The camp of President Goodluck Jonathan is grappling with fresh challenges as the nation awaits his decision on whether or not he will run in the 2011 presidential race.

The problem this time has to do with the fate of his deputy, Arc. Namadi Sambo, should he decide to run.

Already, the development is causing disquiet in the camp of the president.

Meanwhile, there were strong signals yesterday that Jonathan is still reaching out to top politicians across the six geo-political zones before he makes up his mind to contest or not.

Investigation by The Nation revealed that some strategists of the President do not see Sambo as an electoral asset and would want him dropped for the 2011 poll as Vice-Presidential candidate.

It was learnt that the alleged failure of Sambo to sway the North in support of Jonathan’s ambition is being counted against him.

It is also causing a new rethink on a Northern candidate that could change the game midway in favour of the President.

According to findings, a secret team in the President’s camp is already going round to sample people’s opinion in the North on the acceptability of Sambo.

It was gathered that the random sampling and consultations are being done in case the President does not contest for the presidency in 2011; he could present a ‘compromise candidate’ to the North.

A principal officer in the Presidency, simply described as Tukur, is said to be gauging the opinions of key stakeholders in the North on Sambo’s acceptability.

A reliable source said: “The President is really in dilemma whether to contest or not for the Presidency. In one breath, most of his loyalists are persuading him to brave the odds but on his part, he does not want the nation divided along ethnic lines whenever he joins the race.

“And the choice of a Vice-Presidential candidate is compounding his dilemma. He is in a fix whether to choose Sambo or any other acceptable candidate from the North. His permutation is that if he is not contesting, he could emerge a hero by picking an acceptable candidate to succeed him.

“So, it is a double-edge sword. That is a candidate from the North that could be a Vice-President or when the heat is too much, the candidate could be a last minute option to assuage the North.

“So, there is disquiet over the fate of Sambo since the last National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party where the President suffered a political setback.

“Most strategists in the President’s camp have rated Sambo low and incapable of selling Jonathan to the North because he is not a Northern politics mainstream player.

“Sambo’s sins border on his alleged failure to convince the Northern Governors Forum to dump zoning; not visiting Northern stakeholders to sell Jonathan’s candidacy and not having access to emirs and the powers –that- be to assist the Jonathan-Sambo ticket.”

As at press time, the discreet search for a ‘replacement’ for Sambo is yielding fruits with some loyalists of Jonathan having preference for a young

professional from the North.

It was learnt that some strategists of Jonathan have opened up discussions with a few friends of the said young professional on the two options from their camp (either to be VP or a compromise candidate from the North if Jonathan is not running).

A source said Jonathan’s strategists’ confidence was buoyed by the recent rating of likely presidential aspirants from the North.

Apart from about 9% undecided, the opinion poll of the Voice of America (VOA), Hausa Service, on some of the Northern presidential aspirants is as follows: Muhammadu Buhari(65 %); Babangida(5%); Atiku Abubakar and Governor Ibrahim Shekarau(4% each); and the National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Muhammed(2%).

The source added: “Jonathan’s strategists are worried that Sambo’s name did not feature on the scale of acceptability among Northerners.”

As at press time, it was learnt that the President is still reaching out to many stakeholders and would want to wrap up the outreach before making up his mind whether to contest or not.

Another source added: “The President has not made up his mind whether to contest or not. He believes that if he refuses to vie for presidency in 2011, he will be going against the wish of his people and wasting an opportunity for the South-South.

“He is also thinking of the consequence of the poll assuming tribal dimensions or turmoil beyond his control. He does not want to end his tenure in crisis.

“That is why the issue of searching for a compromise candidate might be part of Plan B by Jonathan’s camp.

“In the next two weeks, we will know which is which from the President, who has remained calm.”

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