The refusal of Tunde Bakare, the vice presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), to sign a postdated letter of resignation, has been largely blamed for the collapse of the alliance talks between the CPC and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). NEXT has obtained an exclusive copy of the contentious letter. Had Mr Bakare signed the letter, dated June 7, 2011, the clergyman would have been under compulsion to step down as vice president after eight days in the post if his party had won the last presidential election.
In an arrangement that would have made Mr Bakare the briefest occupier of the vice presidential office in Nigeria's history, a nominee of the ACN would have succeeded the clergyman, in line with the terms of the alliance agreement.
But while the presidential candidate of the CPC, Muhammadu Buhari, and other chieftains of his party were satisfied with the letter, according to a source close to the talks, Mr Bakare refused to sign the letter despite entreaties from Mr Buhari, other party chiefs, and the ACN delegation to the talks. Some unnamed northern elders were also said to have "begged" Mr Bakare to sign the letter in the interest of the nation and democracy.
The one-page message, written under the letterhead of the CPC, was entitled ‘Resignation from Office as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria', and addressed to the "President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria," whom the party believed would be Mr Buhari, its presidential candidate.
The letter read, "I have to this end appreciated the need for me to promote the desired national interest which by my principles override any other individual interest to make a supreme sacrifice of resigning my position as the Vice President of Nigeria to allow for the accommodation of the broader alliance that I strongly believe is required to move our country forward."
Bakare writes his own letter
But the CPC vice presidential candidate spurned the letter, preferring to write a different one which the ACN delegation believed would have given him room to renege on the terms of the alliance deal. The other signed letter written by Mr Bakare, also exclusively obtained by NEXT, was dated April 13, 2011 and addressed to Mr Buhari.
In it, Mr Bakare told his principal that "if at any time during the course of our joint efforts to move our country forward to the promised land, you consider it necessary for me to step down as the Vice President, please feel free at your sole and absolute discretion to accept this unilateral offer of resignation from me to that effect."
The source stated that the ACN refused this letter.
"They said it did not demonstrate enough willingness by Mr Bakare to vacate office," the source said. "They said the letter leaves everything to the discretion of Mr Buhari and wondered why Pastor Bakare simply refused to resign."
When our reporter contacted Mr Bakare by phone, he said, "I can't attend to any information, any news now. I have too much I'm trying to sort out. Thank you."
Contacted on Friday, Rotimi Fashakin, spokesperson for the CPC, refused to confirm or deny the existence and contents of the letter(s). In a telephone interview, Mr Fashakin stated that "the (refusal of Mr Bakare to sign the letter) was the reason given by the ACN for the breakdown of the negotiation."
He explained that there was still enough room to negotiate over the writing of a letter when the ACN suddenly called off the alliance.
"The negotiation period was supposed to be a process. If somebody does not meet your requirement, it is not enough to call off the negotiations.
"It will be correct to say that they were just looking for the flimsiest of excuses to align with the PDP," Mr Fashakin said.
Northern leaders mediate collapsed talks
After the conclusion of the National Assembly polls, the ACN and the CPC continued discussions on the possibility of an alliance before the presidential elections. The talks, according to a source, were held in two locations: the Lagos House in Asokoro, Abuja, and another location in Wuse 2 area of Abuja. The two parties had, months before the general election, also held several alliance talks without reaching any conclusion. The results of the National Assembly elections, however, showed that unless both parties worked together, their chances of upstaging the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) during the presidential polls were slim. The PDP had already garnered more than half of the National Assembly seats declared. The 11-hour alliance meeting commenced on the evening of Monday, April 11, and was reportedly facilitated by top northern leaders.
"General Babangida (former head of state), General Abdulsalam Abubakar (former head of state), and General (Aliyu) Gusau (former national security adviser) were among the northern leaders that brokered the meeting, and they were all there during the negotiations," another source close to the talks told NEXT.
After two days of negotiations, however, the alliance failed and both parties on Wednesday, April 13, announced to the world that each of them was presenting its own candidates for the election.
Accusations and counter accusations
The ACN and the CPC have accused each other of causing the collapse of the alliance talks. ACN chieftains led by its national chairman, Bisi Akande, were the first to address the press on the collapse of the talks. Mr Akande, in a press conference on April 13 at the party secretariat in the Wuse area of Abuja, told the world that the ACN did not cause the collapse of the talks. The party's national secretary, Lawan Shuaib, also said, that same day, that the refusal of the CPC to honour its side of the agreement on the resignation of Mr Bakare caused the failure of the alliance. Later, the ACN national publicity secretary, Lai Mohammed, joined the fray. He said in a statement that "we bent over backwards every inch of the way, especially in the three days of intense negotiations before the election. We risked everything: our candidate agreed to step down in the national interest, at the risk of the damage that will be done to his candidacy if the alliance fails, and that was exactly what happened."
Mr Mohammed added that "all we demanded from the CPC during the last days of intense negotiation, when we kept all our national leaders in Abuja for three straight days, was to allow us to produce the vice president after the election, and it became too much for them. Simply put, these people wanted us to amputate our two hands for them, while they could not even afford to lose a finger!"
Mr Buhari, the CPC presidential candidate, stated his own version of events when he told journalists prior to the elections that "the talks...ran into difficulties when the ACN insisted that the only condition for agreement was that they must produce the vice president. By the electoral laws, this was virtually impossible before this election."
Mr Buhari further stated that "we suggested that they should let us jointly go into the elections and jointly form the government after our victory. But our friends were not ready to take us on our honour and went to the media."
If the alliance had worked, the ACN and CPC would have presented one presidential candidate to challenge the incumbent and eventual winner of the elections, President Goodluck Jonathan.