By NBF News
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President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan's political camp was in celebration mood this week, after the declaration by northern Nigeria governors that the president was free to contest next year's election.

However, there are indications that the president might be in for a shocker if he relies on the outcome of the northern governors' meeting. Saturday Sun gathered that the position of 10 of the 19 northern governors that Jonathan could contest the 2011 presidential election was not an endorsement of the president's candidature. It was just an affirmation of the constitutional provision that all Nigerians are free to vie for elective offices provided they are qualified.

Sources said that the northern governors may have sold a dummy to the Jonathan camp, making the president's men to believe they are in support of his aspiration, when, in actual fact, they are playing games. It was gathered that the northern governors deliberately avoided taking a stand on zoning, as doing so would betray their real position that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) should give the zone the opportunity to complete eight years in government, just as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South, did between 1999 and 2007.

Reliable sources in the North revealed that most of the governors from the zone want the zoning arrangement to be respected but are pretending to be against it in order to remain in the good books of Jonathan and PDP leadership. The governors' interests, it was gathered, are their second term tickets.

Saturday Sun found that the governors are banking on a previous arrangement, where political parties, with special reference to the PDP, conducted their governorship primary elections before the presidential primaries. However, there is apprehension that the Jonathan camp may reverse the order, to ensure that the presidential primary election comes before that of the governorship, so that the loyalty of the governors would be guaranteed, in a situation that Jonathan eventually throws his hat into the ring for the 2001 presidency.

The governors' real plot
Knowing the influence a sitting president has on the choice of who becomes the standard bearer of a political party at any level, sources revealed that the governor just wants to play the 'good boys' and secure their second term tickets, after which they would switch camps before the presidential primaries. Going by the Electoral Act, the presidential primaries of the political parties are likely to hold between October and November this year. Before that, the state House of Assembly, National Assembly and governorship primaries would have held.

A competent source from one of the northern states that has announced its support for Jonathan's rumoured interest, told Saturday Sun that anybody who takes what happens now as the real thing is deceiving himself.

He said: 'It's true that some prominent people from our state have endorsed the president for next year's election. But we are playing politics. It is still a long time before the presidential election. A lot would still change.'

It was gathered that the ploy to deceive the president is not peculiar with governors from the North. Governors from the South are equally playing the hide-and-seek game. In the South, it was gathered that states, like Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Lagos, Edo, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta may not be fully with Jonathan. Also, states in the far North or North East and North West as well as a few in the North Central are not with the president.

The governors also have an antidote to the plot to hold the PDP presidential primary election before the governorship primary election, just as the Electoral Act has placed the conduct of the presidential election before the governorship poll. In the event of this, it was gathered, the PDP governors would work for the emergence of Jonathan as the party's candidate but would dump him at the presidential election, when they would have secured their tickets.

The Babangida and Atiku factors
Former Military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, who had declared his interest in the presidency and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are believed to have infiltrated the fold of governors, both in the North and South.

It was learnt that the duo, working with other northern leaders, such as Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Senator Iyorchia Ayu and many others, have been meeting with governors and other political leaders across the country to canvass support for the retention of zoning. The group is said to have worked seriously on Niger State governor, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu, who is the chairman of the Northern Governor Forum. It appears that the governor is listening, as he was quoted by a national newspaper, last week, to have declared that Niger State would produce the next president of the country.

Governor Aliyu was quoted as saying that Niger State had produced two heads of state – General Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and would produce the third federal chief executive in next year's president. Sources said that the governor's position shows that he supports the retention of zoning and therefore, against Jonathan's perceived aspiration.

Apart from working on the governors to dump Jonathan, it was learnt that Babangida has established a powerful political network, where prominent politicians and community leaders are lobbying on his behalf. It was gathered that these lobby groups are holding meetings in the North, South West and South East, seeking support for the former soldier.

Jonathan's ace
Despite the avalanche of endorsements, it was gathered that President Jonathan is still studying the situation, with the view to being sure that he would not only pick the PDP presidential ticket but also win the election next year.

