Atiku: The Burden of Statesmanship


    By Odilim Enwegbara

    In a recent interview Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential hopeful said among other things, “If I am elected as the President in 2019, I give an undertaking that I would only do one term…I am prepared to sign an undertaking to do only one term.” Most people were quick to doubt this promise of his given that such a promise was made by President Buhari in 2015 and the same Buhari is right now seeking second term in 2019. But Atiku has been swift to insist that he is ready to sign any undertaking to prove his seriousness.

    This same statement credited to Atiku Abubakar truly attracted my attention too, especially when one considers his reasons for wanting to do only one term. By announcing his readiness to do one term, Atiku has demonstrated to Nigerians that he is not eagerly interested in occupying the highest office of the land for the purpose of just occupying it because should that have been his reason for seeking the presidency, of course, he should be looking at doing two terms as the constitution allows.

    That is why for me, Atiku’s insistence that his decision is truly based on ensuring that equity and fairness prevail should be a welcome development. It reminds me of Prof Rufus J Fears’s extensive work on why citizens should always elect statesmen because “their moral compass is rooted in a sense of absolute right and absolute wrong.” Whereas electing politicians according Fears is “electing tyrants, relativists, and liars who are only governed by public opinion polls.”

    With this singular decision, Atiku has proved to the world that he is not another African leader who once he gets to office, occupying it as long as he can technically occupy it, including possibly dying in office becomes the most important agenda of being in power. Atiku knows that this announcement of wanting to do one term in office puts him in the same statesman category with Nelson Mandela Africa’s foremost statesman.

    But now that Atiku has raised the bar, let us also hear from other PDP contestants in order to know whether they too have agreed on a single term should they win the PDP ticket and become president in 2019. Of course, this should become one of the bases for winning votes in the south, particularly southeast, where Buhari has been telling southeasterners that after his second term which ends in 2023, he is going to hand over power to a south-easterner. It is an important decision made by Atiku because with this, Buhari will no longer take advantage of being the only candidate who will be saying that if elected he will hand power to a southeastern politician come 2023.

    I believe Atiku because as a very successful businessman he knows that keeping promises is a must or else one loses one’s most important ingredient of succeeding in business — trust. It is the reason why statesmen know that political rhetoric is always better tailored to reflect realities. It also tells why while facts are the best friends of business, fictions and propagandas earn politicians the mileage needed in winning elections.

    I believe Atiku will keep this promise of his after all without having to focus on any form of reelection planning he will have all his attention focused on setting in motion the policies that will lead to the transformation of the economy. And right policy steps will make four years enough for him to accomplish whatever legacy he wants to have for himself.

    What differentiates great statesmen from politicians is their selflessness which has always been driven by their eagerness to serve the people. It is this rare gift that makes statesmen focus more on solving the people’s problems. Whereas instead of serving the people with all their abilities, the politicians spend most of their time strategizing on how to win next elections. For this reason, efforts are made to divert public funds for the execution of next election.

    That is why nations that have always elected statesmen as the leaders rather than politicians have always elected leaders who spend most of their time in office solving economic and social problems confronting such nations. Above all, such statesmen pay more attention to making their nations prosperous and egalitarian.

    Take Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President (1933-1945) America’s foremost statesman. And because he was more preoccupied with solving America’s intractable economic problems that resulted from the Great Depression, he succeeded in transforming America into the world’s biggest and best run economy.

    The same was true about Deng Xiaoping (1978-1992) whose statesmanship made him to succeed in turning his provincial Chinese economy to the world’s fastest growing economy to the extent of becoming the world’s second largest and the world’s most socially inclusive economy with record 600 million jobs created and an unbelievable one billion Chinese permanently lifted out of poverty in less than four decades.

    But more amazing is the case of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai whose statesmanship continues to transform his desert emirate into one of the world’s best run service economies.

    That is why if Nigerians are determined to get their country out of its present economic and social hopelessness, they waste no time to unanimously elect Atiku Abubakar the next president. Known for his visionary leadership, Atiku possesses that rare gift that made him excel in business judgments and above, all in ingeniously finding the best unconventional solutions to difficult business problems. The same best business judgements Donald Trump is applying in America today that the US economy is today booming and growing as never seen for decades.

