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Even before Nigeria’s charismatic former Vice President and presidential flagbearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) won the ticket as the party’s candidate for the February 25, 2023, I had always been an established Atiku aficionado. In April, last year, I was contacted by a non-governmental organisation, (NGO), to function as Senior Resource Person, for a six-week assignment, in a “Situation Room,” SR for short. Our brief was to commit about five hours everyday, building scenarios about the outcomes of the presidential primaries of the two major political parties, the PDP and the All Progressives Congress, (APC). From the inaugural meeting, I told the conveners I was an unsuitable participant. I’m “unapologetically Atiku.” I pleaded to be excused from the project. Surprisingly, I was restrained by the organisers, who thought my aggregate experiences would enrich discourse and disputation.

We sat at conference table every day before a whiteboard, the lead discussant for the day holding a marker, drawing conjectures from one senatorial zone to another; one state to another and one “sub-zone” to another. Sub-zones, yes. Godswill Akpabio as governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2012,  hosted me on a few occasions in the course of official assignments. In one of our engagements, he drew my attention to this critical stratum of the nation’s geopolitical superstructure. He espoused that in most instances, states which are birthed by brother states, seem to follow the political and attitudinal footsteps of their older “brother states.”

We enjoyed the tea, coffee, biscuits, finger foods and full lunch provided at every sitting, not forgetting the occasional indulgence with respectable wines and passable cognac. The realities of our findings regularly and repeatedly pointed in the direction of an Atiku Abubakar victory. I refused to re-echo the fact, nor gloat over it, even if this reality was the product of my previous personal and repeatedly rigorous interrogations. You know the kind of humility demonstrated by footballers when they score against their parent club in a match. They don’t jump and punch the sky in revelry. That Atiku eventually won the PDP primary and is the presidential candidate of the PDP, is history. He has subsequently pursued a decently-intoned, non-abusive, issue-based, campaign, winning converts in their millions.

I’ve been chased away from a number of sociocultural and professional social media platforms, for evangelising Atiku. People wonder the nexus between me a through and total Yoruba man, and a Fulani man. True, I’m a Yoruba man who finds himself strangely pooled together with non-contiguous cultures and ethnicities, in the uppermost extremes of Yoruba country, and so wrongfully labelled a “northerner.” I recall being labelled a “Fulani slave,” by a much younger professional colleague, a sworn Bola Tinubu demagogue, on an alumni chat group. This social media thing is a curious leveler, I must say.

A very good friend of mine with whom I shared the same classrooms, lecture halls and hostels in the university over 40 years ago, called me the other day from Lagos. He had a copy of The Guardian of Friday February 10, 2023 with him and had just read my article: Atiku, El Rufai, Udenta And The Vindiction Of Esu Odara on the backpage of the newsroom. He availed me a long lecture about the impracticability in Nigeria of a Fulani successor, to Muhammadu Buhari, after all that Nigerians, especially non-Fulani Nigerians, have suffered under Buhari’s watch. Everything he spoke about: appointments, siting of infrastructures, political patronage and business opportunities, are issues I’ve consistently addressed in many of my media engagements.

He told me Tinubu is not the most perfect president Nigeria needs now, but we need him all the same. He informed me that APC flagbearer will most probably continue with his known penchant for the self-centred empowerment and enrichment of his family and associates. He cited the example of the Alpha Beta tax collection behemoth which continues to consolidate the multibillionaire status of the APC strongman. He also referred to a business product introduced in Lagos in 2002 when Tinubu’s more prominent son, was probably still in secondary school, but which the young man now wields total monopoly in the public space of the mega city. He wouldn’t be surprised if oil licences are freely appropriated to the family and cronies of a Tinubu president. So what exactly is the grouse about a prospective Atiku Abubakar presidency?

“It is morally wrong,” my friend said. “Atiku shouldn’t have put himself forward for the presidency,” he proceeded. “It is the turn of the south which is why I’m rooting for Tinubu.” I listened patiently to his contributions before I joined issues with him. “If you are so enamoured about a southern presidency at this time, why do you think it is morally correct for the south west to produce one,?” I asked him. Hasn’t the south west previously occupied the presidency? Isn’t the outgoing vice president from the same zone? Don’t you think we Yorubas have had our fair share of presences in Aso Villa in the past 24 years? Have you thought about the serial out-muscling of the north east from the nation’s political scheme? Or which south are you talking about?” We battled ourselves in a telephone conversation which spanned almost an hour.

