By Omoniyi Salaudeen
First, it started as a speculation. Then, a rebuttal.
And finally it happened: Atiku has dumped APC.
Indeed, before the former vice president announced his formal resignation from the ruling party on Friday, not a few watchers of political events in the polity had expected the inevitable for a number of reasons. One, he has been unrelenting in his pursuance of his presidential ambition which dates back to 2003.
Second, his standing on critical national issues has always been at variance with the disposition of the present government. Apart from his open criticism of the economic policies of the Buhari administration, he also set the tone for the current wave of agitation for restructuring, a move which some analysts see as a calculated attempt to curry the favour of the South. A smart one at that! Third, those who could read between the lines also know that Atiku has something up his sleeves with his alleged role in the power play intrigues that culminated in the emergence of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly. All this is aimed at one thing: actualization of his 2019 presidential ambition.
Therefore, with his formal resignation from the APC, it is now apparent that Atiku is ready for the slugfest. In a statement issued on Friday, Atiku cited alleged clampdown on democracy as well as existence of fault lines within the party as his main reason for jumping the ship. It read in part: “On the 19th of December, 2013, I received members of the All Progressives Congress at my house in Abuja. They had come to appeal to me to join their party after my party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had become factionalized as a result of the special convention of August 31, 2013. “The fractionalization of the Peoples Democratic Party on August 31, 2013 had left me in a situation where I was, with several other loyal party members, in limbo, not knowing which of the parallel executives of the party was the legitimate leadership. It was under this cloud that members of the APC made the appeal to me to join their party, with the promise that the injustices and failure to abide by its own constitution which had dogged the then PDP, would not be replicated in the APC and with the assurance that the vision other founding fathers and I had for the PDP could be actualized through the All Progressives Congress. It was on the basis of this invitation and the assurances made to me that I, being party-less at that time, due to the fractionalization of my party, accepted on February 2, 2014, the hand of fellowship given to me by the All Progressives Congress. On that day, I said “it is the struggle for democracy and constitutionalism and service to my country and my people that are driving my choice and my decision” to accept the invitation to join the All Progressives Congress.”
“However, events of the intervening years have shown that like any other human and like many other Nigerians, I was fallible. While other parties have purged themselves of the arbitrariness and unconstitutionality that led to fractionalization, the All Progressives Congress has adopted those same practices and even gone beyond them to institute a regime of a draconian clampdown on all forms of democracy within the party and the government it produced.”
For now, there is no official release yet as to which political platform Atiku would use to actualize his age long dream. Earlier, precisely in July 2016, there was a rumour that he had formed a new political party to contest the 2019 presidential election with former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko as his running mate. But he quickly debunked the claim, pledging his loyalty to the APC.
A release signed by his Media Adviser, Mazi Paul Ibe, said the “report was an incompetent product of fiction, so shallow and vacuous that even its authors could not validate its credibility with reliable and verifiable sources.”
The statement further alerted Nigerians and APC leadership to the existence of “some people of bad faith trying tooth and nail to spread the seeds of discord in the party, and destroy the much needed unity, harmony and cohesion, which are the pillars of strength for every political organization,” adding “Atiku would ordinarily have ignored the malicious report, but says he chose to react, lest his silence would be mistaken as an admission of the falsehoods published against him”.
Intriguingly, Atiku had declared in an interview he granted in 2014 that APC would be his last bus stop. His words: “For the avoidance of doubt, however, the APC is my last bus stop. We now have two formidable political parties and Nigerians have a viable choice.”
Since he set out on his presidential ambition, Atiku has traversed virtually all major political parties. In the wake of his face-off with his former boss, he dumped the PDP and co-founded the ACN, a platform on which he contested the 2007 presidential contest. Shortly after, he ditched the party and went back to PDP. Now, he has again quit the APC, which according to his earlier statement, is his “last bus stop”.
Some critics have described the Turakin Adamawa as a serial defector. Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State in an interview with State House reporters on Friday after joining Buhari in observing juma’at at the Presidential Villa mosque said he knew that Atiku would quit the APC in December, stressing that it was better he left earlier than planned.
But Atiku said he had no regrets jumping from party to party to pursue his political ambition. His words: “I have no regrets. And I should not have any. I was a founding member of the PDP. At a point, the PDP leadership became insensitive to the aspirations of party members who were being denied the right to participate in the activities of the party, particularly in the elections.”
“As a leader, my decisions on the choice of party affiliations are taken in response to the desires of those who look up to me for leadership. It is not about me. It is about the electoral futures of my supporters.