    There is no great business leader who does not possess excellent experience in negotiation and consensus building. These are unique skills Atiku is going to bring to bear as the president of Nigeria when he has to confront world leaders to discuss trade and economic diplomacy. More important are these skills when it comes to formulating economic policies that are designed to challenge powerful status quo promoters and protectors. Because Buhari lacks these skills, it understandable why he is at war with both legislative and judicial arms of government, including using DSS’s brute force to intimidate lawmakers and judges.

    Understandably, unlike Atiku, Buhari has never worked his way up the leadership ladder. This is because his entire life has depended on benefiting from the status quo. Little wonder his presidency has been a presidency of protecting and promoting the status quo. After all, it is difficult for one to bite the finger that feeds one. Little wonder, competition driven by dealing with intelligent challenges is alien to President Buhari and will always remain so.

    Without dropping our chauvinism we will not recognise these rare qualities in Atiku; and without recognizing and embracing them we will lose the unique opportunities this country stands to gain with Atiku becoming the country’s next president. I wish I could find a better way to reveal it to fellow Nigerians why it is in Atiku’s hands that the much awaited lifting up our country is.

    Unfortunately, that will require everyone having the same trained eyes needed in seeing beyond our emotions and our biases. It is okay after all we are all emotional beings; after all, nearly Americans wouldn’t have voted Roosevelt their president as his political opponents continued telling the electorate that he was down with the paralysing polio. Deng nearly lost out in the power game in China when Chairman Mao Zedong refused anointing him his chosen successor and as a result it required two years post Mao power struggle before he could take over power. Al Maktoum had to patiently wait for his father to leave the scene before exploding and exposing the rare gifts of statesmanship, most of which are so against the status quo that they are taboos in a deeply Muslim country.

    Mohammed Abba Gana, the former FCT Minister, in a recent interview argued that for PDP not to repeat the mistakes of 2015, the party must nominate a political “field marshal,” someone whose “solid capacity and message must mobilize and galvanize” voters for PDP in 2019. Luckily, these are the rare qualities that are in abundance in Atiku Abubakar because not only that he has an exceptional intellectual capacity, but good enough it is imbedded in his real world experience. This has remained the envy of his political opponents.

    These are the reasons why he has such exceptional popularity in southern and middle belt states. It is the same reasons he is highly favored by majority of the youths across the country. Besides, being a religious moderate, Atiku is also the favorite of Christians across the country.

    Of course, these are some of the unbelievable advantages Atiku has that force his opponents to constantly bear grudges. But, at the end of the day there is no one politician in the present Nigerian political space that has what it takes to successfully defeat Buhari in the forthcoming presidential election; let alone to successfully clean up the present economic and social messes caused by the Buhari administration. That is not to mention uniting the highly traumatized citizens who as a result have to flee to their respective ethnic and religious enclaves for safety.

    Making Atiku to further stand out among his political peers are he is dogged, big hearted, and strong-willed, and as a result can’t wait to take our economic problems head-on. This is unlike President Buhari whose only achievements since being forced out of power in 1985 are having few hundreds of cattle. Not even furthering his education beyond his controversial secondary school certificate. And as someone who gained everything in life not out of sheer hard work and merit, but simply out of outright favors he doesn’t see why those around him should be the best of Nigerians.

    There is no way handing an untrained doctor the surgery knives to conduct a brain surgery shouldn’t have caused more complication to the patient. The same way handing Buhari our economy to fix has ended up causing more damage to economy than fixing it. This explains why from an exchange rate of N197 to a dollar in early 2015 we ended up with N350 to dollar. It is also why from fuel pump price of N97 per liter before becoming President we have N145 today. It is the same reason why we have such an unfavourable business environment, with investors fleeing Nigeria or else they would join the thousands of local businesses that have since gone bankrupt.

    Little wonder over 8 million jobs have since been lost under Buhari’s watch. If not enough, recently Nigeria surpassed India to become the country with the world’s largest concentration of poor people. What about now being rated as the number one country with the largest number of civilians killed without being a civil war country? Of course, with these painful figures in our minds, coupled with his failing health as a result of old age, we — the clueless 200 million citizens of Nigeria, lacking the boldness to say enough with this mess — are still drumming the reelection of Buhari come 2019 so that he will continue to mismanage our economy till 2023.

