By NBF News
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President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday crossed a major hurdle to becoming candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in next year's general election as the South West zone of the party threw its weight behind his ambition.

The party leadership in the zone rose from a meeting in Ibadan Saturday resolving to back the president's yet-to-be-officially-declared plan to contest the presidential poll.

The meeting, convened by the Oyo State Governor, Adebayo Alao Akala, was attended by the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) and former President Olusegun Obasanjo , governors of the four PDP- controlled states in the zone-Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti and their deputies, Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, Speaker of the House of Representative, Dimeji Bankole, ministers, speakers of the state Houses of Assembly, state chairmen of the party, former governors and former deputy governors.

In a communiqué read by the party's National Vice Chairman (South-West) Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo, at the end of the almost four- hour parley, held behind closed door, the zone observed that notable aspirants including the president, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar had declared interest in vying for the presidency on the PDP platform. While recognizing the right of every Nigerian to aspire to the highest position, the zone declared that it endorsed the candidature of Jonathan after 'rigorous and exhaustive deliberation'.

In reaching the decision, the leaders said they collated, deliberated, studied, analyzed and assessed the views of the people of the zone on the aspirants,  based on their antecedents and capability to move the nation forward.They added that this was without prejudice to the position of the party's National Executive Council (NEC) on the issue of zoning. The meeting also commended steps taken by the National Assembly and the presidency to facilitate free and fair polls, with the enactment of the Electoral Act, restructuring of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and provision of the needed funds for the electoral umpire.

Neither Oladipo nor Obasanjo who chaired the meeting entertained questions from reporters who were called in for briefing after the closed door session. Oladipo only assured that the communiqué was unanimously adopted by the whole house. Sources at the meeting confirmed that there was not even a whimper of opposition to the endorsement of the president's bid, except for a question from a member of the House of Representatives ,who wanted to know if President Jonathan had declared intention to contest, for this to be taken as basis for deliberation and decision ab-initio.

At this stage, Sunday Sun learnt that Chief Obasanjo, who chaired the session, called on those whom the President had confided in to speak, to which the Ekiti State Governor, Segun Oni and his Ogun State counterpart , Gbenga Daniel, who was hitherto touted to be in General  Babangida's camp responded.

The two governors were said to have said even if the President was yet to declare publicly, his body language had suggested that he was keen on the project. Oni, in particular, was quoted as saying that the President told him he was consulting stakeholders across the country on the issue ,remarking that 'you don't consult on something you are not interested in'.

Discussion at the forum was said to have been free, frank and incisive, with former Deputy Governor of Ekiti State , Mrs Abiodun Olujimi commending the organisers for their transparency and democratic inclinations in putting all the cards on the table and allowing free debate. She had thought the 'elders' had made up their minds on what to do and merely wanted to use the forum as rubber stamp ,she was reported to have said ,noting gladly, however, that this was not so. Consequently, she pledged the support of the followers to the leaders' initiative.

Speaking in support of President Jonathan, a chieftain of the party Shuaibu Oyedokun, likened Nigeria to an aircraft being flown by a pilot and a co-pilot, before the demise of former President Umaru Yar'Adua.

He reasoned that with the death of the pilot, the co-pilot,(i.e. Jonathan ) had to continue the voyage if the fate of the aircraft and all the passengers on board are not to be imperiled.

Some other delegates were said to have cautioned the sitting that in choosing which horse to back, it must take care not to do anything that could offend the sensibilities of the Yoruba people, a point interpreted as a veiled reference to the June 12, 1993 Presidential election voided by the Babangida regime.

Second Republic Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), was also said to have counseled that they be guided by what the country needed at this stage of its development, someone with drive, energy and vision.

The elder statesman reportedly said Oyo State, where he hails from knew its onions and was ready to support any credible candidate agreed upon. He assured the candidate of Oyo's massive votes, noting that the PDP, apart from winning the state in the 2007 had won all the bye-elections ordered in disputed polls to date.

Two Pro-Jonathan groups held the parley amidst a solidarity visit and lobby from the South-South and the north. The South South team was led by Dr .Atuboyedia Wolfe Obianime, while the northern delegation was headed by a former minister in the Obasanjo regime, Alhaji Bala Kaoje Audu . Both groups hailed the South-West decision when invited into the chamber at the end of the meeting.

Dr. Obianime who is the President of Ijaw National Congress (INC) described it as an 'historic pronouncement in a historic hall' referring to the old Western Region Parliament Building , venue of the meeting.

He noted the zone's leadership role in pushing the frontiers of democracy and oneness of   Nigeria , adding that 'since the South-West has spoken, Nigeria has spoken'.

He promised that President Jonathan would not disappoint the aspiration of the zone, stressing: 'He has a task, he will fulfill it. What has gone out today will become a new defining moment in our democracy'.

Kaoje Audu spoke in similar vein. His words: 'The South-West has always been the leader in given direction to the nation. The South-West has done it again, other zones need to copy this ,there is nothing better than doing what will ensue the peaceful co-existence amongst us. Any zone that does anything contrary shows it is not aware of what to do in the interest and unity of this nation.

Governor Adebayo Alao Akala in his address noted that South-West had always dictated the pace any time critical and knotty political issues confronting the nation needed sorting since 1957.

He urged delegates to let their decision flow 'from our age-long tradition of political maturity and that this must be a quality resolution capable of waxing this nation together and guarantee sustainable political harmony, which could form the bedrock of economic recovery of our great country'.

Welcoming delegates earlier, Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo had said 'today in our meeting and party,the subject of who becomes the presidential candidate of the party has become an issue ,because it is sure that whoever becomes the candidate is coasting home to becoming the next president of the nation. It is because of this fact we now have an array of presidential aspirants on the platform of our party.I enjoin you all to look at these candidates and take critical look at them so that our zone can pitch our tent with the right candidate.

Also at the gathering were ,the former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, the deputy governor of Ogun State, Alhaja Salimot Badru,Erelu Olusola Obada, the deputy governor of Osun State, former governor of Osun State ,Senator Isiaka Adeleke, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Nigeria Ambassador to Ghana, Musiliu Obanikoro, Senators Iyabo Obasanjo and the PDP zonal woman leader, Mrs Oluwole.