Nigeria: the battle for 2007; The battle for Nigeria's presidential seat in 2007 has begun in earnest and early indications are that it is going to be dirty. Pini Jason reports.
Marwa's trouble is that Vice President Abubakar Atiku, another top contender, is also from Adamawa State and Governor Haruna is an Atiku loyalist. In fact, in 1999 Atiku won the Adamawa State governorship election with Haruna as his deputy. When Obasanjo picked Atiku as his running mate, Haruna succeeded Atiku as governor. And since Marwa declared interest in the presidency, Adamawa has become a state Nigerians expect to be one of the battlefields for 2007.
From Minna in Niger State, is another presidential contender, the Maradonna of Nigerian politics and the country's former military president for eight years, Gen Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. Speaking mainly through ventriloquists, the man known as IBB has slowly built a nationwide campaign structure made up of his erstwhile military friends.
Although IBB has not made a categorical statement about his presidential ambition, he has engaged in a thinly veiled dogfight with Atiku since 2003 for Obasanjo's seat. Another of Marwa's problem with the Adamawa State government is that he is suspected to be IBB's decoy to undermine Atiku in his home base. One of IBB's associates told New African: "Yes, IBB would love to be back in power if the environment is favourable. If not, he would throw his weight behind Marwa." Yet Marwa, a known loyalist of IBB, insists that he is nobody's proxy.
Whereas Atiku controls the Peoples' Democratic Movement (PDM), a movement founded by Obasanjo's late deputy, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, and whose members form the major plank of the PDP platform, IBB is reputed to have a lot of money and is spending it generously. But the Achilles heel of both men is the man they want to succeed. Reliable sources say that Obasanjo has vowed that neither Atiku nor IBB would succeed him. Observers point to the emergence of damaging reports about both Atiku and IBB. In April, Atiku's media adviser was fired by Obasanjo for disassociating Atiku from a scandal over the sale of federal government houses in highbrow Ikoyi, Lagos, in which the siblings of Obasanjo's wife, Stella, were implicated. Obasanjo's relationship with Atiku has been an uneasy one following his indecisiveness over whether to support Obasanjo during the presidential primary contest of 2003. Last May, the report of an enquiry ordered by Abacha into the disbursement of oil earned during the Gulf War was published by the Nigerian magazine, The News, and was less than flattering to IBB. Obasanjo is believed to be scouting for his own candidates and the presence of his son at Marwa's declaration was interpreted as an endorsement of him.
Meanwhile, Gen Mohammadu Buhari, who contested the seat with Obasanjo in 2003, is still in the reckoning for 2007. He continues to contest Obasanjo's 2003 victory in the Supreme Court, but his chances in 2007 depend on how much support he garners from his All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Since 2003, his relationship with the ANPP has been far from cordial. Moreover, the ANPP, like the other parties, has reeled from one crisis after another. A further ANPP presidential aspirant is the controversial governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Sani Yerima. It was Yerima who lit the fire of sharia under Obasanjo's regime in 2000 when he had his own campaign train stopped in Jos, Plateau State in May. Plateau has just come out of a religious and ethnic violence which took hundreds of lives and culminated in the declaration of a state of emergency. Northerners who are warming up for Obasanjo's job, do so in the belief that it is the turn of the North to occupy State House after Obasanjo's eight years in power. But other zones in the South disagree. The South-East and the South-South (Niger Delta) regions argue that given the length of time the North held power, it would be too soon for it to return after Obasanjo. Such posturing influenced deliberations at the National Political Reforms Conference with Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State declaring his presidential ambition and criss-crossing the country with his campaign.
The South-South zone said it will not compromise with its quest for the presidency. To show that it meant business, the South-South held a summit of its leaders to form an alliance with the Middle Belt zone in May. Although no candidate has made an open declaration, observers believe it would be a straight fight between Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State and Dr. Peter Odili of Rivers State. Also oiling the machinery of their campaign are Dr. Chimaraoke Nnamani, Governor of Enugu state, and Dr. Sam Egwu, Governor of Ebonyi State.
Politics of succession in Nigeria is never without the unusual. Another angle was introduced to the whole equation in May when Obasanjo's foot soldiers at the Political Reforms Conference circulated an unsigned draft constitution, which canvassed for a six-year single term for president and five-year single term for governors. Nigerians, ever wary of the reluctance of their leaders to relinquish power, raised the alarm that the draft was intended to extend Obasanjo's tenure beyond 2007. The rumour had, indeed, been rife that Obasanjo was plotting for a third term. He gave credence to the murmurings when in March he confessed in Germany that he was under pressure to stay beyond 2007. In May, one of Obasanjo's nominees to the Conference, Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe, launched a campaign for Obasanjo to kick off the proposed six-year single-term by extending his second term by two more years.
Gnawed by a sense of deja vu, Nigerians roundly condemned Mbadiwe's call. They were particularly shocked that Obasanjo, who earned his status as international statesman by voluntarily handing over to civilians in 1979, would want to rubbish his reputation by subjecting himself to the manipulations of political jobbers. More shocking was that he did not reprimand the campaigners for his self-perpetuation in office.
More disappointing is that none of the aspirants so far has presented Nigerians with any economic or political blueprint. Contest for power in Nigeria has always been based on ethnic, sectional and religious permutations, not on issues. Thus, the quality of performance of governments has never met the aspirations of the people. Ordinarily the economy is supposed to define political contest instead of ethnicity or religion. But this, after all, is Nigeria.