It is the season of politics and the atmosphere is feverish; the stakes are high and a vicious struggle to win at all cost is on. The air is mixed with excitement and promises and fouled in equal measure with all manner of allegations, accusations and violence. There is tension in the land.
Everything is suddenly in slow motion, the hours tick by lazily, and the air waves are awash with rumors, revelations, truths and half truths, just as uncertainty pervades the land. People can hardly sleep safe and sound in their homes without the threat of violence and bomb blasts. The race for public offices is as far away as it is as close to the neighborhood, but we feel the heat and see the violence.
Finally, the chicken came home to roost for some frontline politicians. On Thursday 13 January at the Eagle Square, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku’s fate was decided. Even though the general election is yet to hold, the outcome of the Peoples Democratic Party primary has significant implications for the real elections in April. At least we can begin to decipher with some clarity of thought and forecast the direction the pendulum will swing in the general election.
Two members of the same family were drawn in mortal struggle for supremacy over who gets the presidential ticket. One is down and out and the other is on a victory lap. As the countdown began Thursday, the minutes ticked away, one man’s dream and his desire to become president increasingly looked unlikely. Atiku’s subdued countenance when addressing delegates at the convention was an indication of what was to come. It came in a crushing torrent as delegate after delegate, and state after state turned their back at him. At the final tally of votes, President Goodluck Jonathan grossed 2,736 votes against Atiku’s 805 in a free, fair and transparent delegate election.
On the basis of the result, it is now impossible for the man Atiku to find the compass to navigate the numerous criss-crossing tunnels, crannies, and minefields, at least on the platform he chose to berth his presidential ambition with, the PDP. Call it the final demystification of Atiku and his famed political prowess.
When Atiku signified his intention to run for office of president, only a few expected he would want to realise his dream in the PDP after a very acrimonious exit from the party, the fallout of a very public spat with his then boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But as politics come in this clime, anything is possible. He left PDP with malice to all and with charity to none and returned with equal malice and such bitterness many who would have ordinarily been sympathetic to his ambition were turned off by his vitriolic outbursts on the issue of zoning.
His dream came crashing yesterday as PDP delegates finally dealt him a crushing blow, choosing President Jonathan over him to fly the party’s flag in the presidential election. He had run a dogged race no doubt. Money was hardly his problem; his campaign organization appeared well-oiled. But on strategy, it is difficult to see how well it panned out.
Yesterday, he was thrust from the full tide of expectation, hopes, aspirations and victory into the gorge of defeat. Stunned and dazed by the humiliating defeat handed him in the wee hours of yesterday. It was the final decimation of Atiku’s political career and all that he stands for and has come to represent lately. The results also shame Mallam Adamu Ciroma, one of the chief proponents of zoning and consensus candidacy who could not even deliver Yobe, his own state, or any state in the North -east geo-political zone to Atiku.
So, what next for Atiku? Will he defect once again to another party? If yes, then which party this time around? Maybe to Action Congress of Nigeria where Ribadu, the man who once investigated him for corruption, is a front contender for the party’s ticket; or will he go to another unknown party like the elder Saraki who went to Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN)?
Atiku took the nation through days of an acrimonious campaign, through weeks of agonizing and divisive statements on zoning, and through the Frantz Fanon threat. He stirred deepened passions on the North vs South divide, with its consequent religious coloration, that will most certainly take a lengthy period to heal. His dogged determination to pursue his ambition blinded him to nationally sensitive issues. Now, his broken plans have become a smoldering heap of wreckage.
Atiku’s zoning sing-song and the attendant threat, only revealed the immeasurable distance between the values of the pre- and the post-June 12 era. Times have changed and many Nigerians may no longer be interested in which zone their president hails from or the religion he practises. They want food, electricity, roads, hospitals and an education. They want the economy to grow so that they can live a good life in peace and harmony with one another. They yearn for a leader who will rise above primordial clannish sentiments and religion and take Nigeria into the ambit of progressive nations of the world. The scorching irony here is that the fierce apostles of zoning, ethnic and religious cleavages once held the highest national offices in the land and are even aspiring to such offices once again.
It was a bemused nation that held its breath in total consternation, and watched as the zoning masquerades removed their masks, poured out a fiery stream of biting ridicule and withering sarcasm on old wounds of the nation many thought had healed. It was a selfish attempt to regress the nation into the bottomless abyss, play up hypocrisy’s thin veil to cover up crimes and to create an atmosphere of fear among the citizenry in order to realize the vaunting ambition of a few individuals whose modus operandi is the savage exploitation of the zone they so much want power to shift to and have consistently played one section of the country against the other to their own benefit.
Atiku lost not because he lacked education, as the Jonathan camp forcefully pointed out, not because he lacked money to promote his presidential ambition, and not even because he lacked any other personal attributes of leadership. As a matter of fact, he has a more confident presence than President Jonathan and more presidential in stature and carriage. But this strength is immediately mitigated by his poor articulation and doubtful charisma, and the unbridled pursuit of his ambition which appeared to be “at any cost” to actualise.
By contrast to Atiku’s brash, aggressive and confrontational outlook, President Jonathan is simple, ordinary, trusting and trusted, and meek up to the point of being seen as weak. While many feared he would fumble at the convention, it was a fired up Jonathan who stole the hearts of delegates. He stumped, thumped and pumped his fist at the same time to convey his message. He was passionate and appeared sincere.
But beyond all of these are Atiku’s misunderstanding of the timeless lessons of power and its uses. This has continued to baffle not just students of power politics, but a significant proportion of his fan base who have watched their man stumble and fumble over and over and over again.
For whatever it is worth now, he may well go and read and properly understand the 48 laws of power and imbibe life’s cardinal lessons in there. And one of the most important lessons in it is: “Never outshine the master”. Especially not when one has a master like former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Atiku’s misstep in that direction ultimately defined his fall.
Another mistake was that just last year against the balance of all probability and expectations, the same Atiku went back to PDP. The same PDP he openly castigated on several occasions and vowed to teach a bitter lesson in the political arena. It was a humiliating descent. For a man who had built a considerable support base and admirers and had come to symbolise, rightly or wrongly, the face of the opposition, it was the greatest betrayal in whatever shape or form one chose to look at it. This singular move created doubts in the minds of many about his integrity, significantly watered down his public esteem and took a huge chunk of support from him.
It bears recall that joining PDP was no easy task, as he was roundly rejected from his own ward to the state PDP level as they repeatedly played hide and seek with his re-entry. Atiku practically struggled and begged for a waiver from the ‘strangers’ he abandoned the party to. It was a chilling sight to see Atiku lament to the press that he was entitled to a waiver and that some party men were working hard to deny him. Well, it took the magnanimity of the powers that be in the party to grant him the waiver. He got it and so began a desperate attempt to win the right to fly PDP flag in the presidential elections.
Immediately he got the waiver, something about him began to unravel. The real Atiku began to manifest, zoning and threats became part of his curriculum vitae. Is it not curious that his first shot at the presidency was seen as a struggle against injustice by many people across the length and breadth of the country, even though tribe and tongue may defer? In the eyes of many Nigerians, that struggle was to overcome the injustice meted to him by the leadership of the PDP and was therefore justified to exit the party. But that was then. This second attempt was widely seen as an attempt to become president through divisive tactics and scaremongering.
What went wrong? Why is this attempt seen differently from the previous one? The answer is in the air and only Alhaji Atiku Abubakar himself can answer it.