United States President Barack Obama has personally called and congratulated President Goodluck Jonathan on his victory in the April 16 presidential election.
And as political groups and regional blocs lobby for key positions after the general election, the South-east Caucus in the House of Representatives Wednesday intensified its bid to clinch a prominent place in the next democratic dispensation, particularly at the National Assembly.
A statement released Wednesday night by the White House stated that Obama called Jonathan in the morning to congratulate him on his electoral victory and to commend the people of Nigeria "for their resolve and patience during last month's historic presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections".
Obama pointed out that "the success of the elections was a testament to Nigerian voters who waited in long lines, stayed to watch their votes counted and were determined that these elections mark a new chapter in Nigerian history."
He also acknowledged that "credit also belongs to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Youth Service Corps, and Nigeria's vibrant civil society, all of which must play a role in ensuring that the final results reflect the will of the Nigerian people and that Nigerian authorities investigate and address any allegations of fraud or irregularities."
He noted that while the majority of Nigerians cast their ballots free from intimidation and coercion, "the post-election violence that followed the presidential election on April 16 was deplorable. Violence has no place in a democratic society, and it is the responsibility of all Nigerians to reject it."
The US president pointed out that even with the success recorded in the conduct of free and fair polls, "Democracy, however, neither begins nor ends with elections."
To move forward, Obama stressed that "now is the time for Nigeria's leaders and its people to come together and build the future that they deserve-a multi-party democracy that addresses the aspirations of all Nigerians, especially its youth, who did so much to make the recent elections a success and who will define the nation's future."
In a veiled reference to the ethnic and religious undertones that underlined the electioneering campaigns and post election violence, Obama reminded Jonathan that "As Africa's most populous country, Nigeria can show what is possible when people of different parties, ethnicities and faith backgrounds come together to seek peace, provide for their families, and give their children a better future."
To drive the point further home on the import of the just concluded polls, Obama emphasized that "Today, Nigerians have an historic opportunity to move forward together and make their nation into a model for Africa. As I told President Jonathan, I look forward to strengthening our partnership with Nigeria so that this and future generations of Nigerians can live in peace, democracy and prosperity."
Meanwhile, the parliamentary caucus, made up of 43 legislators from the five states in the South-east geo-political zone, rose from a crucial meeting Wednesday and demanded that it would only accept the position of presiding officer in either of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
The lawmakers said their demand for a South-east federal lawmaker to be made the Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives in the seventh session of the National Assembly was based on the overwhelming contributions of the zone to the victory of the ruling PDP in the just-concluded elections.
They argued that it would be unfair for a region which had shown so much loyalty to the ruling party to be relegated to the background in the aftermath of the elections.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, the caucus expressed concern that in recent times, the South-east geopolitical zone of the country had suffered serious political setbacks and would no longer tolerate a situation where some internal and external political forces were unleashed on the region to stifle its political fortunes.
It recalled that in the build up to the general election, the zone demonstrated absolute good faith when it unconditionally backed the candidature of President Jonathan and delivered the needed block votes that gave him (Jonathan) victory at the PDP presidential primary, resulting in his emergence as the party flag bearer. This support, the caucus said, was in spite of the "numerous tempting offers from our brothers" from other geopolitical zones of the country.
"We insist on either the offices of the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives. We will reject other offices such as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Deputy President of the Senate or any such office that may be offered to undermine the attainment of the two offices so mentioned. It is pertinent to mention here that under the present circumstances only the position of Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives is acceptable to the South-east. It is a gratuitous insult to offer the South-east any position less than this.
"The position of the South-east that it would not run for the office of the President or Vice-President, no doubt compelled both the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) presidential candidates, to pick their running mates from the South-west geo-political zone.
"The results of the just-concluded general elections show that, the PDP in the South-east received over 85 per cent support in the National Assembly elections, and about 97 per cent support in the presidential election. The total votes of 5.1 million represent almost a quarter of the total valid votes received by President Jonathan in the presidential election. Indeed, the PDP has won all three of the governorship elections conducted so far in the South-east.
"From the above figures, it is crystal clear that in the 2011 general elections, the PDP did very well in the South-east zone. This position is in line with the voting pattern started in 1999, representing PDP dominance in the South-east. It is therefore incomprehensible that over 85 per cent South-east support for PDP in the National Assembly elections will be sacrificed for any reason whatsoever.
"The argument about religious balancing is not tenable, historically. We may recall that in the 2nd Republic, while the President (Shagari) was a Muslim, the Vice-President, Senate President and Speaker were all Christians. Hell was not let loose. During the 1993 presidential elections, the South-east put its weight behind the SDP's Abiola/Kingibe candidature - a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
"In 2007, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Patricia Etteh were Christians. In fact, in the current legislature, both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives are Muslims. Religion has never been an issue," the communiqué read in part.
The caucus enjoined the central socio-cultural organisation in the zone, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, all the governors of the South-east zone, all Senators and Honourable members-elect, and all stakeholders in the politics of the South-east, who were part and parcel of the zone's support for President Jonathan, to prevail on the national leadership of the ruling party to ensure that the South-east was not short-changed in the distribution of key political positions.
Related stories: Barack to Obama - You can't afford to fail