Sources close to the presidency said that Jonathan may not eventually contest the election if he's not sure of winning. 'The president will not contest the election if he would not win. His people are in the field investigating if Nigerians would support him. The president is not carried away by the statements by groups and individuals angling for his candidature. He wants to be sure that voters will support him. Now, a group is conducting popularity research across the country. If the outcome is not good, the president will not contest,' the source said.

In the event that Jonathan declines to contest, sources say that his option B is to pick a candidate from the North, who would fly PDP flag next year. The searchlight is said to be beamed on Vice President Nemadi Sambo and a few governors. Apart from Sambo, Mallam Isa Yuguda, governor of Bauchi State, is believed to be positioning himself to be picked as a compromise candidate from the North if Jonathan fails to contest. Severally, Bauchi has been planning rallies to support Jonathan's anticipated aspiration.

South South fears
South South political leaders are also afraid that some people are deceiving Jonathan. The fear that the resolve by the zone's stakeholders to back President Jonathan may not go beyond mere wishful thinking. This is because the belief that some self-seeking politicians in the zone might play the traitor and go behind to negotiate for the position of vice presdent with another candidate.

To avoid a crack in their ranks, prominent woman activist and politician, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa wants leaders of the zone to forge a formidable platform, to ensure unity of purpose and 'unquestionably honest' in their resolve to support the president.

Speaking to Saturday Sun in Port Harcourt, the senator harped on the need for water-tight unity and honesty among politicians in the zone, if the Jonathan project must succeed.

Ita-Giwa said: 'What I am saying is that the South South, not only the delegates but the South South as an entity, must, first of all, come together. They must be united and apart from that, they must, I repeat, must be unquestionably honest in handling the 2011 elections. We need to be able and willing to be honest to one another.

'So, the question is, if we have this kind of strong body, do we come up as a body to fight? Again, apart from our boys, who ended up in the creeks and became warriors, how have we fought for the number of years we have been trampled upon? How much have we fought apart from these boys that have now been branded criminals?

'We produce the wealth of this country and yet we have been trampled upon. The issue now is not about militancy ….. The issue today is unquestionable honesty and the issue of realism.

'I am a realist because I am a very active female politician and I believe that if I go into election, I would win. The reality is that for you to win election, you must be numerically strong. In this instance, how do you achieve that numerical strength?'

Senator Ita-Giwa said that beyond forging and sustaining a united front, the zone must also be ready to dialogue with the rest of the country and get northern politicians to see reason.

'You have to go out and dialogue, to confirm and not only to say I want to grab. We must have to fight, put up a fight, a big effort.

'We have to let the North appreciate the fact that politics and love are reciprocal and that for many years, we have played politics with the North and supported them. And so, today, the North should appreciate the fact that eight years will not kill anybody. They should allow us'.

The senator who represented Cross River North District and later served as Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters, emphasised that the zone needs more than merely mouthing its wish for Jonathan's victory at next year's polls.

'For people to come and talk about Jonathan, let us first of all unite. We should all be campaigning for him. That is politics. If Jonathan wants to contest, he will win, but we must come together and we must dialogue and seek for understanding.'

Earlier in the forum, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief O. C. J. Okocha, drew laughter from the participants when he urged the gathering to pointedly declare nobody from the zone should, 'Nicodemusly negotiate to be vice president' to any presidential candidate from other zones. He spoke of the need to, 'take the tide when it serves,' warning: 'If we lose our momentum, it could be dangerous.'

One of the representatives of Edo State, Dr. F. Onifum, also spoke in the same vein. 'God has given us pounded yam on our palm. If that morsel of pounded yam must get to the mouth, then we need to clear the hurdles. The problem is unity. Please let us together fight for this cause,' he said.

Professor P. I. C. Ijeoma from Delta State counseled the governors from the zone to go back and convene smaller meetings of prominent leaders and prevail on them to agree to work together and put a structure in place that will enable the success of the project.

• With additional report from Henry Chukwurah and Ezedike Joshua, Port Harcourt