Atiku Draws the Battle Line

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Monday Discourse

The decision by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to resign his membership of the ruling All‎ Progressives Congress threatens to undo the alliance that swept President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, write Tobi Soniyi, Segun James and Shola Oyeyipo

The news that former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not come to many as a surprise.
First, it is typical of him to move from one political party to another whenever he comes to the realisation that the party he is leaving will not give him the opportunity to realise his long time ambition of becoming the president of the country. Twice, he had ditched the party he now plans to return to, the Peoples Democratic Party. The last time he dumped the party was in 2014.

The then Minister of Information Labaran Maku under the PDP-led government, described him, along with others, as a political nomad “who keep migrating from one place to another.”
When his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo frustrated his ambition to succeed him as president, Atiku moved to the defunct Action Congress (AC), the main opposition party then which he helped to set up and won its presidential ticket for the 2007 presidential race. He eventually lost.

In 2009, he returned to the PDP, the party he co-founded with others in 1998.
However there are striking similarities between the excuses he gave while dumping PDP for APC in 2014 and what he said prompted him to leave the APC last Friday.

While addressing his followers at the North East consultative meeting in Bauchi, after the leadership of the APC had invited him to join the party ostensibly ‘to salvage Nigeria’s democracy’, Atiku said: “You are the foot soldiers who will get the votes. You are central in our political process, and that is why I have to come and consult with you in helping me to take perhaps the most difficult decision of my political life.”

He said the decision to dump PDP for the APC was difficult for him to make but said he was left with no other choice because the PDP where he belonged had sidelined him since Dr Goodluck Jonathan came on board.
Among others, Atiku accused the PDP of sidelining him. He said then that as a member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BOT) by right, he was entitled to attend the National Working Committee of the party but that the NWC did not invite him for its meetings.

He said he was also a National Executive Committee (NEC) member by right under the constitution of the PDP, but he had been barred from its meetings because invitations were not extended to him.

While announcing his defection to the APC, Atiku said: “Following the extensive consultative process, I have, therefore, decided to cast my lot with APC, a party of change committed to the improvement of the lives of our people and to the continued existence and development of Nigeria as one indivisible country. My resignation letter as a member of PDP will be delivered to the party tomorrow.”
Welcome to November 2017. In his statement announcing his resignation from the All Progressives Congress, Atiku said:

“On the 19th of December, 2013, I received members of the All Progressives Congress at my house in Abuja. They had come to appeal to me to join their party after my party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had become factionalized as a result of the special convention of August 31, 2013.

“The fractionalization of the Peoples Democratic Party on August 31, 2013 had left me in a situation where I was, with several other loyal party members, in limbo, not knowing which of the parallel executives of the party was the legitimate leadership.

“It was under this cloud that members of the APC made the appeal to me to join their party, with the promise that the injustices and failure to abide by its own constitution which had dogged the then PDP, would not be replicated in the APC and with the assurance that the vision other founding fathers and I had for the PDP could be actualized through the All Progressives Congress.

“It was on the basis of this invitation and the assurances made to me that I, being party-less at that time, due to the fractionalization of my party, accepted on February 2, 2014, the hand of fellowship given to me by the All Progressives Congress.

“On that day, I said ‘it is the struggle for democracy and constitutionalism and service to my country and my people that are driving my choice and my decision’ to accept the invitation to join the All Progressives Congress.

“Like you, I said that because I believed that we had finally seen the beginnings of the rebirth of the new Nigeria of our dreams which would work for all of us, old and young.

“However, events of the intervening years have shown that like any other human and like many other Nigerians, I was fallible.

“While other parties have purged themselves of the arbitrariness and unconstitutionality that led to fractionalization, the All Progressives Congress has adopted those same practices and even gone beyond them to institute a regime of a draconian clampdown on all forms of democracy within the party and the government it produced.

“Only last year, a governor produced by the party wrote a secret memorandum to the president which ended up being leaked. In that memo, he admitted that the All Progressives Congress had ‘not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance’.

“Of the party itself, that same governor said ‘Mr. President, Sir Your relationship with the national leadership of the party, both the formal (NWC) and informal (Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso), and former Governors of ANPP, PDP (that joined us) and ACN, is perceived by most observers to be at best frosty. Many of them are aggrieved due to what they consider total absence of consultations with them on your part and those you have assigned such duties.’

“Since that memorandum was written up until today, nothing has been done to reverse the treatment meted out to those of us invited to join the All Progressives Congress on the strength of a promise that has proven to be false. If anything, those behaviours have actually worsened.

