Lagos/Abuja — A NEW chapter in Nigerian politics was opened yesterday as President Goodluck Jonathan was coronated in Abuja by 2,812 delegates this morning as the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for next February's election. In Lagos, leaders of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) were still charting the path to the choice of their presidential candidate.
Uncertainty had enveloped the Teslim Balogun Stadium venue of the convention in Lagos, amid rumours that three of the presidential aspirants had stepped down for retired Maj.-Gen. Muhammed Buhari.
But the speculations were quickly nipped in the bud by the respective campaign organisations of the governors of Imo and Kano states, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, as well as Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership Newspapers, who were reported to have withdrawn from the race.
At the Eagle Square venue of the PDP convention, which also ratified Alhaji Adamu Mu'azu as the substantive National Chairman of the party, an over-joyed President Jonathan, who hugged his wife, Dame Patience, told the ecstatic delegates that he would not let them and the entire Nigeria down.
"I will not fail you, I will not fail Nigeria," he said to a resounding applause.
Besides others, he particularly thanked his wife and Vice President Namadi Sambo for their unalloyed support in the last four years of his administration.
The president used the occasion to confirm Sambo as his running mate in the 2015 elections, thus dispelling speculations that he could be replaced by a governor from the Northwest.
In truth, the battle line for the APC ticket had long been drawn between three-time presidential candidate, General Buhari and veteran political actor and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
To political pundits, the other three aspirants were just to make up the numbers, as the APC has opened its doors to internal democracy.
Buhari, the first to announce his intention to seek a fourth attempt at the presidency, had all things going for him until Atiku threw his hat into the ring, thus upsetting the calculations of the party leaders for a Buhari coronation.
The resoluteness of even the "fringe aspirants" added to the headache of the APC top shots in their failure to arrive at a consensus candidate, which the Buhari camp had canvassed, but which the Atiku group opposed.
The Guardian learnt that it was the same consensus arrangement, or a modicum of it that prompted the rumour last night that three of the aspirants had stepped down for Buhari.
The party, fearing rancour that might attend a primary election, had extracted a pact, in black and white, from the aspirants that they would remain in the APC and support whoever was elected as the standard bearer by the delegates to the convention.
Yet, the organisational acumen of Atiku was noticed in the early hours of yesterday, with his campaign organisation sounding it out loud that it had secured delegates from 24 of the 36 states for its principal.
The Director-General of Atiku Campaign Organisation, Prof. Babalola Borishade, had during the week told journalists in Lagos that the former Vice President had canvassed delegates' votes from 35 states, and he was sure to get between 65 and 70 per cent of the ballots at the convention.
But to analysts within, who reasoned for the party bigwigs, only the personality of General Buhari, though hampered by resources, could garner substantial votes in the North.
However, the Atiku camp had dispelled this notion, arguing that the Turakin Adamawa has the reach, the connections and blueprint to turn around the fortunes of the nation's mono-economy that is currently under the yoke of falling global oil prices.
But snippets of the tense moment had started as Buhari, in a speech, said the APC presidential slot was not for sale, a possible dig at Atiku, who is generally believed to have a war chest that could run the distance with the PDP candidate, President Jonathan.
Appearing to ignore the Buhari bait, Atiku would rather reiterate his preparedness for the job from day one, to take Nigeria to the next level.
Okorocha who is chairman of the APC's Governors Forum, called for generational shift in Nigerian politics to allow younger leaders to emerge as is the situation in many parts of the world so that modern ideas could be injected into governance.
He listed his achievements as a philanthropist and governor with free services and programmes for the people.
Kwankwaso spoke in the same vein, recalling his public career as a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Defence minister.
Nda-Isaiah reiterated his call for application of "big ideas" to governance to turn around the country's fortunes.
The Eagle Square, Abuja was a beehive of activities yesterday as 3,073 PDP delegates from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) gathered at the centre for its national convention.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is monitoring the convention.
On its part, the APC reassured Nigerians that its presidential primaries was based on the sanctity of internal democracy as obtained in developed democracies and would not take the form of a coronation being adopted by the ruling PDP.
Chairman of the Convention Planning Committee, Haliru Bello, in a welcome address, declared that the exercise was meant to properly elect three officers of the PDP including the national chairman, Ahmed Adamu Muazu, National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo and the National Auditor, Adewale Adeyanju.
