AS the 2011 general elections draw nearer, presidential aspirants are beginning to clear the stage for the contest to Aso Rock. But unlike in 2007 when it was clear that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was serving his second and final term in office after he lost the bid to extend his tenure, the presidential race does not appear to have much tempo, at least for now, especially within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. This is not unconnected with the apparent difficulty in upstaging the president who is in total control of the party machinery. Though President Yar’adua has not declared his aspiration for a second term, nothing seems to suggest that he will turn down the PDP ticket.
But even as the door appears half closed for intending aspirants within the PDP, many of those who have their eyes on the presidency are said to be keeping vigil. What if President Yar’adua finally makes up his mind to bid farewell to the state house after his first tenure? There have been talks about his failing health, though the strong man seems determined to carry on.
In a media interview recently, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, chairman of the ANPP contact committee for the mega party arrangement observed that “Yar’ adua is doing his best” but then he said: “don’t forget that he is not a very healthy person; he needs part of the time to rest and there are certain issues that only Mr President has the prerogative to act and take decision on. Whether he is healthy or not the situation in Nigeria is beyond his capacity.”
When speculations made the rounds that Yar’adua might give way on account of his health, many aspirants especially those who fell to him in the 2007 primaries of the PDP were said to have started regrouping to strategise on how to outdo one another. Sometime last year, the president was temporarily brought down by his failing health and he had to be rushed abroad. Shortly after he came back, he fired the then Secretary to the Federal Government, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and there were speculations that it was not unconnected with some ambition for the presidency. Since then, the stage has been quiet.
In any case, the arithmetic for the presidency is better worked out far away from Wadata Plaza, headquarters of the PDP. In spite of the fraud that characterised the general elections in 2011, many opposition politicians have shown no sign of throwing in the towel. Some of them whose eyes are clearly on the presidency are working out plans to upstage the ruling PDP. Since last year, a coalition of several political associations led by notable politicians like Chief Anthony Enahoro, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) General Muhammdu Buhari have been meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a mega party to challenge the PDP in 2011. But expectedly, the coalition does not seem to be inching forward without problems. The proponents have accused the leadership of the PDP of plotting to scuttle the grand movement which hopes to perform the feat of the likes of the Orange Coalition in Kenya and the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. But the PDP has insisted that the accusations were baseless. Many of its leaders who reacted to the allegations of sabotage against the PDP said the proponents of the mega arrangement are strange bed fellows. “They will gather but surely, they will scatter,” the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor told journalists in Abuja last week. Some of the potential candidates are x-rayed below.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua
President Umaru Yar’adua currently occupies the presidency. Though there is concern about his health, many believe that he is not likely to let go the PDP ticket in 2011. In any case, he seems to be getting on well since he returned from treatment abroad last year. In addition, his close political allies who hold key positions in the government are said to be aghast to suggestions that he caves in.
A major hint suggesting that Yar’adua may pick the PDP ticket came when national leaders of the party gave him cater blanch to fly the ticket. Wadata Plaza appears to have shut the door for any serious competition when the Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed said early this year that President Yar’adua has the right of first refusal for the ticket of the party.
“By the Grace of God, he (President Yar’adua) will run. We are looking forward to another term and after that, he will not be interested. The seven-point agenda is designed for eight years. He is entitled to two terms of four years. There is nothing on ground to stop the President. If God allows it, PDP is ready and willing to give him 100 per cent support when the time comes,” Dr. Mohammed said.
But the licence to fly the party’s flag in the next election is not sacrosanct. Observers say anything can happen. In 2003, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was literarily brought down to his kneels when 19 PDP governors threatened to deny him the second term ticket, in preference for his former vice, Atiku Abubakar. In view of the foregoing, therefore, other aspirants may still have a live line if the political equation is turned against the president, observers have said. Sources say many of strong contenders in 2007 including General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau are watching the situation. Similarly, those close to Yar’adua, especially some state governors, are said to be on guard.
By and large, Sunday Trust investigation has revealed that there is said to be some silent division in the rank of the PDP over the candidature of President Yar’adua in the 2011 presidential election.
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