THE SUN Newspaper- Vincent Ukpong Kalu

At a time when suspicion is rife that President Goodluck Jonathan may succumb to pressure and run for presidency next year, despite the zoning arrangement of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the camp of former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, has started making efforts to have a grip of the southern part of the country, ahead of the presidential election.

Impeccable sources told Saturday Sun that the Babangida camp wants to have a foothold in at least one of the three geopolitical zones in the South, believing that it would boost its fortunes in the presidential election, even if Jonathan eventually runs.

It was gathered that although some prominent Yoruba politicians have secretly enlisted in the Babangida-for-president project, the retired General’s associates still believe that the South West may be a hard nut to crack, owing to the annulment of June 12, 1993 election presumably won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola.

To make up for this minus, the camp is, therefore, making effort to curry the favour of the South, especially the South East.

Saturday Sun gathered that the Babangida camp was, initially at a dilemma as to which of the zones, between South East and South South, that would produce the running mate to Babangida. Initially, especially before the death of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, the lot had fallen for South South to produce a running mate to Babangida. But after Jonathan assumed the office of president and with the speculation that he would contest the presidential election, the Babangida camp has settled for the South East to produce a running mate.

Why South East was favoured
Sources close to the Babangida camp revealed that the retired General, having examined the scenario of Jonathan contesting in the election, settled for the South East because he thinks that the offer of vice presidential ticket would win the Igbo to his side.

The bait, it was gathered, is to convince the South East that only a Babangida presidency, in 2011, would bring the Igbo back to political relevance. The South East is being told that if Jonathan runs for the president next year, he would pair with a northerner and if he wins, the post of the Senate President would be zoned to the South West, while Speaker of House of Representatives would go to the North. In such arrangement, the South East would not occupy any of the four top positions in the country.
Also, the South East is made to believe that if the Igbo support Babangida’s aspiration, the South East would produce a vice president, with the possibility of the zone producing the president in 2015.

The PDP crisis connection
It was gathered that the choice of a south easterner as running mate to Babangida played a part in the crisis that rocked the PDP, which has cost the national chairman of the party, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, his job.
The problem actually has its roots on personal interests, as some members of the PDP Reform Group want to be chosen as Babangida’s running mate. Suspecting that the power pendulum will swing towards the former military president, especially in the event that the PDP zoning arrangement would be respected, these elements want the restructure of the PDP, first, with the exit of Ogbulafor.

The Babangida camp has revealed that based on the retired General’s connection, the people scrambling for the position of vice president are out to ensure that the party is overhauled, with a view to ensuring internal democracy, which, they believe, would guarantee transparent primary elections. According to the source, if there is a well-organised primary election, Babangida stands a chance of picking the PDP ticket, even against Jonathan.

“What they want to achieve is to remove Ogbulafor, who is the apostle of affirmation of candidates,” a source said.

Former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, who is chairman of the steering committee of the PDP Reform Group, had said that notwithstanding the non-acceptance of his group’s campaign, change would eventually come to the party. According to him, “whether you accept what PDP Reform Group said now or not, change would come. If Ogbulafor becomes a collateral damage or becomes a victim of the change, so be it, but it should be understood that it is not at him… when you talk about rigging, much of the activities happen before the general elections.”

Choice of running mate
Senator Nnamani is touted to be one of the favourites on the list of those being considered as Babangida’s running mate. Nnamani is considered because of the goodwill he garnered when he served as Senate President, especially with the rejection of the third term plot by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Also being penciled down for the post of vice president is another Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, from Ebonyi State. Although Anyim is neutral in the crisis that led to the exit of Ogbulafor and actually gunning to be the national chairman of the party, it was gathered that he is on the list of those who maybe approached to run with Babangida next year. The calculation is that Obasanjo would influence the rejection of Anyim as PDP national chairman and, therefore, he would be free for higher elective position.

Earlier plan for South South
Until President Yar’Adua died, the Babangida camp considered picking a running mate from South South. Although Jonathan was acting president then, the Babangida camp wanted to reach out to him to be the retired General’s running mate in the election. Jonathan alluded to the possibility of him being running mate to a candidate in the election when he told the CNN, during his visit to the United States, that one of the options before him was to be a running mate.

However, with the death of Yar’Adua and Jonathan’s assumption of the office of president, the initial calculation has been overtaken by events. The other option was to pick another notable politician from the zone. The lot had fallen on former Rivers State governor, Dr. Peter Odili, who is also a member of the PDP Reform Group. Odili’s Igbo affinity, coming from the Igbo speaking area of Rivers State and marrying an Igbo wife, endeared him to the group shopping for a running mate for Babangida then. However, with rumour of Jonathan’s interest in contesting the election next year, the Odili option appears to have been jettisoned.

Anticipated PDP collapse
Although Jonathan has not come out to say that he would contest the presidential election next year, there is palpable anxiety among associates of Babangida that the president would eventually do that. Therefore, the Babangida group has an alternate plan.

Saturday Sun can authoritatively quote that Babangida would press on with his presidential aspiration on the platform of the PDP, even if Jonathan later decides to run. Those close to him say the would challenge Jonathan at the PDP primaries, hoping that his political clout and the party’s zoning arrangement would work in his favour.

“The General will go the whole hog. If the president decides to contest, it would not make IBB to forget his ambition. He would contest for the PDP ticket. If he wins, all well and good, but if he loses the ticket, we will consider the Option B, which is to defect to another party,” a source close to the Babangida camp said.
In the event that Jonathan picks the PDP ticket, it was gathered that the Babangida camp may settle for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to prosecute his presidential ambition. It is believed that some other prominent politicians in the North, who would be piqued by the dumping of the PDP zoning arrangement, may pull out of the PDP with him.

It is in such a situation that the South East connection is expected to boost Babangida chances.


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