Emmanuel Ugoji pays tribute to Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president and 2019 presidential aspirant

In an emotion laden voice, the cry of help was heard at the other end of the long dark tunnel. “Without Atiku Abubakar I do not know what would have become of me. He has moved me and touched me in such a way that I have been able to impact on other physically challenged persons in my career. I am giving back to society what Atiku Abubakar has given to me’’.

Those were the words of Dr. Chris Nwanoro, a 44-year-old blind PhD holder. His word, etched in deep appreciation, is for the role Atiku Abubakar had played in the sponsorship of his doctorate degree programme at the University of Abuja.

Nwanoro stands out from the thousands of other beneficiaries of Atiku’s benevolence because it is very rare to find a blind man in this part of the world enrolling and completing a PhD programme.

Dr. Nwanoro had his sight intact until his third year as an undergraduate student of University of Abuja when a strange cloud covered his face when he was attending a lecture left him blind. In spite of the challenge, Nwanoro, a native of Isikwuato in Abia State said he had to adjust to the new life such that he performed well in his final exams and even went ahead to do a Masters’ degree in the same institution.

After earning a Masters’ degree, Nwanoro said he enrolled for PhD programme but that funding posed a big challenge afterwards. He never knew how to raise funds to complete the programme until he heard about Atiku Abubakar. “I struggled in vain to get in touch with him but with prayer I just wrote a letter. I was surprised to receive at invitation to meet with him in company of the vice-chancellor, my wife and the dean of my faculty.

At the meeting he promised to do all within his reach to support me and give me all the technology I require. Curiously, he said his interest in helping me was based on the premise that he (Atiku) saw me as a motivator. Nwanoro, who was the best graduating doctorate degree student in his set, said that Atiku’s gesture was mind blowing because money spent in training one blind person will pay the way for five persons who are not physically challenged.

However, the takeaway in Nwanoro’s account is the impact he has made since his contact with Atiku. Apart from currently serving as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nwanoro said Atiku has done so much to assist physically challenged persons based on the fact that “he knows we can contribute to the development of the nation’’. Nwanoro, who was a 2011 recipient of National Award of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) and a 2013 Distinguished Person Award of the Society of Foreign Consuls in New York, USA, described Atiku as “a peculiar person who has done so much to humanity and service to God.”

On what he has done with the skills he acquired and contacts he has made, Dr Nwanoro said he has assisted in securing appointments for physically challenged persons in the ministries of Justice, Women Affairs, Information and INEC. He has also been part of scholarship programmes for blind people at institutions in Zaria, Kaduna State and Dingiri in Plateau State.

He said that many of the physically challenged persons who Atiku Abubakar supported over the years have been looking for a way to express their “little appreciation” and that 2019 presidential election, for which he has declared interest is an opportunity for a “small pay back’’.

“Because of his interest, coupled with the fact that he is our person, why can’t we come out and assist him?

“He is the rightful person, benevolent, caring, a detribalised Nigerian. What he has done for me, he has done to others. We will continue to fight to give back a little by supporting him in 2019’’, he said.

According to Nwanoro, there are at least 35 million people living with disabilities in Nigeria and that they belong to an association. He said that efforts are being made to sensitise them to go for a personality like Atiku in the 2019 presidential election.

Mr. Emeka Ezekwesiri, another beneficiary of Atiku Abubakar’s scholarship made a First Class in Law at the University of Ibadan. He described him as someone who has a deep passion and vision for the education of the youths in Nigeria and for creating opportunities for them as well as creating the enabling environment for youths to thrive.

“I have followed him closely, especially in his book titled `My Life’ and I know he allows indigent people to go to school and he rewards excellence’’.

Ezekwesiri who is currently at the Law School, said that Atiku has the vision to transform education in Nigeria. He quoted the former vice-president as saying that he believed in the power of education because “education has brought him this far in his life’’.

The 24- year- old who hails from Osisioma Ngwa in Abia state further said that Atiku has what it takes to transform Nigeria. “As a good business man, he has been able to manage businesses and enterprises successfully”, he said.

At the American University of Nigeria (AUN), authorities say that Atiku subsidises charges on each student. He has spent at least N6 billion in the project since the school started graduating students 10 years ago. Apart from the subsidy, there are indigent students on full scholarship.

Furthermore, Atiku’s AUN initiated the feed and read programme which has taken over 1,500 Almajiris off the streets. The scheme is designed to cater for only the Almajiris. They are usually admitted into the AUN feed and read programme every September and graduated the next year November during the Founder’s day. Last year, over 300 graduated and currently the programme has 55 enrolees.

A close associate of the Waziri Adamawa who preferred anonymity said in a telephone conversation: “As I am talking to you now, am on my way to the house of his classmate who just died and I have one million naira for his family. This is how he builds mosques and provides support for traditional institutions and indigent families without any prompting.

On health, Atiku Abubakar in May 2018 added another N10 million to the Paupers’ Fund which he established at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola two years ago. At his homes in Abuja and Yola, there are always a barrage of hospital referral letters from individuals and groups seeking for financial help to defray medical bills for surgeries.

He is also in a joint partnership with investors from Saudi Arabia and Dubai to build an ultra-modern hospital in Abuja so that Nigerians will no longer spend a fortune seeking medical treatment abroad.

He empowers women and to ensure sustainability, in clear terms, his technically perfected war against poverty led to the establishment of a Standard Microfinance Bank in Yola, which provides almost interest free loans to rural women and farmers across Adamawa and Taraba States.

The quintessential Atiku reaches out to orphanages homes and social centres and beloved as it were, his friends, especially schoolmates at Ramat College Yola have caught the bug and indulge in donating relief materials to different centres of need across the state to the eternal appreciation of beneficiaries. There is no gainsaying that his benevolence and acumen has led to the creation of over 50,000 direct jobs and 250,000 indirect ones thereby becoming the largest private sector employer of labour in his state of Adamawa and only second to the state government.

Through his philanthropic activities, hundreds of young Nigerians have been provided with start-up capital for their business. Indeed, his sense of philanthropy has similarly permeated the political sphere. Each time he loses an election he takes it in good fate knowing that another opportunity will come. He does everything possible to support whoever emerges and this was exemplified even during the last presidential primaries where President Buhari became the tusk bearer for the APC presidential ticket in 2015.

To demonstrate his readiness, it may be recalled that as Vice -President, he assembled what was then adjudged the best economic team ever in Nigeria. It was made up of young, world class professionals, who came home to work. Some of those professionals are now political leaders, governors and world leaders in their own right. He has a proven record of sniffing talent and appropriately recruiting them for deployment to serve fatherland. Many were in their 30s and early 40s.

Some came from the World Bank, where he met a bright lady, convinced her to come back home, and she became a star when he was in government. To show that he provided effective leadership as head of economic team, the same lady could not replicate her exploits under a different government.

In partisan politics, he knows how to throw his weight behind aspirants who he is convinced have something to offer to the growth of the nation.