It may not need a political expert to determine the direction of the political wind of the nation at the moment and the fact that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, is a key factor in it all. Though he is not alone, but he appears the one making the most visible moves at the moment.
His recent visit to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in Abeokuta has since opened the floodgates of speculations on the massive canvas of succession to Aso Rock in 2011. Will Umaru Yar’Adua seek reelection? How bright are his chances? What is the import of northern power brokers’ search for an alternative between Atiku and Ibrahim Babangida, former Military President, said to be equally eyeing the Villa? Will Atiku remain in the Action Congress (AC) where he ran to when things became too hot for him at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or return to his former party? These are the questions, which have been most prominent in political discussions lately.
While many observers believe the Obasanjo-Atiku rapprochement was informed by Atiku’s calculation that he needed the support of the former president and his loyalists in his bid for the presidency, others believe that fed up with Umaru Yar’Adua’s revisionist policy, which has seen his men and their policies being swept off rapidly, Obasanjo is seeking to maintain his hold on Nigeria’s power base by replacing Yar’Adua with another surrogate. The thinking is he needed somebody with as much political sway as Yar’Adua and Atiku equals the bill.
Since the Abeokuta reconciliation surprise, Obasanjo has also met with Ibrahim Babangida, another top contender for the presidency from the North. Though Babangida’s consistency is in doubt, there is no doubting the fact that he has been eyeing Aso Rock since he ‘stepped aside’ in 1993. Atiku and Babangida appear to be hankering after Obasanjo’s support, though the former military leader appears not to be doing so as freely as the former Vice President.
Atiku, has not failed to affirm his interest to vie for the presidency once again, after he was almost denied the chance in 2007. Instead, the only snag appears the platform. However, his apparent growing alienation from AC, the party he helped float at the thick of the 2007 polls, is one indication that he may eventually return to his old PDP tent.
Observers argue that the Yar’Adua’s perceived non-performance, his seeming absence from power – variously described as a permanent sabbatical – coupled with his inability to make strong impressions since his inauguration, is weighing against his chances of remaining in Aso Rock beyond 2011. Reports have it that the President’s men, nevertheless, have begun plans for his retention of power.
Even now, Atiku’s men are vehemently denying that the Abeokuta visit was prelude to Atiku’s return to the PDP. His spokesman, Garba Shehu, insists that although Atiku would contest the 2011 presidential poll, there was no indication yet under which platform he would run. Observers believe this clear prevarication points to the possibility that he considering a different party.
In any case, Atiku was loudly absent from the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the AC in Abuja, few days after the Ota visit. For analysts, this was a clear sign that he was prepared to dump the AC, the party that failed to win for him the presidential election held in April 2007. Shehu’s explanation was that his principal did not attend because he was not a member of the NEC. The former Vice President’s running mate in the last election, Ben Obi, was, however, quoted as being not only shocked, but livid that Atiku did not contact him in respect of the visit to Obasanjo.
However, indications are rife that Atiku may not be welcome in his former party, as some people are said to be giving him an unpleasant reception. They are said to have already begun to point at the party’s constitutional provision that he needs a membership period of at least two years to be eligible to contest for the presidency on its platform. If, indeed, he returns to the party, it has been argued, it would be as a fresh member, except proponents of his return could arrange some concession for him.
Even though the former Vice President has been trying to appease his allies, not a few of them are totally aghast over his current moves.
His erstwhile political ally, Isyaku Ibrahim, was one of the many associates who reportedly felt betrayed by the moves. He was quoted as saying that Atiku had ruined his political career. His words: "Atiku exhibited naivetÈ to think that PDP would give him the ticket in 2011. No serious politician would consider such a person worthy of the party’s ticket. Atiku’s best bet was to build the AC. But, if he thinks some funny governors who said they are controlling the party would get him the ticket, he is joking and naÔve. He is just an opportunist; if he tries it, I will work against him. Not just me, but those he betrayed. Atiku had close political confidants and followers that he didn’t even inform about his meeting with Obasanjo. That shows he lacks principles. Remember, many people left the PDP for his sake, and only for him to do this? He didn’t even have the common decency to tell his running mate in the last election, neither did he consult his associates."
