RIGHT OF REPLY
By Abdullahi Umar
In his recent THISDAY column “The Pendulum” veteran journalist and politician Dele Momodu had advised Atiku Abubakar not to contest the 2023 presidential election because age is not on his side. Momodu also advised Atiku and members of his “giatric (sic) generation” to step aside for non-career politicians and youths in 2023. Again, he stressed that Nigeria needs a unifier in 2023.
A true democrat shouldn’t advise any group of politicians not to contest because of their age. Dele Momodu cannot be changing his position on the age issue without displaying his inconsistency. Was he not one of the young strategists that packaged the Buhari presidency in 2015? Didn’t he know that Buhari was too old to run then? It seems Dele is merely paying lip service to the youth to suit his own political agenda. The rights of the youth to contest elections shouldn’t be predicated on insisting that Atiku or any other shouldn’t contest. Dele Momodu himself was a former presidential candidate, but he eventually withdrew because of the reality of Nigerian politics. Let the delegates or the voters decide the fate of candidates rather than denying anybody from contesting in 2023. The Democratic Party supported Joe Biden as candidate against Donald Trump because of his experience as a former vice president to Barack Obama.
There were candidates younger than Biden, but the party was realistic enough to intelligently calculate the situation on the ground. The Democrats had to go for an electable candidate with a competent track record. Just like Biden, Atiku’s track record as former Vice President gives him relative advantage as the most adequately prepared candidate for the office of president. So, you can’t force certain people out of the democratic race because of their age. The voters and delegates have the liberty to choose whoever they like. Dele Momodu was preaching patriotism to Atiku, but he didn’t advise Buhari not to contest in 2015 for the same reason of patriotism.
Dele Momodu also argued that Nigeria needs a unifier in 2023. He was right, but you can’t advocate for a unifier and go against Atiku at the same time. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is the most suited politician to play that role. Atiku has a unifying vision; he is not parochial and provincial; he is broadminded. The pattern of his past appointments clearly demonstrated Atiku’s commitment to respect our ethnic and religious diversity. Nigeria is currently bitterly divided and Atiku has what it takes to heal our wounds.
The veteran journalist was wrong to compare the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s health challenges with Atiku. The former vice president is physically and mentally active. He has no health challenges; he doesn’t carry a health baggage that can become a burden on his presidency. The biggest problem of our democracy that Dele Momodu ignored is that people who are not prepared for the rigours of the office are forced into the race for selfish reasons and, as a result, the country becomes the victim of their unpreparedness. When you force people who are not ready into the race, don’t expect them to give what they can’t deliver.
Atiku Abubakar has a better grasp of the economy than many who are unprepared for the office. Tackling the economy, insecurity, unemployment, and lack of access to food are some of our major challenges. Dealing with these challenges requires a leader with vision. When Atiku said he was going to unbundle NNPC, his political opponents claimed that he wanted to sell the company to his friends. Today, they are implementing the very ideas Atiku advocated. This shows that Atiku has a clearly defined roadmap for moving Nigeria forward. As an experienced job creator and investor, Atiku will do better than many who are inadequately prepared for the office.
ATIKU: MY HUMBLE RESPONSE TO UMAR’S REPLY
Fellow Nigerians, THISDAY has a policy; columnists must allow rights of reply to their opinion whenever there are replies to such opinion. However, we also reserve the right of response to replies when we deem it necessary. I wish to afford a right of reply to Mr Umar who replied to my article of last week about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and in so doing also exercise my right of response to that reply today.
As I emphasised on this page last week, I have tremendous regard and respect for The Wazirin Adamawa Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and I have stated my cogent reasons for this position.
I sincerely wished he had won the Presidential elections in 2019, and rescued Nigeria from the iron grip of President Muhammadu Buhari and hoped he would be our own Nelson Mandela by straightening things out within one term and hand over to a much younger, vibrant, brilliant, visionary, self-accomplished, cosmopolitan and technocrat. That dream turned out a mirage. I therefore supported Atiku with all my heart, free of charge, because he was the only option available as a viable opposition leader. It must be recalled that I only began to support Atiku after he won the PDP nomination as he became the only real challenger to President Buhari. Even at that time, I had serious issues and concerns with Atiku’s age but was ready to accept the reality that there was no other alternative or option.
I will deal with the salient features of Umar’s riposte in my response as I don’t see the need to traverse some of the other points he makes because they are not essential to my main theses, that old geriatrics cannot take this country forward in this technological and advanced era.
I start with Umar’s assertion that age does not matter and his going ahead to cite the example of President Joe Biden in America in support of his viewpoint. I find it pertinent and important to debunk this claim in a jiffy. Biden was a Vice President to a much younger and extremely gifted President Barack Obama who left power just four years earlier. So, it could be said that Biden was not rusty by the time he assumed and took over the full reins of the powerful position of President of America. It is also significant that his years in power as Vice-President coincided with the significance advance in scientific and technological development in the world. The world is moving at lightning speed and indeed, 2017 when Biden temporarily left power is light years away from the 2007 when Atiku left the position of Vice-President of Nigeria even though in real times, it is only 10 years in between them.
Therefore, Vice President Atiku Abubakar would have been on break from governance since 2007, a whopping 16 years by 2023. He would have been contesting for 30 years since 1993 by 2023, traversing many political parties, in the process. That is not a matter for this response today, but it is something worth noting and remembering.
