*‘Wike not rejected, I only picked someone I can work with’
*Says Tinubu wanted to be his running mate in 2007 but vetoed him because he abhors Muslim-Muslim ticket
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for 2023 and former vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, yesterday spoke on his frequent attempts at becoming the president of Nigeria since 1992, declaring that the driving force behind his persistence “is the desire to serve my country and its people.”
The former vice president stated this during an exclusive interview with Arise News, his first after being elected presidential candidate of the PDP.
On not picking the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, as his running mate for the 2023 election, Atiku said Wike was not rejected but he simply picked a running mate that he believes he could work with amicably.
Atiku also said he refused the proposition of Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), to be his running mate in 2007 because of his aversion to a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Atiku said his frequent shots at the presidency has its place in history, citing the case of Abraham Lincoln who ran up to five or six times before becoming the president of the United States of America.
He said: “In politics or even in history, we have several leaders around the world who have made attempts to serve their country.
“One of the greatest presidents in American history is Abraham Lincoln. This was somebody who ran up to five or six times to be the president of the United States.
“At this my age, and what I have been able to accomplish, I don’t think I desire anything other than the passion to serve my country and my fellow countrymen.
“So, this is what is the driving force behind my persistence and desire to serve my country and its people.
“Basically, I’m driven by the passion and desire to give back to this country and my society what the country has done for me. If I were to be born around this time, I don’t think I would have been that fortunate or likely to become what I have become today. So, I am more or less driven by the passion to give back to society what this country has given so much to me.”
Atiku also went down memory lane, saying, “even when I wanted to be the governor of my state, from the old Gongola State to Adamawa State, I ran four times before eventually I was elected as the state governor but I never served, as I became the Vice President.”
Responding to questions on what informed his choice of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate over Wike, he said Wike was not rejected as being suggested in some quarters but simply picked a running mate that he believes he could work with amicably.
He also said he did not go outside the recommendations of the committee he set up for the purpose.
According to him, “It is the prerogative of the presidential candidate to pick his running mate, a running mate that he believes he can work with amicably and also deliver the policies of the party and also try to unify the country.”
He said he had always looked towards the South-east for his running mate whenever he got the presidential ticket, stating, “I was given a ticket in 2007, I picked a South-easterner, I was given a ticket in 2019, I picked an Igbo, and now I have been given a ticket in 2022, and I picked an Igbo man, consecutively. This is just to show you my desire to unify the country.”
He described Wike as “a brilliant, courageous and tenacious politician that really has a future in the political evolution of this country. So, it is not about rejection.”
Atiku then set the record straight: “They recommended three names, because they knew it was my prerogative to pick any one of the three. Ortom himself chaired that committee. He knew there was no vote taken. I have the report of the committee and the committee said ‘we are recommending the following’ and out of the three people, I picked one. I did not go outside that recommendation. People should be fair to me and state the facts.”
Regardless, he said there was fence mending going on to assuage Wike: “We are reaching out to Wike and talking to him, very soon, we will resolve our internal crises.”
As for Okowa, he said his running mate is very brilliant and experienced, having served from the local government, to the state as a commissioner and to the National Assembly and then government.
Atiku said, “In arriving at the decision, I held wide consultations with various stakeholders in our party including our governors, the National Working Committee, board of trustees, and other leaders to seek their inputs and their wisdom.”
“In these consultations, I made clear that my running mate would have the potential to succeed me at a moment’s notice, that is, a president-in-waiting.
“In other words, the person must have the qualities to be President. The person must have an appreciation of the deep rot which our country has been put into by the rudderless APC government; understands the great suffering that most of our people are going through and the urgency of relieving them of that suffering; understands the critical importance of economic growth and development to provide our young people with jobs, hope, and a pathway to wealth.”
Asked to comment on whether he would have picked Peter Obi, who is the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, and what he believes are Obi’s chances in the presidential race, he said Okowa and Obi were two different people.
“Unfortunately, Peter Obi did not consult me but told me three days after he joined the Labour Party,” said the former vice president.
On Obi’s chances against him, Atiku said, “Peter Obi is not a threat. I really don’t expect the Labour Party to take as many votes from the PDP in the South-east as people are suggesting. They have no governor, or in the National Assembly. We could have seen it in the last election in Osun State. What was the performance of the Labour Party?
“Then again, they (Obi’s supporters) are talking about social media. Mind you, in the north, 90 per cent of our people (who will be voting) are not on social media.”
On the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, Atiku said he fundamentally disagrees with Tinubu on the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket in the presidential race.
Atiku said his disagreement with Tinubu on the same religion ticket dated back to 2007 in their days in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when Tinubu insisted on being his running mate.
“My fundamental disagreement and political departure with Asiwaju since 2007 was due to the Muslim-Muslim ticket. “Remember, I opted out of PDP because of zoning, and together with Asiwaju we formed ACN.
“Tinubu wanted to be my running mate when I was given the ACN presidential ticket in 2007, but I disagreed. And because of that, he switched his support to the late Umar Yar’Adua. That was the parting point.
“The Muslim-Muslim ticket has always been my fundamental disagreement. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, and there should be a religious balance in our leadership. It is unwelcoming and unripe for Nigeria as a democratic state.”
On his relationship with Tinubu, he said, “We are still friends, of course. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have political differences. We have been having political differences ever since we became friends. Nothing unusual about that.”
On zoning in the PDP, he said, “there is no microzoning in the PDP” but that there is a policy on rotation between the North and the South, stating that if he is voted president, then the Chairman of the PDP, Iyocha Ayu would resign.
He also discussed security matters in the country, stating that agitations in parts of the country would be unnecessary if every part of the country was given a sense of belonging.
He said it was curious that all the 17 security outfits in the country were headed by people from a particular section of the country, that there were fewer policemen than required, stating that under his watch, more policemen would be recruited.
The former VP who said he was an advocate of state police, added that the police should be well trained and equipped and to make it constitutional for police to be at all levels of administration.
He also addressed the issue of removal of subsidy, stating that it was inevitable and that as Vice President, he chaired a committee charged with this task. “When I was vice president, we had designed subsidy removal in four stages, and I was the chairman of the subsidy removal committee. At that time, I worked very closely with former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who was then president of the NLC. We removed subsidy phase one and phase two. By the time we finished phase two, we had left office. I believe this can be done in the future through negotiations.”
On stemming the incessant collapses of the national power grid, he advocated the decentralisation of power generation and transmission, with consideration of renewables like solar, hydro electricity from mini dams, gas powered electricity, where applicable, among others.
The transition of the NNPC from a public corporation to a limited liability company, he said, was still shrouded in secrecy, stating that the government needed to be more transparent about the future of the company.
For instance, he wondered what the position or fate of the oil- bearing states and communities would be under this new NNPC, and promised to open up the company to include the states and oil-bearing areas.