Just recently, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Waziri Adamawa, said he was not desperate to be president of Nigeria. But, to be sure, he is an aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The race for the office of the president is always tension-soaked. The incumbent president and his supporters tend to become hysterical and abrasive in the race for re-election. Atiku’s statement was, perhaps, made in the context of the usual do-or-die nature of such race.
Besides, I cannot wager that Atiku’s traducers were taken in by his statement. He might have intended to either construct a dignifying exit strategy for himself or make his traducers to imprudently drop their guards in what should typically be a fight-to-the-finish race. I also do not think that those who are opposed to Atiku’s presidency are comfortable with his political moves in recent times. They do not rest assured in their antagonistic fixation, knowing his capacity for politicking and political survival.
Any opponent who underrates the Jada-born politician does so at his or her peril. Historically, he has most of the times been on top of his political game. In the ill-fated Third Republic, he had wanted to be president. He had contested for the ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in a race against the late M.K.O. Abiola and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe. In a bid to scale the primary hurdle within the party and clinch the presidential ticket, Abiola, who appeared to enjoy a countrywide support, had struck a political rapprochement with the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was Atiku’s political leader.
The move had resulted in Atiku’s withdrawal from the race. His action and support had ensured Abiola’s victory at the expense of Kingibe in a subsequent run-off. But because of the massive support that Kingibe enjoyed within the party, it became inevitable that he should be nominated as the running mate, regardless of the fact that they were both Muslims. That was how the historic Muslim-Muslim ticket that received nationwide approbation crystallized. The presidential ticket had gone ahead to win the annulled June 12, 1993 election.
In 1999, Atiku led the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), the political structure of the late Shehu Yar’Adua, to work in partnership with other groups to form the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Even though he contested and won election to be governor of Adamawa state, Olusegun Obasanjo, the presidential candidate of the PDP, had nominated him as his running mate. That was how Atiku became the vice president from 1999 to 2007.
Atiku’s unsuccessful moves to supplant Obasanjo in 2003 upset the governance architecture at the centre and altered his political trajectory. Although, he was able to lock in the position of running mate to Obasanjo in the 2003 presidential election, once the election was won, Obasanjo strategically sidelined him in their second term in office in a whiff of political vendetta.
Obasanjo had, unchallenged, pushed a corruption narrative about Atiku in the absence of concrete evidence to nail him. But presently, a vast majority of Nigerians are now at home with the fact that the “Atiku-is-corrupt” perception was the ingenious creation of Obasanjo to make his (Atiku’s) candidature a difficult sell anytime he decides to contest for the position of president in Nigeria. Atiku’s initial undoing was that he never cared about that.
Today, the astute politician is jostling for the presidential ticket on the PDP platform. He is, no doubt, formidable. He looks the best material that the PDP should deploy for the 2019 battle against President Buhari. Atiku has the experience. He has the grassroots and nationwide networks. He has the financial war chest. He has the gravitas. He has the courage to fight to the finish. He is well prepared for the job, armed with an organic economic blueprint with which to transform Nigeria into a balanced, stable and strong economy.
Besides, Atiku has clear political philosophies that he espouses regarding the future of the Nigeria as well as programmes of socio-economic reconstruction. He is restlessly looking for an opportunity to translate them into pragmatic realities. From that prism, he is desperate, even though he said he was not. If truly he was not, I hereby call him out to be. Nigeria is presently being incompetently managed and he happens to be in pole position ahead of other contestants for the job of redeeming Nigeria. Truth is, the massive battle to upstage candidate Buhari of the APC is not for lily-livered.
After the 2019 presidential election, Atiku can no longer offer himself for the position, given his age. He is about 71 and this is his last and best chance of becoming president. If I were him, I would be desperate in the circumstance of the national emergency to save Nigeria. I would deploy my human and political capital as well as my massive financial resources to get on the ballot in the PDP and go ahead to fund a massive coalition around my candidature for the epic battle. The time for him to act decisively is now.
A cursory look at Atiku’s political trajectory will show a determined man who never says die. It will reveal an embodiment of a rugged political fighting spirit. It will show a display of raw guts. Atiku is, without a doubt, gutsy! How many of those seeking to dislodge Buhari had the guts to say they would probe him if they got to power before Atiku did? He said he would probe the arms procurement contracts of the Buhari administration.
Apart from Atiku, how many of the aspirants from the north have espoused restructuring of the federation as a campaign theme? Knowing full well that restructuring is not attractive to the northern political elite, Atiku still dared the Hausa-Fulani hegemony on the matter by pushing it, thus raising general stakes about the fate of our current federal structure before and after the battle for the soul of Nigeria in 2019.
A good public relations’ outing that the PDP should benefit from was Atiku’s April 25, 2018 Chatham House lecture titled, “Next Generation Nigeria: The Importance of Strengthening States’ Economic Management.” It was a clear-headed understanding of how to effectively manage the economy of a restructured Nigerian federation. Which other presidential aspirant in the PDP has the capacity to operate on equal wavelengths with Atiku in terms of strategic politics and exposure within and outside Nigeria?
The opposition party should leverage on Atiku’s audacity and the series of intellectual engagements internationally to counter whatever global image laundering that President Muhammadu Buhari may have embarked upon, such as his recent meeting with President Donald Trump, which is largely interpreted as “security-equipment-purchase-for-public-relations” rapprochement between Nigeria and the US. The fact is that only Atiku has the clout to take on Buhari. With due respect, the other northern aspirants in the PDP are provincial in their outlooks.
On the occasion of the workers’ celebration on May Day, Atiku had called on the labour union to take on the Federal Government on minimum wage, industrialization, education, healthcare delivery and pension as the bases of 2019 engagement. I know what Atiku is calling for. He is calling for robust national conversations, which he has already got involved in and also obligatory presidential debates that presage and prepare Nigerians to make their well-considered final choice(s) of president in 2019.
Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch magazine, contributed this piece via email@example.com