By Kola King
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is a widely experienced and articulate political animal. He is also a smooth political operator. In a word, he’s a consummate politician and quintessential networker. He seems to be driven by a monomaniacal commitment to politics. He’s also a man of many parts. He’s both a successful politician and an astute businessman. He’s also an educationist and community leader. Now, he’s in his sixth and perhaps final race for president since Abubakar will be 77 in 2023. Having served as vice president his greatest ambition is to transform into the president of Nigeria. Indeed politics seems to run in his blood. For him, politics is a means to an end. That end represents power, the ultimate aphrodisiac for a man who seems determined to get the heady brew called power in one way or another.
Simply put, that explains why Atiku Abubakar has switched from one party to the other in his bid to clinch the highest position in the land. That’s the reason why he wrestled with his principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket in 2003. That’s the reason why he would go to any length to fulfill his ambition. He sees the political parties as an all-purpose vehicle that will convey him to Valhalla or his political destination. As soon as he fails to realize his ambition at a party he dumps that party like an expendable dice and moves on to the next party where he believes he would be able to realize his dream. Alien to his politics are the virtues of consistency and commitment to a cause, hence ethics count for little in this regard. But when honour, integrity, ethics, and values are absent in politics, the end result is a disjointed society. In a way, Atiku Abubakar’s politics is driven more by expediency than anything else, that is, the end justifies the means.
Indeed he has been indulged by the political class. Due to his quarrel with Obasanjo, many saw him as an underdog fighting a just cause. So when he fell out with President Obasanjo in 2006, the Action Congress offered him its platform to contest the 2007 presidential election. He came a distant third in that election won by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the PDP and behind General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Having failed to achieve his ambition on the platform of AC he later returned to PDP like a prodigal son. Thereafter in 2011, he disputed the passage with President Goodluck Jonathan. He was among the stakeholders in the party who insisted that the ticket should return to the north in line with the party’s zoning policy. Back then the argument was that the north did not exhaust its two-term limit due to the sudden death of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Thus he was the consensus candidate of the Northern Elders Forum. At the end of the day, President Jonathan clinched the party’s ticket for the 2011 race. Miffed by Jonathan’s victory he stormed out of the PDP again.
After that, he left the PDP for the hybrid political party, All Progressives Congress (APC), where he contested for the party’s presidential ticket. Once again, he lost out as then General Muhammadu Buhari clinched the APC presidential ticket. A nomadic politician, he ported to the PDP again in search of sanctuary for his political ambition. As it happened, he bulldozed his way and eventually picked the PDP presidential ticket at the primaries held in Port Harcourt in December 2018 and later contested against the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. But he was trounced by President Buhari in the 2019 elections. Yet he’s unperturbed by his losses, even though some have dubbed him a serial loser and a perennial contender for power.
Atiku Abubakar who kicked up a storm about the PDP’s zoning policy in 2011 has suddenly made a U-turn and insisted that the presidential ticket should be thrown open to all comers, despite the fact that the Southern Governors Forum has reaffirmed its commitment to zoning the ticket to the south for the 2023 presidential elections. His strategic ambiguity on zoning beggars belief. Already he has declared his intention to contest the party primaries for the presidential ticket. By his unbridled ambition, Abubakar has shown that principle matters less to him, where it conflicts with his ambition. For him, politics means nothing but the naked pursuit of power. In short, his personal philosophy seems to be dictated by power over principle. He has demonstrated an obsession with the presidency. His desperation for power creates the impression that he’s in it not for service but for self-aggrandizement.
In any case, Abubakar cut his political teeth under the leadership of late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was at one time Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. He was also a prominent politician during the latter transition from military to civilian rule in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was a pragmatic politician and political tactician. He was the founder of the Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN), a political movement to which Atiku also belonged. His movement coalesced into the Social Democratic Party (SDP) when the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida lifted the lid on politics. In 1989, Atiku Abubakar was elected the National Vice President of PFN in the build-up to the third republic. Abubakar won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly, set up to decide a new constitution for Nigeria. The People’s Front like other political associations was eventually denied registration by the military government, and the PFN merged with the government-created Social Democratic Party (SDP), political experimentation by the maximum ruler.
After the political chicanery by President Ibrahim Babangida in which he annulled the party primaries won by Shehu Musa Yar’Adua of the SDP and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi of the National Republican Convention (NRC), thereafter Atiku Abubakar’s trajectory in politics began to gather steam and speed. In September 1990, Abubakar announced his bid for Gongola State gubernatorial ticket. A year later, before the elections could hold, two new states were carved out of Gongola State – Adamawa and Taraba States. Being from Jada, Abubakar fell into the new Adamawa State. After the contest, he won the SDP Primaries in November 1991 but was soon disqualified by the government from contesting the elections.
