Ahmadu Ali
  • Ex-PDP chairman gives fresh insight into intrigues that threw up Jonathan as VP candidate

Olusegun Adeniyi

Former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Ahmadu Ali, has provided fresh insights into the intrigues that led to the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the presidential running mate to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, at the party’s convention on December 16, 2006.

Ali, a retired Army Colonel, three-time Senator, medical doctor, former Federal Commissioner of Education in the seventies and PDP National Chairman between 2005 and 2007, also made revelations on several issues, including how Jonathan preferred being Governor of Bayelsa State to being Vice President of Nigeria when he (Jonathan) was offered the job.

According to Ali, in his authorised biography that will be launched in Abuja on Thursday to mark his 82nd birthday, the trio of himself, President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Tony Anenih decided on Jonathan to checkmate the PDP Governors who were scheming to nominate another person for Yar’Adua, after they had rejected the choice of the then Rivers State Governor, Dr Peter Odili.

Titled, “The many colours of a rainbow: A biography of Senator Amadu Adah Ali” and written by Gideon S. Tseja, a copy of which Ali personally gave THISDAY at the weekend, the former PDP Chairman also provided details of why Yar’Adua got the nod to succeed Obasanjo in 2007.

“Amongst all the PDP governors who wanted to contest for president, he (Yar’Adua) was the only one on whom the EFCC could not find any evidence of corruption or misappropriation of funds. He left over N6 billion for his successor in the state coffers while other governors left virtually nothing. He was reluctant to contest for president.”

Although written by a third party, the recollections are that of Ali who stated in his preface dated August 22, 2016, that the effort took more than 30 years. “I started jotting down episodes in the merging story of my life since 1983 when the military coup d’etat of that year terminated the life of the civilian regime and the senators, amongst whom I was one, were unceremoniously booted out of office.”

Because of his hectic schedule, Ali said he could not bring himself into writing an autobiography until in 2008 when he finally decided to invite a university don, Gideon S. Tseja, “to assist me in writing my biography.”

With Ali as PDP Chairman in 2006, the book captures what followed after the nomination of Yar’Adua as the party’s presidential flag-bearer. According to the author, Yar’Adua was summoned to the basement of Eagle Square where Obasanjo, Ali and Anenih were waiting. This was what followed, going by the recollections in the book:

Even before the final results of the primaries were tallied, it was clear to the party leaders that Yar’Adua was going to win hands down. They—President Obasanjo, Chairman, BOT, Chief Anenih and the National Chairman, Dr Amadu Ali—decided to shift their attention to the nomination of a running mate on the PDP ticket, the man who would be vice president if Yar’Adua won the presidency.

“Congratulations”, the chairman began unceremoniously. “It is a well-deserved victory, and the party will give you all the support you need to win the presidential election.” He (Ali) paused for a moment as the president and the others also gave Yar’Adua their congratulations. “Peter Odili will be your running mate. He came third in our search for a presidential candidate. Governor Ahmed Makarfi came second in our score. For equity, the running mate had to come from the south.”

There was silence as everybody waited for Yar’Adua to react. Finally, looking away and avoiding the eyes of the chairman, he mumbled with his characteristic shy demeanour, “Thank you sir, but I would request…”

“You request what? The party produced you and the party will also produce the VP!” thundered the chairman.

“Let us try to give him time”, Obasanjo tried to intervene.

“We don’t have time sir. We need to move fast. You can never tell what mischief is being planned right now. Did you see any of the governors towards the end of the election at the Square?” It was true that the governors had mysteriously disappeared when Yar’Adua’s victory became a certainty.

He (Ali) turned to Yar’Adua and continued his instructions to him. “Go and write your acceptance speech. Say something like this: ‘I would like to inform you that after due consideration and consultation with the party, I have selected Peter Odili, the executive governor of Rivers State, to run with me on the same ticket’. I want a copy of the speech and make sure Peter Odili’s name is on it!”

Yar’Adua went away and came back with the speech as directed indicating that Peter Odili would be his running mate, but it was clear that he was not happy. Pressure was brought to bear on the president to intervene and allow Yar’Adua to choose a VP he felt he could work with.

“Amadu”, said Chief Obasanjo, “don’t be too harsh on the young man. Let’s give him twenty four hours…”

“Twenty four hours! But…” the chairman was going to argue.

“I know what you mean”, Obasanjo cut him off, “but let us give him twenty four hours.”

It had been a long day. Tired and hungry the chairman went home dreaming of eating something, taking a long drink and flipping into bed to catch some rest. This was about 1.00PM on the day of the convention.

Meanwhile, unknown to the president, PDP governors were holding a secret meeting of their own to influence the choice of VP candidate. Clearly, they were not in favour of Peter Odili which the party leadership was contemplating. Even before Ali could digest this information (provided by his wife), he got a frantic call from Obasanjo. He, too, had got some information about the governors’ plot.

“Amadu, come quick!”

“But you know we have just…”

“Come, please and don’t argue. Quick, quick!”

The dream about taking some rest evaporated as Ali doubled back to meet the president at the Aso Rock Villa.

He (Obasanjo) told the Senator about the governors’ meeting. “We must act quickly or the governors will hijack this thing. Anenih is on his way and I have already summoned Yar’Adua. If he hasn’t thought of a running mate, then we must impose one on him.”

This had been the senator’s position exactly, all along.

As soon as Yar’Adua arrived, the president told him without any preamble, “Now, name your running mate, now, now. We don’t have twenty four hours.”

“Goodluck Jonathan,” he said without hesitation. He had obviously thought about it or tutored to mention the name. Immediately, Jonathan was sent for.

When Jonathan arrived a little later, the president said, “We have summoned you here to offer to you the position of Vice President. What do you think?’

Jonathan was stunned. He was obviously not expecting this and had not remotely considered the possibility. He opened his mouth as if to say something but nothing came out.

The president seeing his discomfiture added helpfully, “This decision was taken after a long process. We just want to know what your opinion is.”

Finally, Jonathan found voice, although he was disconcerted by this development.

“Well”, he began tentatively, “If I had a choice, I would prefer to remain as governor. I know the job. I know where I stopped. But this VP…I don’t know what it entails.” After a look of disapproval from the chairman and the president, he added quickly, “but if you want me to serve in that position, I accept.”

YarAdua turned to Jonathan and asked him, “Would you like to be my running mate?”

“Yes sir.”

President Obasanjo turned to the Chairman and said, “Amadu, take him to my parlour. The television crew are on their way for a press conference. You and Chief Anenih should stand on either side of him and let him announce the name of his running mate.”

The governors were still at their meeting scheming how to influence the choice of vice president when Yar’Adua announced his running mate to the public in the foyer of the presidential villa. The announcement was carried Live on NTA and other networks. This put paid to the PDP governors’ plot to nominate a vice presidential candidate.

In a chat with THISDAY, Ali said this would be the first part of his story as he intends to write another one by himself. But the current book also details his life and career. Some of the issues dealt with in the book include the 1966 and 1975 military coups, Ali’s role in the creation of Kogi State, the ‘Ali Must Go’ saga, the General Sani Abacha coup in November 1993 at a period he was in the Senate, Obasanjo’s ‘third term’ bid and the defeat of Jonathan at the 2015 presidential election.