Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakarâ€™s exit from the ruling All Progressives Congress has set the stage for the 2019 presidential bout, writes Onyebuchi Ezigbo
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, last Friday, announced his decision to resign from the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although the decision by Atiku may not have come to many as a surprise, it nonetheless sent some shock waves among political stakeholders, especially members of his former party, the APC.
The resignation of a politician of no less a personality than Atiku from any party is bound to generate a lot of concern. A similar movement made in the wake of the crisis in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), by Atiku and the group of five governors destabilised the party and led to its ouster from power.
If indeed Atiku is moving back to the PDP, his supporters who are currently in the APC will follow suit and defect as well. Depending on their numbers, such mass defection could unsettle the APC or put it in a very precarious state ahead of the next election. Already, such fears are gaining grounds and might be a source of concern for the ruling party.
National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi confirmed such fears when he reacted to the departure of Atiku, saying what will make the party to loose sleep is if the he drags his followers with him.
â€œA loss of fortune is in numbers. So, if we are able to see the number of people that followed the Vice President to his new party that is when we will begin to worry but we have not seen. So, when we see we will know whether we need to worry or not,â€ Abdullahi said.
There is no doubt that Atiku would add value wherever he goes to play his politics. Many of his staunch supporters, who are presently in the APC will most likely join him to advance his dream in another party.
Another critical factor is that Atiku is noted for his deep pocket and wide political network across the country and if he is able to deploy them effectively, APC and whoever it will present at the election, it is believed, might be in trouble.
Already, many of Atikuâ€™s political allies in his home state, Adamawa had moved to secure strategic positions in the state chapter of the PDP. During the just concluded state congress held by the party to elect delegates for the December 9, National Convention of the party, many political foot-soldiers of Atiku had secured the slots in anticipation of his entry into the PDP.
It is therefore expected that more of his associates will be joining him to quit the APC in droves. Joining the PDP at a time when the party is working hard to get its acts together is certainly a big plus for Atiku. What it means is that he would be getting the support of experienced hands in the party and the well laid-out structures nationwide.
However, whether Atiku will be able to pull more influential members of the APC along with him and thereby cause the kind of implosion that took place in the PDP between 2013 and 2014 is what everyone will be waiting to see in the days and months ahead.
Just as there are positive sides to Atikuâ€™s move to rejoin the PDP, there are also some negative and perhaps clear obstacles on the way.
Recently, a leading member of the Adamawa State PDP, Dr. Umar Ardo accused Atiku of hijacking the state executive of the party during the congress. The aggrieved politician cautioned against taking Atiku back in the PDP, saying the party will fare better in the 2019 elections without having the former Vice President returning to its fold.
For instance, the PDP chieftain said apart from the ensuing struggle for the presidential ticket of the party, it is an open secret that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would move against Atiku if he declares his presidential ambition.
Ardo, who is a former Special Assistant to Atiku on Research and Strategy, said from all indications, what the party stands to lose in the cause of bringing Atiku back far outweighs the expected.
Ardo identified three advantages of Atiku coming back to PDP. First, he said PDP stands to be seen as bringing in men of timber and caliber, because Atiku has a name; and so it will give the impression that PDP is attracting a man of means.
â€œSecondly, he is usually described as a man of deep pocket…So, he will be able to foot the bills of the party, which the party being out of government will need a lot of money, as they say money is to politics what breast milk is to a baby. To that extent, Atikuâ€™s return is an advantage. Thirdly, he has people across the country. And these people will all be in the party as the mobilizers and these will all be an advantage. But against these three advantages, there are also three disadvantages.
â€œI learnt that Atiku is coming back to the party with an ambition; an ambition to contest for the presidency. Now, that will be a source of conflict because there are others, even in the party who are also interested and they are nursing this ambition. There will be conflict among party members.
â€œSecondly, the deep pocket that Atiku has will just serve that ambition. But it will deepen the conflict. The third disadvantage is that those foot soldiers will also serve for the ambition and in the process deepen the conflictâ€.
No doubt, Atiku will have to do a battle of his life before picking the ticket of the PDP. Whether the party will be able to manage the conflict that will arise following the tussle for the presidential ticket is another issue altogether.
And with Atikuâ€™s exit from the APC, the coast is now clear for the much anticipated automatic ticket for President Muhammadu Buhari. But the development has also thrown up fresh permutations for the 2019 presidential contest.
For instance, should Atiku join the PDP and secures its presidential ticket, then he might have to clash with President Buhari. If such a scenario plays out, both men will then meet each other in an electoral contest for the second time. The first time being when Buhari and Atiku slugged it out during the APC convention to elect its presidential candidate.
The only difference will be that at the APC convention, they had the party delegates to contend with while that of a presidential election will be determined by the Nigerian electorate.
Again, while Buhari had the advantage of an astute political mobilizer and former Lagos state governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on his side to pull the strings for him in 2015, it is not certain now whether such will be replicated during the 2019 election. Each of them will be required to show the stuff they are made of to the electorate.
Indeed, it will be more of confronting reality than perception for both men, who have had the opportunity of being in power and to prove to Nigerians what they have done and have the capacity to do if elected the next president.