By NBF News
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This week this column is faced with the depressing task of finding a cheerful way to say farewell (albeit temporarily) to the most wonderful friends anybody can wish for. According to some philosophers, next to the company of children under five, there is nothing more gratifying like having a faithful audience that is always there: sometimes to admire, sometimes to admonish.

Simply referred to as 'BarkByte' by its more generous patrons, over time this column has developed a vibrant ideological and sometimes even emotional relationship with readers that transcend the usual boundaries; on many occasions I have received letters marked 'not for publication' which are often full of goodwill, prayers or candid (and caustic) advice on very sensitive issues that have been tackled by this column. Sometimes though, one gets hit by a barrage of merciless condemnation that you wonder why you bother.

But that's the thrill. Next week you are at it again, going 'chak chak chak' like your life depends on it. It's not like an addiction; it is an addiction. Now with all the reluctance in the world, I have to let go, to say goodbye, because I have to. Less than two weeks ago I accepted a challenging offer from Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, otherwise known as ABS. Although he has only one head, in an African manner of speaking ABS wears three caps: he is the executive Governor of Kwara State, he is the Chairman of the powerful Governors Forum and last but not least he is one of the five Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential aspirants. It is in this last capacity as a presidential aspirant of the PDP that Dr. Saraki invited me to join his campaign team as Director, Media and Publicity.

Although I had two decisions to make, I didn't have much trouble making up my mind whether to accept the challenge or not. The first decision to make is whether I wanted to get directly involved in the frenzy of political activities that is now sweeping across the country, or to limit my political participation to the relative safety of my weekly commentaries in two national dailies. As it is, long before the invitation from Governor ABS, this first question has actually been answered by a set of circumstances. Along with a handful of friends, we had formed an organization that we call the Northern Patriots. The motivation that propelled the formation of the NP was panic, frustration and anger, in that order.

Suddenly we realized how dangerously vulnerable we have become, how bleak the future of our children is and how worthless our struggles for personal fulfillment could end up if we all spend our time in lamentations and finger pointing. So for whatever it is worth we decided to throw in our efforts through the Northern Patriots and see where it leads us to. Meaning that the decision to get directly and actively involved has already been made. Naturally our starting point was the major issue of the moment, which is the struggle for power between the North and the South and between vested interests

in the North. We decided to throw away all pretences and limit our ambitions to influencing events within our immediate environment, which is the northern part of Nigeria. We resolved to add our voice to those calling on the North to unite, raise its game and behave responsibly but firmly as the stakes become higher. It was in this rather agitated situation that I was invited to join Governor Saraki's Presidential Campaign Team. At the moment there are five presidential aspirants from the North: the PDP's Gen. Ibrahim B. Babangida; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Governor Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau; the CPC's Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and the ACN's Malam Nuhu Ribadu.

Of them all, former Head of State, Buhari has the most widespread grass root support; but he has a lean purse, almost no structure, a disagreeable personality and is surrounded by snobs that are no better than the people they snub. Taking all the relevant variables into account, it is difficult to imagine how Buhari could build a political machinery strong enough to wrestle power from the ruling PDP.

Babangida has everything Buhari lacks. Politically speaking, he has an irresistible charm, a deep pocket and one of the most durable political structures in the country. But he also has a past record that could easily neutralize whatever advantages he might have. At the very least he would be a very controversial, if not contentious candidate. Atiku is a courageous, rugged, dogged and consummate politician. But he is perceived, not unjustifiably, as a man consumed by blind ambition to capture power at all cost and as an end in itself.

He has a credibility problem that will seriously work against whatever advantages he has. And anyway , there are rumours now going round that Atiku might cut a deal with President Jonathan's camp; given his antecedent, that possibility may become reality. As for the National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau, he is simply a shadowy figure to most Nigerians. We don't know him and he doesn't appear to know us. Unable to figure him out, most people are contented with the theory that he is only acting as a decoy for his long time friend and military buddy, Babangida.

Then there is the newest entrant Ribadu. I am still trying to understand what his real objective is. At best he could help burnish his party's image at home and abroad, help Tinubu snatch one or two states in the South West and maybe a handful of local and national legislative seats. Beyond that Ribadu is more like a task-force man. He certainly doesn't seem to have the right temperament that can stand the emotional challenges of a presidential campaign.

That leaves Abubakar Bukola Saraki who is fighting for the PDP ticket with those other three gentlemen in the North and a sitting president to boot. It may sound partisan, but Saraki really represents a moderate alternative among all the presidential aspirants not only in the PDP but even outside of it. He carries nothing of the excess baggage that the other older candidates must shoulder throughout their political activities. In a way , he is like a cross between Buhari and IBB, and even more significantly he represents what is potentially the final break from our checkered past which is characterized by stagnation and other primordial obstacles that have kept us running in circles for over fifty years since our political independence from Britain.

All those thought processes passed through my mind as I considered the invitation to join the Bukola team that has been dubbed ABS 2011. In the end it was a very simple choice. I sincerely feel having been steeped in a recycled bin, so to speak, we should give a chance to the change that Governor Saraki represents. After all he represents more than the prospects of new ideas. His record of performance in Kwara state is by every standard an excellent and bold performance that is verifiable. His transformation of the agricultural practice in the state through the Shonga initiative is already yielding results with some state governments already trying to model their own efforts after that.

I reflected on these and other politically expedient variables and came to the conclusion that given the choices available not only to the North but to the country at large, Abubakar Bukola Saraki is the best alternative that will drive Nigeria towards a truly integrated, serious country. One other cause for optimism about the next election is that by my own reckoning, President Goodluck Jonathan is more than 50 per cent sincere about conducting a free and fair election. If he wasn't, he would have retained Maurice Iwu and he certainly wouldn't handover the police force to the North from where he is facing the fiercest opposition. Either that or he is one hell of a gambler. Warts and all therefore, there is a reasonable chance that the 2011 general elections could be the turning point in the nation's checkered miserable political history. So I accepted the ABS 2011 invitation with the very best of intentions for my country. I believe Governor Saraki is earnest and capable of helping to provide a better future for Nigeria.

I therefore wish to thank all those that have participated in the discourses that have appeared on this column over time; those that have participated directly and those that have connected with the column in their thoughts. This column may not continue to appear as regularly as it used to. My plan is to try to contribute in whatever way I can to get things done; to get our country working again because life in exile is simply not an option. Bye for now.