Isyaku rejected the explanation of the meeting by the two mutual political combatants. He said: "That is preposterous. If Obasanjo said they met to help this country, was he not the one who destroyed Nigeria in the first place? They were there together; what did they do? He brought Nigeria to its knees. In some countries like China, Obasanjo would have been publicly executed. But I don’t blame them. Atiku and Obasanjo are not politicians. I consider their meeting as that of a retired soldier and a customs officer. Not men schooled in hard politics. Real politics is too serious for this kind of mockery."
There is yet the speculation that Atiku had declared he was going to re-contest the presidency in 2011 shortly after returning from the United States and before the Supreme Court judgment validating Yar’Adau’s presidency. Sources said Atiku had reached agreements with political leaders on the judgment in turn for a guarantee of a 2011 ticket.
Former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Abubakar Tsav, has said the Ota truce was part of a grand plan to work against the 2011 presidential ambition of Gen. Babangida. He also claimed that it might also be a plot against Yar’Adau’s presidency. Tsav warned Atiku to be very careful of Obasanjo and to learn from his experiences while in government. He said Obasanjo had nothing to offer, and that his getting close to Atiku at this time was to use and dump him again. His words: "I see the recent ‘courtesy’ visit by Atiku Abubakar on Obasanjo and relate it to the saying, ‘Cunny man die, cunny man bury am.’ It’s godly to reconcile but Atiku needs to be very careful because Obasanjo is poisonous and unforgiving. Atiku Abubakar wants to be the President of Nigeria at all cost, and he is entitled to nurse this ambition. Attempts by anti-Obasanjo forces to remove him as PDP BOT chairman having failed, everyone believes that to secure ticket for the presidency lies with OBJ. What is more, the papers have published that IBB wants to contest the 2011 presidential elections. Atiku’s courtesy visit on OBJ may be a new marriage arrangement designed to work against IBB. Are these people already plotting the fall of President Yar’Adua?"
Yar’Adua’s Game Plan
But Yar’Adua appears to be preparing for those who want to dislodge him. Though, in his usual stoic manner, he seems to be keeping his own strategies to his chest, there is the feeling that the gang up may not be a smooth sail.
Presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, told State House correspondents on January 26 in Abuja that there was no big deal about the Obasanjo-Atiku parley. He assured that Yar’Adua had no problem with the former president and ex- Vice-President coming together.
"Why should the President be uncomfortable with the former president and former vice- president?" he queried. Continuing, he said: "In fact, I rode on the same bus with them on Saturday in Katsina: the President, the Vice-President, the former President, former Vice-President and Gen. Babangida and it was fun. There is no big deal. I mean these were people who worked together for eight years; the abnormal thing will be that they are not together. So, that they are friends again, the President is very much comfortable with it, he has no problem with that."
It would appear Adeniyi, by this jolly response, was anxious to give the lie to widely held opinion that the Presidency was very uncomfortable with the unfolding political development.
Early in February, PDP governors under the aegis of the Nigerian Peoples Democratic Party Governors’ Forum submitted a proposal for the amendment of the party’s constitution to guarantee automatic second term tickets to a serving president, and governors.
The 21-page document already ratified by the forum and made available to the party’s hierarchy lists nine amendments to the constitution for ratification in the next national convention. According to the document, in the eight amendments, the governors want automatic tickets for any first term president and all first term governors.
The amendment proposed to Article 9.2(iv), according to them, should read: "The party shall issue automatic tickets to any first term serving president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all first term serving governors who have expressed interest to re-contest for a second term without going through party primaries."
The Governors’ Forum, however, indicated that the serving President would only be made to face primaries if there was a petition signed by two-thirds majority of members of the National Assembly and the governors indicating misconduct.
The petition would be further scrutinised and confirmed to be true before he will be made to go through the rigours of primaries. According to two-thirds document, the petition must also have been received by the National Executive Committee of the party, nine months before the primaries.
The document stated further: "In the case of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if there is a petition of misconduct supported by the majority of governors and elected members of the National Assembly from the party and;
"In the case of the governor of a state, such a petition is supported by 2/3 majority of PDP council chairmen and members of the state Houses of Assembly.
"Such a petition being received not later than nine months to the expiration of the tenure of such a candidate and the petition verified to be true by the National Executive Committee of the party.
