Like President Muhammadu Buhari, who contested the presidential polls on four occasions before finally clinching it; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has already tested the waters as presidential candidate in 2007 and 2011. This is aside his sojourn as an aspirant in 1992 and 2015. With the All Progressives Congress (APC) nearing its mid-term course, the Turakin Adamawa may have raved his political machine into action for a possible last attempt to once again romance the corridors of power where he held sway as former President Obasanjo’s deputy from 1999 to 2007. MUSA SIMON REEF, with additional reports from AMOS DUNIA, delves into Atiku’s burgeoning political chess game and his comeback bid amidst opposition from powerful forces ready to stop him at all cost
Politically savvy and a relentless dream chaser, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar remains a rallying political symbol since the dawn of this uninterrupted democracy in 1999. If he has an irrevocable urge to wear the presidential crown this lifetime, he is equally surrounded by people who would rather die than see him achieve that age-long dream. When in 2016 he called for the restructuring of Nigeria during the launch of a book, ‘We are all Biafrans’, written by a Nigerian writer and activist, Chido Onumah, many read more meanings than what he said at the event.
Castigating the governing All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration of failing to learn from past mistakes, the former number two citizen bemoaned the cry of marginalization and offered the best way to resolve the quagmire. “I have long advocated for greater autonomy, powers and resources for our federating states. Some have retorted that state governors will abuse those powers and resources. Well, the same logic applies to the federal level, which, as recent revelations show, is not without blemish. In fact, the current situation encourages governors to abuse their power, do little to raise revenue and point fingers at the Federal Government, thereby making it more difficult for their people to hold them to account,” he submitted at the occasion.
Since then, Atiku has kept a low profile on his presidential ambition. Attempts by this magazine to engage him met a brick wall of opposition. His media handlers politely referred us to one of his supporters whose reluctance to speak was deafening. Insiders readily acknowledged that for now, the Atiku’s presidential dream is a silent project only enmeshed in recruiting mobilizers across the country. According to them, the outcome of APC National Convention proposed for April 29, 2017 may determine and shape what the future holds for him.
Old Allies Bonded By Interest
Few months ago, Atiku and Governor Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai were ensnared in altercation, bitterly accusing each other of lying and presenting half truths on the contentious privatisation exercise of President Obasanjo era. Indeed, the end of Obasanjo’s presidency also marked the beginning of hostilities, with no love lost between Atiku and his estranged god-son, El-Rufai.
Most political pundits consider former President Obasanjo, who was the Turakin Adamawa’s boss for eight years, a sworn enemy of his presidential project. He is quoted to have said that if he were dying and his former deputy was coasting home to victory, he would plead with God to send him back to earth to truncate Atiku’s ambition. Described as one who does not easily forget and forgive an offence, many say Obasanjo has enough stones to pelt the former Customs officer if and when he decides to throw his hat in the presidential ring.
As the days for a final decision draw near, the anti-Atiku camp continues to swell with the Oba of Lagos, His Royal Highness Oba Rilwan Akiolu, threatening that corrupt government officials during the Obasanjo era would not be allowed to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Political analysts are quick to hazard the guess that the revered monarch’s threat was shot directed at the Atiku.
Stepping Ahead of 2019
Famed for his political sagacity and ability to rally for political interests, politicians nurturing presidential ambition are not comfortable with the antics of this former ally of late Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua whose war chest and deep pockets send fear down the spines of his opponents. Also causing ripples among top party officials in both Yola and Abuja is what many see as a bitter struggle for political power between Atiku and former Governor Murtala Nyako, who recently lost his political godson, Governor Jibrilla Bindow, to the Atiku group. The former Vice President’s confident disposition in making up with political opponents is unprecedented and accounts for his deftness in rallying a strong team for shared political goals.
A close watcher of Adamawa politics told Forefront that Atiku can go to any length in getting an individual or group in pursuit of his goal, adding, “He is not like those who cannot stoop to get an opponent over to his side. See what he has achieved by convincing Governor Bindow to join him. Only Atiku can do that.”
If Atiku’s eyes are fixed for the ultimate crown in 2019, his legion of enemies are not sleeping, as they are strategising against the Turaki whose war chest, analysts say, is astounding and far reaching. From his former boss (Obasanjo) whom he served as deputy to his estranged godson (el-Rufai), Atiku may become a lion tied to his past.
The Dream Killers
Atiku’s dream of becoming president is not without stiff opposition. For this dream to be realised, the former Vice President must work towards extinguishing the fireworks of opponents whose main mission is to truncate his plan of serving Nigeria at the highest level.
In this class are prominent political figures that are prepared and willing to deploy the entire arsenal within their capacity to truncate the emergence of an Atiku’s presidency.
Former president and boss to Atiku in his second shot at power, the Ota Farmer is considered a well-known and age-long adversary of Atiku’s presidency. Despite numerous overtures for him to bless and support this dream, the former president has remained adamant, alleging that the Turakin Adamawa is corrupt and cannot be trusted with power.
