From Imam Imam:
• Nine top candidates emerging

With the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) set to unveil the programme for the 2011 general election tomorrow, political activities – both subtle and open – have been revved up, with key actors embarking on consultations across the country in preparation for the presidential poll.

The emerging calculation is that no matter what happens, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua cannot seek a second term because of his health.
The best he can do if he recovers, according to the permutations, is to work with his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and bring his presidency to a proper closure by May 2011.

“Yar’Adua cannot win any election again, even if he comes back tomorrow riding on a high horse,” a former member of the National Assembly told THISDAY last night.

THISDAY has identified nine emerging candidates, some of whom have already declared their interests in the race.
Former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, is said to be highly interested in the race but, as a measured risk-taker, may not throw his hat in the ring except he is very sure of a political consensus to back him.

“Babangida is deliberately being ambivalent – he would neither deny nor confirm his ambition,” a senior official of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said. “He wants Northern leaders to come out and endorse him, but the message to him is simple: come out if you want to run. The time for reluctant candidates is over.”

His bereavement recently is said to be further proof of Babangida’s goodwill and strong political weight as governors and other politicians, diplomats and the business elite ceaselessly flocked into his Minna, Niger State residence to commiserate with him over his wife, Maryam.

The new National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, is also said to be highly interested in the race, but his close relationship with Babangida is being interpreted to mean Gusau will be a fall-back option if Babangida decides not to run.
Gusau is highly respected in the local and international intelligence community and was a PDP presidential aspirant in 2006 before the governors decided to back Yar’Adua.

Babangida and Gusau are being marketed partly on the basis of their ages. Babangida will be 69 next year and could be considered too old to go for a second term in 2015, thereby opening the door for a Southern candidate and dousing fears that the North may keep power for 12 unbroken years if a younger candidate becomes president.

The NSA, who was brought back to office last week by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, is being marketed also based on the fact that he may not do more than one term. He is 67 years old and will be 71 in 2015.
Both Babangida and Gusau are said to be ready to retain Jonathan as Vice-President if he agrees. But other candidates are also reportedly ready to match the offer to Jonathan.

However, Southerners are likely to view a Northern candidate with suspicion because of the fear that whoever emerges may want to spend two terms, meaning if the PDP continues to win elections, the South may not have a chance till 2019.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy for eight years, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is also fancying his chances. He was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993 and has never hidden his ambition of becoming president. Many had tipped him to succeed Obasanjo until both of them fell out.

Former head of state, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), is also hoping to run again, having tried unsuccessfully twice as the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007.
At least, three Northern governors are warming up for the race, while two former governors from the South are also ready to try their luck.

From the North, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, who is also the chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, is reportedly holding consultations, while Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State is also interested. Both of them are members of the PDP.
Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State has already declared his intention, but he belongs to the ANPP which is currently embroiled in crisis and controls only three states, compared to the nine it had in 1999.

Former Governor of Lagos, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the Action Congress (AC), is also said to be eyeing the race, but it is not yet clear his overall game plan. AC is still largely a South-west party with some in-roads into Edo and alliance with the Labour Party (LP) in Ondo.

Tinubu, according to information, may be eyeing the Vice-Presidential slot in any of the parties, using the political base of AC as a bargaining chip.

Mr. Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River, recently declared his intention to run, but his party, the PDP, has already declared that it has zoned the presidency to the North.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the 19 Northern governors may play a leading role in the choice of the person to emerge as possible successor to Yar’Adua.

The move by the governors may not however go down well with some power blocs in the region.
Information available to THISDAY indicates that the governors want a firm control on the process leading to the emergence of the presidential candidate, and so far, 16 PDP governors in the region are lobbying their three colleagues still in the ANPP to allow non-partisan consideration in their choice.

The three ANPP governors are Shekarau, Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno state and Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe state.
Sources revealed in Kaduna yesterday that the initial plan was for the governors to discuss the proposal at their meeting next week, but had to be shelved to allow for a definite decision on the date for the 2011 presidential election which is currently being debated by the National Assembly.

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