A week of fate taking as Political parties pick touch bearers for Election 2011

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PDP

Majority of contenders for the presidential job will, this week, battle to cross the first hurdle in the race to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.

Some major political parties are conducting their national conventions where their delegates will either elect or adopt candidates who will fly their flags in the April 9 presidential polls.

The parties are the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), which are the biggest political parties in the country. While the convention of the PDP comes up on January 13, the ANPP and ACN will hold their respective conventions on January 14.

All parties have up until January 15 to forward the names of their flag bearers to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Last Wednesday, former head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, became the first presidential candidate to emerge in the current dispensation.

After a verbal vote at the national convention of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Abuja, Mr. Buhari was adopted to fly the flag of the new party. He had flown the flag of the ANPP in 2003 and 2007, but lost to Olusegun Obasanjo, and the late Umaru Yar’Adua, all of the PDP, respectively. Mr. Buhari left the ANPP to float the CPC last March and, at the time of the convention, he was expectably the lone aspirant; hence, he was unanimously adopted as the party’s presidential candidate.

The emergence of Mr. Buhari has left many political analysts uncertain about the alliance talks between his party and the ACN. Both parties have been in talks for months, but have disagreed mainly in the area of which platform to use by the contestants. But if the talks materialise, the ACN’s convention may just be conducted to pick a running mate to Mr. Buhari. It is not clear yet when the other parties will organise their conventions to elect or ratify their candidates, before the January 15 deadline.

And the contestants are…

ACN

Aspirants contending for the ticket of the PDP are the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan; former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, Sarah Jubril, and Sani Aminu Dutsinma. In ACN, the aspirants include Nuhu Ribadu, an ex-cop and former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Attahiru Bafarawa, a former governor of Sokoto State; and Uba Saidu Malami, a businessman. The party’s former national secretary, Usman Bugaje, has reportedly pulled out. Although he refused to confirm it, Mr. Bugaje, like Mr. Babangida, is said to have written the party notifying it of his intention to withdraw.

It is another crowd in the opposition ANPP, where about four presidential hopefuls have emerged. Billionaire businessman and former chairman of the party’s board of trustees, Harry Akande; outgoing governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau; one-time presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention, Bashir Othman Tofa; and Dauda Birma, a former minister, will slug it out at the Eagles Square venue of the party’s national convention this Friday.

Others who have indicated their interest in vying for the nation’s top political job include Pat Utomi of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP) and John Dara of the National Transformation Party (NTP).

Two-horse race in PDP

The main attraction, of all the conventions in the buildup to the elections, is that of the PDP. This is not only because it is the party in power at the centre, it is also the largest and it has 27 governors who are bent on determining the way votes should go. Also, unlike Mr. Buhari, other aspirants are not having a smooth ride in the presidential race. Even Mr. Jonathan, the incumbent president, is having to slug it out with other aspirants for the party’s ticket.

Supporters of Messrs Jonathan and Abubakar have squared up against each other in a verbal war before the primaries. Other contenders appear not to matter in the race. The battle between the Messrs Jonathan and Abubakar is based chiefly on the strength of the alleged zoning arrangement agreed a few years ago by the party’s leaders. According to the arrangement, presidential power is to be rotated between the north and the south, both of which have three geo-political zones each.

The same goes for the contest in the states. Proponents of zoning say it was on the basis of that meeting that Section 7.2 c was incorporated into the constitution of the party. Besides, they claim that it was on the basis of the zoning formula that the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua, from Katsina State in the North West geo-political zone, emerged as the presidential candidate of the party in 2006.

When the president died in May, Mr. Jonathan, who was his deputy from Bayelsa State in the South-South zone, took over power and soon after declared his interest in vying for the position to succeed himself. The president’s action angered some northern members of the party who insisted and are still insisting that he should not contest. The demand led to the consensus project, which produced Mr. Abubakar last November as the north’s representative in the presidential primary contest. The struggle to respect the zoning formula soon became a matter of litigation.

Mr. Dutsinma, who like Mr. Yar’Adua hails from Katsina State, sought the interpretation of the party’s constitution in an Abuja High Court.

The court, presided over by Hassan Lawal Gumi, affirmed that the constitution of the PDP recognised zoning and rotation,

Last Thursday, apparently dissatisfied by the ruling, Mr. Dutsinma, who is allegedly fronting for Mr. Abubakar, headed back to a Federal High Court, seeking the order of mandamus to compel INEC to ensure that the party adheres to the provisions of its constitution.

Before the latest suit, three associates of the former vice president — Yahaya Kwande, Dubem Onyia, and Lawal Kaita — had gone to court asking it to stop the PDP from fielding Mr. Jonathan as its presidential candidate. Ishaq Bello of an Abuja High Court has fixed ruling on the matter for tomorrow.

Beyond the court cases, another issue causing a row in the ruling party is the inability of its leaders to name members of the National Convention Committee, which will conduct the January 13 convention. The party had done so for the other elective positions, namely the governorship, National Assembly, and the state houses of assembly.

On two occasions in the last three weeks, Mr. Abubakar’s campaign outfit, Atiku Campaign Organisation, has cried out over the matter.

“Preparations for the conduct of the PDP presidential primary election appear to be going on in extreme secrecy, which makes the entire process suspect and places it under grave threat going by the omissions noted above,” Ben Obi, the director general of Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, said at a press conference last Thursday.

Legal loopholes

ANPP and PDP

Some lawyers warn that there are still some legal loopholes in the manner in which the congresses are being organised. Olisa Agbakoba, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and a member of the Uwais Panel, said that there is an institutional gap in the electoral process. He was particularly unhappy that the electoral system has no regulator for the political parties.