“I never changed political parties without wide consultation with my supporters and without subjecting my decisions to their desires. This is what a leader should do and should be prepared to take responsibility.”
The question now is: Which is the next platform? Already, there is speculation that the PDP may be his next destination. Reports have it that Katsina State chapter of the party is now in frenzy mood waiting to welcome him back to the PDP. Interestingly, this is coming at a time when the party is preparing for its make or mar national convention holding on December 9.
In this exploit, there is no doubt that Atiku would have some formidable forces to contend with in his bid to secure the presidential ticket, if he eventually makes the PDP his next destination. Among the frontline contenders who are already on the field are: former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, his Kaduna State counterpart and current chairman, Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Gombe State Governor, Dankwanbo.
Odds against his ambition
Regardless of whosoever emerges as the national Chairman, it would be a herculean task for Atiku to upturn the existing balance of power within the PDP. On one hand, Makarfi, who is now at the helms of affairs of the party, would not want to be displaced by any individual for whatever reason. Likewise Lamido, who has also been holding consultations with the relevant stakeholders at all levels to woo their support. He won’t want to trade off his ambition for a pot of porridge. Perhaps, only Fayose could be a pushover here since the PDP had already zoned the presidency to the North.
Besides, with the existing bickering over power tussle, it is very unlikely for PDP to come out of the planned convention as a united force. In the last couple of days, there have been accusations and counter accusations of an alleged move by the leadership to impose a particular candidate as the National Chairman. This is coupled with the fact that virtually all state chapters of the party are enmeshed in one crisis or the other. All this will ultimately determine the future survival of the party as a formidable opposition.
Beyond party matter, Atiku has several other odds to grapple with. First, he has the power of incumbency to contend with. Although President Muhammadu Buhari has not formally declared his ambition to run for a second term, his body language leaves no one in doubt that he is only waiting for the right opportunity to do so. APC governors have already openly endorsed his ticket for the 2019. But he is still keeping mute. If finally he decides to run, then Atiku will meet a strong force to slug it out with in 2019.
From all experiences other than Goodluck Jonathan’s, no incumbent has ever lost out of power. Besides, Buhari still enjoys some measure of goodwill as well as support of the North. Again, the APC is making a gradual inroad into the South-east as evident in the last Anambra State governorship election. And to that extent, he may likely get more votes from the region than he got in 2015 in the next election. The 2019 race is another defining moment for Nigeria’s democracy.
Even former president Jonathan who has had the experience was frank enough to tell Atiku to find a way to reconcile with his former boss for him to actualize his ambition. Jonathan described Obasanjo as the boss of bosses in the Nigerian political space. Jonathan was quoted as saying in an interview he recently granted the Ovation Magazine: “He (Atiku) can’t get the APC ticket. If Atiku gets our party (PDP) ticket, he would compete well. But he would have to reach out to our boss, Baba OBJ, the boss of all bosses. We’ve all learnt at different times that you ignore OBJ at your own peril. OBJ has the magic wand, respected at home and abroad.”
Meanwhile, prior to this development, the PDP had tried to reach out to Obasanjo, but the move was rebuffed, saying he would never go back to his vomit. There is certainly a serious hurdle for Atiku here. The beginning of the distrust between Atiku and his former boss started with the botched impeachment attempt on Obasanjo in the wake of the 2003 presidential election. Allyning with some state governors, Atiku had sent jitters down Obsanjo’s spine when he threatened to contest the ticket with his boss. Obasanjo had to go down on his knees to beg Atiku to dump his ambition. Again, his (Atiku’s) opposition to the third term agenda of Obasanjo in 2006 further brought their mutual disdain to full public glare, as he openly disagreed with his boss over the attempt to extend his constitutional term limit of eight years.
The poser here is: will Obasanjo forgive and forget Atiku’s sins? The answer is in the womb of time. From his antecedents, Obasanjo is known for vindictive tendency. He may probably surprise his adversaries this time around. Meanwhile, he (Obasanjo), who played a prominent role in the 2015 presidential race, has said that Buhari has not disappointed him. So, he is obviously walking a tight rope.
Notwithstanding the enormity of the challenges before him, Atiku is not a politician that can be shoved aside. As a pan Nigerian politician and a bridge builder, he has friends across all ethnic and religious boundaries.
His hold on PDP cannot also be undermined being a founding member of the party and a purveyor of PDM, a structure he inherited from the late Shehu Yar’Adua. With his deep pocket and the strength of character as a tireless fighter and a shrewd political strategist, Atiku would surely harness all available resources at his disposal to actualize his dream.