The Day Atiku Struck the Right Chord in the South-East

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    Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and presidential hopeful on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, recently gave his campaign some boost when he visited the South-east region, writes Emmanuel Ugwu

    Former Vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar came to the South-east with a message of sunshine. Abia State got the message, when he came “to confer” with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), delegates and stakeholders of the party on his presidential ambition. Atiku did not disappoint as he played the right tunes for his listeners. Thousands of people were on hand to welcome him with various women and youth groups displaying banners proclaiming their support and love for the presidential aspirant.

    It was hard not to conclude that Atiku was already a presidential candidate. The size of the crowd that came to see and hear him was overwhelming considering that it was not a campaign rally. From the Sam Mbakwe Airport Owerri, where he touched down, to the PDP secretariat, where he conferred with party leaders and delegates; and down to the Michael Okpara Auditorium, where he held an interactive session with party members, Atiku was cheered like a world-class movie or football star.

    The former VP said he was in Abia “to confer” with the leadership, delegates and other stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on his desire to pick the presidential ticket of the PDP in order to save Nigeria from the APC maladministration. He said he has the capacity to pull Nigeria out of the morass the country has been dragged into by the ruling party.

    Atiku’s message was clear and consistent: Nigeria must be restructured. This particular tune easily synchronizes with the demand of the mainstream Igbo leaders, notably the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Igbo leaders of thought (ILT). Indeed, it was among the position paper submitted by the South-east during the 2014 national confab.
    Except for those politicians, whose sense of judgment has been blunted by partisan considerations, the Ndigbo have a consensus of opinion on the issue of restructuring. So, Atiku found a listening ear not just in Abia but in the other states of the South-east zone where he visited to seek support for his aspiration.

    Unlike other presidential aspirants, the former VP has been an advocate of restructuring and has never shied away from expressing his views on critical national issues without equivocation. His position is already known and should he shift at any point in time, people would readily remind him of what he had said and where he had stood in the past. Some presidential aspirants are mute and it’s hard to pin them down on any contentious national discourse hence they would always slip away from taking responsibility. Not so with Atiku. “Since 2004, I’ve been an advocate of restructuring. I’m one of those who believe our country should have a lean federal government,” he said.

    As he later explained while fielding questions from journalists, Atiku said a lean federal government would be so unattractive that people would readily decline to ascend the position of president if offered the post. This is because the enormous power and resources that are presently concentrated at the centre would have been whittled down considerably to enable the federating components to flourish and become more attractive as centres of good leadership and governance.

    To assure Nigerians that he believes in what he’s been saying, Atiku has gone further to compile his views and position on the restructuring of the country. In a way, he has given Nigerians the guarantee that he would not in future jettison his views or change his position. The presidential aspirant presented a copy of his book on restructuring to the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu.

    On a visit to a part of the country where feelings of perceived marginalisation are very high, Atiku sought to reassure the people that things would change for the better under his watch. He was not unmindful of the separatist agitations in the South-east mostly championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Independent Movement (BIM-MASSOB) formed by Ralph Uwazurike after he lost out in the leadership struggle. The Biafra Zionists (BZF) has equally been deeply involved in the struggle for Biafra self-determination.

    Atiku blamed an unjust federal structure for the resurgent separatist sentiments in the South-east decades after Nigeria had emerged from civil war, which could have led to the dismemberment of the country. He believes that if the right things are done and enthroned, the desire by any component part to pull out of Nigeria would eventually wane. This is because, according to him, with too much power and resources concentrated at the centre the federating units are stifled and the struggle for control of the centre would continue to intensify and hamper development and the quest to build a cohesive nation.

    “I am one of those who believe that our country should have a lean federal government because if more power and resources were devolved to the federating units, there would be more development, peace and unity in Nigeria and separatist agitations would fizzle out,” the former VP said.

    He was later to explain to journalists that, contrary to the belief in some quarters, he is not a lone voice in the North on this nagging issue of restructuring. He said the North has no aversion to the idea of restructuring Nigeria, citing various workshops and public lectures held across the zone, which produced a consensus of opinion. For this reason, Atiku said it would only take a leader, who believes in this cause to galvanise Nigerians and get the job done.

    As he spoke, the presidential aspirant left no one in doubt that he was unhappy with the way the country was being run by the ruling party. In fact, he was alarmed that Nigeria has continued to move in reverse gear, a sentiment which also pervades the South-east. What with the rising wave of killings by Boko Haram terrorists, herdsmen militias and criminal bandits in some parts of the country, including the hitherto peaceful states like Sokoto and Zamfara.

    The insecurity in the land is compounded by the economic hardships as Nigerians continue to groan under the weight of apparently intractable economic downturn. Atiku could not help lamenting the plight of his fellow countrymen and women.

    “There is insecurity and now we have the greatest economic decline in the history of Nigeria,” he said, pointing out that over 11 million Nigerians are out of jobs while industrial and commercial activities are nose-diving unabated. Based on this, he concluded that Nigeria has been recording “negative indices” since the inception of the Buhari administration.

    Nonetheless, Atiku did not leave his fellow party men and women with the impression that Nigerians should indulge in endless lamentation and self-pity. Something must be done to change the situation. He, therefore, made a clarion call for a concerted action by all patriotic and well-meaning Nigerians to reverse the negative indices being churned out by the Buhari administration.

    He said: “It has become imperative for us to put our heads together and elect someone to reverse the negative trends before the country is completely destroyed,” assuring that he was ready and has what it takes to pull Nigeria out of the morass the ruling APC has dragged the country into. He noted that he would renew the country and put it back on the path of progress.

    In the course of the interaction, Atiku’s dissection of the problems with Nigeria and the way out of the suffocating political structure was quite in sync with the widely held views in the Southeast zone.

    Thus, the Abia governor, Ikpeazu, said he was “thrilled” at Atiku’s deep understanding of Nigeria’s problems and the solutions needed to overcome them, noting that he remains optimistic that the country would rise again. He said Nigeria has reached the “precipice” hence “we’ve come to a point in the life of our country, where we should engage in sober reflection and take critical decisions” that would impact positively on the future of the country.

    Ikpeazu noted that Atiku has over the years made his marks as a leader, businessman, educationist, civil servant and a patriot, adding that such qualities and experience “would not be forgotten” when the time comes to elect the presidential standard-bearer of PDP.

    The governor was not the only one impressed by Atiku. Delegates who spoke to THISDAY did not hide their feelings either.

    “With Atiku, I don’t think our party (PDP) shouldn’t look any further in the search for our presidential candidate, who will rescue Nigerians from the merciless onslaught by the ruling party,” said one of the Abia PDP delegates, who preferred not to be named.

    However, he expressed the hope that primordial sentiments and selfish political interests would not “becloud our party’s sense of judgment when the time comes to make the decision on the person who will lead our party to challenge and defeat Buhari and his APC.”