Atiku is unnecessarily demonised on account of his primal sociocultural origins which he had absolutely no role in determing. He is a kinsman of Buhari whose better forgotten nepotistic, mean-spirited and bigoted rule, has profiled his compatriots of the same ethnographic origins. But haven’t twin children born by the same mother, minutes between one another, manifested extreme opposite, if not discordant attitudinal peculiarities? Atiku’s adversaries have evidently rammed themselves into a cul de sac with respect to all manner of unsubstantiated innuendos, labels, and name tags they’ve sought to hang around his neck. They are thus foraging for extraneous issues to impugn his political profile which is on the ascendancy.

Point is Tinubu and his choir who picked Buhari up and cleaned him after his earlier three lule-ings to adapt the Tinubu expression, did insufficient due diligence on their product before foisting him on Nigerians. His most uninspiring performance profile which he has remorselessly described as “doing his best,” is misconstrued and misapplied as the operational manual of every other Fulani person who aspires to high office. Buhari apparently conned his benefactors by his initial pretensions as a “born again democrat,” even as his promoters forgot that the same Buhari sounded the death knell of Nigeria’s Second Republic, December 31, 1983. Stereotyping anybody from any ethnic background on account of the misconduct of his kinsmen is against my thought, principles and beliefs. It is unfair and most untenable. Atiku must be assessed, understood and appreciated on account of the specific sterling strengths and impeccable qualities he brings to the table.

Today’s Nigeria urgently needs a pacifist after the tormenting years of Buhari; a unifier after the multilevel shredding of our various strands of national cohesion and a restorer after the nation’s years of locusts. We need an immediately impactful instigator of economic recovery after the holistic ruination of the Buhari years. We should presently be preoccupied with the positives a potential president can proffer and make speedy, positive, far-reaching difference, irrespective of his tongue or origins. Atiku comes with multiple strengths and qualities. His pouch is packed with deep experiences from the public and private sectors. He is a stickler to rule of law; a believer in employment and empowerment to drive the economy. He offers the clearest and most practicable pathway for Nigeria’s rescue, (coincidentally the abbreviation of the key words of his manifesto); recovery and rediscovery.

Over two decades ago, Atiku established the “National Development Project,” (NDP), steered by Usman Bugaje, a pharmacist, scholar and public intellectual. The organisation discreetly surfed for brains and brilliant minds who could add substantial quality to governance and national development, moving forward. This was even as Atiku fixed his gaze on a future role as chief helmsman of Nigeria. He has therefore most adequately prepared himself for the task ahead. The next time people pose the question: Who are those Atiku Abubakar has headhunted or groomed for national service? I will refer them to Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State; Chukwuma Soludo, his Anambra State counterpart and Bonnie Haruna who was chief executive of Adamawa State. I will refer them to Emeka Ihedioha who was Atiku’s aide during his first term as vice president, before his upward climb as deputy speaker, House of Representatives and later, governor of Imo State.

I will tell them that Olusegun Ajuwon, a seasoned medical doctor who would become Obasanjo’s chief personal physician, was first family doctor to Atiku in Adamawa State, before Atiku introduced him to Obasanjo. Ajuwon rose to become chief medical director, (CMD), of the National Hospital, Abuja. Jide Adeniji, an engineer who lived and worked in the civil service of Adamawa State for decades found himself the pioneer managing director of the Federal Emergency Road Management Agency, (FERMA), on Atiku’s recommendation. I will remind my quizzers that Atiku had already appointed my good friend of blessed memory, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo his media aide in 1999, before Obasanjo reassigned him managing director of Daily Times of Nigeria Plc.

When Obasanjo needed a crack cop to pioneer the newly established Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Atiku found Nuhu Ribadu out. The same Atiku entrusted the management of his media affairs to Garba Shehu, the serving Senior Special Assistant, (SSA) to Buhari, and Deolu Akande, now a professor and Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC), among others. I will also draw their attention to the fact that of all these names, only Haruna and Ribadu come from Atiku’s Adamawa State. Did you observe that virtually all these people are almost all seasoned technocrats and professionals? That is the “unique selling point,” (USP), which Atiku provides. Now, please tell me: Which presidential candidate in today’s Nigeria can be more pan-Nigerian or more qualified for a time like this, than Atiku Abubakar?

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, GCON.

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