By Yusuf Alli:

* Row over 2011 ticket

Barely 24 hours after a meeting of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Ijaw elders, there is anxiety in the North over the motive of the secret talks.

The popular thinking is that the meeting discussed substantive presidency for Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and the 2011 presidential ticket.

But the Chairman of the ACF, Gen. I.B.M Haruna, said there was no cause for alarm.

Acting President Goodluck

Acting President Goodluck

Investigation by The Nation revealed that 27 prominent Ijaw leaders, led by Dr. Atuboyedia Obianime, had on Wednesday met with an ACF team in Kaduna to open a new window of rapprochement.

Other members of the Niger Delta delegation are Victor Burubo; Dawari Boisa; Chief Joshua Benamaisa; Chief Victor Awala; Mr R.E. O. Esite; Mrs. Bamuza-Mutu; Mr. Theo Ezonfade; Abiye Karibo; Mrs. Beatrice Agama and Lady Ann Yougha.

There were also Prof. Tekena Tamuno; Chief A. K. Horsfall; Dr. T.A. T. Allison; Sir G.T.G. Toby; Prof. Amakiri; Senator Diffa; Chief T.K. Okorotie; Amba Ambaiowei; Prof. Turner Isoun; Chief Francis Doukpola; Amb. Lawrence Ekpebu; Chief Joshua Fumudoh; Prof. Dime; Chief F.J. Williams; Hon. Akangbou; and Chief Senator T.J. Odoabaji.

Although the leader of the delegation told reporters that they decided to reach out to various power blocks to stabilise the polity, there was anxiety in the North over what transpired behind closed doors.

Obianime had said: “But we felt that years of separation and years of distance and non-dialogue must have led to years of distrust and mistrust.

“It is within that context that we felt that in the new world view of non-violence, maybe if we begin to reach out to the various power blocks in the country, if we begin to talk to everybody and everybody talks to everybody, the system will be more stabilised and there will be less heat in the polity.”

Findings revealed that some Northern leaders, especially the pro-President Umaru Yar’Adua loyalists, have become jittery, following suspicion that the meeting might be a ploy to convince the North to dump the ailing President.

It was gathered that some Northern leaders also met in Abuja yesterday to review the Wednesday meeting in Kaduna with the ACF.

A highly-placed source said: “We learnt the delegation went there to solicit understanding of the ACF to back Jonathan as the nation’s substantive President. They are plotting to dump Yar’Adua, which will be unfortunate.

“We are worried that they went there to lay the foundation for the eventual plot to remove Yar’Adua from power. But they are hiding under the agenda of stabilising the country.

“We were also told that the Niger Delta leaders subtly laid the foundation for 2011 presidential ticket for Jonathan. They want Jonathan to complete the ongoing first term of President Yar’Adua and run in 2011.

“The idea they are trying to sell to the North is that if Jonathan is allowed to become the President in 2011, the South-South would have had two terms in office. They are saying that the North can then go for fresh two terms from 2015.

“But we felt as Northern leaders, it will be foolish of us to fall for that bait because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has zoned the presidential ticket to the North in 2011.”

A prominent Northern leader, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said: “My brief remark is that if what I read in the newspapers was true, it is unfortunate because it has portrayed Goodluck as a President of Ijaw and not Nigeria. If South-South leaders had teamed up to meet with the ACF, it would have been a different matter.

“Secondly, it will be fool-hardy for them to go to Northern leaders to ask them to throw away their son and embrace their (Ijaw’s) son. I don’t think it will make sense.

“I leave the ACF leaders to their judgment because they are mature people. If they think it is good to throw away their son, it is their business.”

But ACF Chairman, Gen. I.B.M. Haruna, said last night: “The meeting has reinforced our faith in the nation building of Nigeria as a united country. It has shown that with each other’s cooperation, we can build a united and viable nation.

“We did not meet on Jonathan’s 2011 presidency. We just agreed that we should join forces to impart the right political character in the youth; fight corruption and ensure that budget and fiscal measures are obeyed.

“We are socio-cultural groups. It is left to political parties to give us candidates. We only want to make sure that political reform is pursued diligently to guarantee basic freedoms and empower whoever is seeking any office.”

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