13 January 2011

Nigeria: Intrigues, Horse Trading Hallmark PDP Convention

Lagos/Abuja — Money, horse trading, intrigues; all factored into the national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja on Thursday.

But zoning or no zoning, the odds favoured Goodluck Jonathan to breast the tape to pick the Presidential ticket, beating his nemesis, Atiku Abubakar, the Northern consensus candidate, who would live to fight yet another day.

The result of the primaries were being collated till early this morning.

If, as expected, Jonathan pinched it, the second hurdle for him is, nonetheless, Herculean with a marksman in the mould of Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) honing his pitches to outwit him in the rhetoric for the hearts and minds of voters in April.

Intrigues took centre stage at the primaries, as money and other inducements mingled with ethnic, religious and other sentiments became the ingredients in the main course served the delegates by Jonathan and Atiku.

Governors made delegates inaccessible to the candidates they opposed.

Atiku's foot soldiers were denied access to many delegates, especially from the South South.

Both camps reportedly handed out large sums in hard currency in the guise of "welfare" or "transport" for which fights broke out over the sharing.

One aspirant was said to have given $10,000 to each state delegate, another gave $7,000.

However, fracas erupted as some of the emissaries who were sent to hand out the money failed to declare the full amounts.

"We have not had any rest since yesterday (Wednesday) when we arrived. We waited all night until Jonathan came this morning (Thursday). After he left, Atiku arrived and also had discussions with us," one delegate recounted.

Apart from money, the aspirants also laid out arguments on how their Presidency could affect ethnic sentiments, with Jonathan devoting most of his time to Northern delegates, having got the assurances of those from the South.

Jonathan emphasised that an Atiku Presidency would foreclose the chances of any young Northerners from becoming President in the near future, because the former Vice President, contrary to his pledge, would serve for eight years.

He also portrayed himself the man who would stem the tension in the Niger Delta.

"You cannot predict what the Niger Delta region will become if their son is denied the office after the struggle for the betterment of their area.

"That is part of the message Jonathan has been able to sell to them," a campaign aide narrated.

On the other hand Atiku equally floated the idea that Jonathan would serve for eight years instead of the four he promised Governors, and if allowed, the North would have ruled for only two years out of 20 by the end of his tenure in 2019.

He also alerted that the Igbo would never be allowed to produce the President for decades still.

Chidi Duru, one of Atiku's henchmen said the ticket was for him for the picking, and "All I can tell you is that there will be a party for Atiku tomorrow (today).

"Nigerians are not fools. They know who would lead this country in the right direction and that will come from Atiku."

But even before the result was known, a source in the Jonathan camp had countered: "I think they underrated us. But today it has dawned on them that they have lost. There is nothing more for Atiku to do than accept defeat and he is already doing that."

Security personnel from the military, police, State Security service (SSS), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) mounted a superb surveillance and screened delegates and other officials, including journalists, accredited for the convention.

They used baggage scanners, metal detectors, sniffer dogs, and other gadgets, and also physically frisked everyone who came to the Eagle Square.

They had cordoned off the federal secretariat since Wednesday afternoon, after civil servants closed from work.

PDP Governors and top government officials were equally searched to their under garments; their security details were kept away from the main venue.

All the roads and pathways leading to the Eagle Square were blocked, vehicles were diverted to other roads, creating traffic bottlenecks in the Abuja metropolis.

Checks were mounted at seven points to ensure that only accredited persons went near the gate of the Eagle Square.

And inside the perimeter of the square, the security of delegates and other accredited persons was co-ordinated.

Bomb detectors were spotted at strategic locations, while the medical team from the Villa was on standby for emergency.

At the centre of the pavilion, the National Convention Planning Committee placed tables on state-by-state basis where delegates cast their votes and provided other tables and chairs for the marking of ballot papers with which votes were cast in an open/secret system.

One common problem that faced everyone was the absence of food and water vendors who were fenced off two kilometres to the Eagle Square.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations), Abubakar Audu, assisted by Commissioner of Police, Haruna John, moved round the pavilion to nip trouble in the bud.

There was also heavy security in all hotels in Abuja, particularly the Transcorp Hilton, Sheraton, Bolingo, Agura, and Rockview.

Tension had risen in the city because of the bomb blasts on October 1 last year and on New Year's eve.

The accreditation of delegates began at 10 a.m., but security hurdles slowed down movement.

There were noticeable changes to the scheduled closure of some roads as against the plans earlier announced by the police as part of a surprise security package.

Many Abuja residents, bearing in mind the recent bombings, stayed away from the city centre.

The nearly 4,000 delegates were not allowed to drive their own cars, and were instead bussed in from the National Stadium where they were screened state-by-state.

The adjacent public car park for civil servants in the nearby federal secretariat had been emptied out on Monday.

Delegates and even journalists were not allowed into the Eagle Square with laptops or similarly sized handbags, and only those with special accreditation tags gained access.

The hustle and bustle by drummers, praise singers, hawkers, and pickpockets at such a convention were absent.

But delegates commended the security arrangement.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekeremadu, said nobody has reason to express fear, Enugu Governor Sullivan Chime noted that the convention was well organised.

"The idea of having the state delegates coming in one particular bus was a good one," Chime added.

Abia Governor Theodore Orji described the security as superb, saying the Planning Committee did a good job such that every delegate must feel relaxed.

Senate Spokesperson Ayogu Eze said: "I am satisfied with the level of security and I am happy with the atmospheric situation."

Works Minister Sanusi Dagash described the security as "very wonderful, a type I have never seen before."

At the convention ground, the rivalry between Governor Sullivan Chime and PDP National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, was rekindled over the authenticity of Enugu delegates list.

Nnia Nwodo protested over the list submitted and adopted by the convention committee which excluded members of his faction.

But the Governor who stood guard watching over the voting process insisted that they were all authentic delegates.

It took the timely intervention of the convention committee chairman, Prof Tunde Adeniran, to avert a fight among the delegates who have stood behind their leaders.

Adeniran solicited the support of the law enforcement agencies to bring the chaotic situation under control.

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