By Eric Elezuo
The drums of election continue to reverberate, albeit as anticipated, even as the dreaded 2019 general elections draw closer.
In every platform, political gladiators are using every means within their disposal to announce their presence, and the fact that there is something about them that needs to be tapped come 2019, has given them the impetus to not only parade themselves as messiahs but also sell themselves to the public for all the right reasons. In this guise, intrigues and maneuvers are the order of the day with defections and counter-defections rocking the length and breadth of the political divide. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, touted for his political docility, seems to be waking up from a self-induced slumber, visiting two states in quick succession – one in the South East (Ebonyi) and the other in the North West (Kano).
However, the biggest of the political events that is sure to produce a paradigm shift in 2019 is the Atiku clout or the Atiku Advantage, even as athe much sort after politician recently made two ground breaking moves, 1. Dumping the All Progressives Party, and 2. Joining the Peoples Democratic Party.
Already 71 years, and full of experience, Atiku appears to be one of the few, who a great majority of Nigerians believe can salvage the ailing economy and return the country to its feet. His first missionary journey at the Aso Rock Villa where he lorded it over Nigerians as the second citizen for eight years, has practically prepared him for the task ahead of any other candidate. In addition to his overbearing credentials is the Midas touch he has on businesses and entrepreneurship, not forgetting his philanthropic gesture, which has become a religious testimony of some sort among the generality of the people; the Wazarin Adamawa looks good to go.
Known generally by his first name, Atiku worked with the Nigeria Customs Service for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Director, as the second highest position in the Service was then known. He retired in April 1989 and took up full-time business and politics, trying his hands first on the governorship seat of old Gongola State in 1991, and then at the Presidency in 1993. He is full of experience.
In 1999, he was elected Governor of Adamawa State before being selected by the PDP Presidential candidate Olusegun Obasanjo as his running mate. The duo went on to win elections in February 1999, and he was sworn-in as Nigeria’s second democratically elected vice president.
Though his second term as Vice President was marked by a stormy relationship with his principal, he has not lost focus of the vision he has for Nigeria. It is believed that he would have easily won the 2007 election if he was not witch-hunted by Obasanjo who initially disqualified him, using the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) claiming financial misconduct by an investigating panel set up at Obasanjo’s behest. The Supreme Court rescued him, but it was too late, as he came a distant third behind Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari.
Atiku is a co-founder of Intels, an oil servicing business with extensive operations in Nigeria and abroad. He is also the founder of Adama Beverages Limited, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), both in Yola.
Atiku Abubakar made a much expected decision penultimate week, dumping the All Progressives Congress (APC), and made a return to the party that made him the Vice President in 1999 through to 2007. Atiku’s defection back to the opposition party by all means put a clog in the wheel of progress of the ruling party – a party that is fast losing credibility among the Nigerian people as a result of the poor economic policies and reported disequilibrium in the masses’ standard of living.
Leveraging on the above, the PDP has pledged to return Nigeria and Nigerians to the ‘good old days’ beginning with the hosting of a though contestable convention on December 9 which produced Uche Secondus as the substantive chairman, and a promise to present a formidable pair of candidates that is sure to shake the foundation of whatever the APC may be planning.
For the doubting Thomases, it should no longer be in doubt that the defection of Atiku to the PDP has everything to do with becoming the President of Nigeria, a lifelong ambition he had had since the days of the Third Republic when he was sidelined in the scheme of things as the pair of Chief MKO Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe emerged the flag bearers of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the June 1993 Presidential Election, which the duo went ahead to win but were denied their mandate.
Atiku made his intentions more pronounced when he fielded questions from veteran journalist and Publisher, Chief Dele Momodu, recently, stressing emphatically that ‘I will definitely defeat President Buhari in 2019’.
With the berthing of Atiku’s ship in the PDP camp, the party seems to have found the first of the formidable pair required to rout the APC out of office come 2019. This is evidenced in the words of a reputable chieftain of the party and Senator representing Bayelsa East, Ben Bruce. He courageously called Atiku, at his defection, the next president of Nigeria.
Atiku is practically not the only one interested in the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, using the umbrella advantage. There is Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State, who is reputed to have masterminded the split that resulted in the defeat of the PDP in 2015. Though still in the APC, bookmakers believe that it is only a matter of time before he finds his name in the PDP register.
Kwankwaso is 61 years as he was born on October 21, 1956 in Kwankwaso village of Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State. A master’s degree holder in Water Engineering, Kwankwaso was politically active during his student days and was an elected official of the Kano State Students Association.
