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The daunting task of managing Obasanjo's image in Niger
From Akin Alofetekun, Minna

SELLING President Olusegun Obasanjo's candidacy to the Niger State electorate in 2003 may be difficult. And the perceived difficulty is hinged on the performance of the President in the last three years.

But Alhaji Halidu Adamu Maishanu, the Jarman Zazzau Suleja, the man saddled with the responsibility of co-ordinating the electorate in Niger for the Obasanjo/Atiku 2003 campaign is not a novice in the business of political marketing.

He exhibited this attribute when he took the battle to the doorstep of the perceived opponents of the President in the state.

The co-ordinator's dilemma is more apparent following a recent incident in the state when the leadership of the state administration and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a decision that bordered on anti-party activity. They publicly confirmed their romance with the National Democratic Party (NDP) and threatened to dump the PDP for NDP if some conditions were not met. Or still, should Obasanjo again emerge as the party's presidential candidate for next year's election.

"It is not surprising that Maishanu chose these two enemy zones as the first port of call. That is what we call political sagacity," Alhaji Adamu Gogo Eren an ardent supporter of Obasanjo said in Minna.

Few people in the crowd that accompanied the co-ordinator to the State Secretariat of the PDP who in Government House, Minna were actually surprised to see only the party's secretary, Alhaji Abubakar Azozo, out of the members of the executives of the party receiving the team.

The state's acting governor, Dr. Shehu Zagbayi Nuhu, was away on an assignment addressing students of the state School of Health Technology in Minna at the time he was to receive Maishanu and his team.

Azozo, a young but versatile political tactician who was visibly surprised and embarrassed at the large turnout of party faithful, including party executives at local council and ward levels, was quick to explain why only him was on hand to receive the Obasanjo Presidential Campaign team.

"When I learnt of this visit I was looking forward to receiving only this complete gentleman, Alhaji Halidu Maishanu, possibly self-driven from Suleja, to present his letter of appointment as Co-ordinator of the Obasanjo Presidential Campaign. I never thought the entourage will be this large," he said.

Azozo warned party executives in the team against conducts that will create impressions that the PDP in the state had already endorsed a candidate.

He nonetheless formally received Maishanu's "Letter of Credence" as Obasanjo's campaign ambassador to Niger State, promising that other executive members of the party would be intimated with the contents of the letter.

On the field, Maishanu and his fellow campaigners will definitely meet an electorate whose minds are already poisoned over promises said to have been made before 1999 election, which had remained largely unfulfilled.

Nonetheless, Maishanu's experience as an active participant in the Second Republic politics would stand him in good stead over the anti-Obasanjo forces within his party. They may really be few but they are powerful.

Giving vent to this feeling, Azozo had expressed his desire to meet with the co-ordinator in camera to avail him with certain misgivings the citizens of the state have against Obasanjo. The misgivings, according to inside sources, are connected with the non-actualisation of the Hydroelectric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPPADEC), which four states, namely Kwara, Kogi, Benue and Niger have been clamouring for, has been championing the cause.

Others issues are the Jebba-Mokwa, Pujam-Kantongora roads as well as the Shiroro Bridge, which are in disrepair.

Maishanu was said to have told the party scribe, a fellow kinsman from Suleja, that all hopes were not lost on these promises.

In an interview with journalists later, Maishanu expressed his support for the demands being put before Mr. President on behalf of the people of the state.

"The demands can be met today, tomorrow or next since that cry is for the masses, I will join and ask the Federal Government to send more funds to Niger State.

"But what I will not agree is for anybody to say that the Obasanjo administration has done nothing for the state. Whoever says Niger State wants more or deserves more, we need more, I will say yes, we deserve more. So you can see that the state of the leadership of the administration in the state is conditional, in the sense that they need something and that thing too I know it and when it comes, don't be surprised they will change."

Maishanu educated those holding Obasanjo responsible for the non-actualisation of the HYPPADEC bill to think again because "if the bill is passed today, the President would assent it the following day."

His words: "The issue of HYPPADEC is in the pipeline. The problem is not with Obasanjo. I was opportuned to be with my federal legislator, who briefed me on the stage it has reached. The House, and not Obasanjo, has stopped debate on it for now for certain political and reasons, otherwise it will reach a stage where if they push it too much it may fail and cannot be re-presented.

"Obasanjo is a person who listens carefully to people's cries, but considering the economic situation in the country, when he finds it possible Obasanjo will fulfil these promises which are between the head of administration in Niger State and himself."

He debunked the insinuation that the PDP in Niger State had put him off by the secretary's assertion that the party had not decided on a presidential candidate.

"The party is right at this stage to say that it has not got a candidate for the presidency. True, there is no candidate yet, what we have now are presidential aspirants. The party being a parent of this organisation should not be in haste. Otherwise people might think that they are taking sides, so they are right. Each aspirant will have his team that is selling him and we are here to sell Obasanjo and Atiku."

Maishanu emphasised in his address that as a child of the party, the Obasanjo campaign organisation would among other things, "do everything possible to protect the party's image."

"I find it expedient as an obedient member of the PDP to call on you first before identifying my campaign office.

"We shall encourage you to prepare a smooth ground for the game, encourage you to accommodate all PDP aspirants as your children and also support you to conduct a free and fair primary election. I call on all who may lose at the primaries to join the winner in campaigning for the general election coming ahead", he said.

He pledged his organisation's preparedness "to conduct its affairs in line with the PDP rules. We hope that you will bear with us. We will always relate and refer to you when and where ever the need arises so that when the directorate finally hands over the winning team of Obasanjo and Atiku as candidates, we will all find it simpler and easier to deliver again."

On the field, Maishanu and his fellow Obasanjo campaigners will definitely meet an electorate whose minds are already poisoned over promises said to have been made pre-1999 election which had remained largely unfulfilled

 

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