FORMER military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, has come under intense pressure from top northern political leaders to withdraw from the 2011 presidential race and pave the way for the emergence of a consensus presidential candidate of northern extraction in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The development is sequel to the failure of all efforts to prevail on the immediate National Security Adviser, Major General Aliyu Gusau, not to join the race.
Gusau formally announced his presidential aspiration, at the weekend, with his withdrawal from President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. Gusau had been in the news for several months over his presidential ambition, which had also put him under some pressure from northern leaders who pleaded that he should not join the race and weaken the chances of the North to present a consensus candidate.
It was reliably gathered that Gusau’s eventual entry into the race signified the ultimate failure of all efforts of northern leaders to stop him.
According to reliable sources, Gusau had agreed with the northern leaders, comprising first and second republic top politicians and eminent traditional rulers that the chances of the North picking the presidential ticket of the PDP would be enhanced if there was only one candidate from the North. He was, however, quoted as saying that he would withdraw from the race only if the leaders could prevail on General Babangida to also withdraw.
According to different sources, the intelligence chief advanced two reasons for his determination to contest the presidency if Babangida remained in the race.
He said when they overthrew the government of General Muhammadu Buhari in 1985, it was on the understanding that he, General Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha would govern the country in turn. Babangida and Abacha had their turns, leaving him as the only one left to have his turn as president of Nigeria. He was said to have expressed dismay that each time he sought to actualise his dream of becoming president, General Babangida, who had ruled the country for eight years, would also throw his hat into the ring.
In 2007, when General Gusau sought to succeed former President Olusegun Obasanjo from the vantage of National Security Adviser, General Babangida also nursed the ambition of joining the race.
The second reason advanced for his insistence on contesting the election is the marriage of Aisha, General Babangida’s daughter, to the governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Aliyu Shinkafi.
Shinkafi had been married to the niece of General Gusau, who reportedly grew up under the IBB’s roof. When Shinkafi later married Aisha, with the consent of Babangida, Gusau was said to have been aggrieved by the fact that General Babangida never raised the issue with him, even when it became obvious that the governor’s marriage to Aisha had put a big wedge between Gusau’s niece and her husband.
It was gathered that each time Gusau recalled his frustrations in his relationship with Babangida and insisted on not leaving the space for his former Commander-in-Chief, the northern leaders came to the conclusion that the actualisation of their dream of a single northern candidate would remain a pipe dream unless Babangida withdrew from the race.
“It is clear that Gusau will remain in the race as long as Babangida is in the race,” said a source close to the campaign organi-sation of General Aliyu Gusau.
The concern at the weekend among northern leaders is that if Gusau was ready to step down on the condition of Babangida’s withdrawal, their best bet was to prevail on Baban-gida to withdraw from the race.
If that happened and Gusau withdrew as he had promised, that would leave the leaders with only two aspirants to contend with, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the Kwara State governor, Dr Bukola Saraki.
Gusau’s media assistant, Mr Bisi Adekunle, on Sunday, told the Nigerian Tribune on the phone that he (Gusau) would be at the national headquarters of the PDP today to obtain his expression of interest and nomination forms.
According to him, “the NSA resigned on Friday to enable him to contest the presidential election in the PDP.”
General Gusau was appointed by President Jonathan in the aftermath of the handling of the health situation of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in March, to replace General Sarki Mukhtar, who held the post since the inception of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration in 2007.
He had previously served in the same capacity under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.
Mr Adekunle also confirmed that General Gusau had appointed Senator Ben Obi, who was the running mate to former Vice-President Abubakar in 2007 election on the ticket of the Action Congress (AC), as the director-general (DG) of his campaign,
Meanwhile, General Babangida, on Sunday, held a closed door meeting with erstwhile Biafran leader, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, at his Enugu residence, apparently to discuss the possibility of working together for the 2011 general election.
Although the ex-military ruler did not make his mission public, an inside source told the Nigerian Tribune in Enugu that Babangida’s visit might not be unconnected with his quest to rule the country again.
It was learnt that General Babangida, during the visit, appealed for the support of the Ndigbo as he urged the former Biafran leader to use his vantage position to support his presidential ambition.
Fielding questions from reporters at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, Babangida, who was accompanied by former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, Director-General of IBB campaign organisation, Dr Raymond Dopkesi, former governorship candidate of National Democratic Party (NDP) in Anambra State, Chief Obinna Uzo, one-time member of Enugu State House of Assembly, Joseph Onoh, among other personalities, said he was in Enugu on a visit to Ojukwu.
“My visit to Ojukwu was a courtesy visit, don’t forget that we were all together in the military and as a very senior officer, I owe him that respect. I respect him because he is also an elder statesman,” IBB said.
When asked why his campaign project seems to be enjoying support from prominent Igbo leaders, the erstwhile military president, clad in a brown Agbada brocade, said “it is simply because my past records are there to speak for me, and I love Ndigbo; they are my friends.”
On the alleged plans by the northern presidential aspirants to produce a consensus candidate ahead of the 2011 presidential poll, General Babangida, who arrived at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport aboard a private helicopter, with registration number 5-BLI, said “all the gladiators in the exercise are currently working together with a view to striking an accord.”
The former military president and his entourage left Enugu for Owerri Airport, as the Enugu Airport had been shut down due to ongoing upgrading of its facilities
Written by Tayo Babarinde and Jude Ossai