By WILLY EYA
Another general election is approaching even though it is still almost two years away. Politicians are already beating their usual drums for power as they get set for an imminent showdown in 2019. And those conversant with the architecture of politics in this clime can easily see the early signs of what to expect in the election.
That the race for the next general elections has started is no more at the realm of speculation nor the subject discussed in hushed tones. As it appears, those who want to throw their hats into the ring can no longer stomach their ambitions. Indeed, there is politics in the air.
For obvious reasons, what many are waiting for is how the game for the presidential election would play out. Characteristically, it would be the grand finale of the entire exercise.
Predictably, among others, two major characters that would largely determine the tenor of the election are President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Interestingly, both are still in the All Progressives Congress (APC). Based on information already in the public domain, barring unforeseen circumstances, both of them would battle for the presidential seat in 2019. And from whatever angle one looks at it, none of them is a pushover.
Apart from the fact that both are from the North, they are major power brokers in their rights. While Buhari would be banking in the incumbency factor and the cult following he enjoys in the North, the former vice president would likely be capitalizing on his experience in power struggle, political sagacity, the mood of the country and his deep pocket.
But as it appears, while President Buhari and his foot soldiers seem to be avoiding any faceoff with the Atiku camp over the 2019 question, the former vice president is no longer pretentious about his undying presidential ambition and has continued his consultations with major stakeholders across all political parties.
From information available to Saturday Sun, Atiku has been wooing critical stakeholders of his party and other political groups especially in the South, to support his project in 2019. He was said to have spent some days in Lagos recently to hold a number of critical meetings. Some of the stakeholders he is working hard to get their commitment include those close to the last two former governors of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola.
But in the unfolding drama, the snag is that with Buhari in the APC, the Turaki Adamawa is not at a vantage position to pick the presidential ticket of the party. In the character of elections in Nigeria, Buhari would have the right of first refusal in the APC primaries. The permutation then is that, if that happens, Atiku would continue his oscillate in his search for the elusive presidential seat, which he has been eyeing since 1993. But whatever the development, 2019 is certainly going to be Atiku’s last dance in the nation’s presidential contest as age would no more be on his side. In 2019, he will clock 73 and that leaves him with a slim or no chance to contest for the hot seat again.
Saturday Sun cornered both the Buhari and Atiku camps to see how their minds are working in the build up for the ‘mother of all battles.’ And in the following interviews, it is more than certain that the two sides have already drawn the battle line.
2019: Atiku can’t go anywhere, he has rotten baggage
– Lawal, Buhari’s campaign chief
Former Deputy Director of Buhari Presidential Campaign Council, Engineer Mohammed Lawal, has taken former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the cleaners.
Lawal, who is a director on the Board of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in an interview with VINCENT KALU, advised the former Vice President to shelve his 2019 presidential ambition because he was carrying a heavy and rotten baggage, adding, no amount of money or international connection would make him win the presidential election in Nigeria.
Atiku had during the week challenged anybody, who said he is corrupt to come forward with evidence or forever keep quiet. He also alleged President Muhammadu Buhari used and dumped him after the 2015 presidential election.
Lawal accused the Turaki Adamawa of plotting President Buhari’s failure because he lost the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election in 2014.
As the race to 2019 builds up, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar seems to be challenging Present Muhammadu Buhari, how are you people going to handle this challenge?
We are in a democracy and we want to follow things according to democratic rules and games. The President is actually the leader of the party and the nation. Thus, he allows everybody to exercise their rights democratically.
With these parties, CPC, ACN, ANPP, a faction of APGA and also splinter group from PDP coming together to form All Progressives Congress (APC) and won the 2015 election, we are not unaware of the problems within the party, and there is no doubt about it tha some people have a different agenda.
You were the deputy director of the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council, considering the financial war chest of Atiku, can PMB match him in 2019?
You journalists are the mirror of the society. If Atiku will hoodwink students, voters and others it would be through you people. Money is not the issue.
The money he spent during the APC presidential primary, he can’t spend even close to that in 2019. This, I can assure you without contradictions.
Buhari didn’t have one tenth of that money, and he can’t spend that huge sum of money. What was the outcome? Buhari still floored him.
Atiku didn’t believe that Buhari would win the primary; he didn’t also believe that Buhari would win the election against the then incumbent President Jonathan.
