Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has been a guest of many prominent political, traditional and religious leaders across the country in the past few weeks.Iyobosa Uwugiaren examines the strategic, political moves
Even the ailing President Muhammadu Buhari knew long time ago that the former Vice-President and one of the founders of All Progressive Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a man to watch out for in the emerging political calculations, for 2019 presidential election. And apparently aware of his intimidating political structures across the nation, those with similar tall ambition have consistently built wedges on his way.
But trust him: Atiku has continued to walk along the blustery, stormy political pathway.
A senior presidential aide recently told THISDAY how at the early days of the present administration—-in 2015, the former Vice-President approached Buhari with ‘’a solid economic blueprint’’—detailing how the country could immediately absolved the shock of the fall of oil price in the global market—that has consistently threatened the economy of Nigeria in the last one year. Oil accounts for about 95 per cent of the nation’s foreign earnings, and by extension, the livewire of the nation’s economy.
Atiku was said to have comprehensively came up with a plan—how the administration could create a ‘’competitive market’’ that will attract the big foreign investment players into the country—assurances that their proposed billions of dollars investments in the country would be saved.
‘’Atiku’s economic blueprint, which contains detail policies and implementation strategies was handed over to the President. And President Muhammadu Buhari was initially pleased with the suggestion’’, the presidency source added.
‘’But few weeks later, some political hawks around the president strongly advised him not to allow Atiku Abubakar to use his indirect means to bring into country his billions of dollars. The fear of these political hawks was that the former Vice-President will use the huge fund to fight him in the 2019 presidential election.’’
The result of that advice was what the former Vice-President (Africa) of The World Bank, Dr. Obey Ezekwesilse, described as ‘’opaque, archaic and ambiguous foreign exchange rate policy’’ that have compounded the nation’s economic recession.
The assertion of the source is that it was the fear of Atiku that forced Buhari to adopt such very devastating economic policy.
In spite of the fear of Atiku, many political analysts said that the on-going political conversations and calculations are pointing to fact the Adamawa born politician will be part of the strong political choices Nigerians would have to make in 2019.
Like the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-rufai noted recently—in his spiteful statement, the former Vice-President has long started his presidential campaign, ahead of the 2019.
To be sure, in the last few months, Atiku has been a special guest of many prominent politicians, traditional rulers, religious and influential groups across the nation, in what an insider described as ‘’strategic political moves’’ to reactivate his political structures across the country.
The insiders told THISDAY that already, some very powerful political forces and groups, including many loyalists of Senate President Bukola Saraki; former Head of States General Ibrahim Babangida; Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, and groups of both former and serving governors are in different secret political conversations with Atiku, who is reputed to have sauntered into the fourth republic with huge measured quantity of democratic credentials.
THISDAY gathered that the calculation is based on the conspicuous signs that the ailing President Buhari will not re-contest and the need for the core north to present a formidable candidate who will be acceptable to the six geo-political zones, taking into consideration the burning ethno-religious and political question in the country.
For many of his followers, Atiku has established himself as a democrat immediately he left the public service and became a political devotee of late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, an acclaimed great political tactician that flounced the country like a hurricane.
His political history is legendary: a politician, businessman and philanthropist, he was born on November 25, 1946, and in the beginning of his national political career, served as the second elected Vice-President from 1999 to 2007—-under the umbrella of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Atiku worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for 24 years, rising to become the Deputy-Comptroller-General. He retired in 1989 and took up full-time business and politics. He ran for the office of Governor in the Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991; and for the presidency in 1993, coming third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the disbanded Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries.
In 1998 he contested and won the Governor of Adamawa State. And while still governor-elect he was picked by the PDP Presidential candidate Olusegun Obasanjo as his running mate. They went into the election and won in 1999.
As documented by historian, Atiku’s second term as Vice-President was characterised by a squally relationship with Obasanjo. His attempt to succeed Obasanjo did not receive the latter’s support, and it took the judgement of the Supreme Court to allow him to contest in 2007—-after he was initially disqualified by the Independent National Electoral Commission over an alleged financial misconduct by a ‘’discredited’’ investigating panel set up by Obasanjo.
The apex court later ordered the electoral commission to restore Atiku’s name onto the presidential ballot and he ran on the platform of the Action Congress, having quit the PDP on account of his issues with Obasanjo. Expectedly, he lost the election, coming third after late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari of the then All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
As a ‘’consummated’’ businessman, Atiku is a co-founder of Intels—-an oil servicing business with wide-ranging operations across the country and outside the country. He is also the founder of Adama Beverages Limited, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), both in Yola, the Adamawa state capital.
Born to an itinerant Fulani trader and farmer Garba Abubakar, the former Vice-President was said to have started out in the real estate business during his early days as a Customs Officer. History has it that in 1974 he applied for and received a N31,000 loan to build his first house in Yola, which he put up for rent. From proceeds of the rent he was reportedly to have purchased another plot, and built a second house. He was said to have continued that way, building a considerable range of property in Yola.
Apparently very go-getting in investment, he was said to have later moved into agriculture, acquiring 2,500 hectares of land near Yola to start a maize and cotton farm. The business fell on hard times and closed in 1986. “My first foray into agriculture, in the 1980s, ended in failure,” he was quoted as saying.
Later venturing into trading, buying and selling truckloads of rice, flour and sugar, Atiku’s most important business move was to have come while he was a Customs Officer at the Apapa Ports. One Gabrielle Volpi, an Italian businessman in Nigeria, was said to have invited him to set up Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), a logistics company operating within the Ports. Those who know him very well said that NICOTES provide immense wealth to Atiku.
Atiku’s first expedition into politics was in the early 1980s, when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority. He canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur, and also donated to the campaign. Towards the end of his Customs career, he met late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second-in-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yar’Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yar’Adua’s Lagos home.
In 1989 Atiku was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, the political association led by Yar’Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by Babangida.
Atiku 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 was eventually denied registration by the government (none of the groups that applied was registered), and found a place within the Social Democratic Party, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.
Many of his followers have said time without numbers that a ‘’tested hand’’ like Atiku is surely needed to coordinate the proper integration of the youths into the economic mainstream.
‘’He is the highest individual employer of labour in Nigeria and a believer in excellence. The truth that cannot be dismissed is that among those jostling to convince Nigerians for their votes in 2019, only the Turaki has experience in job creation. This is the choice Nigerian must make in 2019 without sentiment and pandering to the propaganda of surrogates of past failures’’, one of his followers said.
‘’The fragility of our mutual existence as a country cannot be over exaggerated. As a matter of fact, the erosion of our cultural, religious and social commonalities is an ever constant feature of the past two decades.
‘’There is need to undertake enormous reintegration of all divergent groups into a united country. Nobody can do it better than Atiku. He is a proven man of immense conviction and political muscles to navigate us to the destination of unity.’’
The argument is that Buhari came at a time he was needed to abridge the nation’s drift towards excessive insecurity and anarchy, and that Atiku is the man to build the country for the contentment and richness of all citizens of Nigeria.
But for sure, Atiku has Buhari’s gang and treacherous Obasanjo to battle with.