ATIKU EYES SOUTHERN VOTES WITH COMMITMENT TO POWER DEVOLUTION
PDP presidential candidate seeks to hold his southern strongholds with a promise to decentralise governance, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president of Nigeria and the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 general election was at the Nigerian Guild of Editors’ Forum in Lagos on Wednesday where he laid bare his plans, which he called his covenant with Nigerians. He spoke to a 74-page document that articulates his vision and mission for the country he had tried to govern since 1993.
Outlining his five-point development agenda, he explained that he would unite Nigerians despite their diverse backgrounds, ensure the safety and security of their life and property, and build a dynamic economy for prosperity. Atiku also promised to restructure the polity to foster unity and stability, adding that his last but most important agenda is to provide qualitative education for the citizenry.
Saying the five thematic areas are interwoven, the former vice-president explained that his experience as a vice-president of the federation for eight years during which he superintended over the nation’s economy would put him in good stead to deliver on his promises, adding that he would not seek to reinvent the wheel as he would simply continue with the economic policies of the PDP-led administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The good thing about Atiku was that as calm and fluent as his presentation was, he did not pretend to be the sole author of his covenant, explaining that it was put together by a team of experts he assembled to help him to put together his ideas about how Nigeria should be lifted from its current comprehensive crises ranging from economic distress to deep social and political strife.
But the former vice-president gave a good account of himself in the interrogation that followed his short presentation, explaining his plans to actualise some of his promises. For instance, on security, he said the way out was to put more boots on the ground across all security forces that he said are desperately in short supply of personnel. In addition, he would build up the nation’s arsenal and pay more attention to technology and intelligence as well as scale up training and retraining of security personnel.
However, the issue that drew more attention was his restructuring plan perhaps because most of the editors were of southern origin and were quite interested in how a presidential candidate of northern extraction would champion devolution of power, which many of his colleagues from that zone of the country loath. He said he had been consistent in his commitment to reducing the power of the centre since his days as vice-president, explaining that he believed that not only should there be devolution of responsibilities but also that there should be incremental adjustment in the financial resources that go to the component units of the federation.
Not a few of the editors thought that he was being politically correct and that he would abandon the commitment the moment he gets into office. They were obviously speaking from experience. In 2015 the All Progressives Congress latched onto the groundswell of opinion, particularly in the southern parts of the country, promising to restructure the country if it took power. But that did not happen. First, the promise was denied. Then in an apparent attempt to douse agitations for its implementation, the party set up the Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai committee to look into the issue.
It’s been years since el-Rufai submitted his report, which recommended among others that some of the items on the Exclusive List be moved to the Concurrent List. It is not clear if the party passed on the recommendation to President Muhammadu Buhari for consideration and implementation. What is clear is that not only did the APC administration go cold on the issue, but legislative attempts to devolve power via constitutional alteration were also killed.
Incidentally, Atiku was in the APC when that manifesto that promised to restructure was published. However, it is difficult to hold him to account because he was not part of the Buhari administration. In any case, he abandoned the party early enough to throw his heart into the PDP ring to be able to contest the 2019 presidential election.
During that presidential run, he was in the company of the advocates of restructuring. One big proponent of the concept was Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural political organisation, which gave its support to him on account of his assurances to the group that he would back the devolution of power if he won the election.
“We have watched and listened to various candidates vying for the position of president in the election to be held on Saturday, February 16, 2019. We realize that [it is] only the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar that has irrevocably committed himself to restructure the country on becoming the president of the country,” the group said in a communique in February 2019, adding, “We take note of the fact that Alhaji Abubakar is not a new convert to the principle of restructuring. He has been at the forefront of the campaign for restructuring for upward of eight years.”
True, Atiku had remained consistent despite the hostility of his fellow northern politicians to the principle. Not that he had much choice though. His stronghold since 1993 had been the south where many of his political associates had been. Outcomes of his electoral contests would show that he garnered more votes from the south than from the north, whether when he contested under the Action Congress in 2007 or PDP in 2019.
Given the prevailing dynamics of the politics of the PDP where a gang of five governors, four in the South, and one in the North, see him as a usurper of the heritage of the southern zone, Atiku has a more compelling need to hug the dominant sentiment in the region to appeal to his traditional constituency that is being depleted by the revolt of the gang.
Meanwhile, the former vice-president’s concrete plan to initiate legislation for the devolution of power from day one in office would suggest that he means business beyond politics. And his plan to form an inclusive government involving all major political parties could help him to more easily achieve the consensus needed to push the idea forward.
But will he become president so that the people can have a chance to test the sincerity of his purpose? Only time will tell.
Adebiyi, the Managing Editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org