By Nkannebe Raymond
When it became clear that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would emerge the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the just concluded National Convention of the party, as I watched from the comfort of my apartment yesterday (Sunday) morning, I was overtaken by emotions. Late Saturday night, as I followed the exercise on screen, I had told a group of friends whom I had a conversation with (on the chances of each of the twelve aspirants), that this was Atiku’s last shot at the presidency considering the odds his declining age would pose to any further aspirations come 2023 in the event he loses the ticket this time. And more so, as it would be hard to think that the cracks that occurred both in the APC and the PDP in the race to 2019, would repeat itself in a manner such as would come with a basket of opportunity for the man.
And so when it was eventually announced that he has emerged the candidate of the PDP after an electoral process that would make a Yakubu Mohammed rethink his appropriateness for the office he occupies, after garnering a whopping 1532 votes with his closest rival scratching a distant 693 votes, I took pity on a man whose political road in the words of that great Educationist, Tai Solarin, has been rough.
At the same time, I was happy for him for having stepped up to the threshold of history this time, as in all his five attempts at clinching the number 1 political office in the Country which began in 1991, never has he stood in a position that saw him more close to its actualization as now. All previous attempts have not quite seen him become a candidate under a platform with the structure to give life to what critics might call vaulting ambitions. When he emerged the candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC) in 2007 after a bare knuckled political warfare with his erstwhile boss, he came a distant third at the general election, garnering supposedly only 7% of the votes in an election that stands out today as the worst in the nation’s chequered history. 2011 was ‘a no-go-area’ of sorts given the peculiar nature of the political environment at the time, while 2014 saw him lose out at the primaries to the incumbent president.
And so when he took that historical walk from where he sat at the VIP section of the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt ─venue of the convention, up to the podium to deliver his acceptance speech for what he acknowledges as a privilege to serve, I was literally overtaken by goose bumps brought about by a solemn retrospection into the tortuous political journey of a man whose success story is the prototypical tale of unflinching determination and doggedness towards the actualisation of a noble cause. And I like to think that the emotional weight of all these, must have operated in no small measure to force the tears down his plum cheeks while he picked the party’s presidential ticket months ago─ tears which must have been informed by his innermost acknowledgment of the fact that this was his last chance at the presidency that so fits his carriage and body frame after repeated trials that must have come with huge financial, emotional and psychological costs at each occasion. In many ways, his journey to the current position he occupies, mirrors the circumstances that also dogged incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari’s aspirations to the presidency, which eventually found manifestation three years ago.
Atiku’s ambitions all along must have suffered from the damage wrought on his person by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who for reasons best known to him, has sworn not to forgive his former deputy for “sins” that have not been effectively communicated to Nigerians. While the Ota farmer’s influence across the Nigerian political firmament remained intact, they operated to frustrate the emergence of an Atiku Presidency. And on many occasions, the former president had come out to say that “while he lives, Atiku would not be President”. This ‘damage’ as it appeared, soon became a sing-song and many Nigerians in their typical uncritical manner bought whatever was said of him by the ‘Chief Watcher of the Federation’ of the presidential library infamy.
Across Nigeria, people who knew little or nothing of the antecedents of the man─particularly as relates to the foundations of his wealth which dates back to many years before his becoming a vice-president, were given to react dismissively of him, on grounds amongst others that he “is corrupt”. On several occasions I have been buffeted by critics who are never tired of describing the man as a Robin hood of sorts. You’d think that they would be generous enough to give flesh to these very outlandish allegations, but all you’ll get are recitations of conspiracy theories that would make a script for a blockbuster motion picture.
For many of these traducers visibly suffering from acute “pull-him-down-syndrome”, they were only relaying or repeating what they heard that was said of the man. Indeed, the story of Atiku’s ugly perception amongst many Nigerians as aided by the media, lends credence to the gobbelian propagandist philosophy that when you consistently repeat falsehood it somehow graduates into truth. But the fact remains that these allegations are mere hogwash, and calculated attempt to tarnish the man’s hard earned reputation.
With his emergence yesterday as the PDP’s candidate, there seem to have been a resurgent of this well lubricated propaganda that tars the waziri Adamawa with the brush of corruption. A ‘corruptness’, if I might use that word, that has not been substantiated by any court of competent jurisdiction many years after he left public service. The rave of the moment however, is the petty insinuation making the rounds that Atiku cannot be issued with an American Visa, having been banned from entry into that country on allegations bordering on corruption as though a visit to the United States were a condition precedent to qualify to the exalted office of the Nigerian president─a campaign launched and funded by a section of the political Mafioso that rue the emergence of an Atiku Presidency.
