Know your leader! Atiku: Sweet and sour is his name

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the sustained interest of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to become President of Nigeria has brought about a renewed interest on his personality.

His name is on many lips in Nigeria today. It is increasingly becoming a sweet and sour chant, depending on what side of the political divide, one is pitched. A few years ago, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President was not so much loved. Odium surrounding his name had become magnified by the sustained slander from his ex principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Time indeed changes all things. The Atiku image has gone full-circle, transforming from the good, to the not-so-good, to the bad and back to the good; even (and surprisingly) in the estimation of Obasanjo.

For those who showed open animosity against Atiku, their reason stemmed largely from an unproven allegation of being the mastermind behind many corrupt schemes. In the unofficial fraudulent, but thriving enterprises that drives the Nigerian underground economy, Atiku was perceived to possess extraordinary intellect or skill that is markedly superior to his or her peers. This supposition has strikingly signposted his public services, whether in the Nigerian Custom Service, as a politician and later in The Presidency. He is thought to be responsible for the highest level of planning and execution of major operations.

The most recent infraction leveled against him was the alleged involvement of his business partner, Mr.Gabriele Volpi and his company, Intels Nigeria Limited in some shady deals, including manipulation of its expatriate quota. Before that, Atiku’s name was linked to the controversial importation of 53 suitcases in 1984 by a first-class traditional ruler from the North. He was fingered again in the Halliburton scandal which resulted in the conviction of a US lawmaker, William Jefferson, leading to Atiku’s ban from entering the US. But the former Vice President has repeatedly challenged anyone with evidence of corruption against him to come forward. So far, no court of law has tried or found him guilty of corruption.

Another allegation frequently leveled against Atiku who is better known by his ethnic title as the Turaki of Adamawa (he has since been elevated to Wazirin of Adamawa) is that he habours inordinate ambition to rule the country.

As running mate to Obasanjo, he was said to be the critical half that ensured victory for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket in 1999 and again in 2003.

Having inherited the political association called the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) founded by the General Shehu YarÁdua who passed while being detained by the Gen.Sani Abacha regime, Atiku looked set to become Nigeria’s Number One Citizen. Obasanjo was not a politician. He had just been released from prison. He had no political vehicle to ride on. Owing to the mood of the country (following the annulment of the June 12 Presidential Election which was assumedly won by Chief Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba of Egba stock like Obasanjo), Atiku was prevailed on to yield his political machinery to Obasanjo to enable some kind of healing on the national psyche. While Obasanjo spent the better part of first tenure on shuttle diplomacy to win back friendship for Nigeria that had become a pariah nation during Abacha’s dictatorship, Atiku stayed back at home and gained huge political (and many say financial) capital. The common joke was that even Obasanjo’s family members who visited The Presidency were better received and catered for by Atiku than their presumed host.

By the time Obasanjo realised what was happening and sought for a second tenure in 2003, Atiku had become a powerhouse and nearly removed the carpet from under his feet. Atiku rallied all the governors behind him. It was Atiku who made governors of Nigerian states to realise that they wield considerable influence and could in fact hold Mr. President to ransom, forcing him to do their bidding on certain issues. Suddenly, Obasanjo became a general without a troop! Unconfirmed reports had it that faced with imminent defeat and disgrace, Obasanjo had to eat the humble pie (and do the unthinkable as a Yoruba by prostrating to beg a younger person who was not royalty). More than any other, this moment of humiliation dug a deep hole in Obasanjo’s ego, for which he has not forgiven Atiku.

Of course, Obasanjo visited Atiku with vicious vengeance throughout their second tenure. There was no love lost between the two men, until recently when the common goal to oust President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have brought about some kind of rapprochement between them.

Many Followers of Atiku think his best chance to become President of Nigeria was in 2003 when majority of the governors were urging him on and he had Obasanjo by the balls. He could have easily moved from Vice President to President, after all, there was said to be an understanding that Obasanjo would serve only one term, since his emergence was initially informed by a compelling need to placate the Yorubas over the perceived injustice done to Abiola. But having tasted power, Obasanjo did not only renege on his promise, he even sought clandestine ways of remaining in power for a third term.

In 2007, Atiku took a shot at becoming president. However, the political dynamics had changed. Many of the governors who could swing victory in his favour had lost power. Obasanjo ensured that he was muscled out. He promised the governors that one of them would succeed him, thereby weakening the influence base of Atiku, who was also forced out of the PDP. He went ahead to contest the election on the platform of the Action Congress (AC). He lost the presidential election to PDP’s Umaru YarÁdua who became President of Nigeria. However, one of the good things that came out of that political maneuver was the public presentation of Atiku as a leader of thought, capable of proffering ingenious solutions to the different challenges confronting the Nigerian society. He began with a speech at Chattam House in London.

Following the defeat, Atiku became a wanderer on the political landscape, searching for the best place to actualise his ambition of leading Nigeria. He made another failed bid in 2015 through the All Progressives Congress (APC).

I tell people my age that to understand young Nigerians, we need to understand the difference between Nigerian and Naija. Naija embodies the hopes and dreams of young Nigerians, the country they love and long to go home to when they are abroad. Naija is the country that brings them pride in music, film, comedy, fashion, and technology. It is the country of Wiz Kid, Asa, David O, Tuface, the Olympic bobsled team, Iwobi and Don Jazzy Again. Nigeria on the other hand, is the country of their parents, the country where leaders are constantly failing them, of Boko Haram, of herdsmen violence, of recessions and joblessness. Our young people need us to make our country live up to the aspirations of Naija by fixing the problems associated with Nigeria. My legacy as Vice President, I would say is the banking consolidation process, for which I gave political backing for. Many big people were putting a lot of political pressure to not change the status quo, but we knew that if that consolidation was not done, Nigeria could not grow… I oversaw the telecoms revolution. Under our tenure, we witnessed a large repatriation of Nigerians back to Nigeria, driven by the hope of the recovering economy. Some people believe youth empowerment is giving handouts to young people instead of building a strong economy. They are wrong. In my home state of Adamawa for example, I’ve created over 50,000 direct jobs, and 250,000 indirect ones. We are the largest private employers of labour in the state only second to the state government. It’s not a lot, but it does help reduce unemployment. Who do you thing are holding those jobs? Yes, young people.” This is my response to the questions that have arisen lately about my duties and performance while in office as VP and my contribution towards youth empowerment in Nigeria. I hope @igodye_ and everyone else who has such questions find the answers here. Link is in my bio. Please read and share.

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Disenchanted with the APC, Atiku pulled out of the party last year. He reverted to his tactic of public speaking, hitting hard at the policies and manifest weaknesses of the Buhari administration. He has not just been a critique, he has also been saying how he will do things differently, with the resultant effect that an increasing umber of Nigerians not only seem to be paying attention, they are actually considering giving him a chance if he becomes the flag bearer of one of the political parties. This time, Atiku has advisedly added a deliberate engagement with Nigerian youths, while embarking on nationwide consultations to seek support from different interest groups over his ambition of become Nigeria’s next president in 2019.

Last week, Atiku ended every speculation concerning his political future by staging an impressive presidential rally in his home state, Adamawa on the platform of the PDP. Though it may be argued that he has other contenders in the party to worry about, one thing is clear, the former Vice President is on the march again to Aso Rock.

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