"Where the National Executive Committee of the party verifies and finds the allegation in the petition to be true, the candidate would be subjected to primaries." Article 9.2(v) of the proposed amendment also sought to reverse the decision of Yar’Adua to divest himself of the title of party leader.
The President had said at the beginning of his tenure that state governors were not party leaders at the state levels, just as he himself was not the party leader at the national level.
The governors recommended that the original arrangement should be reverted to.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution relating to the organs of the party, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if a member of the party, shall be the leader of the party at the national level, while all state governors shall automatically assume the role of party leaders of their states," the document read.
The governors said the amendments were necessary to create an enabling environment for stability, purposeful leadership and dedication from public office holders.
They also claimed that allowing distinguished Nigerians such as governors and the President to be involved in primaries could be counter-productive and capable of generating undue tension with dire consequences for the party.
Meanwhile, the currents of events have made an alliance between Yar’Adua and Babangida a reasonable proposition. The two, going by feelers, may be working together towards 2011. Babangida had given the reason for withdrawing from the April 2007 presidential poll as stemming from his not wanting to contest against his ‘younger brother’ – Yar’Adua. The two, though, had not had much political co-operation since Yar’Adua moved into Aso Rock, despite the acclaimed relationship. Now it appears the situation would be different. Yar’Adua recently reached out to the former military President, when he appointed him a special envoy to negotiate with the military junta in Guinea, after a coup in that country. Yar’Adua is also rumoured to have given Babangida the opportunity to make input into federal appointments, especially ministerial. This is believed to be part of gestures by the President to court the former military president’s support in future.
According to political permutations, Yar’Adua may even back Babangida – whose political ambition remains strong – for a go at the presidency if he (Yar’Adua) becomes indisposed.
In all these, the suave northern political identity, seems to be playing a major part. The region, which currently holds the baton in the rotational presidency arrangement, has been insistent that it was holding it for two terms. This, some observers believe, has narrowed the choices at the moment to just Yar’Adua, Atiku, Babangidda, and possibly Muhammadu Buhari of All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP).
Northern leaders are said not to have been too impressed with Yar’Adua’s lacklustre performance in government for close to two years, and are reported to be considering other persons as replacement. They are reportedly not particularly happy with the failure of the government to meet people’s expectation on the power sector and equally unhappy about the palpable absence of success in the implementation of the government’s seven-point agenda. Aside, the touchy issue of the President’s medical condition, the nation’s leadership appears to be groping for a tangible path to thread, the zone may have concluded there is need to agree on an alternative candidate ahead 2011, to avoid being caught unawares. Despite this, lawmakers of northern extraction are said to have initiated a process by which they could establish useful liaison with the Presidency and help it improve on its record before 2011.
Although political observers have recognised the resilience of the two-term presidential standard-bearer of the ANPP (in 2003 and 2007), they agree that the outcome of his case at the Supreme Court would deter him, to a large extent, from running for the presidential post in 2011.
Notwithstanding, a close associate of the retired General has hinted of the possibility of his return to the soapbox in 2011.
"Buhari is a very patriotic Nigerian who will never lose faith in this project called Nigeria. He will continue to give his best at all times in the struggle for a better Nigeria. If the opportunity presents itself again, the General will still do Nigeria proud. It does not matter what the elements of the Dark Age are doing. One day, there will be light at the end of the tunnel," one of Buhari’s aides insists.
It has been widely reported that the ANPP presidential candidate has set up two committees to decide which party he should join among the five political parties that have invited him. There is likelihood that he may pitch his tent with the Labour Party.
The Buhari Organisation (TBO), the political outfit with which he prosecuted the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections, is expected to join any party he chooses en masse. ANPP National Chairman, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, has said the party has no objection to Buhari quitting.
