Governors from the opposition parties in the country rose from a five-hour meeting in Lagos Tuesday to endorse the ongoing bid by their parties to form an alliance that will enable them unseat the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general election.
They said in a communiqué issued after the meeting, which was hosted by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, that the merger was necessary to rescue Nigeria from the PDP.
The PDP, which welcomed the meeting, however, cautioned the opposition parties against overheating the polity through their coalition.
In a related development, the nation's leading opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), yesterday warned the presidency to stop blaming the opposition for the inability of the Jonathan administration to improve the well-being of Nigerians.
Yesterday's meeting of the opposition parties opened a new chapter in the ongoing negotiations among the parties to form a coalition ahead of the 2015 elections.
The meeting also laid to rest speculations over the number of parties involved in the coalition bid.
Prior to Tuesday's meeting, the general perception had been that the coalition was an affair involving three parties: ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Besides the governors elected on these parties' platforms, also in attendance at the Lagos meeting was Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Others in attendance were Alhaji Kashim Shettima of Borno State (ANPP); Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State (ACN); Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun (ACN); Alhaji Abdul-Aziz Yari of Zamfara (ANPP); Alhaji Umaru Al-Makura of Nasarawa State (CPC); Mr. Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State (ACN); Senator Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State (ACN); and Senator Degere Alkali, who represented Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State (ANPP).
But the absence of Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party (LP), aroused the curiosity of reporters as to why he did not attend the meeting.
However, THISDAY checks revealed that Mimiko was not invited to the meeting, a sign that LP might not be part of the grand coalition of the opposition parties.
A source at the meeting told THISDAY that Mimiko was not invited to be part of the merger plans, especially since they know his position on the issue.
Although the source viewed his exclusion as an error on the part of the organisers of the meeting, he added that they did not bother to reach out to him since he might be disinterested in anything involving the ACN, given the bitter rivalry that characterised the 2012 governorship election in Ondo State.
"It was not deliberate. I think it was an error on the part of the governors. But then again, they couldn't be bothered; we all know where the Labour man leans already.
"As such, it might be a waste of time involving him in such a sensitive discussion. There will be crisis of confidence since his loyalty to the group will be in doubt.
"Besides, Mimiko leans more to the other side. We can't afford to compromise anything this time around," the source said.
Another source close to Mimiko confirmed that the governor was not invited to the meeting, adding that even if he was invited, he might not have honoured it because of the relationship between him and the ACN leadership.
He said apart from the fact that the governor might not be comfortable with a setting that is predominantly anti-President Goodluck Jonathan, he was also busy yesterday being the day he signed the 2013 budget into law, adding that the merger meeting was secondary to the people and government of Ondo State.
Also absent was Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi of APGA, whose eight-year tenure ends next year when the state is expected to go to the poll to elect Obi's successor.
But the source said that Obi was absent not because his tenure would soon end, but due to a clash of programmes.
He explained that the meeting was organised at short notice and Obi was at a funeral service, which he could not afford to miss.
The governors in a communiqué read to reporters by Shettima, said they endorsed the merger among their parties and others who might be interested in the alliance in order to rescue Nigeria from the brink.
The communiqué read in part: "We, the governors from 10 states of the federation rose from a meeting at the Lagos House, Marina, today, Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
"Having reviewed the situation in our country, we resolved that to rescue Nigeria is a task that must be done.
"As progressives and patriotic leaders of our people across party, religious and geo-political zones, we are extremely concerned about the state of the nation and we put our heads together in the interest of our people to deliberate on what can be done to recue our country.
"As governors, we fully endorse the merger initiatives already commenced by our various political parties and we will put our weight behind these efforts. Nigeria is greater than all of us and we have a duty to make it work for our people and the future of our children yet unborn."
Responding to a question on what informed his attendance of the meeting, Okorocha said the merger had become necessary to save the country and its democracy and the likelihood of Nigeria being turned into a one-party state.
"I personally fully endorse this movement and merger. We are on a rescue mission here and the essence is about making Nigeria a better nation," he added.
Amosun said the governors were desirous of making the merger work irrespective of whatever odds they might face.
