From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
The buzz in the country at the moment is about last Friday’s resignation from the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) by former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. It is understandably so. Apart from Abubakar being extraordinarily large politically, the move fits into months of speculation and calculations.
Though many did not envisage that he would bade his goodbye to the party on the day he did , it had been certain to every political watcher that it was only a matter of time before he signs off from APC and switch to a new political platform in line with his ambition .
In some recent outings that involved key leaders of the party, held in Aso Villa, the former Vice President was clearly missing. His absence did not cause much ripples in the political circles. And it is because the frosty relationship between him and the president’s henchmen and majority of APC officials who are campaigning for President Muhammadu Buhari to seek re-election in 2019 and who feel Atiku is nursing presidential ambition, is in the public domain.
Though contestable especially by his critics, his statement announcing his resignation clearly explained how patchy the relationship between Abubakar and the presidency on the one hand and APC on the other have been since after the last election.
In the statement announcing his resignation, Atiku accused the APC-led government of instituting “a draconian clampdown on all forms of democracy within the party and the government it produced.”
He went on to say: “Only last year, a governor produced by the party wrote a secret memorandum to the president which ended up being leaked. In that memo, he admitted that the All Progressives Congress had “not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance.
“Of the party itself, that same governor said ‘Mr. President, Sir Your relationship with the national leadership of the party, both the formal (NWC) and informal (Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso), and former Governors of ANPP, PDP (that joined us) and ACN, is perceived by most observers to be at best frosty. Many of them are aggrieved due to what they consider total absence of consultations with them on your part and those you have assigned such duties.’ Since that memorandum was written up until today, nothing has been done to reverse the treatment meted out to those of us invited to join the All Progressives Congress on the strength of a promise that has proven to be false. If anything, those behaviours have actually worsened.
But more importantly, the party we put in place has failed and continues to fail our people, especially our young people. How can we have a federal cabinet without even one single youth?
“A party that does not take the youth into account is a dying party. The future belongs to young people. I admit that I and others who accepted the invitation to join the APC were eager to make positive changes for our country that we fell for a mirage. Can you blame us for wanting to put a speedy end to the sufferings of the masses of our people? Be that as it may be, after due consultation with my God, my family, my supporters and the Nigerian people whom I meet in all walks of life, I, Atiku Abubakar, Waziri Adamawa, hereby tender my resignation from the All Progressives Congress while I take time to ponder my future.”
Expectedly the move by Abubakar has attracted a flurry of reactions. Kaduna and Kano State Governors, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje declared that there was nothing wrong with the former Vice President quitting the party.
El-Rufai said, “it was good that former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar left the APC early.”
The former FCT minister added that “if given the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku is not a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 presidential election.” He further described Atiku as “a serial defector.”
Ganduje argued in a similar fashion with his Kaduna counterpart. He described the former Vice President as a serial defector but conceded that it is within his right to belong to any party of his choice.
He said “Yes, he has his own freedom to choose which ever political party he wants to be and he has decamped to PDP. It is the way of politicians to choose the party they want to belong to.
“He was in PDP before and he was also in another party, so it was not surprising when he decided to choose to go back to another party. I think democracy is like that. People can choose where they want to be and they are not committing any crime by chosen to go where they want to be. That is democracy.”
But while El-Rufai and Ganduje took a slight dig at Atiku, the leadership of APC refused to flay the ex-VP’s move. It feigned ignorance of his departure from the party.
National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi told newsmen at the party’s secretariat that Atiku has not formally informed the party of his decision to leave.
When asked of the impact of the development, Abdullahi said the party was not worried yet until they see the number of people that would follow the former Vice President before it would know whether to worry or not.
He said “if the former Vice President feels that his interest is better served elsewhere, we can always wish him goodluck. For us, the task of building a political party is not a day’s job; it’s marathon and it takes many years and we will continue to improve on our system until we are able to get the kind of party that we want to really, really build.
