By EMMANUEL AZIKEN, Political Editor & ABDULSALAM MUHAMMAD
ABUJA – THE 2011 presidential contest, weekend, inched towards more suspense following renewed secret efforts by opposition candidates to mount a united front against President Goodluck Jonathan, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Vanguard learnt from authoritative sources that the outcome of this weekend’s National Assembly elections would form the basis of choosing between Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, who would wear the common mantle of the opposition.
President Jonathan on his part was unrelenting. After ending his open campaign for votes at the Abuja Grand Finale rally on Saturday, the President immediately resorted to dialogue with critical stakeholders through the constitution of 15 committees expected to fan out to critical segments of the society where support for Jonathan has not been totally consolidated.
It was gathered that while the President was confident of winning the race at the first ballot, he was, however, becoming concerned on building a legacy framed on a free and fair contest.
Vanguard was told that Jonathan was equally not giving up on bringing fellow presidential contenders in the PDP, President Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar and Gen. Aliyu Gusau on board.
The gestures towards the three aspirants were irrespective of insinuations, weekend, in Abuja that Babangida, Atiku and Gusau were now covertly supporting the Buhari campaign.
The three were part of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, scheme to realize a Northern presidential candidate for the PDP.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, said yesterday: “President Jonathan is not the one to say he is closing his doors to dialogue especially when it concerns Nigeria.”
While noting the President’s determination to bring everybody on board, Douglas played down speculations that the President spurned an agreement desired by the NPLF to coerce him to name the zone that would succeed him.
He said the President was not one that would allow the common destiny of Nigeria to be so determined in an undemocratic and closeted manner, adding that the committees would be bringing fresh air to smoothen the President’s election.
Campaign of ideas
Douglas said: “What is happening is that a massive campaign of ideas has been launched as the second phase of the 2011 campaign. His campaign is now moving from zone to zone, state to state, local government to local government, neighbour to neighbour and door to door and because Jonathan emerged from the grassroots, he has returned once again to the grassroots with a view to uplifting the grass roots to the rooftops of rapid development, equity and justice.”
In affirming that the President would win more than 70 per cent of the votes and would not need a run_off, he said the voting pattern at the primaries showed that the President won 53 per cent of the votes from the Northwest and coasted to victory in four out of the seven states of the region.
He said: “From all the analysis, internal and external, it has become clear to us that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan will win the presidential election by as much as 75 percent of the total votes cast. You don’t need to look too far to see where the opinion polls are pointing towards.”
On the patriotic inclinations of IBB, Atiku and Gusau, he expressed hope that the erstwhile presidential gladiators would come aboard the Jonathan/Sambo campaign train, adding: “IBB, Gusau and Atiku desire the good governance of Nigeria and will never exclude themselves from good.”
Jonathan can win without North West – Yakassai
Meanwhile, the President’s campaign efforts were being boosted by the seeming support for stability in the polity from Kano elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassi, who until recently was a known opponent of President Jonathan’s election bid.
Yakassi, weekend, affirmed that the President could win the contest without the Northwest. In an interview with a local radio station in Kano, Pyramid Radio, Yakassi, noted that the reality on ground favoured the PDP flag bearer.
He said: “It will be easy for him to win without the North West. As it stands now, if Jonathan goes ahead to win 25 per cent of the total votes cast in the 17 Southern states, what is left for him is to get similar percentage in just seven states of the North, and he wins.”
Meanwhile, apprehensive of the seeming momentum for Jonathan, Vanguard learnt that the opposition, was articulating a last minute initiative to stop the President.
At the centre of the plan is to field a common presidential candidate from the North. The CPC and ACN who both have Northern presidential candidates, it was learnt, have bought into the scheme which is to be concretized after the National Assembly elections.
A reliable senior official in one of the two parties said: “The National Assembly polls will show which of the parties is stronger on the ground and it is based on this that we will now ask one of the candidates to step down.”
The Director of Media in the Nuhu Ribadu Campaign Organisation, Mallam Ibrahim Modibo, also confirmed the ongoing arrangement. He told Vanguard on the road to Jalingo where Ribadu is holding a presidential campaign rally today: “It is not ruled out and it would be wonderful if we are able to present a common candidate.”
President appeals to Islamic leaders
Meanwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, in Kaduna appealed to Islamic leaders and scholars under the auspices of the National Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111, on the need to continue to educate their members to seek peace and stability in the country, noting that Nigerians tend to listen more to religious and traditional leaders more than they do their political leaders.
Speaking at the well attended meeting with the eminent Islamic leaders across the country, President Jonathan said: “We have to revere and rely on our religious leaders because it is you that will tell the people the truth.
You are holding unique offices and so you are the only ones that can talk to Nigerians to avoid chaos during the elections.”
President Jonathan who apologized for not meeting the leaders and clerics before embarking on his nationwide campaign earlier solicited for their prayers and counsel to guarantee the much needed peaceful co-existence amongst Nigerians particularly as the elections were around the corner.
He said nobody should carry weapons to kill or maim people in the name of politics arguing that no country can develop in the midst of crisis and that crisis will scare away investors.
Pursuit of power stability
President Jonathan assured the leaders that if renewed, his government will vigorously pursue power stability as well as revitalize the irrigation projects through the introduction of modern farming equipment.
While condemning the recent killings and destruction of property in Akwa Ibom, he assured that his government will give priority to security of lives and property.
He said: “Due to my humble background, I should be the last person to put bumps on people’s paths, I will never do anything to stop anybody from expressing himself.”
The Sultan of Sokoto Muhammed Sa’ad Abubabar III, said muslims in the country were concerned about ways of tackling the incessant political/religious crisis in the country and the way forward.
He said: “As a leader I am only the mouthpiece of all Muslims in the country. All Muslim leaders are very serious about leadership in the country and our belief is that it is Almighty Allah that gives leadership to whom he bestowed.”
Sultan Abubakar commended President Jonathan for reaching out to all religious and traditional rulers and other groups across the country, saying he was the first to do so urging him not to relent.
Islamic leaders present at the meeting were the Emirs of Kano, Zazzau, Katsina, Shehu of Borno and prominent Islamic scholars across the country.
Also present were Ministers of Science and Technology, Transport, National Planning and Agriculture as well as ministers of state, Defence and Power.
Acting PDP chairman, Dr Haliru Bello and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed and presidential aides were also present.