JUNE 9, 2012 BY OLUSOLA FABIYI, ABUJA; TUNDE ODESOLA, OSOGBO; AND FEMI MAKINDE, ADO-EKITI
President Goodluck Jonathan has initiated moves to pacify the people of the South-West as he begins preparations to contest 2015 presidential election.
It was learnt that the President intended to use the renaming of the University of Lagos and the Edo State governorship election as the springboard to endear himself to the South-West people.
Investigations by our correspondents indicated that the President and members of his kitchen cabinet are worried about the level of his popularity, which they believe has plummeted nationwide and especially in the South-West in the last one year.
The President was initially said to have been emboldened with the support he got during the 2011 presidential election, when the South-West abandoned the presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and voted en-masse for him.
Apart from Osun State, Jonathan crushed Ribadu in all the other five states in the zone despite the fact that the ACN controls a majority of the states in the zone.
However, the President was said to have been saddened with the mobilisation that was carried out in the zone during the protests for the removal of the oil subsidy last January.
The protests, which drew a large number of Nigerians, were carried out at Ojota, Lagos and were peaceful to the amazement of the opposition.
The Protesters were later forced to suspend the action when armed soldiers took over the Gani Fawehinmi Park, venue of the protests.
A presidency source told one of our correspondents on the condition of anonymity on Friday that the President and his advisers knew from then that he must do something to regain the confidence of the people of the zone, which he said, was paramount in their 2015 calculation.
“The President knows he has to do something; his advisers also know he must move fast to regain the confidence of the people of the zone,” the source stated.
He said this was why the President was advised to immortalise the late Pillar of Sports in Africa, Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, who was denied his mandate by the military.
Former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was the president at that time.
The source said, “We had a lot of discussions on how to immortalise Abiola, who we believed, was highly loved and respected across the country, especially in the South-West.
“We thought about honouring him in Abuja, but those who said it was better done in his zone where he would be better appreciated, carried the day. That was how we zeroed in on the University of Lagos.”
The source, however, said the President was astonished with the protests that greeted the renaming of the institution.
He said though the President was saddened by the development, he believed that he had to stick to his gun by ignoring the protests and sending a bill to the National Assembly for the ratification of the change of name.
“In two years’ time, those protests would have died down and the renaming of the institution would be one of his selling points in the zone,” the source added.
But the Coalition of Northern Leaders, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen said the move had failed.
Its spokesperson, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, told one of our correspondents in Abuja that the aim of renaming the university was to kick-start the President’s 2015 campaign.
He said, “The aim has backfired. You can see the protests that followed the renaming of the school. Jonathan would not do anything without any sinister motive. He has kick-started his 2015 campaign with the renaming of the University of Lagos. That has failed with the opposition to it.”
Also, the Congress for Progressive Change described the renaming of UNILAG as a cheap populist agenda.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, told one of our correspondents that even Abiola would not be happy with the President concerning the move.
He said, “I am sure MKO Abiola would turn in his grave that the administration is using his name for vain political succour after pauperising the citizenry! Abiola stood on the side of the people all his life.
“A president that is freely condoning corruption and is unable to assent to a prayer against corruption is languidly laying hold on a straw of hope in a bid to attract better public image.
“This is another bungled project! Where do you put Moshood Abiola Polytechnic in Abeokuta? Whoever wrote the memo to the President to take this awful decision has done incalculable damage to his public worth.”
A former Special Assistant to the late Abiola, Chief Olu Akerele, described the naming of the University of Lagos after the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election as “mere tokenism and not far-reaching enough.”
Akerele said that the activities of the late Abiola transcended the South-West geopolitical zone, where he came from, noting that naming UNILAG after Abiola had limited his recognition to the Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria.
He advised that the President should have named the Eagle Square, Abuja or the University of Abuja after Abiola, who sacrificed his life for democracy.
He said being the Pillar of Sports in Africa during his lifetime, it would also have been appropriate to name the National Stadium, Abuja after the late doyen of sports.
The National Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Chief Bisi Akande, also flayed Jonathan for renaming UNILAG after Abiola, describing the renaming as “one right thing done in a wrong way and at a wrong time.”