He said it that Buhari was not going to defeat Jonathan. How can he claim that he spent money for Buhari whom he believed was not going to win the election? Atiku thought he would be made the leader of the campaign from the North. In fact, he didn’t invite anybody for the campaign, he ran away and left the country. The people he was supposed to invite, he didn’t invite them, instead, he ran away. He was aggrieved that Buhari won the primary, now he is saying he was not invited. He was supposed to invite people but he didn’t and now he is complaining that he was not invited, nor carried along.
What more can be done to Atiku? That Women Affairs Minister, Aisha Alhassan, we knew she had been with Atiku right from the beginning, and she didn’t hide it, We didn’t complain in spite of the fact that she was 100 percent loyal to Atiku. The president, in his magnanimity gave her ministerial appointment.
We are in this government and we;re aware of what is going on in this country.We’re aware of the meetings they are holding. We know what they are planning against this government.
Atiku is saying he is not being carried along, but that Alhassan is his political associate, and several others in the government. They knew that it was because of their association with Atiku that they were appointed. So, what is he telling Nigerians, who is fooling who?
For that minister to have made the comments that the government was not fair to her and to Taraba State revealed a high level of ingratitude and immaturity. People can be funny because Buhari has chosen to be a democrat.
The greatest project that this government is going into from now till 2019, even beyond is in her state, I mean…the multi billion naira Mambila Power Station that Buhari has signed the contract. This is a project that has been there for close to 50 years. No past leader thought it could be done, but Buhari came on board and said he would do it. It is a chain action, apart from Adamawa, a contiguous state to Taraba, it will also extend to other parts of the county.
You know power, with over 3,000 megawatts of electricity, Atiku and this lady are saying that Buhari has not done anything for them.We know what is happening, they are not being given a chance. Atiku has several businesses, he’s creating a monopoly by kicking out other players in those fields, leaving them disgruntled, and forcing them to close shops.
When the issue came up, we said no, we would never allow the idea of one person monopolising the business. We broke that monopoly and many Nigerians are operating those businesses.
Atiku has challenged those who said he is corrupt to prove it, is that not a challenge to the Federal Government?
First of all, he didn’t serve this government in an executive position. It is not our business to instigate anything. It is people who are instigating. It is not the government that is saying you he is corrupt, it’s the people saying that.
Whatever has been going on with people who were caught for corruption, it was not Buhari that instigated them – the money found with the NNPC former managing director, the NIA money at Ikoyi house, etc. It is not for you to say that you are not corrupt, people say it; whenever it is necessary some of us will come up. The government should investigate it. The monopoly he was enjoying was broken, and there are no regrets about that.
There are different sets of people, and some think they are cleverer than others. If corruption is evil, monopoly is the devil of corruption. In other climes, fine for monopoly is as heavy if not heavier than fine for corruption. Monopoly, which Atiku was involved is a sweeter corruption.
Is Atiku attacking to bring the president or the party down?
I consider Atiku as somebody who is not properly schooled because of his educational background, but he has got that exposure, which I give to him because of his service in the Nigerian Customs and Excise.
He is not properly schooled, if not, how can he say severally that there were no appreciable efforts in the fight against Boko Haram. Half of Adamawa, his state was made a no go area by Boko Haram. Is it in Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and this sect tried to attack Kano, they bombed United Nations Headquarters in Abuja. In those areas you can’t freely go to mosque to pray for fear of Boko Haram attack.
It was totally wrong for him to say there was no gain made in the fight against Boko Haram by Buhari.
Right from the word go, Atiku has not been fair to President Buhari, because he didn’t have it, let everybody lose. That is his position, if not, what warranted his attack on the President on the fight against Boko Haram, when it is very clear and the international community is applauding the efforts of Buhari in decimating the sect.
After the presidential election, he came to congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari and left the country. He is complaining now that he was not contacted. I served as a Deputy Director at the Presidential Campaign Council. I knew all the intrigues. Atiku fought Buhari tooth and nail. He was extremely unhappy about the loss of the presidential primaries.
He did not campaign for Buhari during the election. He even refused to contribute any money. He promised to campaign and to contribute to the campaign. He did not contribute anything meaningful.
Let him say how much he spent. How much did he claim he spent? Is his money more important than his appearance at the campaign? He spent all the money he thinks he has to ensure that Buhari did not win.
People are not foolish. He told the BBC in 2015 that he was sure that Buhari was not going to win. So, will somebody who did not believe in the party’s candidate spend anything? He thinks he is very clever and spending his money.
