present our programme to make Nigeria a proud member of the comity of nations, but also to ensure that Nigerians own the programme.”
Explaining the format, ACN spokesman said Chief Audu Ogbe will flag off the session with a brief overview of the party’s manifesto, after which speakers would take on each topic to provoke a debate – through discussions – that will at the end enrich the issues.