“But more importantly, the party we put in place has failed and continues to fail our people, especially our young people. How can we have a federal cabinet without even one single youth.

“A party that does not take the youth into account is a dying party. The future belongs to young people.

“I admit that I and others who accepted the invitation to join the APC were eager to make positive changes for our country that we fell for a mirage. Can you blame us for wanting to put a speedy end to the sufferings of the masses of our people?

“Be that as it may be, after due consultation with my God, my family, my supporters and the Nigerian people whom I meet in all walks of life, I, Atiku Abubakar, Waziri Adamawa, hereby tender my resignation from the All Progressives Congress while I take time to ponder my future.”

Secondly, the APC leadership treated Atiku as if he was no longer wanted in the party. No one can therefore blame him for choosing to take his destiny into his hands. The ill-treatment meted out to him by the party he supported to capture power is in the public domain and should therefore not detain us further.

For those who don’t like the idea that the former vice president frequently changes political party, there is needless to say that it is Atiku’s constitutional right to so do.
Even though, he is entitled to switch political parties, he however can not escape the consequences of such decisions one of which is to conclude that he is impatient, inconsistent and desperate.

The Termination of Intels’ Contract
Before now, the APC-led government had relentlessly waged war against Atkiu’s business interest. On October 10, 2017, the Nigerian Port Authority terminated its Pilotage Agency Agreement with Intels Nigeria Limited (INL), a company where Atiku hold substantial interest.
In a letter to the NPA, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar had argued that the agreement with INL violated section 80(1) and 162(1) of the constitution.

Many viewed the war against Intels as a deliberate attempt to intimidate Atiku to shelve his ambition to be president. The alleged illegality which the AGF referred to is one that can be addressed without terminating the contract.
“Given the huge commitment of INL to the Nigerian economy, it does not make economic sense to terminate the contract unless you are mixing business with politics,” a top government official said.
But by choosing to hurt Atiku economically, the Buhari-led government appeared to have sent a clear signal to others contemplating challenging Buhari in 2019: be prepared for the consequences of daring to oppose the president.

APC Reacts
For the APC, Atku’s exit from the party is good riddance to bad rubbish. The party said his exit was informed by his personal political interest, a calculation the party said it understood.
“The former vice president found that his interests would be better served elsewhere and he decided based on that,” party’s spokesperson, Bolaji Abdullahi, said

Although, the party welcomed Atiku’s exit, it nevertheless said that the development called for some reflections.
“But it would help us to look internally and address areas that require attention,” he added.

Abdullahi said: “No party would be happy to see its leaders depart, but politics is all about interest.
“While it is true that we’ve lost some politicians, we’ve also been having incomers.”

In his reaction, West Africa’s first fellow in Aerospace Medicine and a governorship aspirant on the APC platform in Ekiti State, Dr Makanjuola Owolabi, said that Atiku should have tarried a while before opting to quit the party.
He also said the decision would not have been unconnected with the lack of love, which he said he wished to change.

“First, the emphasis is that the constitution of Nigeria makes it very clear that the country is founded on freedom, so that means that everybody has the right to opinions that no other should challenge.

“Having said that, my personal opinion is that I have not spoken to him, but it is clear to me that – he has not told us he is leaving to any other party, but anybody leaving his party to the other, it means there are certain issues which made him uncomfortable.

“What I understand is that our biggest problem in Nigeria is that we don’t live in love. We have certain vices that are militating against us, no matter who we are. It can be summarised as wickedness and hatred and the antidote to that is love. When people don’t fee loved there is the possibility that they will feel alienated and opt out.

“Having said that, I think my advice would have been that the former vice president ought to have waited for some time, because patient and perseverance are virtues of God – whether you are a Christian or Muslim. So, I think the length of time he has spent in APC is too short to start opting out. But nevertheless, like I said, I’m not in his heart but it is clear to me that the summary of our problem in Nigeria is that we don’t love each other.”
Whatever the arguments are, what is obvious is that this is a developing story and there will be many more angles to it as the 2019 general election draws closer.

Implication for the Polity
The leadership of the APC has for long been pretending that all is well with the party formed to wrestle power from Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
Earlier attempts by the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to draw the attention of the president to the ills in the APC were rebuffed by those who have easy access to the president. They easily persuaded the president to see Tinubu’s ‘ranting’ as evidence of his frustrating ambition. Now that Atiku has left, Tinubu and other party leaders who had suffered no less humiliation like Atiku must be at a crossroads. Threaten to leave and your business empire may become a target of hostile investigation. The alternative is to keep dinning with the devil.

