Can Northern Governors Stop Jonathan?

Without admitting it publicly, the greatest problem northerners in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have in wrestling the 2011 presidential ticket of the party from President Goodluck Jonathan is the absence of a formidable aspirant that can win votes across the country. Even with their victory at the last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party held recently, that problem still persists. The PDP NEC had voted for zoning but said Jonathan could still contest to complete the joint ticket he has with Yar’Adua that should run through to 2015.

When the Northern Governors’ Forum met last month in Kaduna to take a decision on zoning as it concerns the 2011 presidency, 10 out of the 18 governors present voted for zoning while seven voted against with one abstaining. The only governor that was absent is Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State. The governors who voted said they voted in line with the wishes of their people.

The declaration of former military president Ibrahim Babangida of his intention to contest on the platform of PDP has not done much to calm the nerves of agitated northerners. The attempt by former vice president, Atiku Abubakar to seek the ticket of the party is being thwarted by Murtala Nyako, his own state governor.

Despite the agitation by the Northern Political Forum led by elder statesman, Adamu Ciroma, the northern political elite in the ruling party do not feel comfortable with Babangida’s aspiration. With the baggage the former military president is carrying especially with regard to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election and the murder through parcel bomb of Dele Giwa, founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch in 1986 both during his regime, Babangida is hugely unpopular. Even in the north, he appears to be hard sell. So the fear is that in an open contest between Babangida and Jonathan, the incumbent will carry the day. This is giving the northern political elite sleepless nights.

It is in realization of this that the northern governors, determined to ensure that the north clinches the presidency in 2011, are regrouping and strategising to line up behind one of their own to compete for the ticket with Jonathan.

BusinessDay investigations reveal that the governors who may be nursing the idea are Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Murtala Nyako, Adamawa State; Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, Danjuma Goje of Gombe State and Bukola Saraki of Kwara State. Though none of these governors has publicly declared an intention to vie for the party’s 2011 presidential ticket, it is necessary to look at the chances of each.

Babangida Aliyu, Niger State
As governor of Niger State, he has endeared himself to the people. He prefers to be called chief servant of the state rather than executive governor, which other governors prefer and is currently the chairman of the NGF. A former permanent secretary, Aliyu is an intellectual and he has brought this to bear on his style of governance.

He was one of the vociferous supporters of President Jonathan but he apparently got disappointed when Jonathan did not look his way when searching for a vice president, a position that went to Namadi Sambo, then governor of Kaduna State.

Since losing out of the race to be vice president, Aliyu has maintained a subdued adversarial posture towards Jonathan. He turned full circle from initially counseling against zoning saying then that it was undemocratic to being a champion of it now. In his welcome address at the last NGF meeting in Kaduna, he had implied that the agitation for zoning was based on the need for integrity and justice.

But the governor has to contend with Babangida if he makes up his mind to contest. It is inconceivable that two aspirants will come from the same state though both men (the governor and the former military president) are not the best of friends owing to the perceived intention of the former military president to position his son, Mohammed, to vie for the governorship of Niger State. Aliyu is a first term governor and will like to seek a second term if he feels that the presidential ticket of the party will be difficult to get as it appears to be now.

Murtala Nyako, Adamawa State
It appears Nyako’s main objective in considering running for the 2011 presidency on PDP platform will be to stop Atiku, who has become his greatest political opponent in Adamawa State. Nyako, a former Chief of Naval Staff, is also a first term governor. His main pre-occupation is to retain his present position in 2011. He will only join the fray if he is sure the coast is clear but so far it is not. He may just be contented stopping Atiku from contesting and working for whoever the north brings out to compete with Jonathan rather than testing the waters himself.

Sule Lamido, Jigawa State
He was at one time minister of foreign affairs under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Even when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was ill, Lamido was one of those speculated to stand a good chance to be fielded by the north in 2011 in the event that Yar’Adua declined to seek re-election on health grounds.

Lamido is seen as one of the governors very close to Obasanjo. This may count against him among his immediate constituency, the north, if he decides to throw his hat in the ring. It is not yet certain how he will be able to galvanise other governors to work for him if he decides to take a plunge.

Danjuma Goje, Gombe State
Among the governors of this period, Goje is seen as one who has performed well. However, for him to pick the 2011 presidential ticket of PDP, he needs hard work and luck. He will have to reach across to other governors not only in the north but the country as a whole.

Bukola Saraki, Kwara State
Saraki’s concern now must be what becomes of his political future as he completes his second term as governor in 2011. His sister, Gbemi, a senator, is angling to take over from him as governor of Kwara State in 2011. The impression that creates is that under the guidance of the patriarch, Olusola Saraki, the family wants to run Kwara State as fiefdom. Many indigenes of the state are already complaining.

The Kwara State governor has been chairman of the very influential Governors’ Forum in the last three years, a position that increased his profile among his fellow governors.

At the same time he has never hidden his uneasiness with Jonathan right from the time Yar’Adua was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia and there was agitation by the public and civil society for the then Vice to be made acting president. Even the initial attempt by the governors and the leadership of PDP under former national chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, to curtail Jonathan’s powers was championed by Saraki. In addition, he (Saraki) has always seen himself as a presidential material, so it will not be out of place for him to seek to pick the party’s ticket if he is assured of support.

The problem he is likely to have is that the far north sees him more as a Yoruba man than a northerner. Besides, the mainstream Middle Belt political elite, desirous of untying theemselves from the apron strings of the far north, are working for Jonathan to pick the 2011 ticket. This fractured home support base may stand in the way of Saraki.

In all, as it stands today, none of the governors mentioned above has enough structure to upstage Jonathan though the situation may change in the weeks ahead.

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