Jonathan: Challenge of choosing Vice President

By By Akpo Esajere Group Political Editor   |   10 May 2010   |   2:19 pm  
The race for Vice President under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is not new. It’s been on. It even became frenzied during and after the making of Acting President. There was however a kind of tow, after President Umaru Yar’Adua who died last Wednesday was brought back home from his medical sojourn in Saudi Arabia.

As days and weeks passed and the sick President was not making it to the public, suspense and uncertainty rather pervaded the stage during which the political establishment seemingly resolved to hold fire. And so, nothing was done to humiliate the then ailing President: he was not declared incapacitated nor was he impeached from office. When, however, Yar’Adua died last week, it led to instant and radical change of the situation.

Jonathan and 2011

Sworn in last Thursday morning, Jonathan is now substantive President. For the next one year, he is in-charge. If Yar’Adua had not died and he had operated through the period as Acting President, his status, carriage and calculations being different, indeed substantially different from what it is now, would probably have made it a lot easier for a whole lot of things to be managed. For example, while it was probably quite easy for him as Acting President to walk away in 2011 after installing a President of northern extraction, will he now as President quit the stage after only one year?

In order words, which Jonathan picks, as Vice President would be an indication of his schemes and calculations for the future. If he wants to run in 2011, he is not likely to go for “too strong a politician,” interpreted to mean one who nurses obvious presidential ambition and more likely to use the VP to engage in his own subtle and open campaigns for the presidency. He is therefore more likely to go for a “strong northerner,” meaning one with the right levers to mobilize and what it takes to sell Jonathan’s candidacy to the North.

This is probably why the name of Mukhtar Shagari, the deputy governor of Sokoto State, a powerful religious/political centre of the North is among those currently ruling the airwaves. He is a deputy governor; some state governors are said to be envious of Jonathan who became governor by happenstance, and was only going to contest to become an elected governor when he was elevated to Vice Presidential candidate, and then Acting President and now President by the lovely hands of destiny.

Mukhtar is described as self-effacing as his uncle, former President Shehu Shagari, a quality that would blend very much with Jonathan, besides his coming from the Northwest to which the PDP had zoned the President, which also means that the Northwest and South-South, which the party originally gave Vice President, would only swap slots in the event of Jonathan running.

A name that also suddenly cropped up last week on this score was the Lamido Sanusi Lamido, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, which some described as “dashing, very possible” option. Here too, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Aliyu Gusau (rtd), comes in. He is from Kebbi State in the Northwest. Since his return as the NSA, he has been working closely with the President. At 68, he would be grateful to Jonathan if the President were to make him VP. Like Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) who is also posturing for the presidency, he would be quite prepared to do one term, thus rounding up the northern two-term share by 2015. Gusau could also work for Jonathan running in 2011.

Gusau and IBB are said to want Jonathan to help them for one term, while positioning himself (Jonathan) for 2015 to pursue an open two terms share for the South-south under the PDP zoning arrangement. But here there is no guarantee that a new northern President would not ogle for a fresh two terms since Yar’Adua did not complete a full term or that, failing to achieve that, he would not mobilize the North to move en-mass into another political party like the ANPP.

So far, the discernible northern consensus is that President Jonathan should play the hero, be a political icon by doing his best for the country in the testy one year available to him and simply leave at the end of it, the idea being to enable the North to wrap up its share of presidential power under the PDP zoning arrangement. Although this could easily guarantee for Jonathan a place as the most popular political figure in Nigeria’s history, the President is also under serious pressure to “go all the way,” interpreted to mean he should contest the 2011 presidential election. Here, the argument is that, coming from the South-south, the country’s economic base, which in any case has also never tasted presidential power, it would be unfair to expect him to meekly acquiesce to the zoning formula: he should take a shot at the presidency.

Thus it is argued that it not easy for Jonathan, now President, to go again to be someone’s running mate or gamble with destiny by quitting in 2011 and hope that the media and the civil society, ever so supportive of an icon, would clamor for him and indeed sustain his popularity for four years to enable him stage a return in a blaze of glory in 2015.

Jonathan and contending forces

There are not only disagreements; politicians are right now seemingly sharing deep-seated and rather implacable animosities in the current power struggles.

Obasanjo: The role of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said to be a powerful force in the Jonathan administration, is provoking extreme passions in many circles. The former President has been reported as urging Jonathan to run, claiming to be unaware of any zoning arrangement in the PDP. Scores of northern elements have been advising Jonathan to be wary of Obasanjo. They have never hidden their antagonism to Obasanjo.

Some Ijaws (Jonathan’s ethnic stock) are also said to caution Jonathan to distance himself from Obasanjo as the mere mention of the former President provokes all forms of ill feeling and capable of spoiling whatever collaboration they were trying to build. Interestingly, the candidate for Vice President said to be on the mind of Obasanjo, according to those close to him is Mukhtar Shagari. It is not the Jigawa State governor Alhaji Sule lamido as has been highly speculated. It is said that he is rooting for Shagari for VP, being that he is all for retiring as many old hats as possible from active politics and aspiring to elective offices. Some sources claimed he is opposed to Gusau becoming VP.

Danjuma: While Obasanjo would not back Gusau to emerge as VP, Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd), the hugely influential chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) set up by Jonathan is said to be for Gusau being made VP. Unlike Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida, who is talking about contesting, would not support Gusau for VP. Gusau himself would however want Babangida to support him.

Yayale Ahmed: The secretary to the government of the federation may be described as non-political, in the sense that he is not likely to eye the presidency and can be relied upon as VP to work professionally with his boss to achieve set goals. Although zone is against him (he is from Bauchi in the Northeast), he is rated as the most tolerable or least offensive of the candidates.

Atiku Abubakar: Although the former Vice President has not formally announced his presidential ambition under the PDP where he has returned, he seems more concerned with whether or not Jonathan would run-an indication that he is preparing to fight the PDP primaries.

State governors: Most of the state governors were with Yar’Adua. They were against Jonathan running in 2011. But the President might now be lobbying them by offering some carrots, including the VP slot. The PDP governors cannot be wished away. At the party primary to nominate its presidential candidate, the state executives become even more powerful, wielding mighty influence as leaders of their states’ delegates, especially with their power of patronage. It is an influential caucus, accounting for the bandying of names like Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Bukola Saraki (Kwara) and Babangida Aliyu (Niger).

Remnants of Yar’Adua: The remainder of the Yar’Adua associates would like one of their won, especially the suave governor of Bauchi State, Isa Yuguda, who is the departed President’s son in-law. But that is largely emotive. Saraki and Aliyu are from North Central while Goje and Yuguda are from the Northeast. Lately, there have been campaigns to look around every part of the North for competent, credible people to run, and not to limit the search to the Northwest. Some of these governors were said to be behind the campaign although it also clears the way for the likes of IBB and Buba Marwa.

Wild cards: President Jonathan could well propose former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu would easily gain the sympathy of the civil society and the international community, but likely to spark off a fiery challenge in the National Assembly, which is to approve the VP.

Ribadu’s nomination could give the President room for a little political footwork. If he (President) puts up Ribadu, he would most certainly score with the civil society but not the Natioanl Assembly. And if the National Assembly were to reject it, then the momentum would be on the side of the President who could be free to name any other person, by which time the National Assembly would have lost much of the levers to reject.



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