    While as an astute businessman Atiku will quickly stop the bleeding economy by putting to an end the current policy somersaults inherent in Buhari administration which has since forced most foreign and domestic investors to stay away from Nigeria, definitely Atiku’s major nightmares will be how to reconcile Nigerians of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural groups. Truly, the Atiku presidency is going to work extremely hard on rebuilding our severed national unity, including making citizens to come to the realization that not only are they all equal and also that going forward their success will depend on hard work and intellectual excellence.

    With anti-graft war today being focused on intimidating political opponents, President Atiku has got a lot of reorganizing and refocusing of the country’s anti-graft war to do. This would require complete overhauling of our current judicial system along with our criminal investigation and prosecutorial processes. Without promoting a just and fair society, Atiku knows that without the supremacy of the rule of law, there is no way we can win the anti-graft war.

    Crippling kidnapping, banditry and other violent crimes in the country will take front roll in an Atiku presidency. Otherwise there is no way we should expect meaningful economic growth in a country rated as among the five most dangerous countries in the world to live. Atiku is already planning how to urgently modernize Nigeria’s outdated policing system in a way that federal police, state police and community police have to work efficiently and effectively to free the country of its violent criminals.

    Recognizing that why most of these problems have defied solutions is because of the over centralization of government, Atiku has since been championing restructuring even when it was unpopular. He knows that without restructuring, insecurity and communal conflicts are unavoidable, and that with such volatile environment, there is no way any meaningful economic development could take place, and without meaningful economic activities taking place, there no way internally generated revenues could grow, without which salaries will be hardly paid without government going to borrow.

    Atiku knows that allowing this status quo to continue would amount to allowing the nation to continue degenerating which could eventually get to the point where economy and social system finally collapsed. That is why in order not to allow us to get to this sorry state, he is advocating for restructuring. Unfortunately, I don’t know if President Buhari knows that restructuring remains the only way we can get out of our present economic mess. Had he known, certainly there is no way he should be opposing it. Most importantly, I don’t know if he really knows that restructuring will favor the north more than it will favor south. I doubt that because if he does there is no way he wouldn’t be championing restructuring.

    But one thing I am certain about is that unlike Buhari who seems not to be in the know of the workings of restructuring, certainly Atiku is fully aware that restructuring remains our best way to begin the tardy development and growing our country into a modern industrial and service economy. Unlike Buhari Atiku is fully aware that with restructuring northern economy will become a trillion dollar economy within a decade. He knows that this will be possible simply because as a result of restructuring northern leaders will have no option but to aggressively focus on agricultural mechanization and modernization, food processing, solid mineral mining and processing, and tourism and hospitality. These are the economic activity advantages the north has that will easily create mass prosperity and millions of jobs.

    Another great policy pronouncement Atiku made is his proposed matching grants to states based on their internally generated revenues. What this means is that states with more IGRs will get exactly the same amount of money they generated from federal government. This alone will drive all they state governors to put on their thinking caps and stop coming to the center with cap in hand begging for bailouts.

    Also thrilling is Atiku’s proposed handing over all the federal universities and federal secondary schools to the states where they are located. This an excellent proposal because it shows his full understanding that federal government has no business whatsoever investing in any form of education; after all, why do we have states if they cannot be responsible for education in their states?

    With this triggering incredible competition among states, attracting the best and the brightest students, faculty and researchers will henceforth depend on which states are investing more in education, campus facilities and research centers. By attracting these best students, faculty, and researcher, definitely that would lead leading high-tech and knowledge corporations relocating to those states so as to take full advantage of the research and development spinoffs from these leading universities.

    With all these Atiku’s beautiful policies which are increasingly brightening Atiku’s chances of defeating Buhari at the polls, one still wonders why Obasanjo still continues to be running around looking for someone else to support against Atiku! Is Obasanjo actually afraid of Buhari jailing him and confiscated his assets, should Buhari win a reelection? If Obasanjo is really afraid of Buhari, definitely, he should by now be supporting Atiku who wouldn’t have the time to be thinking about jailing or confiscating Obasanjo’s assets.

    Enwegbara, an Abuja based development economist can be reached at or 07038501486