With all his monies, Buhari still drowned him at the APC primary election. The same thing will happen to him. He has to be very careful, or they will even stone him even in his Adamawa State. They will start throwing stones at him if he doesn’t take time, you will see.
Nobody is afraid of him; he thinks he knows better than everybody and because he has the money. No, politics is not all a matter of money, your personality is also important. He had his time.
As the vice president of Nigeria, he went to give a speech sometimes ago in Arewa House, Kaduna, he said the greatest problem of Nigeria was bad leadership occasioned by people from this part of Nigeria, that is Northern leaders.
Senator Shehu Sani said Tinubu’s silence means that the president has sidelined him, and now, Atiku is attacking the president, does this suggest political conspiracy?
Tinubu is more exposed, more experienced than Senator Shehu Sani. Tinubu decided to keep silent for whatever reason I don’t know. Shehu cannot speak for Tinubu.
Some people are insinuating that he is being sidelined. How can somebody who has the vice president as his man say he is sidelined?
El-Rufai, other governors and ministers want Buhari to go for second term, is the president running for 2019?
As a Nigerian, as a politician and somebody who is conversant with how the system works, so as long as what it takes to run is there – he is alive, he is healthy and also, he satisfies the constitutional requirements. Secondly, I advise that it is safer if Buhari is running for 2019 to go with him.
The truth of the matter is that even if he is not running, he must have interest in who takes over from him.
If he is not running, don’t you think that there is no person that he will put forward that can defeat Atiku?
Let me be frank with you, Atiku is carrying a heavy baggage, bad and rotten. I told you earlier, from his primary constituency, which is the North, money is not everything.
No money, no influence and no international connection that would see Atiku become the president of this country. Atiku has a lot of baggage, rotten, and it is safer for him to play the kingmaker than him wanting to become the king.
Money alone doesn’t make the Nigerian president. We are all wise. Look at Shagari, was it money that made him become the president? What of Obasanjo, he was from the prison, was it his money?
He is saying others didn’t do well, and he is the only person who knows how to do it. Look at Buhari, was it money that put him there?
You keep saying that you have money, ok; lets see where the money will take you. He is the architect and hanging on to this restructuring clamour. He gave a speech, which he said Buhari was not sincere on restructuring.
Political evolution of a people or country is beyond restructuring. The president is saying we shall look at that and if there are issues that need change, we look at how we evolve as a political entity in this country.
NO ONE CAN STOP ATIKU
–Fabiyi, ex-vp’S CAMPAIGN COORDINATOR
Ahead of 2019 general elections, one name that continues to ring a bell is that of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Those who have been following the activities of the ‘Turaki Adamawa’ needs not ask why. That it is Atiku’s ambition to become the president of Nigeria in 2019 is no longer in the realm of speculations. In this interview with WILLY EYA, the National President, All Atiku Support Groups, Oladimeji Fabiyi told Saturday Sun that there’s no better time than 2019 for the former vice president to realise his dream.
Former Director of Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mohammed Bello was reported to have said that if President Muhammadu Buhari could beat Atiku Abubakar in 2015 when he had no money, in 2019, as an incumbent, he would floor your principal (Atiku) again. Do you agree with that position?
I think Buhari’s former Campaign Director is being economical with the truth. The entire Nigerians knew what went on at the primaries of the All Progressives Congress(APC ) in 2014. They knew about the conspiracy and gang-up against the candidacy of Turaki Adamawa. It is of public knowledge. The result of that is what we are seeing everywhere in Nigeria now. I would not want to speak further because Nigerians knew so much about what happened at that time. But I disagree with the young man who said that.
There has been this issue of corruption being hung on the neck of Atiku and it gains prominence each time he comes out for election; what is the real genesis of this negative image.
