News / Africa

Nigerian Lawmakers to Consider New Vice President

Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo, possible choice for Vice President in Nigeria
Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo, possible choice for Vice President in Nigeria

Nigerian lawmakers this week open confirmation hearings for a new vice president, following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, earlier this month.

Nigeria's new president, Goodluck Jonathan, wants Kaduna state Governor Namadi Sambo to help him finish out the final year of President Yar'Adua's term.

It is a surprise choice, much as President Yar'Adua surprised many Nigerians by choosing Mr. Jonathan as his running mate for their 2007 election.

Like Mr. Yar'Adua, Mr. Jonathan bypassed better-known candidates for a quieter, less-obviously ambitious governor with a solid record of financial management.  And, like Mr. Yar'Adua, Mr. Jonathan chose a deputy from a different region to preserve Nigeria's sometimes-contentious balance of power.

As much as political opponents said Mr. Jonathan was imposed on President Yar'Adua by party leaders, so too has the choice of Governor Sambo raised questions about the influence of Nigeria's powerful state governors.

Political scientist Isitoah Ozoemene says President Jonathan's choices were limited.

"The governors of the states seem to have taken precedence," Ozoemene said. "What happens in Nigeria now is that what governors want, that is what must happen.  And, the governors have insisted that one of them must be made the vice president.  And, today, one of them is made the vice president.  So I would not be so daft to assume that it was a free selection."

Hope George chairs the national youth council in Nigeria's southern Delta state.

"There is no politician that does not have backing," George said. "But I want to believe he was not sponsored by anybody.  Goodluck just saw him among one as the best among the governors and I believe that is the right choice he has made."

Ovie Joseph is secretary to the ruling-party chairman of the Ughelli North local government area.  He says choosing a political deputy is always a political choice and that Governor Sambo's nomination is no different.

"The man who picked him knows why he was picked.  Politics is a game of interests," Joseph said. "People who are playing it have their own personal interests too."

Joseph says he is not concerned by suggestions that the governor was put forward by former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who says he is running for president next year.

"Even if anybody is behind this or other reasons are behind, the head is always there," Joseph said. "The one there (vice president) is just like a spare person. Unless the head is out, he can not disturb the system.  So I feel whether he is being sponsored by anybody or not, as long as the man Jonathan is there, he can always take care of the situation."

Preye Ketebu-Brown is chairman of the national youth council in President Jonathan's home, Bayelsa state.

"Very careful considerations and deliberations are always made to arrive at such decisions so that you don't hurt powers that be and so that the quality remains balanced and so that the country can always be seen to working toward one particular goal and not anybody's individual agenda," Ketebu-Brown said.

Nigeria's national assembly opens hearings on Governor Sambo Tuesday. With less than a year to go before new elections, Ozoemene says it should be a quick confirmation.

"There is very little time left in this administration," Ozoemene said. "And, so the best thing for them is to put away all their differences, all their personal goals and all their so-called sectional interests and simply give the president everything that he needs to work with.  And, once he has said this is the person I want to be vice president, they should oblige him."

Had President Jonathan chosen as his deputy a political heavyweight from northern Nigeria, that person would have immediately become the ruling-party's frontrunner for next year's vote, under a regional power sharing deal.

His choice of a northern governor with little nationwide experience makes it easier for Mr. Jonathan to run, himself, if he chooses to challenge the informal arrangement that alternates the presidency between northern and southern Nigeria every eight years.

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