The initial rosy relationship between Obasanjo and his deputy had turned sour shortly before the expiration of their first tenure. When Obasanjo declared for a second term without Atiku’s input ahead of the 2003 presidential poll, the clouds of uncertainties hung thickly on the prospects of the Ota farmer scaling through successfully without support from the well-oiled Yar’Adua political machine championed by Atiku. So, for him to easily gain a second term, he needed the support of the North and the South-south, especially the governors, to make things happen in his favour at the party primaries against all odds. Knowing that Atiku, the politician was in charge of the governors, Obasanjo had no option but to bury his ego, swallow his pride and rode on the Turaki’s expansive political back to scale the intimidating hurdles that almost consumed his ambition.
However, in the heat of Obasanjo’s tenure elongation campaign, Atiku clearly opposed attempts by few members of OBJ’s kitchen cabinet lobbying for the former military ruler to continue in office for an unprecedented third term.
As Obasanjo’s plot against his deputy thickened, the alleged corruption in the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF)’s contracts became subject of the Senate enquiry to determine Atiku’s culpability. When the report was finally released, it indicted both Obasanjo and Atiku of using their offices to encourage and perpetrate corruption. The then Committee’s chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, alleged that both men had abused their offices by “aiding and abetting the diversion of public funds either for other projects or for fraudulent deposit in banks.” Though, the report stated that Obasanjo gave approval for the money and other projects in 2006 and subsequently got the ratification of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), it concluded that the FEC ratification did not absolve the president, as the FEC was also accused of acting in disregard of the law establishing the PTDF.
According to the damning report, “The President, Chief Obasanjo, and the Federal Executive Council acted in disregard of the law establishing the PTDF. Though the ratification by the Federal Executive Council may mitigate this breach of the law, it, however, does not absolve the president and the Federal Executive Council.” The committee also said that Atiku “from 1999 to 2007, abused his office by aiding and abetting the diversion of public funds in the sums of $125 million and $20 million respectively approved for specific projects to deposits in banks, some of which were fraudulently converted as loans to NDTV, Mofas Shipping Company Limited and Transvari Services Limited and should be sanctioned for any offences disclosed.”
Sadly, this episode proved to be another show of shame and typical political gerrymandering where the elite smartly got themselves out of trouble after delivering an alleged cheating blow on our common patrimony. As expected, these flowery responses from the two embattled camps sounded the knell for the Senate’s report to the chagrin of many Nigerians
Now, with Atiku set for a final onslaught on the presidency in 2019, he will have to deal with Obasanjo, a man who some believe never forgets or forgives infraction against him by people. The Ota warlord is said to be in possession of several packages of high-profile allegations against Atiku, though he failed woefully to substantiate some of these charges while in the corridors of power, insiders hinted that Obasanjo may still attempt to resuscitate these allegations in a bid to portray the Turaki as an unreliable person for the presidential seat. However, close allies of Atiku are quick to dismiss Obasanjo’s threat as leaky, since no court of law has ever declared the former vice president guilty of any crime.
President Buhari easily snatched the 2015 APC’s presidential ticket from Atiku whose big war chest ahead of the party primaries gave him an edge over other contestants. Though he is yet to declare interest for 2019, Buhari is unlikely to support Atiku for the race. The former vice president is not in the President’s camp and the so-called Aso Rock cabal may find in Atiku a threat that should be kept far from the corridors of power.
Insiders posit that the 2014 APC primaries held in Lagos drove a huge wedge in the Buhari/Atiku relationship. It is on record that the Adamawa-born politician avoided the campaign trails in almost all of the states, and only showed up at Yola during the APC Presidential campaign. Between them, there is no love lost.
Governor Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai is another fierce antagonist of Atiku’s presidential ambition. Rumoured to be nurturing an interest in 2019, if Buhari declines to run, the Kaduna State governor and the former vice president recently engaged themselves in verbal war, accusing each other of being economical with the truth. It was Atiku that introduced El-Rufai to Obasanjo, who thereafter appointed him as Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). The former FCT Minster is accused of switching political loyalty in the heat of disagreement between Obasanjo and his deputy. Known as a dogged fighter with capacity to offload verbal dynamites where necessary, the Kaduna State governor sees the realisation of an Atiku’s presidency as a threat to his political growth and ultimate aspirations. On Obasanjo’s side, El-Rufai may soon return to the trenches in a desperate bid to finally eclipse the political fortunes of his former godfather.
Former Lagos State governor and de-facto APC National leader may secretly be nurturing presidential ambition. Though he recently debunked insinuation that he has subterranean plot to succeed Buhari, political insiders see Tinubu as a double-faced personality in the 2019 political chess game. He was at one time reported to be working with Atiku for a mega coalition; but close aides to the former Governor believe everything may soon become obvious after the APC primaries that will determine where the pendulum swings to. At present, the Asiwaju is adopting the popular ‘siddon-look’ posture and keeping his next moves to his chest.
