(Vanguard of Sunday, April 16, 2006)
I am going to moderate what people are saying about what has been rocking the political terrain for some two weeks now. No, I am not afraid to push my own views, however painful they may be to some who may not understand that I look issues in the face and pull the trigger, even if the bullet will hit my wife. Even at the risk of repeating myself, because I have done so in the past, I should give you some background this week.
As a foundation member of the PDP, I worked as media campaign director to Chief Alex Ekwueme. They say we lost in Jos in 1999. We did not expect to lose, but we did lose. Many were angry that we were declared losers to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who was said to have been brought from the backdoor into the party. IBB was being openly accused of having coordinated our defeat.
I have no way of proving that, but we knew IBB was in Jos before our team arrived there. We were quartered in the residence of a retired general and that I felt unease throughout was something I could not explain until I later discovered that many of the generals coming to us were doing what the army knew best – reconnoitering. I know two who were very close to IBB who came along, for the first time in Jos, but if I was with Ekwueme and I was close to IBB, why should others close to IBB not also come to Ekwueme? But my mission there was different from theirs.
I was an announced performer in favour of Ekwueme’s ticket and my bosom professional colleagues and friends, Onyema Ugochukwu and Stanley Macebuh, were for Chief Obasanjo. That we were on different sides of the same party meant nothing to the media men that we were and have continued to be. You had a job to do and you did the job professionally.
When we lost, people in our camp put the loss squarely at the door of IBB. They said he was responsible for the prolonged delay in starting the voting after accreditation of delegates. They said he was responsible for the lights that suddenly failed at the Jos stadium at a critical time when the voting would begin. When the lights came on and we saw two ambulances moving around as if they were there to cater for those who would collapse from the tension, no one suspected anything until after the nominations when people started to allege that those ambulances were not there to cater for the sick.
They had come, they said, to make things happen positively in favour of the retired generals who were even ready to substitute trusted names for those already accredited, and that had to be done by buying genuine delegates out! What did they not say to explain why we lost? But one thing was clear. IBB and his friend Aliyu Gusau were associated with working behind the scene. The man who swore he would leave the country if Obasanjo failed to be president was Gen Theophilus Danjuma. I had reacted with an Open Letter to the Desperadoes.
But in the calculations that went into winning the elections, one area that those outside did not look into critically was which of the disparate groupings constituting the PDP Obasanjo was going to use. Rimi was home and dry for the vice presidential position, and he had worked openly for this when for more than three hours he went from delegation to delegation at the stadium warning that voting for Ekwueme would mean bringing back the case Biafra made at Aburi in Ghana before the civil war.
Ekwueme would introduce regional government which would be too powerful to control, and which could leave Nigeria at will. A close friend from Kano told me Ekwueme would win hands down but that the North… Note what I have just told you. He said the North had decided to give the presidency to Obasanjo because the Yoruba had been hurt because of the annulment of the June 12 Presidential elections. I said the West would not vote for Obasanjo. He said the West could go wherever they wished with their votes but that it was Obasanjo who would win because it was Obasanjo they in the North trusted to stabilize the polity. What of Ekwueme? He agreed that Ekwueme had been very faithful and loyal to Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983, but that the Igbo could not be President of Nigeria before the Yoruba had it.
When we got to Abuja after the primaries and the filing of names with INEC had to be done, the first shock we had was that it was not Rimi’s name that emerged as running mate to Obasanjo. It was Atiku Abubakar who had already won the governorship seat in Adamawa State. For those slow in accessing why things that happen in politics happen, we were to know that the PDM of Yar’Adua which Atiku, Anenih, Okadigbo and co belonged to and controlled had been the platform of Obasanjo.
So OBJ had come into government apparently without a programme, without a forum! But he started by shaking up everywhere except those areas which he seemed to have abandoned to the Vice President. For the first four years in office, he spent about a whole year traveling outside Nigeria in search of the honour Nigeria had lost during the years of the military locusts. He overdid it, but this hunger for foreign travels left the home front to his deputy.
The analysis of the President’s performance in the first four years shows to the unbiased that we had a parallel administration in Aso Rock – The President’s and the Vice President’s. Not that the President did not try to take control of the political apparatus. He did. Many of his kinsmen who lost their ministerial appointments – Sarumi, Edu, Afolabi etc were not his nominees in the first place. They were close associates of Atiku.
When 2003 came and the President consulted at the highest level and God told him he had to continue, the Vice President did not seem to have been in the reckoning as a running mate. Even the public declaration neatly schemed Atiku out, but he seemed to have emerged from nowhere to give the vote of thanks after the declaration. Then the plots started to take shape. Many of the Governors said they could not market the President’s candidature, and that Atiku must run.
In the alternative, he should run with Ekwueme and take over after Ekwueme had done one term. This plan collapsed about 12 hours before the primaries. And who but Lawal Kaita, recently arrested for recruiting area boys for his new party, was said to have presided at a meeting where Atiku was advised to choose between two rigid people. One would break under pressure. The other would not break under pressure. It was thought that the one who would not break under pressure was Alex Ekwueme.
He was rigid on principles and would not budge whatever happened. The one who would cave in under enough pressure was Chief Obasanjo. The Vice President should therefore choose. He chose OBJ. And my comment was that the first victim of Obasanjo’s second coming would be Atiku.
When I saw the Vice President saying openly at a forum in Abuja organized to discuss the now notorious Third Term Agenda of public office-holders, I was not surprised when he confessed that he had been, so to say, through hell for three years having been dubbed a disloyal vice president. Presidential spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode even seemed to be confirming the sentence the VP was serving in Siberia when he said the Vice President’s disloyalty had resulted in his being caged. “How do you assign work to someone who is patently disloyal” seemed to be what Femi was trying to put across.
The questions then started to flow in. Who can the Vice President be said to be disloyal to – to the one he swore allegiance to or to the one he works with? Or to both? And what constitutes disloyalty? What the boss says or what the brief you are given contains? These are the issues I said I would moderate. Next week.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 1236 – 126; Lagos, 2008).