By Lateef Adewole
In the next four days, the presidential campaigns will take off in full force. Many Nigerians can’t wait to hear what our candidates have to say. With the intense keenness of the citizens in the 2023 elections, the contest will be fierce. Hopefully, we expect decorum in such campaigns. They should be based on issues and proferring solutions to the myriad of problems facing us a country.
In the last two Saturdays, I have discussed two of the leading presidential candidates. Today, “Atiku l’okan” (lol). The presidential candidate of the main opposition PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is another force to reckon with in the political landscape of Nigeria. The Waziri Adamawa is an household name and has been around in politics and contesting for one position or another, for about three decades. In fact, he holds the title of the contestant with highest number of times to have contested for the position of the president of Nigeria.
It was the same Atiku who slugged it out with the legendary late Chief MKO Abiola for the 1993 presidential ticket in Jos, Plateau state, on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which Abiola eventually won. That was after a breathtaking and fierce contest, characterised with high-powered horse-trading, deft negotiations, compromises and consensus. He stepped down at the final round of the primary, which paved way for Abiola to defeat Babagana Kingibe. Sadly for him, he still lost out in the race for the number two seat as Abiola picked Kingibe who he defeated.
Atiku’s time eventually came in 1999, when, after having already won the governorship seat of Adamawa state, he was the preferred choice of the then presidential candidate of the PDP, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who drafted him as his running mate, in an election they later won. That was how he moved far up to one step below his final political ambition. They had a good run in their first term before “trailer passed through their middle” in their second term. His fight with his boss, Obasanjo, raised his political profile but continued to hunt him ever since. Obasanjo made sure of that. That was also the beginning of the end of Atiku’s political prowess and seeming “invincibility”.
He has serially been defeated ever since in all the presidential elections he contested, whether at the party primaries or the general elections. By 2023, it will be a record six times he has tried to become Nigeria’s president. He lost out in the last five times. This coming one, what are his chances? With the turbulence that have followed his election as the party flag bearer within his party, can he weather the storm and come out triumphant? Well, time will tell. I am just here to look at these chances.
In the spirit of full disclosure, personally, I do not expect another notherner to take over the leadership of the country after President Buhari, a notherner, would have spent eight straight years in that seat. That is unacceptable to me as a Nigerian who believes that the country belongs to all of us. Therefore, justice, fairness and equity should be guiding principles. I know some questions that some of my friends and readers might want to ask about this position but let me not indulge them here. So, I do not root for Atiku or any other northerner at all. This is by the way.
Now to the main issue. In the many years Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has shown interest to lead Nigeria, he has remained outstanding aspirant or candidate, especially since 2007. In my opinion, I believe he is far more suitable and competent than those who trumped him in those elections, “on face value”. What do I mean by this phrase in quote? Electing political leaders is like “oja okunkun” (black market). We only trust on what they say and promise. We look at their party manifestos and personal programmes. We look at their track records, their understanding of the issues affecting the country and their plans on how to solve them. Based on these, we gamble on them with our votes.
Like the former governor of New York, United States of America, Mario Cuomo once said: “campaign in poetry, govern in prose”. When politicians are elected and take over offices, that is when the reality downs on them and on us too. Those who have the capacity do rise to the occasion and make the difference. Those lacking in capacity fall behind. They begin to manufacture one thousand and one reasons and excuses why they could not deliver on their campaign promises. So, in the last 15 years, Atiku’s articulated programmes have always been superb. The document were always well-thought out and well-written, and Atiku always do great job in communicating them in interviews, campaigns and so on. Sadly, he still lost.
I, therefore, believe that if he could execute what he usually put in those documents, he would have been a fantastic president. He has released another one for the coming election and has even granted an exclusive interview to discuss it. Apart from his constitutional role as the head of National Economic Council (NEC), being the vice president between 1999 and 2007, he has never been in charge with full executive power like a governor. However, that critical period will form the basis of his assessment too.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is a man with wide political reach across the country. I once listened to him where he said that there is nowhere in the whole of over 8,800 wards in Nigeria that he does not personally know a minimum of two people. He is a bridge builder, a man with capacity to rally people across the country. Some “Atikulates” even used his marrying from the three main tribes (Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa) in Nigeria as a selling point. He also has this knack for recruiting brilliant people to work with. He was credited with head-hunting many eggheads during their time in power. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, and many others, were said to be recruited by him.
However, there are many thorns on his path today. The first is the internal crisis rocking the PDP, orchestrated by his emergence as the party presidential candidate. It is widely believed that after a Buhari, the next president should be from the south. In PDP, it was similar expectation that the 2015 election was the turn of the north, and when the incumbent President Jonathan refused to step aside, the party tore into pieces. The rebellion that ruined the re-election of Jonathan and their party PDP, was led by this same Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. They defected to the opposition party APC. Unfortunately, his caucus lost out in the power game within their new party then. They eventually moved back to the same PDP towards 2019 general elections.