“The Uwais panel discovered that INEC was dealing with so many bureaucratic processes and to address this anomaly, we recommended that the Political Party Registration and Regulation Commission should be set up, so that as INEC gets on with the tremendous task of organising voters registration and the elections proper, this commission will function as the regulator of what ever goes on with the political parties which, in essence, addresses issues of internal democracy,” he said.

“No party in this country as of today is carrying out the conduct as dictated by the law and that should raise concerns for our hopes in the coming general elections. The National Assembly should have paid more attention to the Uwais report and now it cannot be addressed, considering the number of primaries and conventions the parties will have to conduct, and INEC does not have the resources to handle that,” he said.

Rotimi Akeredolu, also a former chairperson of the NBA, pointed at the under-capacity of INEC to truly monitor the parties.

President Goodluck Jonathan

“The position of the law are very clear on the issue and what I know will/is happening is that the political parties are going to hold primaries that will be skewed to the advantages of some individuals, and they will insist to INEC that they have held their primaries,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is that INEC does not have the resources to supervise all the political parties and also very unfortunate that we are starting on a false premise,” he added.

The CPC debunked insinuations that its candidate did not go through state congresses before he was ratified at the recent convention.

“Every legal condition (on the convention) was met,” Lanre Tejuosho, chairman of the CPC National Convention and Congress Committee, told NEXT on phone last Friday.

John Omokhomion, chairman of media and publicity subcommittee, spoke in the same vein.

“We wrote INEC quite alright, and it sent its officials to supervise our congresses nationwide though I can’t recollect when the letter was dispatched. We also wrote the commission on our national convention and it sent two officials, including Regina Omo-Agege, whose office monitors the event at the Eagles Square. And there is no way INEC will allow you to conduct a national convention without supervising your congress at whatever level, in this case,” he said.

“We are still in order.” John Odigie-Oyegun, chairman of the 22-member National Convention Committee of ANPP told NEXT in a telephone chat last Friday.

Abubakar Atiku

The secretariat has written INEC already even before our inauguration. Ours is just the mechanic.”

Spokesman of the ANPP, Emma Eneukwu, spoke in the same vein. Mr. Eneukwu, who chairs the congress committee of the party in Yobe State, said that the congresses across the country are being monitored by INEC officials.

“We notified the commission and that is why they have been supervising our congresses. You can’t hold your national convention without INEC being satisfied with your state congresses,” he said.

INEC merely acknowledged the inherent lapses in the conduct of the state congresses.

“At the policy level, we are aware that there are lots of lapses and the leadership of INEC has been on the neck of officials concerned to point out those lapses and draw the attention of the parties concerned to those errors,” Kayode Idowu, spokesperson of INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, told NEXT last Friday.

Mr. Idowu also noted that the idea is that the commission should not wait until the level of total breach that will necessitate penalties such as disqualification of a candidate, rather they should be remedied gradually as they come.

However, he stressed, at the end, the commission will bring every party not only to the dictates of the electoral law, but to the laws of their parties and the constitution just as he conceded that there is the awareness that the high number of parties could pose a challenge to meeting every detail of the law. Regina Omo-Agege, the commission’s director of political party monitoring could not be reached for comments.

Decision day Thursday

Meanwhile, ahead of the convention, both Messrs Jonathan and Abubakar have allegedly been spending huge amounts of money to convince convention delegates to vote for them. Analysts, however, say Mr. Jonathan may have the upper hand over his rivals because of the incumbency factor. Some governors have openly declared their support for Mr. Jonathan.

Last month, 20 governors addressed a press conference in Abuja during which they declared their support for the president to return to power just for a single term of four years. Going by the enormous powers they wield in their domains, the governors’ support is interpreted as a boost for the president’s ambition to succeed himself. Some of the governors have even gone to the extent of barring Mr. Abubakar from visiting their states. Those that have allegedly done so include Jigawa, Ebonyi, Abia, Kaduna, and Sokoto.

Again, some of the governors have allegedly deployed resources to help the president. The governors of Benue, Ebonyi, Katsina, Ogun and Bauchi, all of whom are the coordinators of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation in their respective geo-political zones, were reported to have each donated N500 million to boost the president’s political ambitions. The president’s camp has since denied it. On his part, Mr. Abubakar, an old political war horse appears undeterred and has refused to quit the race. A former vice president, Mr. Abubakar is said to be relying on his political connections and the structure he has built over the years, especially the Peoples Democratic Movement structure.

Also, the just-concluded primaries for the national assembly, state houses of assembly and governorship (holding today Sunday) may play a deciding factor in the PDP primaries. Just like other parties, there are complaints all over the country by the party faithful who are aggrieved over the results of the primaries.

Some may go into the convention as spoilers for those they perceive to be responsible for their electoral misfortunes and therefore, try to get their own pound of flesh. Others may just vote considering that they have nothing at stake. All this will, arguably, influence the thousands of delegates that will converge on Eagle Square in Abuja, come this Thursday.

Pundits, however, believe that whichever way it goes, the PDP will not remain the same and may go into the battle shattered. There are reports that some northerners who are aggrieved that Mr. Jonathan still went ahead to contest have a plan B if Mr. Abubakar is either disqualified during the Tuesday screening of the presidential aspirants or loses during the convention. This plan B, it was learnt, may eventually be in favour of Mr Buhari during the main presidential contest.

A few days ago, reports indicated that the northern academia presented a secret verdict on Messrs Jonathan, Abubakar and Buhari to the NPLF chairman, Adamu Ciroma on December 24. Some of the members of the group, according to the report, may back Mr. Buhari if Mr. Abubakar fails to clinch the PDP ticket.

Source: NEXT