To borrow a line from the ballad of the philosopher, poet and musician Fiftius Centus, “different day, same [crap]; old mark, new clip”, and even another philosopher, balladist and veteran gaga shuffler closer to home, Twous Facae: “e be like say they want to tell us another story again o.” however, maybe it is a story to which we ought to pay some attention.
To a great many people in Nigeria, the recent development with Atiku decamping from the APC back to the PDP after he decamped from the PDP to APC once before is all too familiar and hardly unexpected. It was in July 2017 when the Supreme Court of Nigeria finally settled the enduring internal discord between the Ahmed Makarfi led caretaker committee and the Ali Modu Sherriff led PDP faction, over the rightful leadership of the party. Even then and until very recently, the PDP, as a political entity seeking to vie for the prestigious office of the presidency, was without any character strong or popular enough to give the Buhari administration’s aspiration for a second term, a good run for their money even if they continue to reiterate their intentions to wrestle power from the hands of the APC; a party which, to use Atiku’s words, “have failed Nigerians”. But Atiku anyway, has contested for presidency as many times as Buhari himself, failed every single time with the limelight of his political aspirations coming in 1999 when he was elected as the running-mate for the Obasanjo presidency that lasted from ’99 till 2007. In 2006, he fell out of favour with his ex-presidential colleague when they entered a stalemate before the ‘07 primaries, one that faced Atiku’s presidential bid against, Obasanjo’s unconstitutional third term bid. The series of events that led up to the losses suffered by both parties (Obj and Atiku) were by no means uneventful. Very poignantly of which was an alleged $2m in cash planted into a jet chartered by the then VP but was however unable to be recovered at the destination airport by a waiting crew of anticorruption/anti-graft personnel in a sensational occasion that reeked so strongly of an Obasanjo led conspiracy to discredit Atiku Abubakar. The 2007 elections would however be won by the more favoured [by Obasanjo] Umar Yar’Adua who would unfortunately succumb to Death’s summon after a lengthy battle with ill health. In 2006 however, Atiku would leave the PDP for the then “Action Congress” under which, quite eventfully, he would vie for presidency and place third after the PDP’s Yar’Adua and ANPP’s Buhari; Nigeria’s present incumbent president and unfortunately, the man to beat in 2019.
We are however, not done with Atiku’s party travails. In 2009, after the death of Umar Yar’Adua, he would leave the Action Congress and return “home” to the PDP where he hoped to compete against an infallible and frankly invincible Goodluck Jonathan, a man who seemingly had everything, including the omnipotent will of the Universe on his side. Atiku would lose his 2011 presidential bid under the flag of the PDP and in 2013, he would leave the PDP for the second time to the Action Congress who now went under the moniker of All Progressive Congress (APC). The year 2015 would slowly approach, with the threats from the APC to wreak so much chaos as an opposition party that the “country would be rendered ungovernable for Goodluck Jonathan”, a treasonable statement which the placid Goodluck would let slide with implied derogatory effects much less to his personal temperaments than to the integrity of the Office of the President. The activities of Boko Haram would experience a sustained period of horrifying intensity with the cost in human lives and property destruction reaching a dreadful high in 2014 with the alleged kidnapping of more than two hundred secondary school girls. During this period, Nigeria lived in fear. It was uncertain and quite difficult to pin down if the country was being punished for having democratically chosen Dr. Jonathan to succeed Umar Yar’Adua because, whatever way it might been viewed in retrospect, by virtue of the country’s policy on geopolitical zoning of the Office of the Presidency, it was the north’s turn to be in power from 2007 until 2015 and democracy probably was unjust to the region for the six years Jonathan held the office. It is arguable that the period between 2009 and 2015 was one of the most difficult times in the country since the civil war. The political clime at that time negatively affected many of the country’s other spheres. It affected the economy where the oil revenues poured in but were unable to be capitalised on for sustainable and progressive growth, fostering unhealthy levels of corruption that has been so popularly reported by the media to date. It affected security even worse. Quite contrary to many popular views, the security situation in the country at the time might have been an even stronger deciding factor than corruption on APC’s later victory at the 2015 polls. The whole while Atiku remained more or less resigned as he reorganised his strategy towards the fulfilment of his presidential ambition. At the time, allegations were rife that he was one of the sponsors of the dreaded Boko Haram with reports coming out of states like Niger and Adamawa; Atiku’s own state, that this unconfirmed report was “open secret” in those parts.