Akande warned the Federal Government not to destroy the superstructure of democracy, which he said included the courts and conduct of credible elections.
However, the Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in the South-West, Mr. Segun Oni, described the ACN as not being sincere.
Oni, commenting through his spokesperson, Mr. Lere Olayinka, said the question that the ACN people needed to answer was, “If they love Abiola that much as they claim, why did they deny one of his sons the party’s House of Representatives’ ticket in Ogun State last year?
“Or was there anything that qualified Chief Segun Osoba’s son for the ACN House of Reps ticket ahead of MKO Abiola’s son?
“Isn’t it very sad that these same people, who dined and wined with the late MKO and had used his name for political gain have suddenly become anonymous and cannot show appreciation to the FG for immortalising him?
“Shouldn’t the ACN people, who benefited from MKO Abiola’s martyrdom have eschewed parochial politics and be supportive of whatever honour done him by the People Democratic Party-led FG?
“Instead, they suddenly lost their voice in their usual hypocrisy and also went to the extent of igniting protests in Lagos.”
He said since the leadership of the ACN lost their usage of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s name because of their glaring aversion for what the late sage stood for, “they must be afraid of the consequences of losing their access to the name of MKO Abiola.”
While the renaming of the university has polarised the people of the zone, the appointment of Deaconess Olatoyosi Ayo as the chairman of the Federal Civil Service.
Commission by the President was also said to be another move by Jonathan to pacify the people of the zone.
The President has also nominated Mr. Ezekiel Adeniyi as the chairman of the Board of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency. His appointment was confirmed on Wednesday by the Senate.
Our correspondents gathered that anytime the President decides to reshuffle his cabinet, he would pay attention to the clamouring of the political leaders from the zone, who have complained that juicy ministries were not given to their representatives.
Before now, the zone had complained about the refusal of the President to give any tangible appointment to people from their zone.
They listed the absence of anyone from the zone into any of the first six positions in the country. These offices include that of the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The northern zone of the PDP is already using this argument to woo the people of the zone to wrest power from the President in 2015.
One of the PDP governors from the zone told one of our correspondents that the zone was already reaching out to people from other parts of the country on the need to stop Jonathan in 2015.
He said he knew that the zone was not happy with the number of cabinet ministers assigned to it by the Presidency and besides, he added that Northerners were aware that Jonathan had refused to appoint people from the South-West to strategic positions in his government.
Our correspondents gathered that the ACN was aware of the PDP/Jonathan moves in the South-West and Edo State.
It was learnt that the PDP considered the South-West and Edo State strategic to its electoral success in 2015.
The National Vice-Chairman, South-South Zone of the party, Dr. Stephen Oru, had at the inauguration of Bayelsa State Executive of the party in Yenogoa in May, said the victory of the party in the Edo governorship poll would pave the way for Jonathan’s second term presidential ambition in 2015.
He had said, “The PDP must triumph in the July 14 governorship election in Edo State to provide a unified regional base for Jonathan to actualise his second term presidential ambition in 2015.
“Being the sons and daughters of the South-South zone and since the President is from our zone, it is only fair that we take back Edo State so that he (Jonathan) will have 100 per cent PDP states behind him in 2015 when he will be contesting a second tenure.”
An ACN chief, who pleaded anonymity, said the party knew that some of the actions of the President were meant to shore up support for him in 2015.
He stated, “We know that it is not that the President loves the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll by renaming the University of Lagos after him. His action is a form of campaign for the 2015 presidential poll.”
When contacted, the ACN national chairman said the party was aware of the PDP plan for South-West and Edo.
He, however, stated that the ruling party would fail.
Akande explained that the PDP governments at the centre and state level had done nothing to merit the re-election of the President or any of the PDP governors.
On the forthcoming governorship election in Edo, Akande said, “If performance is the parameter by which public office holders are rated, then Edo State is a no-go area for the PDP.
“If the PDP thinks it is going to win the Edo governorship election, it is building its castle in the air. Adams Oshiomhole has written his name in the hearts of the people of Edo.
“No amount of regional sentiments will make the people vote for any other person than Oshiomhole.”
But the PDP National Vice-Chairman Oni, said that the party would not be distracted by the ACN and the CPC.