Lagos — The jostling for the 2007 presidency became more intense at the weekend with nine political groups emerging as main contenders for the nation's biggest job.
The presidential race had been flagged off by the death, last week, of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Amendment) Bill, 2006.
The bill contained among others, a clause that sought to extend the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo and consequently discouraged declaration of aspirations by politicians.
But with its defeat at the Senate, politicians found their voices, holding nocturnal meetings to strategise on the way forward.
The first group to concretize its formation is the associates of Vice President Atiku Abubakar who dominate the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD).
The ACD is essentially a coalition of the Vice President's Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) wing of ailing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Governor Bisi Akande's faction of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). It also draws a large number of politicians from the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) that was widely believed to have won the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Formally launched last month, the ACD whose chief facilitators are Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu and former National Chairman of PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh, is widely regarded as the main challenger to the ruling PDP.
Also in formation is General Ibrahim Babaginda's, group. Largely without a formal structure and comprising Babangida's former ministers and military governors, the group hopes to inherit the Obasanjo-controlled PDP and use it as a platform to contest the presidential election.
It is, however, gathered that there is mutual distrust between Obasanjo and Babangida following the latter's role in the defeat of the third term agenda last week.
THISDAY information has it that in the event of failure of the group to take over the PDP, it may move into the National Democratic Party (NDP), a party believed to be tickly populated by the former military ruler's friends.
The third contending group is led by former presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 general elections, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).
Although the ANPP is in deep crisis, Buhari is said to be holding useful discussions with a wing of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, to form another political party.
His calculation, according to reliable sources close to the discussions, is that an alliance with the Chief Reuben Fasoranti-led Afenifere and Senator Mojiso-luwa Akinfenwa's Alliance for Democracy (AD) would give him a foothold in the politically sophisticated Southwest and put him in good stead to clinch the top job in 2007.
The fourth group comprises state governors who have been working on the possibility of putting forward one of them for the nation's top job.
The governors believe that having served Obasanjo well, it should not be difficult for the President to accept one of them to succeed him.
Governor Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna State who is believed to have the ears of the President is said to be coordinating this group.
Others in contention are Adamu Muazu of Bauchi who was on Obasanjo's entourage to Ekiti State last week and Donald Duke of Cross River State.
At least three of the governors are, however, said to have broken ranks with their colleagues and have formed their own separate groups.
Abia State Governor Orji Kalu has since intensified his presidential campaign having refused to subsume his ambition under that of his friend and former military ruler, Babangida.
Also on his own is Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara State who declared his presidential aspiration at the weekend in Abuja.
Another group that is also already positioning itself comprises members of the economic team in Obasanjo's government. Notable among these people are Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Federal Capital Territory Minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Central Bank Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo and Solid Minerals Minister, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili.
The calculation within this group is that Obasanjo needs a candidate that is not only committed to the on-going reforms but someone who would and can sustain it. Although no candidate has yet emerged from this group, the possibilities of a North/South pairing are already emerging and the weeks ahead would tell the direction and whether Obasanjo will back the move.
The South-south group is likely to meet today in Port Harcourt under the leadership of PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, and the candidate likely to emerge is no other than the Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili.
While Odili is seen as a loyalist of Obasanjo, tales emerging from the third term saga may have cast a lot of doubt about his loyalty but what may keep him going is that he has a formidable war chest and is prepared for the contest.
Odili not only has the financial resources, he also has a plane with which to traverse the country, and can commandeer three others for a presidential campaign, when the chips are down.
The last group that is also jostling for the number one job is the group of business men who have made fortunes under Obasanjo and would rather one of their own continues.
To this group which is meeting under the leadership of a young Yoruba oil magnate, Alhaji Aliko Dangote is seen as the man who has the national clout and the resources to fight for the number one job even though Dangote told THISDAY last night that he has no political ambition and would rather face his business.
Findings, however, reveal that the race may get more interesting in the days ahead while Obasanjo shuffles his cards in the bid to back a candidate. Aso Rock sources confirm last night that the president is "weighing his options because he does not want to make a mistake a second time."
Obasanjo, according to the sources, "was deceived into believing third term was a done deal, that the media would only make noise for a while and that the lawmakers were for it, only for the thing to end the way it did. If he again makes the mistake of backing a candidate that cannot win, that would be fatally disastrous for everyone. That is why he is keeping the options to himself."