Babngida and Atiku
•PDP chairmanship contest down to three-man race
•South-West aspirants to produce consensus candidate
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Wole Mosedami & Dirisu Yakubu
Journalists and supporters of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar were, yesterday, shocked after the former vice-president came out from a meeting with former President Ibrahim Babangida with a long face reflective of a red card shown to his 2019 presidential aspiration.
Atiku, who arrived Minna airport to a cheerful reception from his supporters, breezed past the same supporters after a one and half hour closed-door meeting with Babangida during which the latter was said to have asked him to forget his presidential aspiration.
Meanwhile, the leadership contest for Atiku’s new political platform, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was, last night, turning into a heated three-man contest in the most competitive leadership contest in the history of the party.
Ahead of the contest scheduled to play out tomorrow, Prince Uche Secondus, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, and Prof. Tunde Adeniran were said to have emerged out of the pack of eight candidates in a contest in which the dominance of the governors was being put to serious test.
Ahead of the election tomorrow, party officials have scheduled a meeting with all nine declared candidates for this morning. It was the expectation of some of party chieftains, last night, that this morning’s meeting would be used to build a consensus among the candidates.
Yesterday, following series of meetings among the six Southwest candidates in Abuja, it emerged that some of them were inclining themselves towards a consensus candidate from the region.
A consensus was yet to be arrived at mainly because Prof. Adeniran, who has acquired a national momentum, has, however, failed to impress his home base.
The meeting between the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led Convention Committee and the eight candidates scheduled for 10.00 a.m. at the National Secretariat of the party is to be followed by another meeting with candidates in the other 20 positions on offer tomorrow and subsequently with chairmen of the state chapters of the party.
Atiku meets Babangida
The former Vice President arrived the Minna International Airport in a private aircraft, marked T7AAA, at about 12.15 p.m.
He was met at the Airport by Niger State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, and a team of PDP officials, led by the immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu; the state party chairman, Tanko Beji, among others.
Atiku then proceeded to greet scores of supporters who had been waiting to welcome him but had not been allowed by airport security personnel to approach the tarmac.
Following the airport ceremonies, he immediately drove straight to the former Military President’s uphill mansion and on arrival, was ushered into one of the sitting rooms.
After the exchange of pleasantries, Atiku, Babangida and former Governor Aliyu were left alone.
Vanguard gathered that after spending about 45 minutes in the meeting, Aliyu was also excused out of the sitting room, leaving only Atiku and Babangida who stayed together for another one and half hours.
Though none of the two men spoke at the end of the meeting, Vanguard reliably gathered that the ambition of the former president hit a brick wall as Gen. Babangida was said to have advised him to drop his presidential ambition.
Atiku, who was besieged by anxious journalists immediately after the long meeting, snubbed them as his security aides prevented them from even going close to him.
“Please pave way; he is not ready to speak with you,’’ the body guards chorused, as their boss made straight for his waiting vehicle that drove him to the airport.
At the airport, the former Vice President also shunned party supporters and journalists who had waited patiently to bid him bye-bye.
Wearing a long face, the former vice president walked straight into the aircraft; a development Vanguard gathered arose from the negative nod from President Babangida to his presidential aspiration.
Southwest works on consensus
Meanwhile, the nine aspirants for the chairmanship of the PDP were, yesterday, perfecting their plans.
The candidates from the Southwest in an apparent move to cut down the number of aspirants heading into the contest tomorrow were, last night, engrossed in a meeting which was allegedly being spearheaded by Senator Rasheed Ladoja who had also met one-on-one with nearly all the aspirants.
The candidates, who met on Wednesday in Senator Ladoja’s office, were still locked over the issue at press time, last night.
Ladoja told Vanguard, last night: “The decision stemmed from a meeting in my office. It is true we are working on a consensus candidate.”
Further meetings by the Southwest candidates, Vanguard learned, are continuing today and an agreement may not be reached until early tomorrow morning.
Dokpesi vows to pursue contest to convention ground
Irrespective of the move by the Southwest, Dr. Dokpesi was unbending, yesterday, in his quest, vowing that the contest would go to the convention ground.
Dismissing claims that he was stepping down, Dokpesi in a statement issued by Mr. Ide Eguabor, Chairman of the Dokpesi Campaign Organisation said: “It has come to my attention and that of the Raymond Dokpesi Campaign Organization that speculations are rife to the effect that our principal, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi has succumbed to political pressure and agreed to drop out of the race for the office of the national chairman of our great party (PDP).
Nothing can indeed be farther from the truth.
“Chief Dokpesi is not only a front-runner but remains the aspirant to beat at the convention grounds on Saturday.
“We urge teeming members and party delegates to disregard and ignore such cheap and diversionary antics aimed at causing ill wind in the PDP.
“Chief Dokpesi will not step down, and those who wish so are advised to redirect their energies to campaigns that will benefit their aspirants rather dissipate positive energy in negative direction.
“The national convention is the first effort by the PDP since inception at entrenching an internal democratic process that will deepen our democracy.
“Let him who is running behind in this race remain behind or run faster than the man in front. The impunity and imposition of the past have long gone out of fashion.
“The delegates will decide every contestant’s faith, and we should all agree to abide and accept the convention decision. Only that the process must be free, fair and credible,” the Dokpesi campaign said.
Meanwhile, the Adeniran campaign organisation, yesterday, declared its satisfaction with responses to its petitions ahead of the party’s convention, assuring that Adeniran was ready for the delegate election.
In a media briefing by the Director General of his campaign organisation, Shehu Gabam, Adeniran said governors elected on the platform of the party have all pledged to make the convention credible and transparent.
Gabam, who noted that the campaigns so far have been issue-based stressed that aspirants have been interacting amongst themselves with a view to making the party stronger regardless of who emerges the winner at the end of the contest.
Secondus, who had emerged as the favourite in the consideration of the alleged support of the governors was, last night, huddled in meetings with different caucuses including National Assembly.
The prospects of Secondus, Vanguard gathered last night, was, however, receiving serious challenge mainly from Dokpesi and Adeniran who were building up momentum some party enthusiasts say may only be determined on the convention ground.