2015: Anxiety over a running mate
Category: Inside politics Written by Andrew Agbese & Ismail Mudashir, Kaduna
Since reports of a meeting between Vice President Namadi Sambo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo early in the year, calculations to ensure President Goodluck Jonathan is guaranteed a safe lead when he eventually declares to contest for the presidential seat in 2015 have come with many ideas, one of which is that the President should drop Vice President Namadi Sambo as running mate. Our correspondent looks at the issues and how it has been handled so far.
There has not been any open confrontation or indirect exchanges between President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo to suggest a parting of ways since Jonathan picked Sambo to be vice president in 2010 following the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
But since the reported meeting between President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Vice president in Kaduna, there are a lot that happened around the presidency that suggests the two men may have had cause to review their relationship.
With the efforts made to cover up whether the meeting held or not, details have appeared sketchy, but has given room to all kinds of speculations all centered round the quest for 2015.
Before last week’s court judgment which okayed President Jonathan to contest the 2015 election, hawks within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are said to have concentrated efforts on clearing the ground for him to make sure he runs in 2015 and were only waiting for the court judgment to decide on the next line of action.
They were said to have met and examined among other things, issues that could stand in the way of the President, should he get a judicial clearance to run and were said to have factored in his relationship with his vice president and weighed the pros and cons of pairing Jonathan with Sambo for the 2015 elections.
At the end of the meeting, it was decided that there should be an alteration in the ticket for the president’s chances to be enhanced in 2015, consequently; leaders of the party were said to have advised President Goodluck Jonathan to consider picking another running mate in the next general elections to enhance his chances of returning to office.
Those trying to convince Jonathan to dump Sambo according to reports, hinge their positions on the what they consider to be the Vice President’s lack of political clout outside Kaduna, and the need to have a stronger personality preferably a governor from one the states in the North West, so as to boost Jonathan chances of winning more votes in the North.
Sources in the PDP say the fear of losing the north in case the President decides to run in 2015 became heightened with the coming together of the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives’ Congress (APC).
It is feared that if the merger succeeds, majority of the northerners who had split their votes in past elections by voting either the ANPP or CPC and had in the process helped the PDP to whittle down the effect of opposition votes would now have only one platform to cast their votes which has the tendency of enhancing the votes of the opposition to the detriment of the PDP.
This, coupled with the near fanatical followership for Buhari it is reasoned would only serve to boost the chances of the candidate produced by the merging parties.
In the South West too, unlike in the past where a distinction was made between the ACN and other opposition parties in terms of votes cast, the common platform provided by the new party may imply a better prospects for the opposition leaving no gaping holes for the PDP to exploit.In the face of these realities, the PDP leaders according to sources at a recent meeting, suggested that the PDP has to move towards repositioning itself to win more votes in the north and that this could only be done with the influence of people with strong political clouts in the region.
Those considered as replacement
Governor Ibarhim Shema of Katsina who was favoured to take over as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum topped the list among the PDP governors from the North West as he is said to enjoy considerable support from his colleague governors and party embers and is said have influence outside his home state of Katsina having served in the national leadership of the party.
But some were said to have favoured looking outside the party to woo those considered to wield more influence in the region.
Our correspondent learnt that it was at this point that the name of former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani was suggested and many agreed that he could be an asset as he could easily bring along the Zamfara governor to the PDP while his exit would further weaken the APC.
Sources say the talk could not be concluded however as he was not willing to leave his seat in the senate to take up appointment as a minister and is said not to be comfortable with the idea of running mate from now since anything can happen in the over one a half years remaining for the president to decide on the matter.
He was also said to have preferred to work remain in his party for now since the leadership of the PDP in his state were not his people saying he could lose if the table turns against him.
VP’s supporters deny conspiracy
But more than that, there are those who feel the vice president may also be making his own calculations alluding to the Kaduna meeting with Obasanjo.
Supporters of the Vice President have however deny this saying the reports are not true.
Alhaji Maikudi Tela who is the director general of the Jonathan/ Sambo campaign organisation in Kaduna denied the Kaduna meeting with Obasanjo saying the Vice President was in Kaduna due to the then new government put in place in the state and not for any other purpose.
“My boss Alhaji Namadi Sambo was in Kaduna due to what God has destined to happen in the state. There was a new government in place in the state and as an indigene of the state, he was here to meet with the people of the state. He met with different groups with the intention of uniting the people so that there would be peace and unity among the citizenry.
“This is what brought my boss to Kaduna state. Let me assure you, all the people that made such accusations did that for selfish reasons. I know my boss is not a trouble maker, not a greedy person but a loyal and straightforward person. He’ll never do anything that will hurt or displease president Goodluck Jonathan.”
