Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Wazirin Adamawa and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is on the prowl for the seventh time. Will he make it this time round?
It is up to voters who will decide his fate, and indeed, the fate of other 17 flag bearers in next year’s election to decide who occupies the Presidential Villa as from May 29, 2023.
The former vice president stands before the mirror of history. What does he see of himself, and what do the voters perceive about him? To many Nigerians, he is a courageous fighter, a self-acclaimed democrat; a man with a lot of resilience and, perhaps, judging by his previous serial defections, a desperate politician.
A retired Nigeria Customs officer and wealthy businessman, Atiku appears to be in a vantage position to nurture a formidable structure in furtherance of his life ambition to be president. But his structure appears to have gone through stress and strains in the course of jumping ship ahead of previous elections.
The capability of the structure to withstand intra-party threats was tested at the presidential convention in May in Abuja. By underrating those who were perceived as children when the PDP was formed, the rug was nearly pulled off Atiku’s feet until he was rescued by some principals and principalities, as well as influential Generals who asked the embattled national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, to prevail on another aspirant, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, to step down during that anxious moment of inter-regional coup.
Perceived as the political heir apparent to the great organiser and mobiliser, Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua, the symbol of the now scattered, distressed, ideologically fatigued, identity crisis-ridden and imaginary Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Atiku was catapulted from governor-elect to vice president in 1999, a decision his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, later said he regretted.
Perhaps, Nigerians would have been in a vantage position to assess what Atiku is worth, politically, if he had served as governor of Adamawa between 1999 and 2007. He can hardly be held accountable for whatever he did in office, not as a spare tyre but as a surprisingly strong and powerful deputy under combative President Obasanjo because he was deemed to be under the shadow of the old soldier battling with maladjustment to civilian life.
As the polity gazes at 2023, a clever Atiku is campaigning on the borrowed platform of restructuring, as if Nigerians are enveloped by collective amnesia and cannot remember the political atrocity of not resolving the critical national question germane to true federalism, peaceful coexistence and national integration by the Obasanjo/Atiku government.
The appellation given to the veteran presidential contender is a unifier. But, how has the eminent politician unified his party, in the past or now? Was leaving the platform twice in testy times a mark of unification? Does his opposition to zoning amount unification? Is the failed reconciliation, which has escalated the protracted post-presidential primary crisis, a unifying process? Since he entered politics in the Third Republic, Atiku has not looked back. He became an accidental presidential aspirant, following the ban on his mentor, benefactor and leader, Yar’Adua, by the Evil Genius, former Military President Ibrahim Babangida.
In 1999, Obasanjo picked him as running mate, owing to his political antecedents as a confidant and dependable ally of the deceased Tafidan Katsina. As the Vice President, Atiku was the de facto President and the Controlling Minister of the Economy. To get things done, politicians must curry his favour. But the Obasanjo/Atiku romance did not last; it ran into turbulence. An administrative panel inducted the vice president. He was salvaged by the court. But in those days too, the Federal Government that turned the heat on the former vice president was full of bile.
Also, the then ruling PDP was erected on a solid foundation. Among the founding fathers were core progressives. The pillar was zoning. But, the first threat to rotation came from Atiku in 2003. Buoyed up by the party’s governors who had an axe to grind with Obasanjo, the erstwhile vice president attempted to challenge the president and PDP leader to a duel. It was alleged that an anxious president prostrated to beg his deputy to secure his nod for re-nomination.
Although he had the right to contest under the constitution, Atiku jettisoned the PDP’s convention on zoning. He objected to another four years for Obasanjo beyond 2003. Those who rationalised his decision to contest for the ticket against his boss said the 1999 Constitution was superior to the PDP constitution.
After Obasanjo got a second term ticket, following the initial onslaught, the former president went for a pound of flesh and branded him a corrupt and disloyal partner. The face-off was protracted and damaging.
When the PDP became hot for him, Atiku sought refuge in the defunct Action Congress (AC) and, in 2007, he was the party’s presidential flag bearer. After the close of poll, he was defeated by the PDP candidate, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
In 2010, Atiku went back to the PDP. That was the genesis of the suspicion between him and former Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) leaders. Following the demise of President Yar’Adua, his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, took the reins. The polity never prepared for the turn of events. But it was evident that power had shifted to the South, consistent with the PDP tradition.