If we reach even farther back into history, Atiku contested the 1993 presidential primaries on the platform of the Social Democratic Party where he placed third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. We see that Atiku himself has played quite the prominent role in the existence of the PDP. He was among the founding members of the party in 1998 and against the odds of the prevailing era, in the face of the military administrations of Abacha and Abdusalami Abubakar, the former of whom was recently deceased and the latter promising a return to democratic rule.
When the PDP crises began in 2013, Atiku, as a founding father of the party, contributed to resolving the party’s issues by decamping to the APC and now, while the frail Buhari’s intention to seek re-election has introduced some understandable strain into the hierarchy of the APC as, other than frankly and quite simply being a man, too old to function and keep up with the tremendous pressures of the office of the Nigerian President, Buhari himself has stated how, buckling under the pressure, he almost chose to abscond from office a few times in 2016. Now, from the APC, Atiku again has left; once more, loyalty seemingly collapses at the feet of self-interest.
Before the narrative of Atiku being a disloyal and serial party hopper becomes too firmly established to be refuted, it should be stated that Atiku has been in as many political parties as Nigeria’s incumbent President Buhari and if Buhari was not made to pay for that as a critical moral defining issue, there is no reason or precedent that should imply any significant deterioration to Atiku’s chances. Perhaps he has just been a man who has been unfortunate enough to be placed at the wrong competitive ends of history every single time; perhaps he is just a man desperate to bring his own notion of democratic progress to a population of his own people whom he holds so dear – so much that he would be willing to throw moral constraints to the wind and let his ends justify his means; perhaps he is a man who wants little more than to prove his adversaries wrong and show that at the same capacity, he would indeed be able to deliver better results; perhaps, he is just another Buhari, a race-dog who finally catches that elusive hare that is power and has no further idea what to do with it even after chasing for so long. The possible reasons that would explain his consistency at the top levels of politicking are legion but what makes a man a good president? Is it being a good man and experience? A better, more experienced man than Buhari who although being a paragon of integrity, might not be able to secure a second term? Is it intelligence? More intelligent than Dr. Jonathan? Is it compassion? More compassion than Umar Yar’Adua had to offer? Is it strength? A stronger personality than Segun Obasanjo? Does Atiku fit into any of these already established archetypes or are we venturing once again into the treacherous waters of reacquainting ourselves with the option of a devil with whom we are already familiar?
Atiku however has spent much of his time since 2013 realigning himself and his priorities with the prevailing political atmosphere which revolves mainly around the grievances of the greatly disgruntled Nigerian youth as their desperation remains contained almost entirely within the latent idea of depleted patience. Atiku has markedly been a friend of the youth since 2013, most recently, he outlined his mandate for the presidency with the creation of jobs as a central focus. While relating the facts around his business exploits, linking it with the economic reality of the country today, he briefly mentioned his addition of 250,000 direct and indirect jobs to the Nigerian economy with promises that he would be looking to bring his entrepreneurial expertise to tackling the nagging issues of unemployment in Nigeria. Atiku is also of the opinion that restructuring the country and devolution of powers from the centre might be the best way to break the deadlock on development and poverty that has held the country hostage for decades although whether he would lead the adoption of restructuring or not, should he be voted in, can safely be chucked away as yet another political promise by yet another career politician. Frankly, the gospel of restructuring being one that was peddled by the APC in the campaigns leading up to the 2015 election, would be revived for another round of Buhari campaigns as 2019 approaches. In essence, it is neither going to be new nor exclusive to the Atiku camp.