But the tables are looking set to be turned with the popular mandate he received yesterday. For all the outright falsehood that have been peddled against the person of Atiku Abubakar, the good news as far as one could gather, is that many Nigerians are beginning to see through the ruse having witnessed the oversized ‘integrity’ of president Muhammadu Buhari and his ‘lifeless’ superintendence. Many persons are beginning to ask critical questions of these blatant allegations that resemble those of a Christine Blassey Ford against, a very fine Judge in the United States, which cries to the heavens for substantiation. More enlightened Nigerians are no longer willing to lend themselves to be used as a fodder to propagate sheer falsehood against a man who have built businesses across the length and breadth of this country, and have created wealth more than any other politician of his ranking. Nigerians are now more disposed to pointing naysayers to the numerous accomplishments of the man in the business world that speak eloquently of his often scrutinised wealth.
But even more importantly, all through social media, commentators have not ceased calling attention to the fact that the 2019 election is not a referendum on the integrity or otherwise of Atiku Abubakar. They have reiterated that it remains a referendum on Buhari’s performance in the core areas of Economy, Corruption and Security, in the last three and a half years he has been in the saddle. The sentiment out there is that Nigeria must not be led by a saint for it to make progress. On the contrary, Nigerians seem to be asking for a competent hand and a quality-head who understands the Nigerian problem and most importantly can engineer solutions out of them. And the consensus out there is that incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, cannot deliver on that score, lacking in the main, the intellectual capacity and innovation of mind to rejig the extant comatose ship of state.
Having acknowledged that at the core of the progress of modern nation states is the function of how they revolutionize their economy to position it for profits in an international market that has become too competitive, the public sentiment seem to be that having built from the scratch very successful businesses that today provide thousands of direct and indirect jobs to many Nigerians, an Atiku Presidency, can only draw from these sterling credentials to turn around the deplorable state of the Nigerian economy that saw the country ignominiously become the world’s poverty capital as per the Brookings Institution reports released some four months ago. This, more than anything else remains the selling point of the Atiku option.
With what has been described as a one sided war against corruption; increasing insecurity in the North East, Northwest and middle belt regions of the country, that the current administration has failed to deliver on the minimum standards it set for itself at inception is no longer open to debate. While it cannot be seriously canvassed that Nigerians are now safer than they used to be, the overbanked crusade against corruption remain for the most part a sensational warfare targeted at opposition party members─this much, finds context in the testimonies of international economic institutions, ala HSBC and The Economist Report. Little wonder why the atmosphere from the North to the East and down to the South today, is: “give us anything but Buhari”─ a similar situation that played out in 2015 to the political milage of the current administration.
As though committed to making true his declaration in the early days of his government that constituencies that gave him 97 per cent votes in the 2015 elections would be more accommodated as against those which gave a paltry 5 per cent votes, the instant administration has unwittingly ran a government that makes nonsense of inclusivity and the constitutionally sanctioned Federal Character principle; thus overruling himself on his famous “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody” declaration. If there is one area where Nigerians have achieved consensus on the Buhari presidency, it is indeed in his tribalist, nay nepotistic tendencies that have operated to qualify only northern Muslims for choice positions in his government. The ugly consequence of this, is the division today in the polity across ethnic and religious lines; a division exacerbated by a president’s proclivity to see the Country only through the prism of the grasslands of the savannah.
But the point in all this is that an Atiku presidency would contrast this condemnable political behaviour in many ways. Whereas a devout Muslim from the Fulani stock, Atiku Abubakar without any intent to be hyperbolic, could pass for the most detribalised of Nigerians. A veritable instance of this came to full throttle 25 years ago when he shelved his presidential ambitions by stepping down for M.K.O Abiola, a Southerner, against a fellow Northerner, Babagana Kingibe in the June 12, 1993 election. His extensive public service years that saw him crisscross different parts of the Country, with a large chunk of that in the oil rich Rivers State; and his successful business background must have operated to bring about his libertarian persona that looks for the best in people without ethnic or sectarian prejudice. Indeed to be able to bring about a transformative leadership with the ability to unite Nigerians around a pan-Nigerian vision for global competitiveness among the committee of well managed states, the Nigerian leader must not only be detribalised, but seen to be detribalised so as to be able to galvanize the peoples of Nigeria around a common cause with vistas of improvement in their overall wellbeing. With a close circle of associates, family ties and extensive business dealings, Atiku indeed typifies a united Nigeria that is at home with all, and all is at home with. And this can be seen in his consistently demonstrated commitment to the unity and cohesion of Nigeria at important times in its history.