His career kick-started in 1975 at the Kano State Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency (WRECA), where he served as a civil servant for 17 years in various capacities and rising through the ranks to become principal engineer.
During the third Republic, Kwankwaso was elected as a member of House of Representatives representing Madobi Federal Constituency under the Peoples Front faction of the Social Democratic Party. His subsequent election as Deputy Speaker in the House brought him to the limelight of national politics and widened his political horizon.
Kwankwazo’s experience and popularity came to the fore when he was elected as one of the delegates from Kano for the 1995 Constitutional Conference. In 1998, he participated in the merging of the Peoples Democratic Movement into the PDP.
On two occasions, between 2007 and 2015, he governed Kano State, and defected to the APC in 2013 with four other governors in a move many believed saw the crumbling of the so called largest party in Africa.
Alhaji Sule Lamido is another party man with the ambition to live in the Aso Rock villa. Lamido, who was born on 30 August 1948 in Bamaina, Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of Jigawa State Nigeria, entered politics as a member of the left-of-center People’s Redemption Party (PRP) in the Nigerian Second Republic. He became National Secretary of the Social Democratic Party during the Nigerian Third Republic, where he received criticism for his handling of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections won by Moshood Abiola, who was prevented from taking office.
When the military ruler General Sani Abacha announced his plan to return to democracy, Lamido was a founding member of the Social Progressive Party, and was National Secretary of the new party. He was imprisoned in 1998 by Abacha for criticising Abacha’s plan to perpetuate himself in office.
He was appointed Foreign Minister in June 1999, after losing the Jigawa governor’s seat to Samiu Turaki. His stint at the Foreign Affairs ministry bestowed on him a great inspiration, and many has argued that he gave his best, achieving so much including inaugurating a committee to organize an international conference on human trafficking, child abuse, child labour and slavery.
Speaking at the United Nations in November 2001, Lamido described the corrosive impact of corruption on new democracies such as Nigeria, and called for “an international instrument” against transfer of looted funds abroad.
Thanks to his doggedness, he succeeded in becoming the Governor of Jigawa State in 2007, and served two terms which terminated on May 29, 2015. Lamido is reputed as very experienced and also has what it takes to change the status symbol of Nigeria.
But for Atiku to actualize his ambitions, and PDP its dreams, he needs a formidable running mate, and though unconfirmed sources are pegging the party’s choices at the likes of the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi among others, one person who stands head over heels above others is the former Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the World Bank, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala, a true daughter of the South East, served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female to hold both positions.
Her clout as a finance amazon speaks volume and creates in her a larger than life image that solve problems and make solutions handy wherever she goes, and in whatever capacity she served, is serving and will serve.
During her first term as Minister of Finance under President Obasanjo’s Administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion. In 2003 she led efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule where revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account, “The Excess Crude Account” which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility.
She also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government of Nigeria, she helped build an electronic financial management platform-the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process. As at 31 December 2014, the IPPIS platform for example had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the Nigerian government about $1.25 billion in the process.
Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006.
An economist of repute, Okonjo-Iweala had spent the first 21 years of her career as a development economist at the World Bank and had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.
A woman of international accolades, Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 – 2009 food crises and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was chair of the IDA replenishment, World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.
Her brilliance led to her reappointed as Minister of Finance in Nigeria 2011 with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan. Her legacy includes strengthening Nigeria’s public financial systems, stimulating the housing sector with the establishment of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC). She also empowered Nigeria’s women and youth with the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN); a gender responsive budgeting system and the highly acclaimed Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme (YouWIN); a highly acclaimed programme to support entrepreneurs that created thousands of jobs.
This program was evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective programmes of its kind globally. Under her leadership, the National Bureau of Statistics carried out a rebasing exercise; the first in 24 years, which saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa. She took a lot of heat, for spearheading the fuel subsidy removal policy by the Nigerian government which led to protests in January 2012. In May 2016, the new Nigerian administration vindicated her when they eventually removed the fuel subsidy after it became apparent that it was unsustainable and inefficient.
Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of Nigeria’s first indigenous opinion-research organization, NOI-Polls. She founded the Center for the Study of Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a development research think tank based in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution.
Iweala’s vision and financial wizardry in combination with Atiku’s political sagacity and business acumen could be the yardstick required for the PDP to release its presidential ticket.