It was still the same understanding that made the south to concede to the north at the party level, both in PDP and APC. Then, no southerner contested against Atiku and other aspirants from the north. He won the ticket. The southern block, which sustained the party throughout the crisis period since 2015 while Atiku and group were away in other parties, led by this same Governor Wike, massively supported his candidature with all resources at their disposal. He did well in that election with over 11 million votes.
Now that it is 2023 and everyone believes it is the turn of the south, yet, Atiku still threw his hat in the ring and did everything possible to win the ticket, including the allegations of planting Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, who is his loyalist, as the party National Chairman, from the same region as him. There was also the alleged agreement that if a northerner wins the ticket, the national chairman will resign to give way to a southerner to take his place, which is only fair. Unfortunately, after Atiku won, the story changed. Dr. Iyorchia Ayu has refused to resign and the party organs do not deem it necessary to make him do so. This is at the heart of the PDP crisis. And it is seriously distracting the candidate and the party.
Another fallout from the above is also the exit of Peter Obi from the party. Seeing the way the party primary game was going in PDP, Obi left for Labour Party. This is the biggest blow that Atiku’s presidential ambition has been dealt. Obi’s place as his vice presidential candidate in 2019 was a big plus. That locked down the votes in many southern states, especially the Igboland and among the Igbos across the country. Now, Obi is not only out of the party, he is now a serious contender for the presidency. He has swept away the support base of Atiku in the south. The previous “Atikulates” have now turned “Obidients”. That 11 million votes are not there anymore.
Atiku is also not a young man. By 2023, he will be 76. This is huge. Although, he does not look sickly. However, it is natural that there will be health challenges associated with such agedness. Sincerely, I am not a fan of gerontocrats leading the country. I have looked forward to having younger candidates on the platform of the major parties but unfortunately, that was not to be. So, we are making do with what we have. Although, like it’s usually argued that age is not the most critical factor in leadership and the president of the USA is an example. He will be 80 in next few months by November 20. He was elected at age 78.
To be fair, the economic situation in Nigeria under his watch during their time was quite better than we have had since then, despite coming from a pariah status that Abacha put us before then. The Obasanjo-Atiku Federal government was able to pay off our debt and grew our foreign reserve. The naira was devalued further and fuel subsidy continued on increasing trajectory. The major activities he supervised was privatisation. This is a bitter-sweet story. Why opening up the economy brought many dividends like in the telecommunication sector, financial, entertainment and so on, there were sore parts to a lot.
The allegations of corrupt sales of national asset at giveaway prices stood out. Many national companies and federal government’s assets were allegedly sold to friends, associates and cronies. About 122 of such were said to be privatised but what did we get from them? Asset stripping, asset looting, and job losses became the fate of most of those privatised companies. They collapsed after few years with the exception of a few.
For instance, Aluminium Smelting Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) which was said to be worth $3.2 billion was sold for $130 million. Delta Steel worth $1.5 billion was sold for $30m. NEPA, NAFCON, Eleme Petrochemical Egbin Power, Ughelli Power, NICON Insurance, NICON Luxury Hotels, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, and too many others were victims of the privatisation under his supervision. If these are true, such a character cannot be entrusted with our commonwealth. But he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction. Such allegations were part of the cause of the rift between him and his former boss, Obasanjo, who has consistently been against him becoming Nigeria’s president.
Despite the challenges facing the PDP, I have always been of the opinion that it remains the strongest, most organised, most structured and most resilient party in Nigeria since 1999. It is the only prominent surviving party in 23 years. It is not formed around a few people but owned by majority. That is why it has survived all the crisis that have rocked it over the years, particularly before and after the presidential election in 2015 which they lost, and the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff chairmanship saga that followed. I believe it will still survive the current one, but the damage could have been done, just like in 2015.
This is an advantage to Atiku. The party has roots across the country. How effective these roots can be put to use to deliver the votes is another kettle of fish, given the current situation within the party. As a northerner, he will want to appeal to tribal sentiment by asking the northerners to vote for him. Will they do this considering the immorality of wanting to retain power in the north after Buhari’s eight years and the consequences of such action? That remains to be seen. Nigeria belongs to all of us, not just the north. And we are not in the military regimes where the north dominated and enjoyed the illegitimate power forcefully taken in those years. Times have changed.
But for this time around, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is a candidate to beat. He is formidable contender who cannot and should not be underestimated. The opinion poll conducted by NOI Pollsters, commissioned by ANAP Foundation last week wrote him off. The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU) did not give him a chance as well in their latest analysis released yesterday. But, his supporters can easily dismiss them and say, “that’s their opinions”. As the campaigns start and moving towards the general elections, I can only wish him all the best.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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