When former vice president Atiku was in power, everybody knew about his contributions to our democracy and the ascension to power of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Recall the role he played from day one. There was a three-member committee that was set up at that time to shop for a candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Atiku was there, Gen Gusau was there and Prof Jerry Gana was there. Atiku was part of this process all along. He was instrumental to the victory of the PDP at that time at all levels; not only at the executive but the legislature levels. But when things turned around and the boss then started painting him as a corrupt person, we were all living witnesses to the white papers and the panel of enquiries produced but the courts nullified all those things. And up till this moment, Atiku has never been arrested or convicted by any court of law. You remember that he went to court on so many occasions and he won all the cases but my challenge here is that when all these things were happening, Atiku that we know was blindly loyal to his principal such that he refused to refute all the allegations. Unfortunately, when people hear the name, Atiku, they talk about corruption but this man had never been convicted either at home or abroad. Even on the Jefferson matter, he was never arrested; he was never tried and the person who was found culpable was sentenced to jail in the United States. Some would come around and say Atiku cannot travel to the United States. If he has nothing to do in the US, why would he go there? Besides, is America a paradise that everybody should be struggling to go there? What is so special about America? What has that to do with good governance that Nigerians want their leaders to bring to the table? I have not seen anybody that would tell me that travelling to America would bring good governance to Nigeria. How many times have the American governments celebrated their performances or anything about Nigeria? If the US wanted Atiku, they would have got him all these while. If the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) wanted Atiku, they would have got him. all these while. This man is a credible Nigerian who has helped to create the EFCC and all the agencies that have been fighting corruption till today. So, I do not know what some people mean by being corrupt. What I am saying is that Nigerians should open their eyes and ask relevant questions. Those people who have termed him corrupt, go and look at their records. What was their financial position in 1999 when they came to power and what is their financial position today? Nigerians should begin to ask these questions. Atiku did not come to power as a pauper. After retirement, he has been a successful businessman. He has invested very well that he almost singlehandedly helped the PDP to come to power including his boss at that time. So, it is those who are afraid of him that if he comes to power today, he is going to outshine and outperform them that are afraid. In Nigeria, the fear of Atiku is the beginning of political wisdom. What some are saying about Atiku is just flaccid and out of emotion. It is an unhealthy rivalry.
Do you agree with some of Atiku’s supporters that 2019 provides the best opportunity for the former vice president’s ambition?
Of course! See, ever since he has been contesting elections in this country, there has never been any time that he does not have the best chances but the reason why he could not scale through was because the so-called elite are so uncomfortable and do not believe that he would protect them. Atiku is ready to fight for the masses. The problem of these people is just that they feel that Atiku may not be a willing tool in their hands. They may not be able to control him and for Atiku, it is not about that; his mindset is to protect the poor and to ensure that even the rich ones are also protected. They are so scared of him. They always want somebody whom they can control and we have seen the result. We could not move forward or do anything. During the Obasanjo/Atiku time, the best economic period was when Atiku was the chairman of the Economic Council. They assembled the best brains to make sure that the economy was viable. That was when we had the best economy in this country. With Atiku, we should be able to have an economy that is viable. So, these people are practically afraid of him that one, they would not be able to control him when he gets there; two is that he would outperform them because they know that this is the only man who is prepared; he has been preparing since 1993 to lead the country. In 2007, he ran under the AC. When you go through that policy document with that of 2010, you would see an upward shift that is in tandem with the reality of the time. If you come to 2014, you would see that it is dealing with the exigencies of this time. The man is not sleeping. He keeps working because he is so passionate about Nigeria and the future of this country but some people somewhere are not comfortable with that because they want the status quo to remain. That is why I appreciate the fact that he is the one championing the issue of restructuring in this country today. We need restructuring to be able to move forward and develop economically, politically and socially.
Some say your principal is so desperate to be president of Nigeria and that indeed, he started preparing for 2019 immediately the APC won the presidential election in 2015. How would you react to that allegation?
The question I ask people who say that is this: what is the desperation about somebody following his dream? When you are so passionate about something, what is the desperation there? If you can say Atiku is desperate, you would also tell me that President Buhari was desperate. After the 2011 election, President Buhari told the world that he was not going to run again. The rest is history but today, he is the president. What is the desperation if somebody is following his dream and passion for his country? For me, it is not out of desperation but patriotic zeal and dedication towards one’s fatherland. They can turn it to anything they like because they do not have what it takes to lead this country.
What do you think is Atiku’s Unique Selling Point in the 2019 election after several failed attempts in the past?
Everybody who has won election in Nigeria has one or two unique selling points. Atiku has more than one or two. One is that Atiku has taken up a policy drive of restructuring that every Nigerian would benefit from except those who are deceiving themselves and those who want the status quo to remain. Here is the only man who is prepared to lead this country. Nigeria is fond of bringing unprepared people to power. It is on record that he is the only one who is prepared to lead Nigeria. We need the four Cs of leadership attributes. They are competence, character, capacity and compassion. Forget the fact that he was a Customs officer, forget the fact that he is a politician; here is a family man who has succeeded in all his various endeavours. This is a man who was orphaned at 11. These are his selling points and Nigerians should begin to look at that now and not all these shenanigans that people indulge in. All these people do not have what it takes to lead the nation out of the woods.