With an unapologetic belief in restructuring as a key panacea to our arrested development, Nigerians are assured of a president
who will be ready to take the bulls by the horn in order to set the nation on the path of sustainable growth and development. To be sure, restructuring, as far as the present realities of Nigeria goes, is a project that can no longer be dismissed with a wave of the hand or made obscure by the writ of governmental quangos, a vice president, inclusive. If indeed Nigerians desire a fiscal restructuring of the Country, then an Atiku presidency, would surely give life to those desires as he has not wavered from reiterating the need for a restructured Nigeria. And his proposals around this, is not in the least vague. Restructuring would simply be achieved by tinkering with the Constitution in some respect to depopulate the exclusive legislative list, and return some items on the concurrent list to the states, he argues. And this, he has said, is achievable in six months.
At a function at the University of Nigeria Nsukka few months ago, he threw more light on this campaign thus: Restructuring would mean devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas. It would mean, by implication, the reduction of the powers and roles of the federal government so that it would concentrate only on those matters that could best be handled by the centre and fiscal policies, immigration, customs and excise, aviation as well as setting and enforcing national standards on such matters as education, health and safety….I believe that the benefits accruing from these first steps will help us move towards changes that require amendments to our constitution”. One cannot agree more.
Beyond all these, Atiku comes across as a quintessential manager of men and resources. As a successful business man whose enterprise run more on capacity than contact, he is unarguably equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge of practical economic management to lead Nigeria’s economic renaissance. As a business owner with operations in sensitive areas of the economy, he obviously understands the need of creating an enabling economic environment that would attract investors, and catalyse economic growth. As a major player in critical sectors of the economy with a distinction for massive job creation, it is without a doubt that Atiku is better positioned to be entrusted with a nation in economic doldrums as against a professional politician whose only claim to economic success is in animal husbandry in the remote corners of Daura, Katsina state that couldn’t buy a presidential nomination form. With his vast economic experiences and contacts both within and without, Atiku can leverage on all of these positives in developing economic blueprints that would create jobs, expand the economy and pull out millions of Nigerians from a biting and excruciating poverty. And finally, as the success of his numerous businesses cannot be divorced from the quality of heads and hands managing them, it is beyond debate that Atiku has an eye for the best of professionals. And by the same token, Nigerians can rest assured that his presidency would bring together the finest of brains who would help in driving the Getting Nigeria Working Again, policy thrust of his campaign.
The Choice before Nigerians as 2019 approaches therefore is not much: it is one between a president that has shown repeatedly not to be armed with the basic tools and intellectual component of leading a nation in the 21st century, and a man who has consistently proven to be innovative, technologically inclined and consistently elevating the discourse around the Nigerian question on occasions as against calling for dogs and baboons to be enmeshed in war. It is a choice between a leap away from the current state of economic quagmire, to one with vistas of economic prosperity for all and sundry; for it could be argued that if Atiku could do it with his numerous businesses, he is more likely to do so with Nigeria; in the same way a Donald Trump who rode to power in the United States on the wings of his successful business background in 2016, is today turning around the economic fortunes of the country. Nigerians therefore, must resist the temptation to obfuscate the real issues in the days to come by hired hands of the incumbent administration with the dissipation of energy over a phantom trip to the United States or an unsubstantiated criminal indictment.
For all the hoopla that would be made of these in the days to come, Nigerians must not forget that the fact remains that “Atiku’s incontestable nationalist credentials and business acumen stands him in good stead to unite Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities around a purposeful pan-Nigerian economic agenda that will transform the Country from its current status of a political wasteland to that of economic opportunities and successful competitive modern economy which can grow its wealth base by securing an increased share of global resources through improved external trade and overseas investment” as one fine commentator put it.
If our choices by 2019 are calibrated along these lines, then the Atiku option would be an easy one.
Raymond Nkannebe ─ a legal practitioner and public affairs analyst writes from Lagos and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org