On Atiku’s experience at top flight leadership, we turn to his eight years as VP, working with Segun Obasanjo and the PDP on the first half of the party’s sixteen years in power which would leave a lot to be desired by the common Nigerian. Although prior to winning the VP ticket in 1999, he won the gubernatorial election for Adamawa State but stepped down to take on greater responsibility where he shares the credit for the administration’s achievements with his forerunning colleague. From the deregulation of the telecom sector which saw the massive adoption of mobile telephony in Nigeria today and paved the way for the country to become the largest telecoms market in Africa, to the relief of external debt and growing the foreign reserves, the massive investments in the power sector, privatisation of state owned businesses like NITEL and Nigerian Airways and finally beginning the proceedings to deregulate both the power sector and the downstream oil sectors, the story has been one that gave mixed results at best and frankly more of what we regard as failures today than successes. Does the notion that Atiku is a man who has seen the mistakes and progress being made at the highest levels of government, help his chances of inspiring faith in a generation of voters, disenchanted and disillusioned with the consistency of disappointments in their government? Flip a coin, at worst you’d be wrong and have another Buhari.
If we consider the fight against corruption, we would have to admit that his first stint in government gave rise to anti-graft and anti-corruption agencies EFCC and ICPC even though reports remain about corruption charges that keep Atiku out of the US. He presided over the committee for privatisations, many of which ended up with issues relating to transparency, due process, corrupt practices, etc. Atiku however having never been personally charged nor convicted of any corruption charges, is a man who has been described by his close associates and confidants as one who “looks after his own”. He remarkably inspires deliberate loyalty from the people who follow him and this to imply the least, has been one of his most potent protectors. But how does this play out in the case of continuing the anticorruption crusade? Especially compared with the seeming botches or sabotages of President Buhari’s efforts? Can better be expected from Atiku or are we looking to buy the message of hope again?
This is Nigeria anyway, Atiku’s stance on “the issues”, his history and achievements, his moral standing and even his age are all trivial issues meant for the people “who know book and like to speak English.” More importantly and with an embracing taste of wounding disappointment: who is/are his competition. This was something we saw on the big screen in 2015; shamelessness displayed for the world to see as Nigerians chanted in their numbers how they would vote for literally “anything but GEJ”, and thus, President Buhari became a thing; about four million Nigerians would lose jobs in the nine months that would follow his swearing in; the country would be plunged into a recession for the first time in 25 years, etc. I would maintain the argument that Buhari was a man at the wrong place at the wrong time and whose administration had to be stuck with making an unending series of tough calls. But then again, if you contest for power for thirteen years, you should neither expect things to be so rosy nor give excuses when the time comes for you to show that you contested with purpose. Atiku’s first opponent is understandably the incumbent President Buhari; a man for whom he admittedly has deep respect. Factually, as far as age goes, they aren’t too far apart but if the respect for Atiku is mutual then the propaganda machine which won Buhari his first presidency might have a tough time ahead – in a perfect world. Online polls already show that people are more likely to vote Atiku than Buhari but perhaps this doesn’t reflect the opinion of the physical world. To loosely relate, Hillary Clinton won virtually every online poll but still managed to lose the US presidency anyway. Between Atiku and Buhari, there is not much to choose. Perhaps, Buhari might edge it because quite a number of people would be willing to understand that it takes considerably more than four years to revamp an entire country. But at 71 presently, it might be safe to assume that this is Atiku’s last gasp at vying for the presidency; if he doesn’t win it now, it is over. While Buhari would be looking to beg for patience and force propaganda to fuel the notion that his anticorruption campaign is not dead, Atiku on the other hand would woo voters with the promise of jobs that the Buhari administration has so far failed to deliver, as his main obligation. It should be expected that the Atiku campaign cannot afford the luxury of presumptuousness hence an implication that his campaign would have to fire on all cylinders sparing no possible target demographic and perhaps doing so by giving cogent details as to strategies that might be employed to fulfil this undertaking.