“It takes many years to build a strong political party. In a new party, you find some people are happy, some people are not so happy and everybody would have to take their decisions at some point. So, we don’t have anything to say rather than to wish the former Vice President goodluck.
“A loss of fortune is in numbers. So, if we are able to see the number of people that followed the former Vice President to his new party that is when we will begin to worry. So, when we see we will know whether we need to worry or not. It is about number,” the APC’s spokesman, added.
However, Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of Aviation, hailed Abubakar for dumping APC.
Fani-Kayode, a chieftain of the PDP, also welcomed the former Vice President back to the fold of the PDP. In a tweet via his handle, Fani-Kayode wrote: “Congrats to @atiku for dumping the plague called APC and coming back home to the PDP family. It took courage to take that bold step and I commend him for it.”
How it all started
The undercurrents in the APC that culminated in the exit of Atiku are clearly deeper that many thought. Though the former Vice President contested against President Buhari for the ticket of APC, he played key role in the eventual victory of the party in the 2015 presidential election. Atiku got thumbs up from Buhari and his men. But that was for a while. His move to play huge role in the shape the APC’s structure would take by being handed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party was thwarted. That was to mark off his angst with the party.
The President’s men did not leave anybody in doubt that they would not brood any force contesting the control of the structure of the party with President Buhari. Atiku saw the handwriting on the wall clearly. But he did not bow to their antics.
Buhari’s men felt that the former Vice President still had his eyes fixed on the presidency and started early to decimate him and his structures.
Apart from denying him the position of BoT helmsman, they tried to clip his wings from his state and zone. People who were not loyal to him were handed top appointments in government in what some analysts argue was a strategy to prune his influence or even wrest the structure from him in Adamawa and North East.
Though he managed the situation in the public, things continued to get foggy for him on a daily basis. At a point El-Rufai stepped out to openly criticise him and accuse him of nursing presidential ambition. The hallmark was the onslaught on Intels, a company Atiku has substantial stake in. Though the government repeatedly explained that the move against the company had no political undercurrent, many Nigerians are yet to accept the claim.
Government says the contract with Intels, a leading integrated logistics and facilities services provider in the maritime and oil and gas logistics sectors of the country, was void ab initio.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami SAN, in a letter dated September 27, 2017 to the Managing Director of the NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, said that the agreement, which has allowed Intels to receive revenue on behalf of NPA for 17 years, violates the country’s constitution, especially in view of the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of government.
The matter was made worse by the fact that, weeks before the federal government’s action, Atiku had cried out how he had become an outsider in the government he played key role in bringing about.
That the former Vice President has been nursing presidential ambition is a fact at the doorstep of most Nigerians. He probably had thought that the much publicised claim that President Buhari will hold sway for a term will be kept. This feeling was further strengthened by the ill-health that kept the President away for a long time.
Owing to all that, many had calculated that the president may not be in a good shape to seek re-election in 2019. Apart from Atiku, some APC stalwarts who had their eyes on the top seat made moves to build foothold and networks to actualise their ambitions.
But even when Buhari was still ill and there was doubt about him seeking re-election, there were strong attempts to fend Atiku off. A governor from the North West and a few others led the charge. And that was how Atiku kick started a romance with PDP, it was gathered.
Buhari’s return in a much more stable condition totally blighted the remaining hope of Atiku contesting on the APC platform. His situation was worsened by the coming out of minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan to declare support for him. This was not taken lightly by Buhari’s men. Though the move did not earn Alhassan a sack, a battle line was visibly drawn by Buhari’s henchmen.
Atiku’s next move
A hail of predictions have followed Atiku’s exit from APC. The commonest of all is that he is moving to PDP. Those who make such prediction are not wrong going by the body language of the former Vice President in the last couple of months. He has been fingered in virtually all the happenings in the opposition party including those who are vying for the chairmanship of the party. Sure, a clearer picture on his next political move will unfold in the next few days.