The five northern governors: Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), and Muritala Nyako (Adamawa), critical of the purported move by President Goodluck Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015, yesterday met with the President at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
The meeting, described by sources as private, lasted several hours.
Details of what was discussed at the parley were unclear at press time, although it was learnt that it was not unconnected with the crisis plaguing their party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that the five governors insisted on the removal of the PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, as their condition to be at peace with the party and the Presidency.
The President and the governors held the crucial talks just as sources said the Presidency was banking on the seeming popularity of recently freed ex-Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, in his home region of the North to initiate subtle moves to recruit him into Jonathan’s re-election campaign.
The sources said case was also being made for a role for the ex-CSO in the Jonathan government.
The overture to Al-Mustapha by the pro-Jonathan elements was, however, causing a row among some northern leaders.
Sunday Vanguard sources said the Aso Rock meeting with the five northern governors was initiated by the President to enable him listen to their grievances with a view to appeasing them and preventing them from joining the opposition.
The crucial meeting, said to have started around noon, was held under closed doors and the outcome not made known to journalists.
During the meeting, Jonathan was said to have pleaded with the governors to sheath their sword and promised to personally look into the sources of their anger.
Jonathan reportedly assured the governors that he was aware of their face-off with some influential people close to him and the PDP and was poised to address them in the interest of the party and the country.
But the governors allegedly gave the President the condition under which they would support him and the PDP in the 2015 contest, which is that he must sack the PDP National Chairman, Tukur, with immediate effect.
The governors, according to the sources, said Tukur was their major headache and they did not see how they could continue to work with him.
They allegedly insisted that they would never have anything to do with the PDP as long as Tukur continued to preside over it’s affairs.
One of the sources said,”The clear message delivered to the President was that the National Chairman of the PDP, Bamanga Tukur, must be sacked urgently.
”The governors made it clear to Mr. President that the leadership of Tukur has brought an era of dictatorship to the party and alienated the major stakeholders, leaving those who do not have the interest of the party to hold sway.
”It is either the President sacks him to appease the governors and others who are with them or keeps the Chairman and loses them”.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the governors had earlier met for 45 minutes at the Sokoto State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro to take a common position on what to discuss with Jonathan.
After the meeting, they proceeded to the Villa at about noon.
The governors had, last week, expressed anger with the Presidency and the PDP leadership over the way things were going in the party and the country.
They met with three former heads of state – Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar – in Abeokuta, Ogun State and Minna, Niger State, and complained to them about how they were being alienated and maltreated by the Presidency and the PDP despite their enormous contributions to the party. Although the outcome of their deliberations with the former leaders was not made public, IBB lauded the five governors and described them as ‘real patriots’.
Lamido is said to have been singled out by the Presidency for isolation for daring to declare to contest against Jonathan in 2015 while Aliyu is seen as being penalised for saying that Jonathan signed a deal with northern governors to run for only a term.
Nyako is being castigated and kept at bay for trying to contest the control of PDP structures of Adamawa with Tukur.
The Political Adviser to the President, Ahmed Gulak, described the five governors as agents of the opposition and warned them to stop heating up the polity.
Meanwhile, banking on the seeming popularity of Al-Mustapha, especially in his home region of the North, the Presidency was said to have initiated subtle moves to recruit him into the re-election campaign of Jonathan.
Sunday Vanguard investigations revealed that political strategists have, however, cautioned the President not to be directly involved in the effort to woo the former CSO to the late Abacha to his side but to use sundry northern and southern groups to do the job.
It was learnt that, based on a well-coordinated strategy to draw the Abacha era strong man into the Jonathan’s campaign, several northern groups, which had hitherto voiced opposition to the re-election of Jonathan in 2015, had been approached by top government officials and asked to work with Al-Mustapha, who is now seen as a hero in the region.
As part of the innocuous campaign, the erstwhile CSO is said to have been encouraged to meet with top government officials in the country, particularly governors, ministers and leaders of ethnic groups, whose support is considered relevant to the attainment of the set political target in the 2015 presidential poll. The government, it was learnt, has facilitated the meetings of Al-Mustapha with top government officials in the North and the military high command in Abuja with a view to quickening his return to the army and promotion.
