The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has distanced itself from reports that it has endorsed former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed as consensus presidential aspirants of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) from the North.
Saraki, Mohammed, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Mohammed Hayatudeen had worked to produce a consensus candidate from the region.
The announcement of Mohammed and Saraki as northern consensus presidential aspirants of the PDP by Prof. Ango Abdullahi on Friday had continued to generate reactions.
Tambuwal had since dissociated himself from the outcome, declaring that the consensus plan had failed, while former Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido described it as a ruse and unacceptable.
A statement by Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, NEF Director of Publicity and Advocacy, said the attempt to engineer a consensus among the aspirants was that of the aspirants themselves.
Baba-Ahmed said, "Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed, former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Mohammed Hayatudeen had informed for head of state, Badamasi Babangida, of their intention, and requested elderly intervention and advice in the event that their efforts failed to produce consensus.
"Babangida in turn requested Prof. Ango Abdullahi in his individual capacity to design and manage a process that could improve a consensus agreement among the four aspirants. Prof. Abdullahi concluded that assignment and released a detailed report and recommendation, signing it in his individual capacity,"
He said the entire process did not involve the Northern Elders Forum as a group, and was not a product of the group.
Professor Ango Abdullahi, he said, was free to undertake any lawful activity as a citizen, and genuine misinterpretations of his role are understandable.
"Northern Elders Forum is not affiliated to any political party or aspirant, and is strongly committed to the creation of a level-playing field which will allow the emergence of the best leaders in the 2023 elections.
"It has also remained consistent in its conviction that all parts of the country should play their parts freely, unhindered by restrictions which offend principles of inclusion and fairness. The forum believes the North has excellent candidates whose fate should be left to party delegates and voters to decide," he said.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Northern Elders' Council, Paul Unongo, has defended the position of the region on Saraki and Bala Muhammed's presidential ambition.
Unongo told newsmen yesterday in Jos, the Plateau State capital, that he initiated the idea of picking a consensus for the region.
He said, "We held a meeting over the issue for two days in Abuja, and at the end agreed that if the North must file a presidential candidate in 2023, that choice must come from the North Central. That was agreed.
"Then, the four aspirants who offered themselves for the contest were profiled. We looked at their credentials, their qualities and capacity to win a presidential election. Gov Bala Muhammed and Senator Bukola Saraki stood out.
"Senator Saraki was our first choice and Gov Bala Muhammed was our second choice and we have made our choice known to Nigeria to choose from the two."
Other aspirants are free to contest - Bauchi Gov
Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, has said his nomination as one of the northern consensus presidential aspirants of PDP would not stop other aspirants from contesting the party's primaries.
He stated this yesterday in Bauchi while briefing newsmen shortly after he was presented with a letter of nomination as 'Governor of the Year' by the management of the Sun Newspapers.
He explained that the Northern Elders Forum made thorough consultations with leaders and stakeholders across the country before endorsing him and the President of the 8th Senate, Bukola Saraki, as the northern presidential aspirants of the PDP.
Governor Bala said the former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, and others who opposed the consensus outcome were free to express their opinions.
Respecting consensus decision, individual choice - Saraki
A former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said respecting the position of the Northern Elders Forum on consensus is an individual choice.
He stated this while addressing PDP presidential delegates in Minna, the Niger State capital.
He said, "We voluntarily went to our elders' statesmen to seek their participation. They did not seek or ask that they should be involved in it, and neither were we forced into doing it. We decided on our own to go seek their involvement for a northern consensus candidate.
"For the decision, we appreciate our elder statesmen for their role in the process and their patriotism and desire for the unity of the country. To abide by the decision is an individual choice. Everyone has to make his own decision."
Saraki appealed to the members of PDP in Niger state to work towards ensuring that the north-central produces its first President.