Fast-forward to 1993, Abubakar contested the SDP presidential primaries. The results after the first ballot of the primaries held in Jos were: Moshood Abiola with 3,617 votes, Baba Gana Kingibe with 3,255 votes, and Abubakar with 2,066 votes. Though he came first, Abiola failed to win a clear majority on the first ballot. Abubakar and Kingibe considered joining forces to challenge Abiola. However, Shehu Yar’Adua convinced Atiku Abubakar to step down in the hope that Abiola would make him his running mate. Due to pressure from SDP governors, Abiola later reneged on his promise and instead picked Kingibe as his vice-presidential running mate, in the June 12 presidential election.
Once again during the General Sani Abacha political transition programme, Abubakar was in the race for the gubernatorial seat of Adamawa State under the United Nigeria Congress Party. However, the transition program came to an abrupt end with the death of General Abacha. Also, following the transition programme of General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1998, Atiku Abubakar was one of the key players in the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and later secured the nomination for governor of Adamawa State, winning the December 1998 governorship elections. However, before he could be sworn in, higher service beckoned as he was tapped as the running mate to the PDP presidential candidate, former military head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo who went on to win the 1999 presidential election ushering in the fourth republic.
Apart from his personal peccadilloes, Atiku Abubakar seems well prepared for the presidency having served as vice president. He’s a statesman to boot. He’s urbane and cosmopolitan and has built bridges across the length and breadth of this country. As Vice President, he was the Chairman of the National Economic Council. Without a doubt, he seems to have a grasp of the economy and interconnectedness of the global economy. He’s abreast of the interplay of complex forces at the global level. Besides he has demonstrated a capacity for leadership. But what is Atiku Abubakar bringing to the table this time around? During his declaration for the 2023 presidential contest, he stated that “Under my presidency, I want to focus on 5 key areas: the unity of Nigeria, security, economy, education, and devolving more resources and powers to the federating units” promised Abubakar.”
On the vexed issue of restructuring, Abubakar launched the True Federalism campaign in 2017. For example, he stated that “Political decentralization will also help to deepen and strengthen our democracy as it will encourage more accountability. Citizens are more likely to demand accountability when governments spend their tax money rather than rent collected from an impersonal source.” Many of his speeches have resonated with Nigerians who support the idea of true federalism which involves allowing states to have control over their resources.
Furthermore, his speeches and commentary reveal a figure who appreciates the importance of education as the key to rapid progress and development in society. Abubakar is a vocal advocate of the need to improve Nigeria’s educational system. He is also the founder of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa. He has said that having benefited from the U.S. system of instruction as a young man, he was eager to make available in Nigeria an American-styled faculty – emphasizing critical thinking, small classes, student participation, and problem-solving.
In August 2014, Abubakar said in a statement: ″Our country’s educational institutions are clearly not providing quality learning. Our teachers need to be taught. This situation is a new development—in the past 10 years or so. The steady decline of education in Nigeria is a reflection of our country’s relegation of education to the background of national essentialities. That is where the change must begin. Teachers are important—as important as senators and doctors. Indeed, teachers determine the quality of senators and doctors. And so, the entire country stands to suffer the effects of this neglect in the future. Nigeria must once again make education a priority. We must return to the basics.″
Beyond all this, Atiku Abubakar comes with some baggage. For one thing, age is no longer on his side. Besides he will have to contend with stakeholders of the party from the south who insist that zoning policy should be adhered to in the interest of justice and fair play since the north would have spent two terms in power by 2023. Also, Abubakar is set on a collision course with the Southern Governors forum which insists on power rotation to the south. At the same time, critical stakeholders from the north are at odds with his ambition and have denied reports that they have stepped down for him. Moreover, Abubakar will fail to find love with the youths who want a break from the past, tired of recycled old politicians.
Even though he seems to be in rude health, Nigerians would be wary of voting for another geriatric president having been saddled with one for two terms. Again the omens are not auspicious for another run for president. His run of good luck seems to be coming to an end as he gets to the terminus of his political walkabout. In the main, his foray into politics has been a staggering monument to an incredible political flip flop, that is capricious and fickle. In short, Atiku Abubakar belongs to the past. Having run for president for more than three decades , Abubakar deserves a rest and he should please take a bow.