One of the two committees set up by Buhari, headed by the National Publicity Secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Osita Okechukwu, is saddled with helping the retired general to make a choice of political party. The parties being considered are the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Peoples Salvation Party (PSP), National Conscience Party (NCP), Labour Party (LP) and Progressive Action Congress (PAC). Those at the meeting where Buhari decided to quit ANPP and set up the two committees were Air Vice Marshal Muktar, Faruk Demba, Buba Galadima, Mike Ahamba (SAN) and Sule Hamma. A source from TBO said Buhari told the committee that the party to be recommended must be one that embraces internal democracy within it. Buhari charged the two committees to search for any political party within the group that is willing to undergo internal democracy through a supervised convention by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In line with this, it was gathered that the committees have zeroed in on the Labour Party and the Progressive Action Congress (PAC), since the PRP and PSP have all northern chairmanship, a condition, it was gathered, Buhari is not favourably disposed to.
It was claimed Buhari prefers a party with a southern chairman. In view of this, it was gathered that the LP is seriously considering having its national convention towards the end of January 2009 in order to attract the recommendation of the committee.
Buhari’s spokesman, Okechukwu, confirmed that the ANPP candidate had decided to call it quits with the beleaguered party and team up with likeminds under what he called "a major coalition" to confront the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2011.
He said Buhari was currently consulting with leaders of some of the seven political parties that adopted him as their presidential candidate in the 2007 election and named the Action Congress (AC) and the Labour Party among others.
"Yes, Buhari will be meeting with his associates and supporters early this year (2009) to decide where we are going. He is still consulting widely. I can confirm that he is out of ANPP," Okechukwu said.
Responding to Buhari’s plan to quit the party, Ume-Ezeoke said: "This is a free country. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees him the freedom of free association. He is free to quit. With him leaving the party, he has shown he is not a true party man. I can assure you that ANPP will not lose sleep with Buhari quitting ANPP. We had expected him to quit the party before now."
A former governorship aspirant in Abia State under the platform of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Captain Jerry Ogbonna (rtd), however, advised that there must be a break from the old names that have been recycled for Nigerians for the race to Aso Rock.
His view: "We must have a clean break from the past; we must have new faces for the race and those with allegations of corruption must no longer be allowed or tolerated for that exalted position. We need a total shift from the ugly politics of the past that has been so corrupt. A politics that does not play to the rules of the game, politics of manoeuvring, politics of divide and rule, politics of selfish acquisition of wealth and celebration of fraud."
Ogbonna said a lot of injustice had been projected in the political system that the old players, especially the corrupt ones, should be prevented from future involvement in attempting to provide leadership. According to him: "They are not the only people in this country. Others should be given the opportunity to be part of leadership; so I think the best thing to do is for the old ones to leave the political scene as they have continued to lead us to work in circles."
Human rights activist and lawyer, Festus Keyamo, said it is all nonsense and immoral positioning for Aso Rock when there was the pressing need for electoral reform. "I think it is very immoral for us to be talking about election without first and foremost reforming the process that will produce a credible and transparent election. We must first reform; we must look at the content, character and the constitutional provision regarding the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before we begin to contemplate and think of the race to the presidency."
Keyamo added: "Those angling for political positions, if they are sincere, should add their voices to producing appropriate electoral reforms instead of clamouring for elections that will not be free nor fair."
Pioneer Chairman of APGA, Chekwas Okorie, agrees, warning that Nigeria may not witness another smooth transmission from one civilian government to another if the issue of the electoral reform was not properly tackled.
"Nigeria may not survive another round of election if the electoral law is not reformed. This is necessary if we must witness a credible election in which the peoples vote will count. There is a high level conspiracy to sabotage electoral reform.
"There was this Presidential Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform headed by Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan that involved five political parties in serious deliberations concerning our electoral process. Also Uwais committee drafted the supposed new electoral act and provision for its amendment. By now the Presidency should have passed the document as white paper; but nothing has been done. It is sad that even in Africa we are being left behind and until the right people are elected through a transparent process, we will not make the rapid improvement that we need."
Okorie added that majority of those clamouring for the presidency were still of PDP stock and said it only amounted to cowardice for the ruling party to be silent on the issue of electoral reforms. He stressed that they should subject themselves to popular test rather than riding through a flawed electoral process.
Beat Goes On
Whatever other politicians and analysts may say, the race to Aso Rock has begun in earnest, and whether Yar’Adua likes it or not, he will swim with the tide. The Nigerian electorate is once again about to realise that the most eloquent voice in Nigeria’s kind of democracy is the jostle for power and not how it is used for the benefit of the people.