How do I begin to write about former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition? Where do I start from? I hardly know with any certainty. But what I do know with the certainty of day and night is that former Vice-President Atiku Ababakar, an indigene of Adamawa State wants to be the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2019.
His campaign has practically commenced and damn anyone who thinks otherwise. He has latched on to the issue of the moment: restructuring and has been campaigning on that platform at a time his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is foot-dragging on it. Atiku is making all the right noises at the moment even at his party’s expense. While the APC continues to equivocate and prevaricate on burning national issues such as marginalisation, particularly of the South-east, and restructuring the federation to make the country work better, the former vice-president continues to score a bull’s-eye with his interventions in contentious national issues.
Atiku has had a chequered political career. He once ran as a candidate on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) in 2007 after he defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but was roundly trounced. On the two other occasions, he failed to get his party’s ticket, first under the PDP in 2010 after defecting from the AC to his former party, the PDP. And in December 2014, when he contested for the ticket of the APC, after he yet again, defected from the PDP.
For those who thought Atiku would give up and rest his presidential ambition in peace after his last failed attempt, they were sourly wrong. Atiku would be 71 in a few weeks’ time, November 25 to be precise and 72 years by election time in 2019.
About 17 months to the next presidential election, Atiku’s shadow already looms large in the political calculus, such that any aspiring candidate already knows one of their would-be opponents.
Let me concede that the former vice-president has every right to aspire and contest as many times as he desires until he either achieves his ambition or gets tired trying. For those who may not know, Atiku’s ambition to govern Nigeria actually dates back to as far as 1993 in the days of the evil genius, military president Ibrahim Babangida; when he (Babangida) was using Nigeria as a laboratory for all sorts of political engineering and experiments. Atiku, who was then a Yar’Adua boy, at least politically vied for the ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It can be safely said that Babangida’s banning of Yar’Adua and Olu Falae who were front-runners from contesting after the ill-fated staggered primaries of the now defunct SDP paved the way for the likes of Atiku, Babagana Kingibe and of course MKO Abiola, to step forward and slugged it out for the SDP presidential ticket. The ban also affected front-runners like Adamu Ciroma and Umaru Shinkafi of the NRC which also paved the way for Bashir Othman Tofa to contest and eventually became the NRC presidential standard-bearer.
In the first primary ballot, Abiola scored 3,617 votes, Kingibe 3,255, while Atiku polled 2,066 votes. Trounced by Abiola in the first round of the primary ballot, there was intense lobby for Atiku to drop out of the race to allow a straight fight between Abiola and Kingibe. After pressure from Yar’Adua, a distraught Atiku stepped down in deference to his godfather. The whole calculation was to weaken Kingibe’s support and boost Abiola’s chances of clinching the ticket which he eventually won. Yar’Adua then vigorously pushed for Abiola to nominate Atiku his running mate.
However, Abiola against expectations picked Kingibe who had the backing of the state governors then who like we have today, had constituted themselves into a power bloc. Yar’Adua was not pleased but as they say, the rest is history.
Fast forward 1998. Atiku wanted to be president but realised the sentiments in the land after the death of Abiola were strongly against any Northerner becoming the president. Not to be politically redundant, he went for the governorship of Adamawa State and won easily. But over the late Abubakar Rimi, Obasanjo picked him as his running mate. But his ambition to become president never diminished nor abated. The desire burned deep in his heart.
And very early in the life of the Olusegun Obasanjo tenure, Atiku had started to plot to upstage his boss. And that is a sacrilege in the school of power and politics. By 2001, Obasanjo, his boss, knew he had a problem in his hands when stories started flying in the media on the need for Obasanjo to follow the Mandela option: serve one term and retire to his Ota country home. It did not take rocket science to figure out who was beating the drum.
This brief historical voyage is necessary to help the younger generation better understand the nuances and theatrics of some of the current political actors, and situate them in the context of Nigeria’s political history. It is also to show that Atiku Abubakar has indeed come a long way in Nigerian politics and that his desire to rule Nigeria spans over two decades.
Atiku is a tenacious fellow who pursues his dreams with uncommon energy and zest – a quality that ordinarily should inspire, but is increasingly becoming a troubling liability and baggage for a man who once boasted that he had “three options” at the height of his influence. He appears not having any real option now but to scavenge for assurances of the ticket as the standard-bearer of his next party.
