For the past few weeks, as it dawned on them that Umaru Yar'Adua is unlikely to return from his medical treatment as Nigeria's president, the fading leader's wife,
Turai, and several loyalist aides have been shopping around the candidacy of Adamu Ailero as our next vice president.
Mr. Aliero, the Minister of the Federal Capital, is close to the Yar'Aduas, and the First Lady and her cohorts calculate that they can best protect the Yar'Aduas' interests through a friendly successor.
President Yar'Adua is prostrate in a Saudi hospital, believed to be severely brain damaged, unable to recognise anyone and unlikely to ever again serve as president. The First Lady has barred any senior political or government leader from access to her husband, and relies exclusively on Saudi staff, apart from two presidential security aides, our sources say.
The delay in publicly admitting the president's incapacitation, our sources say, is to buy time to ensure a friendly successor for Mr. Yar'Adua. But pressure is building throughout the country for a constitutional succession that will see the ascent of the current vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, to the top job.
This may come as soon as this week, several well-placed politicians and government officials now believe.
The plan to engineer Mr. Ailero, 53,into the vice presidency, ostensibly to help position him after the widely expected interim presidency of Mr. Jonathan, is being spearheaded by a powerful coterie of four presidential aides, according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the matter. These are Inuwa Baba,
the political adviser known by some as "the Andy Uba" of the Yar'Adua Aso Villa; Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, the president's chief economic adviser, and Sayyadi Abba Ruma, the agriculture minister.
But their effort has run into strong head winds, according to several sources.
There is also the candidacy of Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, the former intelligence chief in the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. On the unofficial expectation that the president must come from the north for another term of four years under the ruling party's rotational presidency system, Mr. Jonathan would likely serve out the last remaining year of the Yar'Adua presidency before the party chooses another candidate for the next election. Mr.
Jonathan's deputy, by this reckoning, would be well placed to be that candidate.
Mr. Gusau, a retired general, gets his principal support from an influential network around Mr. Babangida, who has been receiving powerful guests at his hilltop mansion in Minna, the Niger State capital, on account of the recent death of his wife, Maryam, from ovarian cancer.
Lurking in the shadows is Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president who is keen to plot his return to political eminence. Mr. Obasanjo is reported to have been pushing Sule Lamido, former foreign minister and current governor of Jigawa State to be Mr. Jonathan's deputy. Mr. Lamido's candidacy would have benefited from the current manouvre of the constituency of governors to have a bite at the pie. Sources familiar with this scheming programme say it is not going far. Bukola Saraki, Chairman of the Governor's forum who made a dramatic Christmas visit to Ota, home of the Obasanjo's reportedly received a cold shoulder. "This is a man who had not been here since May 2007 suddenly showing up see what politics can lead to?" said our source.
But beyond the problematic Saraki lobby, the mere involvement of Mr. Obasanjo, who has many enemies in the ruling party that used to be under his thumb, has proved a liability for Mr. Lamido, according to party insiders.
"One of the best ways to destroy a candidate is to say that he is Obasanjo's man," one influential politician told Next on Sunday. Yet there is a quiet spat between the Obasanjo and the Babangida vision for the next political dispensation with Obasanjo openly warning against a military intervention last week in a direct message to the army velvet ranks and another comment he pass through Babangida to the current leadership of the army.
Mr. Obasanjo's fallback candidates, according to our sources, are Murtala Nyako,
67, the former naval commander and now governor of Adamawa State, and Jibril Aminu, the senator and former education minister.
Neither man is believed by insiders to have much of a chance.
Several younger retired military officers and their political allies are also believed to be interested in vying for the top post including Buba Marwa, the former military governor of Lagos, and current ambassador to South Africa, who also is close to Babangida. Marwa however faces strong corruption hangover on account of his money laundering charges for his role in the massive treasury loot of the late General Sani Abacha.
A dark horse is the aging Adamu Ciroma, 76, a fixture in politics and government for the past 40 years who is being touted by the traditional northern political elite whose influence was severely curtailed during Mr. Obasanjo's two terms as president, from 1999 to 2007.