Abuja — Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems split down the middle, culminating in the emergence of two power blocs: one side in the grip of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the other answerable to former military president, Ibrahim Babangida who has signalled interest in taking another shot at the Villa next year.
As part of effort to shore up his image ahead 2011 Babangida on Saturday in Kaduna reiterated that he takes responsibility for the annulment of June 12, 1993 election. He was speaking in a British Broadcasting Corporation Hausa programme monitored in Kaduna.
Obasanjo is the PDP Board of Trustee (BoT) Chairman and the rumoured architect of the Goodluck Jonathan for President campaign, which is fast gaining momentum and was tacitly referenced in the Acting President's interview with Christiane Amanpour of the Cable News Network (CNN) when he visited the United States last week.
Regardless, sources told Sunday Independent that Jonathan is aware of the threat the PDP zoning formula poses to such ambition and so plans to run in 2011 as running mate to a Northerner who would in turn soften the path for a Jonathan presidency in 2015.
The return to the PDP of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is said to have been engineered by the Obasanjo/Jonathan camp to achieve this objective - an unlikely scenario given the distrust between Obasanjo and Atiku whose rivalry in the build-up to the 2007 ballot almost frustrated the transition programme.
Arrowheads of this arrangement are believed to be armed by Atiku coming from the North East, a region which last produced President in 1960 when Abubakar Tafawa Balewa emerged the Prime Minister.
At the heart of the split and the emergence of power blocs, Sunday Independent learnt, is the existence of another powerful bloc reportedly comprising Babangida and some governors believed to be more comfortable with his presidency with former Rivers Governor Peter Odili as the running mate, than a presidency with Jonathan playing any role.
Investigations showed that Atiku's declaration for the party and Babangida's open presidential ambition announced last week has rocked the boat of loyalty in the party earlier commanded by some governors.
All these squabbles may claim the job of PDP National Chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, who faces series of allegations which analysts say were conjured to nail and replace him with loyalists of the Obasanjo/Jonathan camp.
More worrisome is the speculation that Babangida's political machinery is controlled by Odili, a man with a knack for sagacious political maneuvering.
Odili, who is expected to serve as Babangida's running mate next year, is believed to have already penetrated the ranks of serving and former governors for their support when the choice of the party's flag-bearer would be made.
He is said to have exploited the governors' "cold relationship" with Jonathan to his advantage while quietly charting a course that would possibly reconcile and merge his massive political structure with that of Obasanjo to IBB's advantage.
"But this is where the worry starts," said a source close to the power structure in the party, "because there is a resurgence of Obasanjo influence in this government, made possible by Jonathan."
Those in Jonathan and Atiku's camp believe that with Obasanjo eventually rooting for Jonathan, most of the governors, both serving and former, may queue behind the trio and make a success of their ambition.
Sunday Independent learnt that Jonathan understood from the beginning that he could not run for President next year "because it is still the turn of the north, so if he must remain in power, he can only be a running mate."
It is also believed that if Jonathan becomes Vice President in 2011, "he stands a better chance of running for presidency at the end of that tenure which could be the next eight years or four depending on the political calculation."
Sources said it was based on this belief that Jonathan openly welcomed Atiku's overtures and role in his acting presidency, thus setting the scene for a grand battle between him and Odili for the support of the governors and the South South geo-political zone.
Before Jonathan went to the United States last week, he was said to have been convinced by some top guns in the PDP to enter into the race for the presidency, an idea a source claimed the Acting President gladly bought.
Even though the idea did not go down well with equally some other big shots in the party, Sunday Independent learnt that those pushing Jonathan to run in 2011 also have their own agenda which the Acting President may be ignorant of.
That Jonathan revealed in an interview with CNN that he could run either as vice or president was said to be a smart way of keeping people guessing his real intention.
With Ogbulafor's announcement two weeks ago that the presidency is open to the whole north, Atiku's camp seems to be bustling with confidence that among the geo-political zones in the north, Northeast is most favoured to pick the PDP ticket since it has not produced a President for the country in the last 44 years.
One of Atiku's confidants who opted for anonymity told this newspaper that: "It was Obasanjo that zoned the presidency in 2007 to Yar'Adua's geo-political zone. It was not the party that did it.
"If you analyse the situation properly, you will notice that both the North West and North Central have had their shots at the presidency; Yakubu Gowon was there, Babangida was there and Abdulsalami Abubakar was also there for the North Central.
"North West has produced Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Sani Abacha and of course, Yar'Adua while the closest the North East has come to the top was when Tafawa Balewa was elected in 1960 and later killed in the 1966 military coup.
"Since then, North East has not had any. So it is the natural zone to produce the next President if such political considerations are acknowledged by both the party and the kingmakers."
Ogbulafor, however, may be the greatest victim of the power re-structuring as he may be swept away in a bid to ensure he does not impede Obasanjo's influence in the emerging scenario.
Although it could not be confirmed whether plans to remove him as PDP chairman has Jonathan's support, Sunday Independent learnt that Ogbulafor has become Obasanjo's next target, a move that would lead to the dissolution of the party's National Working Committee (NWC).
Standing-by as Obasanjo's favourite to succeed Ogbulafor, according to sources, are Sam Egwu, who was former governor of Ebonyi State, and another PDP chieftain and BoT member from the Southeast, Hope Uzodinma.
Ogbulafor owed his election in 2008 to the governors who were opposed to a situation where Obasanjo's choices would control both the party and the presidency.
"They did not want a situation where the party would be controlled by a former governor, the presidency would belong to two former governors while the Senate would also be presided over by an Obasanjo loyalist," said a source.
But Chijoke Adindu, Special Assistant on media to Ogbulafor, denied the presence of power blocs in the party, but agreed that individual aspirants to offices across the country have started building support bases.
One of Jonathan's aides described Ogbulafor as "a man who cannot even help himself except the governors who enthroned him come to his rescue. He does not look like an inspiring leader.
"If you watch his leadership, he appears indecisive and appears to have ceded power to his deputy chairman from the north. When the country was in a logjam over Yar'Adua's health, he looked helpless."
The rush for support base is said to be affecting the cohesiveness of the party. This was however denied by Adindu who said issues of power bloc in a political party is an indication of division within the party and that this does not exist in PDP.
He said: "PDP as a ruling party is aware of the negative implication of having power blocs exist within its rank and does not encourage it. I am assuring you that no power bloc exists within the party.
"PDP remains a united and vibrant party, poised to provide good leadership to Nigerians as long as the party remains in power. This, I assure you, we are going to do for a very long time as the party is not thinking of relinquishing power for a long time to come.
"However, what you consider as power bloc, if I understand you well, is the mere look for support at the home base by politicians. You can't comfortably call yourself a politician if you don't have peoples' support, first at your locality, before seeking national support.
"So the move by individuals to seek home base support should not be seen as emergence of power bloc within this party."
He said Atiku's return to PDP would not create any political problem for the party.
His words: "He may be oiling his political machinery at his home base, he may have friends who believe in him, it is not a crime, he may have ambitions, no one can crucify him for that.
"The same applies to every member of the party who feels he is qualified to occupy a political position in this country, but they must enjoy the confidence of their kinsmen in the party who want them to represent them as the party flag bearer first.
"As you know, if General Babangida is interested in becoming the next President of this country, it is his right to think so. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar also enjoys the same privilege as enshrined in the Constitution.
"If these revered personalities want to govern Nigeria, using PDP as their political platform, it is not an offence; no one can crucify them for it."