Former President Obasanjo preferred to be in Jigawa than in Abuja.
When top officials of the various arms of the Nigerian Government gathered on Wednesday to listen to President Goodluck Jonathan present the scorecard of his administration in the last two years, one notable absentee was observed.
The event, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, was attended by Nigeria’s top five public officials but one, the fourth citizen by Nigeria’s official hierarchy.
Aminu Tambuwal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was conspicuously absent at a ceremony attended by Mr. Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark, and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mariam Mukhtar.
No reason was given for the speaker’s absence although it was later announced during the programme that he was represented by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha.
Though a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Tambuwal has never really been a darling of the ruling party or indeed of the president.
“ ..the joke here (at the presidency) used to be that the Speaker is an APC man in PDP government,” a presidency source told PREMIUM TIMES, saying they were not surprised the speaker was absent.
Mr. Tambuwal’s election as speaker was opposed by both his party and allegedly the presidency; while he got the support of the opposition for his emergence as speaker.
Rumours have also been spread that the speaker is being considered as a presidential candidate of the APC, a merger of Nigeria’s largest four opposition parties, a claim the speaker denied.
However, Mr. Tambuwal’s spokesperson said there was no big deal to his principal’s non-attendance.
“Usually, the Speaker goes to his constituency on a day like this (Democracy Day) to interact with his people, there is no issue at all,” Imam Imam, Mr. Tambuwal’s spokesperson, said.
He said the Speaker left Abuja for Sokoto on Tuesday after the sitting of the House, and has commissioned some projects undertaken by Governor Wammako.
“In any case even the invitation sent, read the House of Reps, and the Deputy Speaker was there to represent the House, so it will be erroneous to assume that the Speaker shunned the event,” Mr. Imam added.
Mr. Tambuwal was, however, not the only major dignitary that shunned the event witnessed by ministers, lawmakers, foreign guests, and others, and broadcast live to millions of Nigerians.
Obasanjo, Babangida, Abdulsalami, Atiku too
At least four former heads of state: Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and Abdulsalami Abubakar, and a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, also shunned the event, which was used by the Jonathan administration to showcase its successes.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that they were all invited to the event.
While hundreds gathered for the event, Mr. Obasanjo, a leader of the PDP and one of Mr. Jonathan’s main backers in 2011 preferred to attend an event in Jigawa State.
Although no official reason was given for Mr. Obasanjo’s non-attendance in Abuja, he was present as Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa outlined the achievements of his administration in the state. Mr. Lamido, also a member of the ruling party, is seen as a loyalist of Mr. Obasanjo and is believed to be one of the PDP Governors that voted against Jonah Jang, the PDP and presidency’s reportedly backed candidate for the chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF.
Posters have already been circulated across various Nigerian states of a joint ticket of Mr. Lamido and Rotimi Amaechi for the 2015 presidency, a move reportedly supported by Mr. Obasanjo. Mr. Amaechi, who won the NGF chairmanship election, is currently having a running battle with the presidency and the PDP leadership. He has since been suspended from the ruling party.
The Jigawa event was also attended by Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank, another person who has the backing of the opposition parties. Though serving in a PDP government, when Mr. Sanusi was being honoured with a traditional title in Kano, the event was largely attended by opposition leaders including Mr. Buhari and Mr. Tinubu.
Mr. Sanusi also preferred to attend the Jigawa event than attend one by Mr. Jonathan even though several achievements of the economic team of which he is a core member were being highlighted at the Abuja event.
Two other former military heads of state, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalami Abubakar, were also absent at the event, attended by three other past Nigerian leaders: Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, and Ernest Shonekan.
Mr. Babangida challenged Mr. Jonathan for the PDP presidential ticket in 2011 but eventually lost to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in a northern consensus arrangement before the latter lost the party ticket to Mr. Jonathan. He eventually declared his support in the presidential elections for Nuhu Ribadu, the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011.
Mr. Babangida also recently encouraged Mr. Tambuwal, the speaker, to run for “higher office.”
On his part, Mr. Abubakar, the former head of state, who is said to be a cousin to Mr. Babangida, is known to always share the same position with the latter and has also not been seen attending presidential meetings and events.
Another notable absentee was Atiku Abubakar, also a member of the PDP, and the loser in the PDP presidential primaries of 2011. Mr. Abubakar recently warned that the PDP faced disintegration with the various crisis it is facing.
Buhari expectedly absent
Of the prominent absentees, perhaps the least surprising is that of Mr. Buhari, a perennial challenger for the office of president.
Mr. Buhari was the runner-up in the 2011 elections to Mr. Jonathan; and had earlier contested in 2003 and 2007.
A major critic and outspoken opponent of the Jonathan administration, it would probably have been more of a surprise if the former general attended the meeting.
When Mr. Jonathan was first appointed acting President in 2010, Mr. Buhari attended meetings of the National Council of State at the presidential villa, but stopped attending the meetings or even going to the villa after Mr. Jonathan was announced as the winner of the April 2011 presidential election which Mr. Buhari as candidate of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, challenged up to the Supreme Court.