Atiku: Still the last man standing
Tracing his political odyssey in the Nigeria project, the fourth republic vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, could be described as the last politician standing. Perhaps, given his travails, Atiku comes across as a disappointed politician. Although he first knew sadness and loneliness when his doting father died, his belief in the Fulani aphorism, Tiddo Yo Daddo (Endurance is Success), helped to make fortune smile on him.
In Atiku’s life journey, his path had always crossed with those that later had influence on Nigeria’s affairs. For instance, by his account, when he served as a clerk in Ganye Native Authority, his boss, Adamu Ciroma, who later became minister, Central Bank governor; was then the District Officer.
When he served in the Customs, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, became head of state after the overthrow of the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari. The policies of the junta indirectly led to Atiku’s forced retirement from Nigeria Customs. This was because after the federal military government changed the national currency notes, it set a time for old notes to be exchanged for the new ones.
Consequently, all government agencies, especially those manning Nigeria’s borders, sea and air ports, were charged to screen all bags and containers entering the country to prevent the smuggling in of old Naira notes into the country.
But when a prominent traditional ruler from the northern part of the country who was returning to the country from Saudi Arabia landed in Murtala Mohammed International Airport with many bags, customs officers at the airport were barred from scrutinizing the contents. This prompted a leading national newspaper to scream the selective enforcement with a front page banner: “Passenger with 53 suitcases leaves airport unchecked”.
As the report not only scandalized the military government, an administrative panel of inquiry was set up in a bid to perform ‘magic’ in the search for why the proper things were not done at the Airport, regarding the returnee traditional ruler. It was in the midst of that embarrassment that Atiku, chose to leave the Customs to escape the pressures on him to tell Nigerians a sweet lie to cover the preferential treatment given to the Saudi returnee.
When he left the Customs and joined active politics, he found himself in the Shehu Yar’Adua’s political grouping, known as Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN). In their statement of mission, PFN said they were in politics to build bridges across the dividing rivers of ethnicity, religion and regions, as well as, perfecting a pattern of partisan discipline and internal democracy.
Sadly for Atiku, at the time of registering political parties, the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, rejected PFN and other 12 such associations on the grounds that most of the political association had in their folds, old and discredited politicians, which the military does not want in political power any more.
Again, when Babangida decreed two political parties into existence, the PFN gravitated towards the Social Democratic Party (SDP) instead of the National Republican Congress (NRC). Yet, as he traveled to Adamawa to contest the governorship election in his home state, a stout political fight between the former Assistant Director of Customs and former lecturer in the department of political science from the University of Jos, Professor Bala Takaya arose. Both candidates were disqualified following Takaya’s protests against the declaration of Atiku as the winner of the peaceful primary election. It was not a funny development for the new entrant to politics.
But remembering that Tiddo Yo Daddo, Atiku remained in the game and when Yar’Adua was disqualified alongside other aspirants, from further involvement in the presidential contest, the PFN structure enlisted Atiku into the presidential race. The group was later to strike political bargain with the late business mogul and philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola, who many believed the military reserved for the last, after dribbling other ambitious presidential aspirants.
To Atiku’s chagrin, Abiola picked Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who came second at the Jos convention, leaving out Atiku who had stepped down for Abiola in line with the political understanding. Even when he was left in the lurch, Atiku and the PFN group worked for Abiola and the SDP in the presidential election, only for the eventual victory to be truncated at the point of resolution.
Atiku was not left alone as the new military junta continued to hound him for his loyalty to Yar’Adua and the PFN. He was forced to flee into exile when the condition became intolerable for opponents of military rule, only to return when the ban on politics was lifted.
PFN having been transformed into Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), the group joined with others to found the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Atiku, who had been recognized by his people as Turaki Adamawa, came home to re-contest the governorship. Though he won, he was invited to Abuja to pair with a former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, on the presidential ticket.
And having got an inch closer to the presidency which was his dream his presence helped to make the quasi-democratic fourth republic less militaristic. There were flashes of improvement within the first term of the administration, especially in the privatisation of the communication sector and consolidation of the banking sector.
But there was a sudden relapse in the presidential arrangement as the president and vice president developed cat and mouse tendencies. It happened that as the then President Olusegun Obasanjo craved a longer term, and other younger Turks were bent on stonewalling him.
While most state governors in the PDP mobilized for Atiku to contest the presidency against his principal, the man from Jada prevaricated. And seeing the possibility of being routed, ObJ temporarily acquiesced.
When victory smiled their way, Atiku was to learn that, even in a democratic setting, old soldiers never get tired of battles. The loss of amity between president and his vice became a source of constant media celebration and national frustration. Matters came to its troubling head when the president tried to sack the vice president.
Atiku proved his mettle and stood his ground and refused to be crushed. In the fight with Obasanjo, Atiku’s good human relations put him on a good stead to survive where ordinary mortal would have drowned.
Turaki does not waste time to show how sad he is that Nigeria does not confer equal opportunities for the citizens to display unequal talents. Moreover, he is yet to bring his wealth of experience and knowledge into service of the people at the topmost level. Top of all that, he has the knack of telling it as it is.
Shortly after he delivered a public lecture at the London School of Economics, some members of the British audience inundated their Nigerian friends with questions, wondering whether Atiku actually contested the presidential primary with President Buhari.
Atiku does not fail to convince his audience of his deep knowledge of issues and analytical mind. Hearing him speak does not leave anyone in doubt about his managerial accomplishment. His is engaging, but could be unnerving with the frankness of his conclusions.
At the launch of a book last week in Abuja, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, came alive to most Nigerians as a champion of democracy and sound political thinking. He spoke with passion, worrying about the loss of momentum of real politicians. The title of the book, which public presentation he was invited to chair, was much like a bait or ambush on the Turaki of Adamawa.
“When I was invited to chair this occasion, I immediately understood that the title of the book is a metaphor for the legitimate feelings of marginalization by diverse segments of Nigerians that cut across the country.” That was how Atiku began his opening remarks.
Speaking with magisterial audacity, he noted that Nigeria was in urgent need of restructuring, stressing that “our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country.”
Nigerians literarily came alive based on the aptness of Atiku’s frank assertions. But coming barely days after President Buhari declared lack of interest in the famous confab report, the man from Jada seemed to have woken up similar animosities that had welled up in many minds and geo-centres.
Having spoken his mind, it is left to be seen how that others would interpret that public ventilation on issues that touch on the socio-economic foundation of the country. No doubt, the popular sentiments would be that Atiku has signaled the commencement of another presidential race for the 2019 presidential election.
The lines have been drawn between pretenders and political do-gooders, who suddenly went silent about the foundational problems bedeviling the Nigeria project. Atiku has therefore become a rallying voice of the apostles of true federalism that fell asleep at the birth of a new regime.
The man from Jada has opened his mouth to proclaim the confab report as a possible new testament for Nigeria’s renewal, thereby placing himself as the rallying point for concerned Nigerians, across the six geopolitical zones. His insistence that the federal government is too big and that calling for a change of the situation is patriotic, is likely to bring him some flak.
From the third republic up until now, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has always been thrown up by situation and circumstances to stand for the truth. With his latest opinion on the state of the nation, there is every likelihood that he is indeed, the last civilian politician standing for the peace, common good and prosperity of the country.