Yes, experience counts but we now live in a supersonic age in which the generation gap is absolutely difficult to close up or even understand no matter how fastidiously you follow the trends. And it is difficult to do so the older you get. The principle and philosophy of our aged leaders are vastly different from that of the younger generation. Their hopes and aspirations are different. What they consider as important and vital to the success of the nations are in many respects different from what the older generation consider as being important. My children today know far more about their world than many of us would ever comprehend. This is majorly the reason for the tragic performance of President Buhari. He’s been out of Presidential power for 30 years before some of us, including Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, resurrected him from his ranch. I’m surprised Umar blamed only me for bundling Buhari back to power, when his principal was also fully involved in that debacle and fiasco.
Still on President Biden. There’s a world of difference between America and Nigeria. Biden is surrounded by some of the brightest men and women on earth and he’s under obligation to let them function. Example is the synergy between President Biden and his Vice President, Kamala Harris. Please, compare them to Buhari and his own President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Biden is not encumbered by political and religious configurations and considerations. His wings would easily be clipped by a system that works if he finds dictatorship attractive and irresistible. Not so in Nigeria. Buhari is alpha and omega in our clime. At his age, no one can get him to change his snail speed approach as well as his famed and notorious taciturnity. It is impossible for him or his associates and subordinates to understand the addiction of some youths to social media. That is why they can never be able to calculate the billions of Naira Nigerian youths and Nigeria itself have lost to the Twitter shutdown. For a country which is tottering on economic collapse, it is unforgivable that a veritable source of income has been shut down by a repressive administration intent only on the suppression of freedom of speech and expression, in stark defiance of constitutional provisions to the contrary.
Umar seems not to understand my suggestion that Nigeria urgently needs non-career political leaders. The challenges before us deserve more serious attention and require purposeful leadership, not politicians fed with loads of rotten garbage from their acolytes from day one. The longer a politician has stayed in politics, the heavier the liabilities he must carry. Nigeria desperately needs a CEO to operate and treat the country as a business entity with profit and loss in view. We can no longer afford another round of musical chairs and seat-warming. The Buhari who campaigned all over Nigeria now waits majestically inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa to be briefed and debriefed by hordes of visitors from home and abroad. Sadly, for the brief period that they spend with the President, most of them only mouth and express what they believe he wants to hear not what he should be told. Most of them only visit for photo ops.
In America, Biden has instant access to the best hospitals and Doctors within the shortest possible distance. Not so in our dear beloved country. God forbid, our own President would have to be flown to Dubai, Germany, London or even the United States of America. My concerns are borne out of experience and patriotism and not out of any animosity against the person of a man I truly admire, The Wazirin. However, as I have espoused in my column last Saturday, I believe the time has come for newer and fresher aspirants to accept, activate and actualize the challenge thrown at them by Atiku that they should join the Presidential race instead of asking him not to run.
Another reason for suggesting that the older folks should retire or be retired by the voting masses is that it distressing that anybody would be touting Atiku’s proposals for the privatisation or unbundling of NNPC as a significant policy shift in this time and age. Petroleum which NNPC supervises and superintends is a dying economic product. In another 20 years, cars, machines and engines will no longer be powered by diesel or petrol. Electric and fossil fuel powered cars and machines will be the order of the day. This is what any savvy leader must be thinking about and focusing his mind and energy upon and not the selling off of NNPC. Anyone who is still considering petrol and diesel as continuing to take pride of place in our economy is living in the dark ages.
Gas will be a major contributor to the economic development of any nation, but this has been much neglected and is clearly not in the reckoning of our older leaders. A young vibrant leader will see the opportunities presented by advances in technology, science and medicine and embrace it. Our present crop of senescent leaders simply have no readiness to think outside the box. They wish away social media and talk about its ills, instead of looking at its great benefits, advantages and potentials. The richest people, companies and countries in the world are those that have wholeheartedly welcomed and embraced these advances and continued in their development. Instead, in Nigeria we pay lip service to them and blame them for the ills in our society which, ironically, social media actually exposes.
Finally, and for the moment, I will reply on the aspect of Atiku being a unifier. I fail to see this. If indeed he is a unifier, he would not even think of contesting after we have had a divisive President from his ethnic group. Any unifier would set aside and sacrifice his own personal interest and ambition and instead campaign for succession by somebody from a different ethnic, and even religious, background. The agitation for separatism and secession, which has now grown to become a groundswell of opposition to the unity and continued existence of the country, is predicated on the inequalities, parochialism and bigotry of the present administration which is headed by a Fulani man. The present intractable security challenges that the country faces stems from this fact. It cannot be business as usual. There must be a change in the tribal affiliation of our President if there is any possibility that Nigeria will continue to exist much longer after 2023. Our older politicians believe Nigeria will continue to be ruled by force and that the people will never have a choice than to accept the jackboots, but history has taught us otherwise. I am unapologetic for putting it so crudely because that is the simple truth.
Rather than persuade me that the older generation still have any place in the governance of today’s Nigeria, Umar’s reply steels me further and makes me resolute in my opposition to them. I am convinced that the younger generation who make up the majority are of this same view. Time will tell!