Yari added that the meeting was necessary to save Nigeria from the PDP, adding: "The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is something else. If we are confident to say that, we are right. You can ask many people outside whether they have been happy with the PDP since 1999 to date."
He further said that as leaders of the people, they were duty bound to rescue the nation because "we have the knowledge. We, the progressives, have the good intention to move the country forward. We are ready to move the PDP out of power."
In his contribution, Fashola explained that the merger of the opposition parties was no longer an issue of scepticism and expressed confidence that with the commitment of the parties, they would give Nigerians a better alternative in 2015.
"I am convinced that the full weight of the 10 of us (governors) and many more who unfortunately could not make it today (yesterday) is a much stronger force.
"The underlying reason is to make Nigeria a better place. This is not the best Nigeria can have. We intend to deliver Nigeria the best," he added.
But the PDP was unperturbed by the meeting, which it described as a
The party, which warned the opposition against overheating the polity, urged them to go about the merger according to the rules of the game.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olisa Metuh, said the merger would "usher in a healthy debate to the benefit of democracy and debates that would be based on how to improve the economy, the health sector and other sectors of the economy.
"PDP as a political party will only caution against deceit, falsehood and inciting Nigerians to violence, evil propaganda and other issues that are detrimental to the development of our democracy. We are willing and able to face them in the field at the appropriate time."
Also Tuesday, the ACN pointedly told the presidency to
stop blaming the opposition for the failure of the Jonathan administration to make a positive impact on the lives of Nigerians.
The party said rather than blame the opposition, the presidency should blame the likes of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, for allegedly contributing to the poor image of the administration.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, also explained that Okupe, rather than accept the fact that incompetence, cluelessness and inconsistency have become the hallmarks of the Jonathan administration, he has engaged in a futile attempt to deceive Nigerians through a pedestrian play on semantics.
It urged the Jonathan administration to address the issue of trust, do away with some government officials who lack credibility because of their past deeds and begin to take governance more seriously.
Meanwhile, the merger effort got a boost yesterday with the agreement reached between the CPC and ANPP to set aside their differences and enter into merger talks alongside the ACN and APGA.
In what appeared like a mediatory meeting brokered by ACN yesterday, the merger committees of CPC and ACN agreed to enlarge the meetings to include ANPP and APGA, signifying a departure from the previous plan announced by CPC that the party would only seal the merger deal with ACN.
A source at the meeting confirmed to THISDAY that following the shift in position by CPC, the duo has invited the ANPP merger committee to formally join them at the resumed talks today.
"CPC and ACN agreed to enlarge the talks to include ANPP and APGA as against the earlier insistence by CPC that it would only seal the merger deal with ACN," he said.
The source further disclosed that the parties also decided to extend an invitation to APGA to participate in fashioning out modalities for the emergence of a new opposition coalition party.
According to the source, the move to woo APGA into the coalition was fallout of the case made by Senator Chris Ngigie during the meeting.
Ngige, who represents Anambra Central Senatorial District at the Senate, was said to have spoken of the need to bring APGA on board, adding that it is the wisest thing to do since the party's national leadership had expressed support for the opposition merger.
Also, the former Governor of Kano State and presidential candidate of ANPP in the 2011 elections, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, said yesterday in Kaduna that the party would not be a push over in the ongoing merger talks.
Shekarau, who chairs the 21-member committee of the ANPP coalition talks, addressed a meeting of stakeholders of the party in the North-west zone which held in Kaduna Tuesday.
He assured Nigerians that as leaders of the party, they would ensure that the right decision that is beneficial to all is made during the merger talks.
He said the committee was in the North-west zone to intimate stakeholders of the terms of reference of his committee.
According to him, one of the terms of reference of the committee is to interact with stakeholders and recommend ways of making the party more attractive and how to fund the party.
He added further that the committee was also charged with the responsibility of identifying members and leaders of the party who left and recommending ways of bringing them back into the fold.
During the meeing, the former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani (Yariman Bakura) also dismissed rumours that he was planning to dump the ANPP for PDP.
Sani, who is a member of the ANPP merger committee, told journalists that as long as the ANPP exists, he would continue to be a member of the party.