By NBF News
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With the spate of declarations of intent to contest the presidential seat in next January's elections last week, a game of wits, brawn, and strategies has begun. The short time frame especially for party primaries makes it a photo finish. In the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the real contenders are locked in a titanic battle to set the pace.

The self -styled Africa's largest party is quaking from their mobilizations and win-win obsession. Visible cracks are emerging within the fold. Leaders and members are switching camps with the speed of light. Stability has taken flight. Groups metamorphose and gravitate towards greener pastures like a rolling stone.

Rules are changing. Calculations are the order of day. Principles are crumbling as the gladiators dig deeper for the soul of the delegates.

Former military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) formally declared last Wednesday. Same day President Goodluck Jonathan declared on the Facebook, in an apparent show of strategic manouevre. Then came the much awaited waiver to contest from the party for former Vice -President Atiku Abubakar.

The waiver came with all the push and impetus to rev his campaign into motion.

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) Gen Muhammad Gusau finally swallowed the bait to contest and came with a bang. No more the pussy -footing of the earlier days. And like a thunderbolt from the blues Kwara State Chief Executive and outgoing chairman of the highly influential Governors' forum Dr. Bukola Saraki joined the fray, in a rather rancorous manner.

The last two are in no way minnows, in a race they have the muscle and tapestry.

The stage is now set for a showdown
Battle for the governors
In spite of far-reaching changes in the 2010 Electoral Act, which has drastically pruned down the number of delegates, expunged many automatic delegates and IPS0-facto watered down the powers of almighty governors, the battle had been concentrated on the governors. Intense lobbying, and trade-offs have been trained on them. To rekindle the flame of their relevance, they succeeded in upturning the order of primaries in the party, which runs against the Electoral Act.

The primaries for the governorship ticket, now comes before that of the presidential. This coup of sorts have enabled the governors to retain their primacy of place. The other way round would have been able to put the governors in check, control their penchant for betrayal, and make the presidential ticket race a straight horse fight, especially as voting will be by secret ballot. The new schedule leaves room for governors to call the bluff of blackmail and intimidation and follow their minds.

The raging battle to hoodwink them by the presidential aspirants has no measure of assurance proof. The governors breakfast with IBB in the morning, have lunch with Jonathan in the afternoon with daylight glitz and aplomb, and dine with Atiku under the cover of darkness. The hold on them is fluid and undulating. Even the campaign directors of some of them are still with one leg in another camp. And the subterfuge is not lost on observers.

IBB had written a certain governor in the North West, urging him to appoint campaign co-ordinators for him in the state. The governor obliged him, putting in place a nondescript number of weightless party chieftains. The same governor set up a campaign team for Atiku using key party functionaries, including the state chairman as boss. The script is clear.

While Jonathan's group prides itself with a catche of as many as 17 of the PDP governors, there are fears that when the hen comes home to roost, the number may shrink to an unbelievable six. IBB's grandstanding with the governors had been more in the klieglights than what is portrayed. Those that can swim and sink with him are no more than three.

Atiku, the grandmaster of complex underground politicking, last Monday, hosted 11 of them, including two South-South, and one South-East governor. They had a late dinner with him in his Abuja residence.

The rest of the governors appear undecided and are waiting to key in to the one that would best guarantee their best interest.

Ratification of the waiver to contest by the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party is the new tonic, the elixir. It has removed the lid off his campaign, and has brought back the hordes of his associates, who have been waiting in the wings or had switched loyalty. His campaigns headquarters in Abuja has come alive. The moribund states and local government headquarters are swinging into action as they await the delivery of over 3,000 branded vehicles from Germany this week.

The three pace-setters are on a mad spending binge. When fire gutted the PDP headquarters, IBB visited swiftly and pledged to rebuild it. Atiku also acted promptly by releasing N10million instantly to the party to re-build it. This instantaneous response, his free spending capacity, his fabled reward for loyalty, and unceasing building of networks, aided the granting of the waiver to contest, when all hope was lost.

Battle for the delegates
While the go for the governors is on, a raging battle for the delegates is also sustained. Horse trading which took a back seat in the 2003 and 2007 elections is back in full swing. In the new order of things only elected officials like senators, governors, House of Representatives members, state lawmakers are automatic delegates.

The rest would be elected one per local government. Campaign co-ordinators of presidential aspirants have been busy in the last few days negotiating with the delegates with a view to buying them off. This is obviously a re-enactment of the cancelled 1991 primaries of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) which the Late Gen. Shehu Yar' Adua won with a landslide. It has restored the value of delegates, and brought back shine on the voting process, while reducing the role, and powers of governors.

Aspirants with deep financial war chest are having a field day. Under the table, they are undercutting governors and still fiddling with them.

That perhaps explains why a certain governor in the South-West known to be a well-heeled associate of IBB, also got appointed as Jonathan's campaign co-ordinator for the zone. Niger State Governor, Aliyu Babangida is also caught in the trap. For effect, he had to put up two full page advertisements in national newspapers explaining that he is not running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

He said he is available to play the role he did for IBB on his declaration day for other willing presidential aspirants. In this game of intrigues, Jonathan is the worst hit. Most of those who identify with him in the open, for pecuniary advantages often engage in nocturnal activities that suggest they are deceiving him.

The race like others before it had been one of loyalty, incumbency, and interests nothing more. President Jonathan had been accused of not rewarding loyalty. Except for the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, who was duly rewarded with the appointment after the yeoman's role he played in making Jonathan acting president in the sick days of late President Musa Yar'Adua, others are grumbling, with a feeling of abandonment .

They, too, want to have a go at Jonathan by dumping him at this material time. And what a better way of doing it for effect than rubbing it on his face, by openly identifying with his opponents. The oscillation is more towards Atiku, who they claim has a pedigree of trusting and rewarding loyalists. A particular Jonathan loyalist, a member of the House of Representatives told Daily Sun last week that he has switched camp to Atiku because he felt bruised and left in the lurch after his gallant fight in the House to secure acting presidency for Jonathan.

He lamented that when the House leadership came after him recently, Jonathan did nothing to save him. A Niger Delta leader also complained of the same issue in an interview with Daily Sun.

He said: 'Putting your neck for him is a risk. He won't look your way when you run into problems'. Loyalty is a major step to winning elections and indeed, everything. When there is a bond of loyalty between the leader and the players, you have something called a team. It also goes with trust.

In May 1991, Newsweek and the Washington post carried stories that were of Gen. Collin Powel, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, calling him the reluctant warrior, and accusing him of being disloyal to President George Bush's prosecution of the war.' soon after these stories appeared, Bush called Powell. 'I saw the stories in the paper.

Don't pay any attention to that' 'thank you, Mr. President,' Powell replied 'Barbara (Bush' wife) says hello' added Bush 'See ya'. Later that day at a press briefing, Bush took a question on the issue. 'Nobody is going to drive a wedge between me and General Powell', he said flatly. I don't care how many unnamed sources they claim to have, General Powell is someone I can totally count on. Next question.

The lure of incumbency is another factor that drives the race. The notion that it is hard to beat an incumbent is dictating the pace of the campaign and the support base. Not even the challenge of free and fair polls is compelling enough to engender a freewill comportment and alliances. On this, bridges of loyalties and interests are collapsing. Free dealing and wheeling are retreating, and a seeming scramble for the incumbency pie is on the high swing.

Interests have also become the harbinger of support. Key players are looking at where their bread is buttered; the most. Some leaders look deep for immediate material benefits. In this race, they are many. And that accounts for the proliferation of support groups especially for Jonathan. A minefield of expression of support for an aspirant may on the short run count, but on the long run, the real issues take over.