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By NBF News
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Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau, are believed to be frontrunners of the four presidential aspirants under consideration for adoption as northern consensus presidential candidate. Impeccable sources close to members of the consensus search team disclosed that opinion leaders in the 18 northern states visited favour the duo among the four aspirants in the race.

But the northern elders would pick only a candidate from the list comprising General Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Aliyu Gasau and Bukola Saraki so that the Northern members of the PDP would be able to vote for just one of them during the party primaries. The search team has reportedly been visiting emirs, Christian leaders, Islamic clerics, and state governors to collate their assessment of the four presidential aspirants from the north.

According to a source, the search team began the fact-finding tour from Sokoto where they met with the Sultan of Sokoto before meeting the Emir of Gwandu. The team then went round the entire northern landscape to meet all the foremost traditional rulers whose views are considered important to the ultimate decision of which presidential candidate to adopt. The search team is expected to complete its tour of the entire north this week with a visit to Kogi and Kwara states.

However, sources close to the team said the picture of the final decision to be taken is already emerging even before the final lap of the tour. The source said with over 90 per cent of the opinion leaders consulted by the group, it had become clear that most of the northern leaders prefer Atiku Abubakar and Aliyu Gusau to fly the northern flag.

The search team had listed four criteria through which the opinion leaders assessed the candidates.

The criteria include their feelings about the readiness of the candidates for the task of providing competent leadership for the country, acceptability of the aspirants across the six geo-political zones, the democratic credentials of the aspirants and the political structure of the aspirants to successfully compete in the presidential primaries against the incumbent President, Good luck Jonathan.

One of the sources said Atiku is rated highly by many of the respondents on the four criteria.

'Many of the respondents also commented positively on his democratic credentials and ability to mobilise support across the country. The former vice president is also favoured by many of them who said he is the only candidate that has demonstrated that he has a programme of action to implement if elected President', he said.

The source added that Aliyu Gusau's strong point highlighted by many of the respondents is his ability to link up with Nigerians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Although international connection of the candidates was not listed among the criteria, many of the respondents are said to have acknowledged Gusau's contacts in many world capitals which may help Nigeria to raise her foreign profile.

Many respondents are also said to have said Gusau has the necessary background to address the problem of security in the country.

He is said to have been rated highly on readiness to provide leadership and acceptance nationwide. But many of the respondents do not think he has a political structure that can confront an incumbent president.

Many of the respondents particularly the emirs and influential Islamic clerics were said to have expressed the views that General Ibrahim Babangida should not have bothered to join the race because he had been president for eight years as a military man.

They felt he should be a statesman and give others the opportunity to serve at that level.

With specific reference to the criteria set by the search committee, many of the respondents were said to have submitted that the opposition to General Babangida were so overwhelming that it is doubtful if his choice can help the North realize the ambition of producing a president in 2011.

Although many of the respondents reportedly admitted that Babangida has a political structure for the campaign, they felt the opposition to him has been too much for a candidate who will stand a fair chance of winning the presidency. Many of them were said to have rated him high on readiness to govern.

On Governor Saraki, sources said most of the emirs and religious leaders felt he still stands a fair chance if he contests for the office of president in future. They acknowledged that after Atiku, he is the one who has shown that he has a programme on how to govern the country. The team, according to sources, is expected to collate its findings this week and begin preparation to announce a consensus candidate.