Tela added that, “As a loyal vice president, I am very much sure that he’ll never go against the president’s interest. This is because he is not greedy and he is not interested in any political position. He will continue to be loyal to President Jonathan and we all know they are together and I know my boss will never betray the president.
Anxiety in the PDP
This has caused anxiety within the party and has added new vistas to the many issues threatening the cohesion of the party.
Very recently, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) had to deal with schism among them over the crisis rocking the state chapter of the party in Adamawa and also had to create a forum for its governors to hem in those governors it believed were getting out of the control of the party.
Sources say what has prevented the tension from boiling over has been the public disposition of President Jonathan to put on hold all discussions on 2015 till next year which has helped to discourage further discussions on the issue.
But it was obvious from the Vice President’s camp that it was not unaware of what was going on and though it has also not taken any definite action, did not leave the public in doubt that something fishy was going on.
Our correspondent learnt so far, that the strategy has been to deepen consultations to ascertain those behind the suggestion and possibly reaching them to reconsider their stand while at the same time moving ahead to reach party stakeholders to disabuse their minds from supporting the idea.
But as the suggestion remains only so for now, it has given the Vice President more time to work on diminishing the chances of the suggestion gaining wider acceptance before real politicking would commence officially next year.
Why Jonathan picked Sambo
Many factors decide the choice of running mates for presidential as well as gubernatorial candidates, but the major ones include influence of stakeholders or political parties, the electoral value of the person, the disposition to work together with the candidate and the need to balance the ticket in terms of religious or ethnic divide.
Jonathan was said to have picked Sambo as vice president in 2010, because it was said that he saw in him a humble and quite disposition with no far reaching political influence and who would not pose a threat to his 2011 ambition as the issue of zoning had then not been resolved.
But the circumstance that led to the choice have changed and may have become the very reasons why there are suggestions calling for his replacement.
Analysts say while in 2010, the need for a loyal deputy may be the overriding factor, as getting the PDP ticket was then considered too important in the political calculation, this time getting the PDP ticket does not appear as the omni bus equation to coast home to victory hence the need to make changes.
Those close to the vice president however deny that the president is contemplating taking that line of action.
Said Tela, “These are all political speculations based on selfish interests. Jonathan has not said that and my boss has never eyed President Jonathan’s position because he is still there as a loyal vice president to him and they are together as a team. If you take a look at this office of ours, you will realise that we are working for both Goodluck and Sambo,” he said.
The perceived backlash
While there are those who feel strongly about the idea, there are those who fear that taking that line of action would further divide the party as well as expose the party to danger in the face of an election stressing the heat it may generate may force some to work against the interest of the party.
It is also feared that as vice president, Sambo may have known too much and that should he decide to work against the interest of the party, the cost would be too much for the party to bear. Some of the party members said when Obasanjo found himself in a similar situation in 2003, he chose to plead with Atiku due to the damage he had foreseen the difference would cause his ambition.
But some suggest that Sambo is not as powerful as Atiku and may not be able to pull the kind of weight that could rock the house.
Like Atiku, like Sambo
In the build up to the 2003 elections when President Olusegun Obasanjo was firmly in the saddle of leadership but became interested in running for a second term, a similar proposal, like the one being sold to President Goodluck Jonathan was sold to him; that he should drop his vice, Atiku Abubakar and run with another more sellable candidate from the North.
At that time Atiku’s status had grown so big that many were not comfortable with his continuing in office especially those who were not keen on having him succeed Obasanjo.
To a large extent, Obasanjo toyed with the idea up to the point that when he declared his intention to seek a second term, he was silent about the fate of his deputy.
But later events would make Obasanjo to recant, when Atiku, pulling all his weight made to assert himself and threatened to run.
Already, vice President Namadi Sambo has established a strong base in Kaduna, where his protégé Ramalan Yero is governor. He has also working with him other strong politicians from the north like his political adviser Abba Dabo and Senator Isaiah Balat.
But his influence in the other parts of the North has not been that deep.
Unlike Atiku who used his office to build a political base and to court the loyalty of politicians across the country, Sambo has been careful not to be seen as doing anything that would draw the ire of his boss. Twice when some groups openly called on Sambo to contest as president in 2015, he quickly disowned such groups and denied having anything to do with them.
Sources say, the caution he takes not to be seen as doing anything contrary to his boss has prevented him from reaching out to governors or other political bigwigs in the country to the extent that apart from Kaduna where he hails from, he cannot vouch for the loyalty of any of the other governors.
“He cannot call for meetings on like minds, he cannot initiate or sponsor anything as anything he does would be interpreted as trying to move against his boss,” said a source.
But on other hand, his inability to assert himself has also weakened his base, making him to appear to be more at the mercy of his boss, and a weakling who could be dispensed with at the expense of political exigencies.