Former Niger State governor Babangida Aliyu recently struck a raw nerve within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when he claimed that northern governors undermined Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition and PDP’s hope in the 2015 presidential election. CHIBUZO UKAIBE reflects on the issues.
Former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, has been politically embattled lately. His recent outburst tells it all.
Just when he managed to survive being suspended by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the state level, thanks to the intervention of the party’s national leadership, his claim that northern governor’s worked against former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, unsettled the party and the political space, somewhat.
While struggling to defend himself over claims of anti-party activities in 2015, the former governor, in trying to explain that his action was a collective decision, declared that all the 19 northern governors agreed to work against Jonathan because he failed to honour an agreement he had with them in 2011 not to contest in 2015.
He said, “following the sudden passage of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, the leadership of the then governing Peoples Democratic Party along with the state governors under the flagship of the party had series of meetings on the presidency and the future of our great party.
“All the governors in the north under the PDP supported the then Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to complete the remaining years of Yar’Adua’s tenure and to contest the next presidential election as a sole candidate of our great party. However, midway, President Goodluck Jonathan insisted to run for the office in 2015 against the grain of our earlier agreement.
“Since this was against the grain of our earlier agreement in the party, and which we the governors in the north felt the north would have been shortchanged if Jonathan had succeeded, we rose stoutly to insist on the agreement we all had. On that premise, we opposed Jonathan. But all along, Goodluck Jonathan had enjoyed every support from the governors in the north and the entire region.”
As much as this claim has been whispered within the party and the political space for a while, it never got the kind of traction it has until now. However, mindful of the import of that allegation, former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, said he wasn’t a party to the alleged agreement.
In a statement by his spokesman, Clinton Garuba, he said there was no basis for him not to have supported Jonathan, especially when the contest was against Buhari.
“Jang did not hide his conviction concerning Buhari’s inabilities to resolve the nation’s challenges and sensitivities of the issues at the moment. Unfortunately, Buhari won and we are all witnesses to the tales of woes,” Jang said.
Also, one of Jonathan’s rivals within PDP, former Jigawa State governor, Mallam Sule Lamido, denied knowledge of such agreement.
“I am not aware of any meeting at which such a decision was taken,” the former Jigawa State governor stated. He added, “In fact, it was Governor Babangida, who in one of our NEC meetings at Wadata, implored me to back off my indifferent posture towards Jonathan, which I did and received a very warm applause from NEC members.”
Jonathan, speaking through his aide, Reno Omokri, didn’t hesitate to go hard on Aliyu, while daring Aliyu, just like he did in 2014, to produce any written agreement that he would do just one term.
He said, “Mr. Aliyu says the agreement the northern governors had with former President Jonathan was for him to finish off President Yar’Adua’s first term between May 6, 2010 and May 29, 2011, and then contest for only one term between May 29, 2011 and May 29, 2015. If this is true, then how come former President Jonathan lost the votes of Niger State at the Peoples Democratic Party presidential primary of January 13, 2011? How come, also, that former President Jonathan lost the actual presidential election, which held on April 16, 2011 to the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, Muhammadu Buhari, in Niger State?
“General Muhammadu polled 652,574 votes to then President Jonathan’s 321,429 in Niger State in 2011. He got more than twice the number of votes secured by former President Jonathan.
“So, even if we want to say for argument’s sake that there was such an agreement, of which there was no such agreement, wouldn’t Governor Babangida Aliyu have been expected to have kept to his side of the bargain?”
Still, the back and forth is indicative of the tense undercurrents within the PDP, a situation that could upset its desire to return to power at the centre in 2023.
Pundits aver that the seeming bad blood between Jonathan and PDP northern leaders, especially former PDP governors, is yet to abate.
This is more so because his 2011 ambition unsettled the Northern political oligarchy who were aggrieved he usurped the turn of the region in the PDP power sharing arrangement after the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The intrigues surrounding Jonathan’s transition from vice presidency to substantive president (being from a minority tribe) after the demise of Yar’Adua had won him lots of goodwill among Nigerians who were largely attuned to having a president they could relate to.
“The factors such as the handling of the late president’s health, the seeming refusal to allow Jonathan take over, his minority status, his humble background combined somehow to give Jonathan an appealing story at the time,” said political analysts, Chuks Nwachukwu.
“So the clamour for Jonathan’s presidency in 2011 was quite high which made it difficult for the likes of President Olusegun Obasanjo not to key into it,” he added.
Obasanjo led the campaign for Jonathan’s 2011 candidacy especially in the North. But the search for a northern consensus candidate by late Adamu Ciroma, underscored the force of resistance.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar eventually emerged consensus candidate of the Ciroma-led search team.
However, northern PDP governors, who were serving their first tenures at the time, backed Jonathan’s ambition which led to Atiku’s defeat at the PDP primaries and Jonathan’s victory against Buhari at the presidential poll.
As the 2015 polls approached, then governor of Niger State, Aliyu, shock the political space when he disclosed that Jonathan had intent of seeking a second term against a purported agreement he reached ahead of 2011 election.
Jonathan’s special adviser on political matters at the time, Ahmed Gulak, denied the president’s signing or agreeing not to contest in 2015.
With most of the governors serving out their constitutionally mandated tenure and desirous of seeking higher offices, the battle line was drawn over the party’s 2015 ticket.
The agitated former northern governors had Obasanjo on their sideagainst Jonathan. Obasanjo at the time was widely speculated to be backing Lamido to take over from the then incumbent.
Jonathan was able to secure the party ticket after series of intrigues including the formation of nPDP by some governors and eventual defection of others to the newly formed APC.
However, PDP lost the 2015 presidential election, amid speculations that most of its governors in the North sabotaged its chance because of Jonathan.
A former state chairman of the party who spoke to LEADERSHIP in confidence said, “its common knowledge now that that unfortunate incident in 2015 cost us so much. I think the former governors supported Jonathan in 2011, because they were hoping to take over from him. So when that did not work out, it was always going to cause tensions within the party.”
While Aliyu’s stirring comments on the undercurrents within PDP was intended to defend himself over accusations of anti-party activities, it clearly struck some raw nerves within the party. How this would impact the party’s fortunes going forward is another matter.