He has not hidden his dream of becoming Nigeria’s president since leaving office as Kano state governor. This amiable leader of the Kwankwasiya movement has continued to hold nocturnal meetings towards realising his political dreams. Kwankwaso’s altercation with his former deputy and current Kano State governor, Alhaji Ganduje, is linked to his presidential ambition project. The Senator is said to be at loggerheads with Ganduje over the latter’s refusal to openly support his ambition for 2019.
Having beaten Atiku in the 2015 Lago primaries, the former Kano governor has reached out to several groups in all sections of the country to galvanise support for his aspiration. But first of all, he must work hard to neutralize and push Atiku aside to have a smooth sail.
Swinging The Pendulum
Checks by Forefront indicate that pressure is already mounting on Atiku to make another return to the embattled PDP fold in pursuit of his ambition in 2019. However, a competent source hinted that the recent court verdict recognising former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff as the authentic National Chairman of PDP may have temporarily put some spanners in the works for the expected move because as things are currently, the former ruling party is in a pitiable state and incapable of posing any real threat to the governing APC.
Already, there are claims Atiku is massing support behind the Senator Ahmed Makarfi faction, and that he was only bidding his time before striking at the right moment. Former spokesman to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Doyin Okupe once declared in a media chat that Atiku is the only serious politician that could pose a threat to the APC come 2019.
The rationale behind Atiku making an early exit from the APC, according to a political commentator, hinges on the fact that he may not get the party’s ticket in 2019. The recent remarks credited to Chief Bola Tinubu that his presidential ambition is not completely over, indicate that the contest for the APC ticket may be tough and bumpy. Though President Buhari is presently bugged down by his ill-health and yet to make up his mind on the next polls, it is uncertain if he or the sneaky group of cronies around him would ever support the former vice president for the APC ticket when such opportunity presents itself.
Members of the APC, according to sources, are still enmeshed in dissension and squabbles, just as a cabal dedicated to building a strong base for Buhari are not favourably disposed to an Atiku Presidency. With his eyes fixed on 2019, the deft politician is now encouraged by his strategists to be an early starter in order to gain leverage.
“In the calculation for 2019, nothing is sacrosanct and all groups are enmeshed in strategising for the next polls. Politicians may be telling you that 2019 is far, but I can assure you that they are back to the trenches so that they are not caught unawares,” disclosed a member of the National Assembly from the South South geo-political region who craved for anonymity.
A source close to the former Customs officer’s camp hinted that some of the pro-Atiku groups are assembling nationwide to push for a stronger coalition. Among all the APC bigwigs, he is believed to have cultivated the warm friendship of politicians across various divide on a broader national spectrum. However, the path to success for him in 2019 is fraught with challenges and political landmines. According to our source, there are still powerful forces that have sworn the Turaki must never get near the power saddle, just as some governors are said to be awaiting the right signal from President Buhari to join the political fray.
On many scores, the footprints of Atiku on the nation’s political scene is not too cheering, but if the performance of the APC continues to totters as it is presently, political watchers predict Nigerians would demand for a shift from the ‘Change mantra’.
“There is no doubting the fact that Atiku’s return to the power corridors is fraught with serious challenges, but his tactfulness and political sagacity in turning the tables against his political foes may prove an all-winning strategy in realising his life-long presidential ambition that has suffered huge setbacks in the past,” a close ally of the former Vice President told Forefront.
Ready Nod From Close Ally
Interestingly, an affirmative answer and ready nod for Atiku’s presidential quest comes from Nigeria’s former envoy to Indonesia, Ambassador Ibrahim Mai-Sule. Without any qualms, Mai-Sule insists the Adamawa-born politician has the capacity, personality and all it takes to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. From this respected diplomat’s viewpoint, “Atiku is well qualified to be Nigeria’s President. He has the credentials and the capacity… He was elected Vice-President for eight years and has made the political atmosphere lively, especially during the Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda. If you put what Bola Tinubu had become politically and you put all these together, I think Atiku has become somebody who has the capacity and attributes.”
Further amplifying the basis for his thoughts, Ambassador Mai-Sule said, “He has age on his side. He has experience, capacity to provide leadership, to carry people along. Look at all the people that worked with Obasanjo, he remained the rallying point.”
But can Atiku defeat the array of political rivals, who are determined to stop him in his tracks? Against the backdrop of a divided PDP that has witnessed defections of some members from the National Assembly, can the former Vice President re-work the PDP and couple a merger that may eventually prove APC’s albatross in 2019? These and many other questions may serve to illuminate the dark path as Atiku attempts to swing back on tracks his presidential dream ahead of the next polls that may bear out his last shot at the nation’s top job.