By Sufuyan Ojeifo
A former vice president of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has been a subject of all variants of deconstruction in the media. That is the way of politics in Nigeria as it is elsewhere in the world. Political rivalry is a common feature that feeds on the tendency to de-market and outwit one another. So, politics is not a turf for the lily-livered. To surmount pernicious rivalry in politics requires a great deal of wisdom.
Atiku has witnessed a surfeit of rivalry and treachery in government and has, so far, been able to survive the nation’s cloak-and-dagger politics. A robustly rugged and toughened politician, he has, even so, experienced both high and low times in the enduring game that, at once, easily launches a player to prominence and, at once, effortlessly plunges him into the dungeon.
His experience, as vice president to Olusegun Obasanjo, was a mixed-bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. At a point, he was the most powerful vice president Nigeria had ever produced, calling the shots and coordinating the political wing of the administration while Obasanjo concerned himself with global diplomatic shuttles to open up our pariah nation to the world for renewed bilateral relations.
Along the line, Atiku was insinuated into a political risk that turned awry. He was accused of a subtle plot to supplant his boss as president in 2003. The unconfirmed plot was to goad Obasanjo to embrace the Mandela option of a term in office. But Obasanjo was not ready for the nonsense. He was not only aiming at two terms in office but was also plotting a third term, which Atiku and other democratic forces worked against in 2006.
Rewind to 2002 at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary. Atiku, with the support of 20 PDP governors, was set to upset the applecart of Obasanjo’s re-election bid. But through bully tactics, brinkmanship and pleading, Obasanjo was able to clinch the ticket with a calculative Atiku on the ticket contrary to his (Obasanjo’s) original plan.
Although, the ticket won re-election, a wide gulf had been created between the first and second citizens. The next four years that ended in 2007 would remain indelible in the memories of the two leaders as well as in the annals of presidential politics in Nigeria.
In order to deal with an “over-ambitious” Atiku, Obasanjo unleashed the might of his office against him. He sidelined the Waziri Adamawa and deliberately took steps to whittle down his influence. His fixation was to portray Atiku as corrupt so that the electorate would be at great pains to cast their votes for him in any election.
Atiku put up a rare resistance. He sustained his political machinery with which he charted a trajectory out of the PDP into the Action Congress (AC) and still retained his position as vice president via a legal battle up to the Supreme Court. He put his life on the line by engaging in bare-knuckle fight against a ruthless incumbent president with the full complement of state machinery.
Atiku remains politically relevant despite conspiratorial alliances. The last time he jostled for the APC presidential ticket, he was the real issue. He was poised to sweep to victory in the primary, but it took a combination of forces in the party to stop his emergence. Typical of him, he has refused to surrender. He has kept his eyes on the ball of the presidency in 2019.
With seemingly limitless capacity to oil his political machinery, the strategist and tactician consistently exudes an electrifying aura that sustains political followership across the country, a testimony to his cosmopolitan deportment. Indeed, despite all manner of negative deconstruction to which he has been insidiously subjected, Atiku remains a veritable issue ahead of 2019 presidential election.
He recently upped his ante when he advocated restructuring of the nation. One of his lines of argument was that the nation must find creative ways to make financially unviable states to be viable in a changed federal system sans federal allocations. He further argued that more powers and resources must devolve from the federal government, and that federal allocations, as a source of sustenance of states, must be de-emphasised.
His contention is that the federal government in our current federal structure possesses too much power and resources, a development which constricts the federating units and incapacitates them from providing social services to the populace. He had suggested, for instance, that health, agriculture, sports and education should not be part of the preoccupation of the federal government.
Atiku’s position on restructuring has placed him poles ahead of other politicians seeking the high office of president in 2019. On that score, he is a beautiful bride to the Yoruba, Igbo, and minorities in the south-south and north central zones who crave restructuring to correct the nation’s structural imbalances and the lopsidedness in power configuration as well as to ensure the practice of true fiscal federalism.
This is the agitation that runs through a vast section of the polity. Atiku has wisely, strategically and tactically positioned himself in the frontline. For being a perceptive politician, Atiku deserves a reconstruction of his essential persona, which he has been able to distinguish from the morass of corruption into which Obasanjo tried to pigeonhole him.
Whereas, Nigerians are wise enough to know who the grandmasters of corruption are. The blame for public finance mismanagement and other maladministration is placed at the doorstep of the president who, by virtue of constitutional powers vested in him in our clime, is next to God. Looking back, I chuckle at the attempt by Obasanjo to demonise Atiku. True, Atiku is ambitious. It is the nature of politicians to be so disposed.
I consider even the charge of disloyalty against him laughable. Rather than compromise to allow the evil of third term to thrive, he chose to be loyal to the Constitution of Nigeria. History will not forget his contribution, at that intersection, to the triumph of constitutional democracy in the country.
He plans to put his political relevance to test in the courtyard of the Nigerian electorate. He has been involved in a series of quiet consultations with critical stakeholders across the country. Unlike some presidential aspirants who are provincial leaders, Atiku’s approach, this time round, appears to be issues-based and ventilatory. He has, understandably, started shooting from the hip.
I have noticed attempts in the media to put Atiku down on the issue of restructuring. Those attempts have come too late to detract from the political capital he has garnered from his advocacy. His commitment to restructuring Nigeria is salutary to his ambition. I understand that he may also be committing himself to a four-year term in office after which he will guide presidential power to the southeast. This proposition should be, somewhat, attractive.
In reconstructing Atiku within the context of his promised restructuring of Nigeria, if voted into power (on whichever platform), I surmise that the best and the last chance for him to be president is 2019. He must throw his hat in the ring, anyhow.
* Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via [email protected]