A military source said that the former CSO was scheduled to meet with the Chief of the Army Staff on Friday but did not say whether the two men actually met and what transpired between them. The plan, according to a source, is to return to the army, retire him full benefits and give him a role in the government of Jonathan.
Apparently acting the script, the Presidency is reported to have made the first move to test the water by mobilising some northern groups to fly the kite that it was the active support of key government officials that enabled the former CSO to regain his freedom.
As a first step, former Abacha Minister of Education, Dauda Birmah, on Friday, led some groups to the National Chairman of the PDP, Bamanga Tukur, in Abuja and adopted Jonathan as their choice for the Presidency in 2015.
The groups said that they were grateful to the Presidency for ensuring the release of the former CSO from prison after 15 years, adding that they were convinced that the release would not have been possible without the support of the President and the PDP Chairman.
Among the groups that went with Birmah to see Tukur were the Northern Elders Forum, North/ South New Nigeria and Fresh Air Continuity Group.
Coincidentally, while the Birmah-led groups were meeting with Tukur, some other groups opposed to the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) issued a strong statement in Abuja condemning any attempt by some northern leaders to work against the return of Jonathan in 2015.
Another group, believed to have been recruited into the 2015 campaign-Coalition of Concerned Northern Youths, CNY- carpeted NEF for daring to insist that power must return to the region in 2015, asking the protagonists to apologise over their failure in the past.
A top northern politician, who pleaded anonymity, supported a role for Al-Mustapha in the Jonathan government, saying the involvement of the former CSO could bring the current security challenge in the North to an end.
The politician said that he was aware of the clout Al-Mustapha has among northern youths and how he could use same to help the administration to overcome the crisis in the North.
‘North never united in elections’
But the spokesman for the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, said that it was wrong for anybody or group in the North to insist that the area should vote for a particular candidate in any election, arguing that the region has never been united in elections.
He cited the case of President Shehu Shagari contesting against Mallam Aminu Kano in the 1979 elections and winning against all calculations of the North.
Sani said, “I’ve never seen the North united politically and don’t even see the basis of such unity. ”We don’t want the North to be divided along political lines. What I know is that we must work together for the progress of Nigeria because neither all the votes of the North alone nor that of the South alone can make Jonathan to win the next election”.
The ACF spokesperson said the North supported Al-Mustapha’s release because of the monumental injustice of his incarceration for about 15 years.
Word of caution for Abacha’s CSO
The Secretary General of NEF, Prof Ango Abdullahi, took a swipe at Birmah, saying that he was speaking for himself and not the North as he was not mandated to do so.
Abdullahi, a former VC of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, told Sunday Vanguard that while the former minister was entitled to his opinion as a northerner and Nigerian, he should avoid the temptation of acting any role not assigned him by the North.
The NEF scribe also warned Al-Mustapha to be wary of the carrots being dangled before him by government and individuals so as not to burn his fingers and run into avoidable disaster.
”Al-Mustapha should be careful so as not to be used as a pawn by the political predators in the land and dumped at the end of the day. If I were him, I would have been very prayerful to God and take time to acquaint myself with issues in the country after 15 years of isolation,” Abdullahi said. ”It is up to him to accept that his popularity is principally borne by the sympathy that Nigerians have for him for being unduly incarcerated”.
A top government official in Kano also warned the former Abacha CSO not to mistake the sympathy of Nigerians over his unjust imprisonment for political popularity.
”Al-Mustspha does not have what it takes to be a politician and those who are goading him to replace some government officials should watch out for the consequence,” the official said.
Although the Presidency has not reacted to the development, the PDP National Chairman, Tukur, on Friday, asked northern groups to stand solidly behind Jonathan to develop the country.
Tukur said,”Don’t be intimidated by anybody in speaking out your mind because Nigeria is your only country. It is a thing of joy for us that you have come to openly identify with the solid achievements of President Jonathan when others in the North are giving the erroneous impression that all is not well.”