Malam Nasir El-Rufai is another, although his running under the banner of the APC would be mutually exclusive with the chances of President Buhari. El-Rufai is considerably younger than Atiku and Buhari and as governor of Kaduna State, might be able to make strong claims on national reforms using the model he employed in Kaduna State. This might be popular among younger voters but for civil servants and government officials, this might indeed be a hard sell. Quite infamously, one issue that might work against El-Rufai’s claim might be his recent handling of the herdsmen issue in South Kaduna where he fluffed the bed hard enough that it might not be out of place to wonder how he might fare as president in a country with active groups like the same herdsmen, the proscribed IPOB, MASSOB, Boko Haram, the Niger Delta Avengers, etc. As far as security concerns go, El-Rufai would have a lot of convincing to do. On the facet of the anticorruption war, El Rufai might be a better alternative than Atiku and Buhari, his seeming penchant for disruption as well as bluntness as he has displayed as minister of the FCT and governor of Kaduna does support this supposition. Considering his political peers, an observation that puts him in the set of Jonathan and his government with their record shattering levels of misappropriation and graft, if El-Rufai would succeed on this end, his administration would be one fraught with all sorts of internal and external battles and this might not be the best news for the common Nigerian who wants little more than simple day to day progress. His experience with the Nigerian public system (as DG of Bureau of Public Enterprises and Minister of the FCT) does come in handy to help his credibility but in all, baring a brazen display of strategy and altruism from both Buhari and the APC, El-Rufai stands a better chance of securing re-election as governor of Kaduna State than winning the APC primaries and much less the presidency.
Ahmed Makarfi, the current caretaker committee chair for the PDP has asked that he not be written off so easily. Another possible contender is Ali Modu Sherriff, the GEJ backed man against whom, Makarfi led the long internal tussle for party leadership. Perhaps, if they both contest the primaries, I should suppose proximity to the presidential ticket would have been the ultimate goal to which their prolonged battle served as a means; a battle which left the PDP as a shell of what it once was and very weak opposition, that failed to check the excesses of the APC. It is similarly for this reason that I would expect Makarfi to throw his support behind Atiku and hope that together, they can restore the PDP to its far departed glory days.
Bola Tinubu is another but perhaps for 2024. Ben Bruce is yet another, and one I personally wouldn’t mind supporting all the way but same, maybe 2024. There also is Tunde Fashola who missed the 2015 VP ticket because he was a Muslim – Nigeria huh? and there is Remi Shonaiya, the KOWA Party lady. I’m not bothering with the ink here because other than Makarfi and Ali Modu Sherriff, none of them are from the north, and this is a critical factor which for the devil’s sake is a deal-breaker.
Finally, between the three strongest contenders: El-Rufai, Atiku and Buhari, there is a small issue of the votes from the South South and the South East which to be blunt, the APC stands as good a chance of winning a majority as a snowball surviving in hell. This last defining factor might see the folks in these region band together to support the Atiku in a similar way as they did Umar Yar’Adua. The votes of the north however in an Atiku v Buhari showdown, understanding here that they are both two Northern, Muslim men and integrating a certain Kwankwaso factor from a state as populated as Kano might make for a jolly good show. As displeasure coming from the present regime provokes dissatisfaction from the voting public towards the current ruling party, the votes from the middle belt and the South West would more likely be too close call but if the PDP does get their act together. it is a common idealogy in politics that at the end, all that matters are the results, not analysis, not advantages, not even money. However, I would wager that Atiku Abubakar, despite not exactly being a messiah or any kind of angel, may have a very decent chance of edging the presidency in 2019.
PS. I think it should be added here that this article is being essentially pragmatic. We should be done with “recyling” old politicians but, if there was anyone at the desirable age range who would most likely run and win, I think we would have heard about them by now. Its already 2018 afterall.