Until recently, I considered Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, one of Nigeria’s most prepared aspirants.
Atiku, who has become a career aspirant for Nigeria’s presidency, is one of the very few hopefuls with a road map to the nation’s reformation. The road map identifies Nigeria’s problems and how to tackle them. I argue that the “know-how” is a critical competence required of prospective leaders and an aspirant who goes further by putting his thoughts on paper should offer some allure. However, his recent interview with the Arise News left me with a competing impression.
The candidate was tentative in his answers to some of the critical questions that his interviews posed. Unlike Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku’s principal, when he served as vice president between 1999 and 2007, this man displayed a superficial, sometimes nonchalant understanding of some of the issues. An example of this was his reaction to the recent transition of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation into a commercial entity. This, for example, showed that the PDP candidate was oblivious to the Petroleum Industry Act (2021). That is inconceivable.
They asked him about education and health. Atiku spoke about his investments in education, how to equip universities and pay salaries. I thought that was pedestrian.
While it is commendable to equip the universities and pay lecturers well, Nigeria’s leader post-2023 must understand that basic education is the most fundamental, that not everyone needs a university education, and that vocational education is as important to national development as formal education. About health, he just brushed past private hospitals, servicing more people in Lagos State. There was nothing about how to increase and improve access to health insurance and all. It was disappointing!
In saying this, I acknowledge the fact that it is not yet time for campaigns, but a candidate must show his understanding of the problems and capacity to solve them at every opportunity.
However, there is a more fundamental revelation of the Atiku persona from that interview. That is his dismissive, if not haughty, disposition on some points raised by his interviewers. These range from his response to the fallout of the presidential primaries involving Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, zoning in the PDP, the chances of the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and his triumphant exposure of the poor state of internet penetration in northern Nigeria. At the end of that interview, you wondered whether Atiku depended on something more than the votes of Nigerians to win this coming election. He made only feeble attempts to convince. This overconfidence is also what bogs down the PDP with the fallout of its presidential primaries, almost three months after the exercise.
Someone could argue that all the shenanigans are parts of politics but the PDP’s situation has become a handshake beyond the elbow. This is no longer party camaraderie but a mindless struggle for power, with no thought about the people these guys claim to represent.
Every day, someone is discussing these PDP issues on one television show or the other. There are daily reports of committees upon committees, all amounting to so much motion without movement for the party, which prides itself on being the biggest opposition party in the country. It is all so obscene and offensive to Nigerians’ sensibilities.
Yet, Atiku allowed this problem to fester. What one sees in the presidential candidate for the better part of the past three months is an attempt to call the bluff of Wike over his reaction to the choice of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as Atiku’s running mate in June.
Many people have accused Wike, known for his loquaciousness and tendency to overreach, of asking too much from the PDP, but what would they have him do? From what I read of the situation, Wike’s contention is not so much about his rejection as Atiku’s running mate, but how the candidate managed the process. And in the aftermath of this, he has demanded some zonal balance in the party’s leadership structure. The call for Dr Iyorchia Ayu’s resignation as chairman signifies this.
Truly, Wike carried on like the PDP is his personal estate until recently. But as presumptuous and irritating of him as that may sound, it wasn’t without foundation. When everyone, including Atiku and former presidents elected on the platform of the PDP, abandoned the party after the 2015 elections, Wike, alongside former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, remained the only voices that spoke for and held the party together. That should count for something. But at the moment, Wike doesn’t have much stake in the PDP. Even if he reconciles with Atiku and the latter wins the election, a president keeps control of the whip and can use it as he sees fit on anyone, whether they erred in the past or are just contemplating it. There are no guarantees of Wike’s relevance in post-election PDP, especially when the standard bearer shows little regard for him ahead of elections.
Here again, you wonder what the presidential candidate relies on to win the 2023. For anyone who is contesting elections against formidable oppositions like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the meteorically rising Obi, the expectation is that no one is too insignificant for a rapprochement. This is more so about the governor of a state, which has presented the highest votes (in the southern part of the country over the past few elections), for your party.
It is not just that, with Nigeria’s current state where identity has become a factor, Wike’s campaign for zonal balance may win more support in the southern part of the country and detract from Atiku’s chances. Atiku must know this, yet he has allowed this issue to drag, allegedly seeking alternative alliances in Rivers State just to whittle down the governor’s influence.
But all of this tells more about what Atiku may look like as president than Wike’s relevance to his election. So, leadership is not just about knowing what to do, it is also about the capacity to focus on the most important goals. Leadership is a place of humility, a place of service where, rather than lord it on people, you empathise with them and sacrifice for the good of all. It is a place where you suppress your ego and increase your capacity to forgive, forget and move on. Leadership places responsibility for ensuring unity.
Atiku’s handling of this PDP debacle is a referendum on his capacity to bring Nigeria back on track. If this man cannot stop a raging fire in your minuscule political party until it becomes a national eyesore, how does he hope to bring peace and unity to Nigeria?
Many people think that Nigeria’s problem is just economic, but there is the more fundamental question of restoring trust for one another and for the country in Nigerians. What will serve this country most in the coming years is to elect a leader with the political wisdom to come down to the level of every segment of the country and give them a sense of belonging. That is the first step to any form of prosperity in a country that is only one president from survival or damnation.