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Buhari jokes about Atiku’s defection

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•President to Oyegun: my sympathy

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday trivialised former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s defection from the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Atiku, who is widely expected to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), plans to seek the opposition party’s presidential ticket to run in 2019.

President Buhari told APC National Chairman Chief John Odigie-Oyegun at the  Presidential Villa before the inauguration of the Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee: “Accept my sympathy for losing a senior member of your party.”

As the President walked into the hall he looked towards where Oyegun was and made the remark jocukarly. Many people laughed as Buhari made his way to his seat.

There were indications yesterday that Northern leaders in the PDP are awaiting former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s verdict on Atiku before taking a position on the 2019 presidential ticket.

Those believed to be in the race for the PDP ticket are ex-Governors Sule Lamido and Ibrahim Shekarau as well as Caretaker Committee Chairman Ahmed Makarfi, who is also a former governor.

It was learnt that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and Atiku are already reaching out to Northern leaders, including ex-President Ibrahim Babangida and other PDP founding fathers.

These include Gen. Ibrahim Obasanjo, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma, Babangida, ex-Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar,  Gen. Aliyu Gusau, and others who played active roles in restoring democracy in 1999.

It was learnt that the grip of the group made Jonathan to ask Atiku to beg Obasanjo.

Based on Atiku’s resignation from APC,  some key Northern leaders in PDP( especially those who wield influence behind the scene) met on Sunday in Abuja on the situation in the party.

A source at the meeting said: “We agreed to study the situation because other presidential aspirants are still coming up. There are rumours of ex-Governor Ahmed Makarfi and one or two Northerners in APC also joining the race in PDP.

“We took note of the fact that aspirants like ex-Governor Sule Lamido; ex-Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau  and Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo are unwilling to step down.

“But since Jonathan has been lobbying Northern leaders for Atiku, we believe we should wait for  the verdict of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Atiku before taking a position.

“Obasanjo, as an institution, will not take a decision in isolation. He will certainly consult Babangida, Gusau, and other members of the military hierarchy before talking on his feelings on Atiku. And these military leaders have a way of agreeing on a common cause.

“If these past leaders give us the pathfinder, Atiku will know his fate. Jonathan is playing politics as if he could breathe down on PDP members and impose Atiku.”

But a source close to Jonathan said: “From the look of things, Atiku may go far this time around. I think he is the most prepared from the North to confront President Muhammadu Buhari. Northern leaders may build a consensus around him.”

But there were fears last night that some of those who participated in the consensus politics and  the search of the Northern Political Leaders Forum(NPLF) in 2011 may not back Atiku.

Also, some members of the influential NPLF may part ways with the former Vice President.

Some of the NPLF leaders include  former Minister of Finance, Adamu Ciroma,  the late ex-Inspector-General of Police M.D. Yusufu;  former PDP National Chairman, Audu Ogbeh, who is now of the APC; ex-President of the Senate, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu ; ex-Governor Lawal  Kaita; Alhaji Bello Kirfi, CON(Wazirin Bauchi);   Amb. Yahaya Kwande ; Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim; A.B. Mahmud; Magaji Dambatta; Prof. Ignatius Ayua; and Mr. Ricky Tarfa(SAN), among others.

Following a search by the NPLF, Atiku had beaten three presidential aspirants to emerge as the NPLF’s consensus candidate in 2011.

An influential figure in the defunct NPLF said: “Some of us will not back Atiku because of the manner in which he emerged as a consensus candidate. With respect to the leaders of the Forum, we suspected some compromise.

“In spite of the fact that some of these aspirants and NPLF leaders ensured Atiku’s defeat at the presidential primaries on January 14, 2011, the wound of the consensus crisis has not been healed.

“Certainly, some NPLF leaders in PDP will not support Atiku’s bid. A few other NPLF leaders are now in APC and they will also resist his candidature.

“The position of some Northern leaders is to look for a neutral candidate and collectively work for him or her.”

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