He noted that the convention was also to elect the party's presidential candidate.
Before the commencement of the election of the PDP national chairman, party leaders left the state box to felicitate with their delegates at the pavilions.
Jonathan's movement to the Bayelsa State pavilion was thrilling as it was dramatic. Accompanied by Muazu himself, the President was received by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson and other key partymen in the state just as songs of victory were chanted by Bayelsa women.
Vice President Mohammed Namadi also moved to his Kaduna State pavilion. He was greeted with exciting welcome songs by the Kaduna delegates led by Governor Ramalan Yero.
At the Ebonyi pavilion, Governor Martins Elechi was conspicuously absent but other PDP stalwarts led by former Governor Sam Ewgu. The deputy governor and others were present.
The Delta State stand at the convention venue was, however, very busy Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was seated in the midst of the state's delegates alongside with the gubernatorial candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa.
The Cross River State delegation was led by Governor Liyel Imoke.
At the Adamawa State pavilion, Governor Bala Ngilari, the PDP candidate, Nuhu Ribadu and Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd) were seen together as they moved into the state box to greet President Jonathan.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), officials of INEC are monitoring the process to ensure that the democratic tenets are strictly adhered to. Delegates from various states were represented and the voting process commenced smoothly amid tight security.
President Jonathan, accompanied by his wife, Patience and Sambo led the process by casting their votes.
Senate President David Mark, Governor Goodswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Yero, among other dignitaries, voted alongside the president.
Delegates were mandated to cast their votes at various polling units for their states at the venue of the convention.
Cultural troupes and modern dancers, songs and various forms of entertainment formed part of the side attractions at different intervals.
The chairman of APC Presidential Primary Committee and former governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi in an interview with The Guardian, vowed that the party would meet the aspirations of Nigerians for genuine primaries.
According to him, "as you can see, contrary to the coronation going on in Abuja, this is democracy at work where each contestant has equal chances of emerging winner. There is no consensus candidate, no affirmation and no adoption. Every candidate is going through the democratic process."
Fayemi, who spoke with The Guardian at the venue of the primary poll, assured that the exercise would unify and strengthen the APC as against the fears being expressed by some skeptics that it would rupture the party.
"The party, in embarking on this long but rewarding process is in compliance and deference to the demands by Nigerians for a genuine democratic process in picking their leaders," he stated.
He expressed satisfaction with the level of preparations and massive turnout by those he called lovers of democracy just as he commended the atmosphere of peace that pervaded the exercise.
He added that each of the aspirants was qualified to become the president of Nigeria.
"The fact that they all scaled the tasking screening exercise proves the eligibility of each of the aspirants to be president of Nigeria," he said.
He again allayed the fear of Nigerians that losers might defect from the party, stressing that they have all affirmed their readiness to remain in the APC irrespective of the outcome of the primary.
He remarked: "It is heartwarming that they have all demonstrated a high degree of loyalty and commitment to the course of a free and fair primary and have all also pledged to abide by the outcome and support the eventual winner.
"This is highly commendable and holds the promise of a united and vital challenge to the PDP and our eventual victory at the general election in 2015."
As at 6:00 p.m. yesterday, the venue of the convention, Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, was rather awash with security operatives, journalists, traders and hawkers forming the majority of those present.
However, the atmosphere in the adjourning streets around the stadium was carnival-like as the party faithful and supporters of the aspirants wearing different attires engaged in praise-singing.
Expectedly banners bearing the portraits of the aspirants were also hung around the stadium.
The party may have demonstrated its readiness to conduct a free and transparent primary with ease as it mounted 36 transparent ballot boxes. Also, 36 polling booths were erected behind the boxes with APC boldly inscribed on them.
The polling booths and boxes were manned by 18 policemen.
The Guardian gathered that the key actors were still engaging in last-minute campaign, which was why they were not found around the stadium then.
The Guardian also discovered that the Abia State delegation may have been disenfranchised by a purported court order restraining their participation in the election.
Speaking to The Guardian, the leader of the Abia delegation and the party's governorship candidate in the state, Chief Nyerere Anyim said the stand of the APC to uphold the court order was unfair and cannot stand.
"What court injunction are we talking about? A mischievous injunction that was served at the premises of the convention and on the organisers instead of the leadership of the party. That is not the way to do things," he said.
