2019: Does the Cap Fit Atiku Abubakar?

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By Sam Ekpe

In the next few months the campaign for the 2019 presidential election will commence. Already there are moves by many politicians to forge alliances with various groups across the country, all aimed at ensuring that they find a place of reckoning in 2019, as every good politician seeks to be relevant at all times.

A recurrent decimal in the political history and development of Nigeria since the Third Republic is Atiku Abubakar, Turaki Adamawa. You will only ignore him at your own peril. In fact he has become involved in politics since the early 1980s when he worked behind the scene  on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur who was then the General Manager of the Nigerian Ports Authority. He canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur and also donated to the campaign. Towards the end of his career in the Nigeria Customs Service, he met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second in command in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration (1976-1979). He had been so involved in the political activities of the Yar’Adua Group that in 1989 he was elected National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria which participated in the transition programme initiated by the then Military President Ibrahim Babangida.

The influential politician won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 constituent assembly. He won the SDP primaries for the new Adamawa State governorship but was disqualified from contesting the election, when his friend and political mentor Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was disqualified in 1992 for the SDP presidential primary, Yar’Adua pushed him forward as their standard bearer. In the convention’s primary Atiku came third behind M.K.O Abiola and Babagana Kingibe and a run-off was to be held between the first two candidates. Atiku stepped down for Abiola and directed his supporters to vote for M.K.O, on the understanding that he would be picked to be M.K.O’s running mate. Eventually, this hope was dashed.

In 1998, he won the governorship of Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but before he could be sworn in, he was picked by the then presidential candidate of the party, Olusegun Obasanjo to be his running mate. He was sworn in as Vice President of Nigeria on 29th May 1999 and served for two terms, until 2007 with President Obasanjo.

In the build up to the PDP primary for the 2003 presidential elections, he was so influential within the party that with the support of the PDP governors, he could have easily defeated the President but agreed to support Obasanjo after Baba was alleged to have kowtowed to him. President Obasanjo never forgave him for that and has since then thrown his weight to frustrate any move by Atiku to become the president of Nigeria.It has become public knowledge that it is the main disagreement between the duo was the botched third term agenda.

Since then, Atiku has been contested for the Presidency of Nigeria under different political platforms – 2007 Action Congress (AC), lost to late President Yar’Adua, 2011 PDP Primaries lost to President Jonathan, 2015 All Peoples Congress APC, lost at the primaries to Muhammadu Buhari. The question is: Will Atiku succeed in his fifth attempt  to be president?

There is no doubt that he is a tried and tested hand. He is a middle-of-the-road politician and a bridge builder with many supporters and admirers across the country.

Unlike many political leaders of northern extraction, Atiku is a vocal advocate of the importance of education  and economic  development. He demonstrated this in his establishment of  the American University of Nigeria (AUN), the first American-style university to be established in sub-Saharan Africa. Atiku stood up to be counted when it was anathema for any politician from the northern region to support restructuring a recipe for devolving powers from the centre to the constituent states. Atiku has been vocal in his support for true federalism and has been delivering speeches all over the country stressing the need to restructure the country. He is of the view that our current arrangements is a unitary Federalism which was a creation of prolonged military rule and that every part of the country should take change of its resources while the Federal Government should handle Defence, Foreign Affairs and Immigration among others in the Exclusive List. He believes that political decentralisation will help to deepen and strengthen our democracy as it will encourage more accountability. He also considers that   federalism will encourage states to compete to attract investments and skilled workers than merely waiting for monthly revenue allocation from Abuja.

Buhari became a democratic president after many attempts. He came with a huge bag of positives – an incorruptible leader, frugal in private and therefore will be in public expenditure, his government will fight corruption in the country to a standstill, will so improve the Nigeria economy that the naira will exchange 1:1 to the dollar and many other goodies. The country is going into the Third year of the military General’s Leadership and what do we see? Reports on the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal, huge sum of money alleged to belong to the suspended Director General of Nigeria Intelligence Agency   and a number of acts of corruption and indiscretion against the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, are still gathering dust in the shelf several month after their submission. With his tremendous goodwill and general acceptance in the North-Central, South-South and South-East geopolitical zones, Atiku has the best opportunity to make a breakthrough in 2019 and realise his ambition to be president .

With the solid background of Atiku in government and his actions, views and consensus-building in politics, shouldn’t the Nigerian electorate give him a chance in 2019?

–Sam Ekpe, a political analyst wrote in from Abuja