Lately, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has been a guest of many prominent political, traditional and religious leaders across the country, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, advancing and consolidating his presidential bid through nationwide consultations. Iyobosa Uwugiaren examines his strategic political moves
Even President Muhammadu Buhari knew long time ago that a former vice-president and one of the national leaders of the All Progressive Congress (APC) at its formative stage, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a man to watch out for in the 2019 presidential election calculations.
And apparently aware of his nerve-racking political structures across the nation, those with similar tall ambition are already building wedges on his way, including attempting to block the perceived source of funding for his presidential bid.
Just last Monday, the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government directed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to terminate the boats pilotage monitoring and supervision agreement that the agency had with Intels Nigeria Limited, a leading integrated logistics and facilities services provider in the maritime and oil and gas logistics sectors of the country â€“ a company largely owned by Atiku, saying the contract had been voided ab initio.
Conveying the decision of the federal government to NPA, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN), in a letter dated September 27, 2017 to the Managing Director of the NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, said the agreement, which has allowed Intels to receive revenue on behalf of NPA for 17 years, violates the Nigerian Constitution, especially in view of the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of government.
Based on the directive to terminate the agreement, Intels, stands to lose several millions of dollars in commissions for the monitoring and supervision pilotage services it handled on behalf of NPA on the Nigerian coastal waters.
But trust Atiku Abubakar, those who know him very well said he had continued to walk along the blustery, stormy political pathway with huge strength and determination. Indeed, the move might have emboldened him the more as far as his presidential bid is concerned.
A senior presidential aide told THISDAY recently how at the early days of the present administration, Atiku had approached Buhari with â€œa solid economic blueprintâ€, detailing how the country could immediately absolve the shock of the fall in oil prices in the global market, which has consistently threatened the economy of Nigeria in the last two years. Oil accounts for about 95 per cent of the nationâ€™s earnings, and by extension, the livewire of her economy.
Atiku was said to have comprehensively come up with a plan on how the administration could create a â€œcompetitive marketâ€ that would attract the big foreign investment players into the country, with assurances that their proposed billions of dollars investments in the country would be saved.
â€œAtikuâ€™s economic blueprint, which contains detailed policies and implementation strategies, was handed over to the President. And President Muhammadu Buhari was initially pleased with the suggestionâ€, the presidency source added.
â€œBut few weeks after the document was presented to the President,â€ he continued, â€œsome political hawks around him (Buhari) strongly advised him not to allow Atiku Abubakar to indirectly bring into the country his billions of dollars. The fear of these political hawks was that Atiku Abubakar would use the huge fund to fight Buhari in the 2019 presidential election.â€
In spite of the fear of Atiku, many political analysts hold the view that the on-going political conversations and calculations are pointing to the fact that the Adamawa born politician would be part of other strong political choices Nigerians would have to make in 2019.
Like the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-rufai, noted some time ago, the former vice president had long started his presidential campaign ahead of the 2019 election.
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 â€œstrategic political movesâ€ to reactivate his political structures across the country.
The insider told THISDAY that already, some very powerful political forces and groups, including many loyalists of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; a former Head of States, General Ibrahim Babangida; APC national leader, Senator Ahmed Tinubu, and groups of both former and serving governors have been in different discreet political conversations with Atiku, who is reputed to have sauntered into the fourth republic with huge but measured democratic credentials.
THISDAY reported recently that the push to get the former vice president to dump the APC and return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and enhance the opposition partyâ€™s bid to return to power in 2019 may have gained traction with a recent tactful meeting between him and Jonathan.
The meeting was said to have been held at the instance of Atiku, who was said to be seriously considering offers made to him by a section of the leadership of the opposition party to return. The meeting with Jonathan was said to have also looked into the possibility of this condition with both of them said to have agreed that all options should be kept open as the political dynamics of the country remained fluid, requiring a more pragmatic approach to the upsurge in politicking.
The early calculation may be based on the noticeable signs that 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. Atiku is a strong advocate of restructuring of the nationâ€™s defective political and economic structures.
Even though some loyalists of Buhari said Atiku is politically damaged and may not pose any threat to APCâ€™s presidential candidate in 2019, Atikuâ€™s followers are of the view that the former vice-president had established himself as a democrat immediately he left the public service and became a political devotee of the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua, the acclaimed political tactician that trod the country like a colossus.
Atikuâ€™s political history is desirable. 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 PDP, with President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for 24 years, rising to become the Deputy-Comptroller-General. He retired in 1989 and took to 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 the late MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the disbanded Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries.
In 1998, he contested and won election as the governor of Adamawa State. But whilst still being the governor-elect, he was picked by the PDP Presidential candidate, Obasanjo, as his running mate. They went into the election and won in 1999.
Atikuâ€™s second term as vice president was characterised by a squally relationship with Obasanjo. His attempt to succeed Obasanjo did not receive the latterâ€™s support, and it took the judgment of the Supreme Court to allow him to contest in 2007, after he was initially disqualified by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over an alleged financial misconduct by an investigating panel set up by Obasanjo.
The apex court later ordered the electoral commission to restore Atikuâ€™s name onto the presidential ballot and he ran on the platform of the Action Congress (AC), having quit the PDP on account of his issues with Obasanjo. Not surprisingly, he lost the election, coming third after the late Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua and Buhari of the then All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
As a consummate businessman, Atiku is the 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, where he hails from.
Born to an itinerant Fulani trader and farmer, Garba Abubakar, Atiku 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 reported to have purchased another plot, and built a second house. He reportedly continued that way, building a considerable range of property in Yola and beyond.
A â€œgo-getter in investmentâ€, 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. â€œMy first foray into agriculture in the 1980s ended in failure,â€ Atiku was quoted as saying in one of his media interviews.
Later venturing into trading, buying and selling truckloads of rice, flour and sugar, Atikuâ€™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 knew him well said NICOTES provided immense wealth to Atiku.
Atikuâ€™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 at 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 Yarâ€™Adua, who had been second-in-command in the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yarâ€™Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s Lagos home.
In 1989, Atiku was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, a political association led by Yarâ€™Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by the Ibrahim Babangida regime.
Atiku won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly, set up to decide a new constitution for Nigeria. The Peopleâ€™s Front was eventually denied registration by the government and found a place within the SDP, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.
Many of his followers have said time and time again that a â€œtested handâ€ like Atiku is the type needed to coordinate the proper integration of the youths into the economic mainstream. The argument is that Buhari came at a time he was needed to abridge the nationâ€™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 Buhariâ€™s team and Obasanjo to contend with in this last battle to occupy the number one political office in the country.