FOR the many, or indeed the few, who loved Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one epithet fits more than any other. It is that the grand old man was the best president Nigeria never had. And what makes the epithet so dramatic is that it was quipped by General Emeka Ojukwu. Ojukwu and Awolowo, it might serve well to remember, were at the polar opposites of how best to run and configure Nigeria. Thus, the generosity of Ojukwu was a part of the quote being as popular in Nigeria as gbegiri soup is in Ibadan.
But there is a certain irony in the quip. The point is that despite our most fervent wishes, democracy is incapable of measuring candidates, in ‘good, better and best’ terms. Unelected candidates come only in popularity or numbers (racket?) terms. As a brilliant sage puts it, democracy can only count, not weigh numbers.
People get elected because they are popular, can command the numbers, and not because they have gravitas or can perform, to use a Nigerian speak. And only those who performed may then be prorated good, better or best, post elections. So, to describe an unelected and apparently unelectable regional leader, as the best president the nation never had is to indulge in poetic licence, in meaningless logic. The matter is simple. Only the elected may perform and thus may be rated in terms of good, better and best. Democracy counts, democracy doesn’t weigh numbers.
We have done all this much to prove a little point. It is that Alhaji Abubakar Atiku may be innocent of the unjust accusations levied against him. The allegation is that his prescription for restructuring Nigeria is a move to position himself for the politics of 2019.
Part of the details are as follows. What cost Awolowo his mandate across the nation was in part his outspokenness. In the course of speaking his mind the best he knew, he made enemies as much as friends. It so happened that his enemies were all scattered across the nation’s space, save for the southwest, his homestead. It was these political enemies of his, including ironically, the many he served and or worked with in the North, who saw to it that Awolowo remained a ‘made in the West and for the West’ only phenomenon. They simply denied him their votes and alliances.
Now, Atiku has erupted as a verbal volcano. But the configurations are not exactly similar with those of Awolowo. First of all, Atiku’s call for restructuring will on the short end rob the North, his homestead, of its perceived gains.
But the important point is that in speaking out without diplomatic tongue twisting, Atiku is likely to have made political enemies. And to pepper up the matter is that these enemies are the most powerful in the Nigeria of today. It might thus be said with the least of error, that in the course of preaching restructuring, Atiku broke rank, turned coat from his own party and spoke as a party-free agent.
And to twist the knife, Atiku scored his party leader and president, Muhammadu Buhari, a low if not resit grade. For Atiku, Buhari has learnt and taken no lessons from the past and has failed to lead. It was to put things mildly, a damning verdict. The Turf Game United States correspondent emailed to ask if Atiku is still in APC. Well, since we are not his hired hands, it is that we don’t know. These things, the ways and means of the Nigerian rich and powerful men, are beyond mere mortals like us.
The implication of this is that Atiku has become a marked man, politically and, perhaps, otherwise. Having now precipitated the 2019 political war, it is clear Atiku has become the wrong horse to bet on if one wanted to win the 2019 presidency. The reasons are as follows. Nigeria, despite all appearances, is not a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word. Nigeria, no thanks to the General Abdulsalam Abubarka (rtd.) ‘‘constitution in forgery’’ elects a dictator. Former president Goodluck Jonathan himself confessed to that. Frightened of the powers warehoused in the presidency, good ole Joe said that he was yet to use up 30% of the powers of the presidency, and innocent Nigerians are already crying blue murder.
Alas, Jonathan was a minority man. But to make matters worse he had not bothered to read Minorities as Competitive Overlords, a book that would have saved him or just any minority man his presidency. However, the man Atiku is to deal with here and now, is President Buhari, a majority tribesman, just like Obasanjo, an earlier Atiku nemesis. The implications of where you come from are many and vital and are parts of your survival tool in Nigeria political workshop.
Thus one of Buhari’s key aims for 2019 has now become to prevent Atiku from being elected or electable as a president. So, whether intending it or not, Atiku has entered into the same escalated crisis he had with Obasanjo. We may all recall that after the then vice president Atiku shadow-challenged Obasanjo in his second term and stopped him in his third term bid, Obasanjo as a matter of ‘state policy’ took on the mission of stopping Atiku from ever succeeding him or ever emerging president of Nigeria whatever party Atiku flees to.
So far, Obasanjo is on target. Not known to many, the very emergence of Buhari as the APC candidate, beating Atiku to it, was an Obasanjo scheme in good measures. In fact, it was the need or greed to stop Atiku that made the meeting of the minds between Jagaban Tinubu and Baba Obasanjo, otherwise implacable political foes, possible. And with the two against Atiku, an old warhorse was gelded. Thus it may be said in truth that Buhari was selected in the APC party primary, not really on his own merits, but as a gambit to stop Atiku. That Atiku is politically well and alive at all, is still a miracle, judging by the poisoned political chalice Obasanjo handed him for dinner.
But all this dogon turenci is best summarised by General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.), the master of the game. Famously, Babangida had foreclosed as follows: We don’t know those who will succeed us, but we know those who won’t. So, an incumbent in Nigeria can foreclose on your political future. And it is worse if you are of the same party. And remember Babangida had to have General Mamman Vatsa murdered, not so much he was an enemy as that he was a traitor. In Babangida’s mind, Vatsa belonged with us in the same Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, party and now he wanted us out and himself in.
That is the danger, that an Atiku in APC may now be considered and treated as a traitor, a Vatsa, and not just a foe. It is just that, thank God, extra judicial and or kangaroo murder is not in the way of voter politics. But as we can all be sure, things happen.
The point is thus simple. It is that unless Atiku is naïve and unknowing, he is likely to be aware that one of the great games of the Buhari faction – the most powerful faction of the APC and Nigeria – will be that Atiku never gets to be president in 2019, whatever the party. In fact, the project of an Atiku never emerging president 2019, will be of a higher priority than having Buhari re-elected. To repeat, if the matter came to Buhari forfeiting a second term to stop Atiku’s ever becoming president, the Buhari political operators would accede to it.
Our advice to Atiku, if he is not having ear problems, is that he should give up on the game of electoral politics. As fellow elders, we too have given up on votes picking. Atiku should seize the moment, dedicate his life to the restructuring of old Nigeria and thus the birthing of a new and more prosperous Nigeria. That will be a Nigeria for all where there are no born to rule and or born to be ruled. If Atiku takes it up as a mission, without any hidden agenda, to use it to pick and choose votes, he did be in the next two or three years the most popular, the most powerful Nigerian alive, and, perhaps, since 1914. And history will accord him her greatest accolades as the founder of that new Nigeria.