Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the campaign of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to become President of Nigeria has salutary effects on Nigeria’s evolving democratic culture
Nigeria’s former Vice President and presidential candidate of the main opposition political party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a survivor of many political battles. If he was in the armed forces, he will be a general with many stars to show for attaining commanding heights.
For about 27 years, Abubakar has made an unyielding quest to rule Nigeria, saying to his compatriots, again and again that he had the magic wand to turn around Nigeria’s economy and usher in an era of prosperity that will take the country out of the doldrums. He readily points to his illustrious businesses as evidence that he has the capacity to lead Nigeria successfully.
Though Abubakar had carried the presidential banner of different political parties in the past, the 2019 challenge has been his most vigorous effort. In preparation to run the race, he made a clean break from the All Progressives Congress (APC), returned to the PDP (for the umpteenth time), and started pelting the ruling party with virulent criticisms. He soon became the most credible rallying point for the opposition. At the same, he went round the country in one of the most extensive consultation to different interest groups to win support for his ambition.
Therefore, it was expected that when it was time for him to line up among other contestants to be chosen to lift the PDP’s presidential banner, he more than tripled the votes of his strongest challenger. But the Abubakar victory was not achieved overnight. It was the product of years of bridge building and the oiling of a political machinery that ran like clock work, whether Abubakar was in or out of power. Critics may argue that he inherited the strong political structure of the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, but it will be uncharitable to deny that Abubakar has not only kept it intact, he should be credited with deploying his own intelligence and character to ensure consistency.
In a game that favours the one with the greatest number, Abubakar possesses the honey pot that draws a swam of teeming admirers. Arguably, one of the few Nigerians famed to have the war-chest to stand up against the government of the day, Abubakar is not one to wring his hands in frustration over lack of capital to pursue his dream of becoming Nigeria’s president.
For the 2019 presidential election which he jointly ran with former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, under the broad theme, ‘Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again’, Abubakar hired some of the best hands and paid them handsomely to secure whatever ideas or services they could render.
So strong was the Abubakar wave that many strong opponents were either swept off or enveloped, in the existing parlance of his presidential campaign, to become ‘Artikulated’. His name was on every lip in Nigeria. A few years ago, Abubakar was not so much loved. Odium surrounding his name had become magnified by the sustained slander from his ex principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Atiku image has gone full-circle, transforming from the good, to the not-so-good, to the bad and back to the good; even (and surprisingly) in the estimation of Obasanjo. Perhaps, for Abubakar, one of the gains of his 2019 presidential campaign may be returning to the good books of Obasanjo.
Many Followers of Atiku think his best chance to become President of Nigeria was in 2003 when majority of the governors were urging him on and he had Obasanjo by the balls. Then, he could have easily moved from Vice President to President, after all, there was said to be an understanding that Obasanjo would serve only one term, since his emergence was initially informed by a compelling need to placate the Yorubas over the perceived injustice done to Abiola. But having tasted power, Obasanjo did not only renege on his promise, he even sought clandestine ways of remaining in power for a third term.
In 2007, Atiku took a shot at becoming president. However, the political dynamics had changed. Many of the governors who could swing victory in his favour had lost power. Obasanjo ensured that he was muscled out. He promised the governors that one of them would succeed him, thereby weakening the influence base of Atiku, who was also forced out of the PDP. He went ahead to contest the election on the platform of the Action Congress (AC). He lost the presidential election to PDP’s Umaru Yar’Ádua who became President of Nigeria. However, one of the good things that came out of that political maneuver was the public presentation of Abubakar as a leader of thought, capable of proffering ingenious solutions to the different challenges confronting the Nigerian society. He began with a speech at Chattam House in London.
Following the defeat, Abubakar became a wanderer on the political landscape, searching for the best place to actualise his ambition of leading Nigeria. He made another failed bid in 2015 through the All Progressives Congress (APC).
This time, Abubakar has advisedly added a deliberate engagement with Nigerian youths, while embarking on nationwide consultations to seek support from different interest groups over his ambition of becoming Nigeria’s next president in 2019. Not a few believed that Abubakar ran a well structured campaign and articulated his vision convincingly.
If there will be another day for Abubakar to make a bid for Nigeria’s highest public office, only time will tell. One thing is sure, the former Vice President has helped to strengthen democracy in the country through his dogged determination and impressive contributions to Nigeria’s evolving political culture, building of bridges across tribes and regions, and stirring national discourse on fundamental issues like restructuring and true federalism.