By leaving APC, Atiku hopes that he will win the PDP’s presidential ticket. His chance of getting the ticket is further boosted by the fact that PDP has zoned :the presidency to north. However, it will not be easy because many in the party are very suspicious of him. Although, the former vice president is a one of those who founded the party in 1998, there would have been no party to return to if everyone had left PDP because of one grievance or the other. There is no one in the party that had not been slighted one way or the other. But they chose to remain in the party. Will he become the party’s presidential candidate, only time will tell.

Mass Defection from APC Unlikely
There have been speculations that Atiku’s return to the PDP would trigger mass defection from APC to the PDP. This appears to be the logical sequence that should follow. However, this may not happen because politics sometime can not be logically explained. Many, against their wish, will remain in the APC. They won’t leave until there is a clear signal Buhari is losing power. For now, that is not the situation.

Already Governor Jibrilla Bindow of Adamawa State, Atiku’s state of origin has said he had no immediate plans to follow Atiku Abubakar out of the APC. He was elected on the APC’s platform.
The Adamawa governor said his relationship with the former vice president would remain cordial and mutually beneficial for the foreseeable future. Besides, the governor had already endorsed Buhari for the 2019 presidential race.

Last Friday, the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, said “not one” governor from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, would decamp with Atiku.
“That I am sure of. I can speak authoritatively about it because I’m in touch with my colleagues.

“The only governor that he would think will go with him, the governor of Adamawa State has already endorsed President Buhari for the 2019 elections. And there are many governors, I will not mention the number but a majority of the APC governors have already taken the position that the president should run for a second term in office.”

Bindow, had earlier declared his support for Atiku whom he acknowledged as the sponsor of his governorship election. In December 2015, the governor confirmed that Atiku gave him N500 million for his campaign.
However, a month before Atiku dumped APC, the Adamawa state chapter of the APC pledged support for Buhari if he declares to run in 2019.

Atiku Has His Fans in APC
Anyone who underestimates the former vice president does so at his own risk. Within the APC, there are many who want him to be president. The Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, is one of them. She is one those that have endorsed the former vice president for the 2019 presidential election. Some people holding key position in Buhari government also hold allegiance to Atiku. The presidency is likely to order a purge of those Atiku’s loyalists. The witch-hunt may start very soon.

Another implication of Atiku leaving APC for PDP is that the former now faces a more formidable opposition in the latter. Most likely, many of the former vice president’s loyalists and political associates are going to stay put in the ruling party and will from there work for Atiku and in the process undermine Buhari. If not well-handled, this could easily polarise the APC.

Many also believe that Atiku will give Buhari a run for his money in the north if the former vice president eventually picks the PDP ticket for the presidential election.
In the south, Atiku’s support for the restructuring debate means that he has many potential supporters there. While the president and his men have not hidden their mistrust with the issue, the former vice president has told whoever cares to listen that he agrees that Nigeria needed to be restructured. That is a selling point for anyone hoping to win support in the south.

Except Buhari takes concrete steps to address the issue before his tenure runs out, it is capable of giving the PDP and whoever emerges as its presidential candidate an edge over the APC in the south. Another implication is that whereas Buhari’s APC is being rejected in the South-east, Atiku has invested in quality friend in that region. It will come handy when it matters most.

Another problem is that even the president’s major supporters and financiers in the South-west like fTinubu and former Osun State governor, Chief Bisi Akande and a lot of their loyalists are not happy about the treatment meted to Tinubu after he supported the APC to victory. They are only playing along. So, the possibility that the president will get the kind of support he got in 2015 in 2119 in the southwest is not very certain.

For Atiku, he is surely unaware that there are forces contending against his presidential ambition. His former boss, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo will surely be a hard nut for him to crack. The former president openly worked against his ambition before and from all indications, it is still anybody but Atiku for Obasanjo.

In fact, recently a political associate of the former vice president Atiku, Alhaji Abdullahi Sugar, cautioned Northerners against the alleged moves by Obasanjo to force one of his “boys” on the North in 2019 for the presidency.

Sugar told the media that the former president was working hard to force either Governor Nasir el-Rufai or Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso on the region.

“We, northerners, must be wary of these antics. It has happened before and we should not allow it to happen again. He, Obasanjo, should allow the people’s will to prevail,” he alleged.

The interpretation is that Atiku would have both the presidency and his former boss to contend with in his quest to rule Nigeria. How he hopes to deal with that is yet unknown.

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But by choosing to hurt Atiku economically, the Buhari-led government appeared to have sent a clear signal to others contemplating challenging Buhari in 2019

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In the south, Atiku’s support for the restructuring debate means that he has many potential supporters there