"In any case the so-called court order has been vacated and has been overtaken by events."
When The Guardian contacted Fayemi on the Abia issue, he confirmed it and said it was unfortunate.
He insisted that the court may have to be obeyed, adding that "as it stands the Abia delegation may have to be exempted from the process."
One of the presidential aspirants, Muhammadu Buhari in a message to the delegates said Nigeria was not up for sale.
He urged the party's delegates not to be motivated by money in the choice of its presidential candidate.
He said that he sought to be the next president because he believed he had something to offer Nigeria at this time of multiple crises.
Buhari promised to serve the country with all his strength, commitment, sweat and toil.
He went on: "As you gather for our convention, please remember that history, change and the hopes of Nigeria are there with you. They are there to ask you to perform according to your best judgment and patriotic conscience. I also ask you to do the same.
We seek a new Nigeria. It starts with us. It starts today. I have placed myself before you seeking your help to nominate me as your standard bearer for our progressive party, APC.
"Personal ambition does not drive me in this regard. I seek to be the next president of our beloved nation because I believe I have something to offer Nigeria at this time of multiple crises. Insecurity, corruption, and economic collapse have brought the nation low. Time is past due that we work together to lift Nigeria up. I am ready to lead Nigeria to its rightful future.
"I have always served Nigeria to the best of my ability. I have always tried to give more to the nation than it has given me. This is the principle of service that has guided my public life. Thus, I am not a rich person. I can't give you a pocketful of dollars or naira to purchase your support. Even if I could, I would not do so. The fate of this nation is not up for sale," he said.
Buhari promised to govern Nigeria democratically if elected as the next president.
His words: "What I will give you and this nation is all of my strength, commitment, sweat and toil in the service of the people. What I can give you is my all.
I do not intend to rule Nigeria. I want to democratically govern it with your help.
"I seek a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims may practise their faiths in peace and security; a Nigeria that is just and where corruption no longer trespasses into our institutions and national behavior and a Nigeria where our diversity could be used for our national prosperity. Nigeria is our home. Let us now turn it into the great nation we know it can and should be."
On his part, Atiku Abubakar urged his party not to leave any stone unturned in its quest to ensure free, fair and credible presidential primaries that will provide the impetus for enthroning the change that Nigerians have clamoured for.
Atiku's charge to the APC is contained in a press statement issued by his media office in Lagos on Tuesday welcoming the national delegates of the party to its national convention that will nominate its presidential candidate at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere, Lagos.
"I do not need to overemphasise the importance of event and the impact which the choice you make at this historic event will have on both our party and the nation at large," Atiku told the delegates.
He stressed that the choice the delegates will make at the APC's national convention will set the country on the path of enthroning the much-needed change for socio-economic and political progress and development.
"The choice you make the aspirants you choose to fly the flag of our party at presidential election will make the difference between victory and defeat for our party. It will also determine whether the teeming population of Nigerians will get the political change they are yearning for to give them the opportunity of a better life," Atiku said.
He charged the delegates to be guided by the fact that for the past 16 years, the people of Nigeria have been forced to live under the most oppressive and despicable system of governance during which the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) rode rough shod over the nation and used the nation's resources as they liked.
"The result of PDP's misrule and disregard for the people of Nigeria is the sorry state in which we find ourselves today and we cannot afford to thread this path again," Atiku said adding that he remains the best choice of the delegates to lead charge for the change that will enthrone an inclusive Nigeria for all.
He assured the delegates that he will make good on his commitment as enshrined in his policy document in critical areas of infrastructure, education, health, social services and employment in particular to the teeming army of unemployed youth.
He bemoaned that austerity is the clearest indication that the so-called transformation agenda of the Jonathan government has failed.
"Perhaps, the worst thing that this government has done to our country and our people is the imposition of austerity measures on a people who have been battered by poor government policy, waste and monumental corruption in the past 16 years," he said.
Atiku called on the delegates to pitch their tents with him in the quest to begin the arduous task of pulling the country back from the brink and setting it on the path of progress, economic rejuvenation and development.
"Let us put an end to continuous poverty, austerity and insecurity by making a sound choice for the APC. The envisaged change starts today by the choice that you make," he said.
These, and other undercurrents continued to plague the APC this morning, as the convention goes into its main agenda of picking a presidential candidate.