2011: Forces against Jonathan in the South-South

THE SUN Newspaper- Femi Folaranmi

For casual observers of the politics of the South-South, the recent alarm by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State that some people are building a wall around President Goodluck Jonathan to hijack the Presidency and deny other people access to him was a foul cry.

But for close watchers of political events since the inauguration of Jonathan as President, Uduaghan ‘s alarm mirrors secret fears nursed by the six governors of the region who were perceived to have attempted to frustrate the emergence of Jonathan as acting-president at the height of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua hospitalization in Saudi Arabia.

The alarm also exposes the growing fears discussed in hushed tones among other ethnic groups that some people are selling the idea of Ijaw domination in the region to the Presidency as part of the 2011 presidential project.
For a region that would play a critical role in the 2011 elections if Jonathan as his body language suggests, eventually throws his hat into the presidential contest, then mutual suspicion, secret fears and politics of isolation are ominous signs that could abbreviate Jonathan’s 2011 presidential project.

Considering the fact that before now, he did not have a political machinery of his own in the region other than the position he occupies as Vice-President, Jonathan would need to rally members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the region behind him in the quest to clinch the PDP ticket if he decides to contest.

With the enormous influence the six governors enjoy as members of the Governors’ Forum, Jonathan must resolve all the contending issues in each of the six states and reassure the people by allaying their fears if he wants to enjoy their backing in the elections.

Edo State
The PDP in Edo is almost in disarray as “Hurricane” Adams Oshiomhole continues to decimate the party with many members defecting to the ruling rival Action Congress (AC). Since the Appeal Court affirmed his election as governor, Oshiomhole has left no one in doubt that it was a matter of time before he takes the state and by extension, the region with storm.

While Jonathan would need to deal with the crisis within the PDP in the state to shore up his support, he would also seek a strategy to handle the threat posed by Oshiomhole as a likely Vice-Presidential candidate to a strong Northerner in the 2011 elections.

As a former labour leader with a large followership especially among workers, Oshiomhole poses the greatest threat to Jonathan in the 2011 elections if he wants to take a shot at the Presidency. It was therefore, no surprise that Oshiomhole’s name was mentioned as part of those that financed the project that attempted to frustrate Jonathan becoming acting president

With the PDP only mouthing electoral reforms, Oshiomhole has endeared himself to Nigerians with his “One Man, One Vote,” campaign which other South-South governors have openly identified with as a means to retain the support of their people.

Though Jonathan and Oshiomhole enjoy a robust relationship based on mutual respect that dates back to the time when the former was deputy-governor, but being politicians in different political parties and with distinct political aspirations, Jonathan would need to face the reality that a rival presidential candidate would find Oshiomhole a capable instrument to neutralize the PDP’s chances in the South-South.

Delta State
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan is a loyal member of the PDP and it would be easy for the state to easily overcome the pocket of crisis in the party to rally support for Jonathan. But the major problem is the attempt to brand Uduaghan a traitor and push for his replacement with an Ijaw man in the 2011 elections.

In Delta, there are distinct contending groups seeking political power. But the Ibori group since 1999 has been playing a dominant role. In 2007, James Onafefe Ibori, an Urhobo, single- handedly made his cousin and then Secretary to the State Government(SSG), Uduaghan to be Governor, though there were protests as other groups especially the Ijaw felt short-changed, but since 2007, Uduaghan has also endeared himself to the people with his programmes.

Under the Yar’Adua Presidency, Uduaghan was so confident of his political future because of the influence Ibori wielded under the dispensation. But the story is no longer the same. When Yar’Adua was critically sick and there was clamour for Jonathan to become Acting-President, Ibori was said to have recruited Uduaghan into the anti-Jonathan project. Now with Jonathan in the saddle, and Ibori fleeing Nigeria to escape arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Uduaghan has become the fall guy with Ijaw leaders in the state moving against him by branding him an Ibori boy before the Presidency.

It is not strange that since Jonathan’s installation as acting-president and later President, Chief Edwin Clark has become adamant about the reconstitution of the PDP executives in the state which is believed to be in the hands of Uduaghan.
But Uduaghan is ready to fight back and salvage his political career which some influential Deltans with connections to Aso- Rock want to destroy. It was no wonder that he made the declaration against his traducers at a meeting of Delta Elders.

Uduaghan was quoted as saying: “Let me state that no person or group of persons should try to build a wall around the Presidency and from that wall, start dispatching stories that are not true as well as blackmailing people. If you push everybody away, it may not be to our benefit because the Presidency cannot succeed in isolation”
“I have refused to be pushed away. Mr. President needs the Governor of Delta State and the Governor of Delta State needs Mr. President. I have easy access to Mr. President because Mr. President recognises that I am the Governor of a critical state in Nigeria”

And to exonerate himself from the allegation that he worked against Jonathan, Uduanghan added: “Contrary to the impressions being created by some persons, the state (Delta State) through the active participation of myself and members of the National Assembly from the state, were involved in the emergence of the then vice- president as Acting President and President. I remain unruffled by the actions of those painting negative pictures about how the President emerged”
Though he did not mention names, but investigations revealed that those he was referring to as trying to build a wall around Jonathan are Ijaws from the state who are trying hard to discredit the personality of Uduaghan to push for an Ijaw politician to become governor in 2011.