There is all these talk about Atiku’s blueprint which he gave to Buhari after he won the 2015 presidential election. What is actually the true story behind it? Is it true that Buhari accepted it with joy but later abandoned it?
It is true because immediately after the primaries, President Buhari went to see him and said, ‘I know you are the only one who is prepared for this thing.’ Buhari was not prepared for this position, let truth be told and every Nigerian knows that it is not hidden. If he was prepared, things could not have been like this. He would have made use of the blueprint but people around him misled him. They told him that Atiku is a capitalist and so on and so forth. Will the development of this country be predicated on such sentiments? You see, these people are not for Nigerians but for themselves. They are not helping the man and that is why you see the government embarrassed left, right and centre. President Buhari is a man of integrity and they know that Atiku is a man of integrity too but they cannot say it. This country needs change and genuine people who really love this country so that we can move forward. People are just in government for themselves alone. Atiku is not coming to government to steal money. He has made his money and he invested everything in this country. In the North East today, outside the government, he is the highest employer of labour. In the South South today, he is the second highest employer of labour apart from the government. How many of them have done that upon all the money they stole. So, for me, it is not only about the issue of corruption, they just want to paint him black. When somebody comes to tell you that Atiku is corrupt, ask him where is the evidence of the corruption? When you ask them such a question, they say all of them are corrupt. These are the things you find in the social media; is it not funny.
Against Buhari’s candidacy particularly in the North where the president is literally a small god, do you think, Atiku has a chance?
People should wait till 2019 to know whether Atiku would or not beat Buhari in the North. What he is telling the North about restructuring for instance is very simple. How can anybody tell you that Atiku is not popular in the North? What Atiku is telling the North is that you think that you are better off but you are not better off with the present situation. Sometimes you can never know how close you are if you do not sit down and talk. If the economy of northern Nigeria was based on the agricultural prowess in the 60s and they used the proceeds to build institutions, schools and all the developments you see there today, that is your comparative advantage. Why are you so scared? Atiku is telling them, we are not better off now but we can be when we restructure. Let us not be lazy but look inwards and develop ourselves; that is what our leaders do not want. So, when the time comes, they would see. I know that Atiku is popular across Nigeria. He has relationships that cut across barrier, language, religion, gender sentiments and so on. So, by 2019, they would see.
By 2019, Atiku would be 73 years, are you sure Nigerians would be ready for another old man in power considering the ugly experience which Buhari’s age brings in the current administration?
President Buhari came on board at 73 and Nigeria did not die because of that. Atiku is very healthy and he can provide his health records for anyone to see. I have no problem with people coming for younger generations to take over power because I am a young person too. If you ask me, I want to be Nigeria’s president but Nigeria is a big country and we need a capable hand to lead the nation. You need experience and capacity. Look at President Obasanjo, mention any person in Nigeria and he would tell you who he knows there and that is the type of person Atiku is. Atiku fully understands Nigeria. I am not saying the younger generation cannot take over but let us quickly do this analysis. As a young man, call a meeting today of your people and if you are lucky, you would have 30 people in attendance. In the next meeting, you would be lucky to have 20 people and the next after it, you would be lucky to have 10. Subsequently, you may not even see anybody. These things are not deliberate. It is the economic situation and the political configuration of the country. It is not as if they do not want to be part of the process. The younger generation does not have that capacity. Some youths can do well in the right environment. So, the truth is that the younger generation must wake up. What they should do is to come together and think strategically. Let us look at someone who has shown capacity; someone who has shown so much friendliness and care for the youths. And for me, in Nigeria today, it is only Atiku Abubakar that has done that. When you look at his programme in 2007, youth development took centre stage. He is somebody who has identified with the youth. In one session, he said, I do not mind giving 30 to 40 per cent of my government to the youth. If we strategically support this man, we can demand this from him. If in 2019, we support him to be president and he gives us that, we can build on that in 2023. We can leverage on that in the government, National Assembly and so on. That is the way it should go. We do not have the resources to fight these people and our political configuration does not give us the chance to do that. So, we need someone who has identified with us. Atiku is passionate about three things. He is passionate about Nigeria, successive generation and good governance.