Charles Ajunwa chronicles the political journey of the Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar
Political pundits within and outside the country have predicted that the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, will emerge victorious in today’s 2019 presidential election. They predicted Atiku would defeat the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, with a small margin. But there’s a saying in politics “that it’s not over until it’s over”.
Atiku’s political career spanning over two decades has been eventful.
His foray into politics was in the early 1980s when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority. He canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur, and also donated to the campaign. Towards the end of his Customs career, he met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second-in-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yar’Adua into the political meetings that were happening regularly in Yar’Adua’s Lagos home.
In 1989 Atiku was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, the political association led by Yar’Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by Head of State Ibrahim Babangida. The Peoples Front of Nigeria included politicians such as Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Babalola Borishade, Bola Tinubu, Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Sabo Bakin Zuwo.
He won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly, set up to decide a new constitution for Nigeria. The People’s Front was eventually denied registration by the government (none of the groups that applied was registered ) and found a place within the Social Democratic Party, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.
Atiku, on September 1, 1990, announced his Gongola State gubernatorial bid. A year later, before the elections could hold, Gongola State was broken up into two – Adamawa and Taraba States – by the federal government. Atiku fell into the new Adamawa State. After the contest, he won the SDP Primaries in November 1991 but was soon disqualified by government from contesting the elections.
A similar fate – disqualification by the military – would befall Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku’s friend and political mentor, in his 1992 bid for the presidential primary of the SDP. With no chance of contesting for the presidency, Yar’Adua decided to push Atiku forward as the focal point of SDP’s ambitions. He came third in the convention primary. But because MKO Abiola, the winner, had won by only about 400 votes a run-off was due. Atiku stepped down for Abiola, asking his supporters to cast their votes for him, with an unwritten agreement that Abiola would announce Atiku as his running mate. Abiola won the SDP ticket and announced Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up, as his running mate.
Atiku’s second gubernatorial run was in 1998 when he launched a bid for the governorship seat on the platform of the PDP. He won the December 1998 elections, but before he could be sworn in he was tapped by the PDP’s presidential candidate, former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo, as his vice-presidential candidate. The Obasanjo-Atiku ticket won the 27 February 1999 presidential election with 62.78 percent of the vote.
Atiku was sworn in as Vice-President of Nigeria on 29 May 1999. He presided over the National Council on Privatisation, overseeing the sale of hundreds of loss-making and poorly managed public enterprises.
In 1999, he alongside South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, launched the South Africa Nigeria Bi-national Commission.
In 2003, Atiku was involved in a bitter public battle with his boss, Obasanjo, ostensibly arising from the latter’s bid for 2nd term. Atiku wanted to run, claiming Obasanjo promised to do only one term. They also clashed over the failed constitutional amendment aimed at allowing Obasanjo to run for another term.
The Atiku-Obasanjo face-off damaged the relationship between both men.
Atiku’s second attempt at the presidency was in 2017. On 20 December 2006, he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the then Action Congress (AC).
On 14 March 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the final list of 24 aspirants for 21 April presidential election. Atiku’s name was missing from the ballot. INEC issued a statement stating that hisname was missing because he was on a list of persons indicted for corruption by a panel set up by the government. Atiku headed to the courts on 16 March to have his disqualification overturned.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on 16 April that INEC had no power to disqualify candidates.
The ruling allowed Atiku to contest the election.
According to official results, Atiku took third place, behind the PDP candidate. late Umaru Yar’Adua and All Nigeria Peoples Party’s (ANPP) candidate Muhammadu Buhari, with approximately 7% of the vote (2.6 million votes). Atiku rejected the election results and called for its cancellation, describing it as Nigeria’s “worst election ever.”
With his “never die spirit” Atiku in 2007 returned to PDP. In October 2010, he announced his intention to contest for the Presidency. On 22 November, a Committee of Northern Elders selected him as the Northern Consensus Candidate, over former Military President Ibrahim Babangida, former National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
In January 2011, Atiku contested for the presidential ticket of his party alongside President Jonathan and Sarah Jubril, and lost the primary, garnering 805 votes to President Jonathan’s 2736.
In August 2013, INEC registered two new political parties. One of them was the Peoples Democratic Movement. Local media reports suggested that the party was formed by Atiku as a back-up plan in case he was unable to fulfill his presidential ambitions on the PDP platform. In a statement, Atiku acknowledged that the PDM was founded by his “political associates”, but that he remained a member of the PDP.
On 2 February 2014, Atiku left the PDP to join the All Progressives Congress (APC), with the intent of contesting the Nigerian presidency in 2015 on the party’s platform. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as APC’s presidential flag bearer.
On Friday, 24 November 2017, Atiku announced his exit from the APC, a party he helped to form.
On 3 December 2017, via a Facebook Live broadcast, Atiku announced his return to the PDP. The announcement followed consultations the former Vice President had with party leaders and stakeholders from across the country. He said he decided to ‘return home’ to the PDP now that the issues which made him leave the party had been resolved.
Again, Atiku declared his candidacy for the presidential nomination of the PDP mid-2018 and won the nomination at its convention held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on 7 October. He defeated 11 other contestants and got 1,532 votes, 839 more than the runner-up, the Governor of Soko State Aminu Tambuwal.
After over three months campaign trail that took him to 35 states including Abuja, he concluded his campaign rally in Adamawa, his home state.
On his relationship with Obasanjo, a delegation from the Northern Youth Leaders Forum on March 30, 2014, visited Obasanjo at his home in Abeokuta and pleaded with him to “forgive your former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of whatever political sin or offence he might have committed against you.” In response, Obasanjo is quoted as saying that “as a leader and father, I bear no grudge against anybody and if there is, I have forgiven them all.”
Atiku was born on 25 November 1946 to a Fulani trader and farmer Garba Abubakar, and his second wife, Aisha Kande, in Jada Village of Adamawa State. He was named after his paternal grandfather Atiku Abdulqadir and became the only child of his parents when his only sister died at infancy. In 1957, his father died by drowning while crossing a river to Toungo, a neighbouring village to Jada.
He completed his primary school education in 1960, the year Nigeria was given Independence and was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in the same year, alongside 59 other students. He graduated from secondary school in 1965 after he made grade three in the West African School Certificate Examination. Atiku then proceeded to attend Nigerian Police College, Kaduna. He left the college for a position as a tax official in the Regional Ministry of Finance. Later he received admission to study at the School of Hygiene, Kano in 1966. In 1967, he graduated with a diploma. That same year, Atiku was admitted for a Law Diploma at Ahmadu Bello University on a scholarship. He graduated in 1969 and was employed by Nigeria Customs Service that same year.
His father was opposed to the idea of Western education and tried to keep Atiku out of the traditional school system. When the government discovered that Atiku was not attending mandatory schooling, his father spent a few days in jail until Aisha Kande’s mother paid the fine At the age of eight Atiku enrolled in the Jada Primary School.
In 1960, he was admitted to Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola where he did well in English Language and Literature, struggled with Physics and Chemistry and Mathematics. He graduated with a Grade Three WASSCE/GCE Certificate in 1965.
Atiku, politician, businessman cum philanthropist, has four wives and is the father of 28 children.