Already, the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, who was said to be initially angry with Uduaghan over the perceived role he was said to have played has mellowed down as evident in her recent visit to the state. But the problem now remains how Jonathan would be able to reconcile Uduaghan with his traducers who are mainly Ijaw pushing for one of their own as Governor in 2011.

Bayelsa State
This is the home state of Jonathan, where he was once deputy governor, acting- governor, governor, before he was elevated to become the running mate to the late Yar’Adua in 2007. Ordinarily, he should not have any problems here considering the fact that he is conversant with the political terrain. However, extant situation as regards the relationship between his wife, majority of his associates in Jonathan’s Committee of Friends and Governor Timipre Sylva is a source of worry.

As wife of the then Vice-President, Mrs. Jonathan seized every opportunity to attend functions in Bayelsa where she was enjoying a robust political relationship with the young Turks in the Sylva government who were angling to replace those calling the shots before the advent of the Sylva government.
But Sylva’s close relationship and unflinching loyalty to Yar’ Adua coupled with the allegation that he helped to bankroll the campaign to stop Jonathan’s emergence as acting-president has made Mrs. Jonathan to turn her back against Sylva’s government.

According to sources, since the inauguration of Jonathan as President, delegations of lawmakers have been going to Abuja to plead with Mrs. Jonathan generally called Mummy, on behalf of Sylva. Though impeccable sources said she is still angry but she has given signs that she is ready to forgive Sylva.

However, loyalists of Jonathan who have since merged with associates of Mr. Ndutimi Alaibe have never hidden their displeasure with Sylva’s government as they have carried series of attacks to lampoon his government.
Sylva has said it severally that he has no problem with Jonathan, though since their perceived frosty relationship became public knowledge, Jonathan has not uttered a word whether to confirm or deny it.
Just like Uduaghan, the Bayelsa State governor during the EFCC’s raid has also fingered some people as using the name of Jonathan to commit atrocities.

He said: “I would like to use this opportunity once more to correct an erroneous impression that the Acting President is behind all the travails of these people. I have personally spoken with the acting-president many times, and I very well believe that he himself does not have a hand in what is happening in Bayelsa. But of course, there are a lot of name droppers who probably also use my name and other people’s name to commit a lot of atrocities. These name–droppers are those to blame. What I want all Bayelsans to do is to fight those name –droppers so that they do not use the name of highly-placed Nigerians, great Bayelsa sons like the acting-president and associates to commit atrocities. We stand with the acting-president because this is the first time Bayelsa, nay the Ijaw people have produced somebody with a high office and it is our responsibility to support him. I stand firmly with the acting-president no matter the divisive intrusions of all those people who consider themselves closer to the acting-president than the rest of us. We are children of the acting-president and there are no better loved children”

As it stands now, the PDP family in Bayelsa is not one, and Sylva being a governor whose election would come in 2012 cannot be ignored as he presently controls the party executives unless it is reconstituted. There is an urgent need for Jonathan to resolve all outstanding political issues in Bayelsa that relates to mutual suspicion and fears of revenge for the PDP to go into the primaries and the general election with one voice.

Rivers State
Rotimi Amaechi appears to be one of the favourite governors close to President Goodluck Jonathan. But that does not seem to count for him, as his closeness to Yar’Adua borne out of the latter’s prompt directive that he should be inaugurated after the Supreme Court ruled in his favour is now being used against him.
Amaechi’s name was also mentioned as one of the South-South governors who secretly financed the campaign to stop the emergence of Jonathan as acting-president.

If it is by performance, Amaechi has no problem in securing second term, but in the PDP politics, other factors that relegates performance to the back seat comes into play.
It an open secret that Mrs. Jonathan being from Rivers State has more than a passing interest in the affairs of the state.
As wife of the Vice- President, her attempts to plant a foothold in the politics of the state was politely rebuffed by Amaechi who read correctly where she was going.

However, since Jonathan became President, it is now being openly discussed that an Ijaw speaking person preferably from Okirika where Mrs. Jonathan hails from, should also be allowed to rule the state.

That Mrs. Jonathan is not too comfortable with Amaechi was demonstrated during her husband’s first official visit to Rivers State after his inauguration as President. While President Jonathan was in Rivers, many had expected him to be accompanied by his wife, who is from the state, but she was not there but in Delta State, on another state visit.
Lately, mortal enemies of the Amaechi government led by Sir Peter Odili and Abiye Sekibo have found their voices back joining the PDP reform group, clamouring for reform as a prelude to re-launching themselves into Rivers State politics by exploiting their relationship with the First family.

Jonathan has a herculean task in Rivers State to reassure the Amaechi political family and other ethnic groups in the state that there is no grand plan to draft any Ijaw man into the governorship race.
He needs to deal with the threat the political interest of his wife and other people close to him pose in Rivers State to enjoy the support of the Amaechi political structure.

Akwa Ibom and Cross River states
Aside the fact that Governors Godswill Akpabio and Liyel Imoke respectively were also said to have shown indifference to Jonathan becoming acting president, they do not have any major issues with his associates.
But it is out in the open that Akpabio and Imoke no longer enjoy the support of their predecessors who would not mind if they exploit their relationship with Jonathan to stop their re-nomination.
But as of today, Akpabio and Imoke control the structure of PDP and the best bet for Jonathan if he decides to run is to work with the duo for them to deliver their states delegates to him.


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