Let me also state here that he is a fighter and a consensus builder, arguably the most cosmopolitan politician of northern extraction to contest for the office of president of Nigeria. He has friends all over the country who support his presidential quest. His cosmopolitan credentials are furthermore enhanced by his marriages to women of different ethnic groups in the country and even beyond. To some, he appears to be the “best prepared” of the many candidates eyeing the presidency. He has splendid credentials as a businessman and an investor of immense means with interests that cut across various sectors of the economy.
To be honest, methinks he would have made a better choice to Buhari and even the much younger Rabiu Kwankwaso – a man very much like Buhari, a rabid bigot who sees everything from the prism of North vs South and would care less about burning his bridges to promote his narrow ethnic interests over and above national interests.
Despite some people’s claim about him being the “best-prepared” aspirant, Atiku suffers a huge deficit: perception. It is a problem for as long as I can remember. And in the eyes of many, perception is reality even though it’s not necessarily so. Accused of sundry allegations of corruption but never proven in a court of law, he carries the huge baggage of suspicion that may still return to haunt him and his ambition. I have a sneaking suspicion about his defence and for some funny reason, anytime Atiku is mentioned, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa immediately jumps to my mind. And whenever I think of Zuma or read about him, Atiku comes to my mind. I have no idea why this is so.
For Atiku, the quest to become president has become an obsession-motivated desire and even now borders on aggressive desperation. A serial “decampee” from one party to another in search of the ticket to contest for the presidency, he appears set to repeat his now infamous nomadic trademark in politics, given some of his utterances of being “sidelined” in the APC. Many have said that it is just a matter of time before we see him move again from his party to another party, maybe, the PDP.
And then of course, the party that has learnt nothing from its loss will celebrate his return with a “sweet-home-coming” red carpet reception. Meanwhile his reason of being “sidelined” in the APC, is eerily similar to the reason he gave for leaving the PDP to join the APC just a few years ago.
Atiku’s decampment from one party to another usually starts with his associates dropping not-so-subtle hints in the media to test the waters for weeks or even months of not getting a fair deal; then the masquerader will become critical of his party, before finally making his move. It is now a familiar trademark of Atiku’s career of switching parties. And some of us are not fooled by his latest claim of being “sidelined”.
A friend joked recently, that should Atiku defect to the PDP and fails to get the ticket, he is sure that if the IPOB assures him of the ticket, Atiku would jump at it. We both laughed. That just underscores how some see his ravenous pursuit of his presidential ambition.
To be honest, he is not the only politician moving from one party to another, it is the character of our politicians of today who lack principle and always want to win at all costs. But his status as a former vice-president places him above others. More than anything else, this particular character trait has created fears about his personal stability and suitability to be president. I will be hard-pressed to support a candidate like him. Politics has become too casual and switching of parties too routine a ritual for Atiku as an aspirant for the high office of president to be taken seriously by any serious-minded person. The four-yearly cycle of his run for president is now greeted with a mixture of derision, loud jeers and at best, with hoarse applause.
My grouse about Atiku doesn’t end there. In 2010 at the height of the controversy whether former President Goodluck Jonathan should contest the 2011 presidential election given that Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in office in his first term, Atiku was one of those who threatened violence, insisting that zoning must be adhered to: “Let me again send another message to the leadership of this nation, particularly the political leadership that those who make peaceful changes impossible make violent changes inevitable,” Atiku threatened at the National Stakeholders Conference organised by the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum in Abuja.
I had the opportunity to seek clarifications from him in 2014 when he met with editors to intimate them of his intention to contest the 2015 presidential election. At that forum in Eko Hotel, I pointedly asked him what he meant by that threat and if he thought it was in good faith as a former vice-president to utter such a threat. Atiku mumbled and rambled on about his answer. At the end of his response, he said nothing meaningful or convincing to lay my worries to rest.
Of course there is another issue that has worried me. Atiku has never really spoken out on the near demise of public schools – from primary to university levels nor have I heard him say anything on how to revamp our public health system. Yet he was in office for eight years as the vice-president. All I can remember about him in this respect is that he established his own university where only the children of the establishment can afford the fees charged.
Is this the man to now redeem Nigeria? I certainly don’t think so.
We want a disruptive candidate that will disrupt the establishment; a charismatic guy with big dreams, fresh ideas and new thinking to rebuild our country, inspire us and renew our hopes; a selfless leader with boundless energy for national service. We are tired of these recycled aspirants whose loyalty is to the establishment and not the people. Without mincing words, Atiku is part of the problems of Nigeria. Many of us are taking a dim view of his seductive antics to promote his ambition and are looking past him for solutions. He is not the president we want.