President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday said he would not beg General Ibrahim Babangida or any other politician to step down for him in the 2011 presidential contest, adding that the racetrack is free for anybody willing to test their popularity.

Jonathan also made reference to the 1993 presidential elections annulled by Babangida’s military regime, saying Nigerians would never let their will “be quashed underfoot by the vaunting ambitions of a few.”
The president was reacting to reports that he met and unsuccessfully tried to talk the former military ruler into stepping down for him in next year’s presidential election.

Though Jonathan admitted to having held a meeting with Babangida, he said it was not true that he tried to persuade the former military ruler to drop out of the race and has no plans of doings so.

But the president did not specify the subject matter of his meeting with Babangida, and did not say when the meeting took place.

A statement in Abuja by presidential spokesman Ima Niboro said it is a “lie that the president tried to talk Babangida out of his ambition to return to office.

“Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the president knows he is not one who dissuades people from pursuing their personal ambitions. This is even more so when there is no purpose to be served by it, since the long suffering mass of the Nigerian people would decide who governs them in a free and fair contest.

“Since June 12, 1993, Nigerians have in successive elections become wiser. The next presidential elections, no matter who the candidates are, would sound a resonant Never Again! Never again shall the will of the Nigerian people be quashed underfoot by the vaunting ambitions of a few.

“This is what the president has promised Nigerians, and he is fully committed to delivering on this pledge. It is therefore unfortunate that any self respecting newspaper should lend its pages to reporting a series of lies against the person and the institution of the presidency. These tales are unverified and sourced from openly interested parties. They are lies, pure and simple.

“The fact is that President Jonathan has been meeting different leaders on different occasions and platforms. Some have come to inform him of their intention to run for the presidency. Others he has met with as a matter of courtesy being a sitting president, and keen to ensure that the next presidential elections do not degenerate into a do-or-die affair as our elections are sometimes wont to do.

“He has met former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; he has met Babangida; he has met Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, and will meet him again soon. He has met with Gen. Yakubu Gowon, two time president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari; former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, and former head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. He will meet with even more leaders and political actors as the race to 2011 heats up.

“It is extremely uncharitable for anyone to spin these meetings in such negative lights, and attempt to force the president into retreat from these well thought out engagements with political leaders of all hue and disposition in the interest of the country.

“We think it is time to put an end to this long line of false stories and verify what is served to the general public.”

Jonathan has yet to publicly declare his interest in the presidential race, but it is widely believed that he will stand for the election.

Babangida, probably Jonathan’s strongest opponent in the bid for the ruling party’s presidential ticket, has already joined the race and is due to make a formal declaration on September 14.

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