IT’S not hard to know when a ruling party has its back to the wall few weeks before a crucial election. Former United States President Gerald Ford, in his memoir: A TIME TO HEAL, detailed the tell tale signs when a political party’s electoral chances seem to be bogging down, and time is fast running out. According to him, such desperation could be likened to “when you are behind in the fourth quarter of a football game and you have the ball with time running out on the clock, there’s only one thing you can do: Throw the bomb”.
I don’t think any keen observer of Nigerian hardball politics will be shocked and disappointed at the frenetic search for smoking guns to nail the Presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. I knew from the very moment the former Vice President emerged as his party’s presidential standard bearer in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, last year, that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) would pull some last-minute ploy. What I didn’t know was just how desperate that ploy would be against Atiku.
Now, nothing else is hidden. Everything is now out in the open. Hardball is dirty politics. Hardball is when you leave nothing to chance to hunt down a potential political opponent who may have a good chance to cause an upset in an election. Machiavelli might have had Atiku in mind when he noted that “any harm you do to a man should be done in such a way that you need not fear his revenge”. Robert Graves, a renowned novelist and playwright, in his Novel 1, titled: Claudius, painted desperate characters. Claudius is an inquisitive man. He has a grandmother called Livia,who was portrayed in the novel as a “ruthless woman”. Once upon a time, Claudius asked Livia which of these options would she prefer to dispose of a rival in a power game:”A slow poison or quick tasteless poison which would give the effect of consumption?”.
Going through the labyrinths of allegations against the PDP presidential candidate, some of them already dismissed by the party as “ laughable”, and “borne out of fear that Atiku is coasting home to victory in the February 16 Presidential election”, my take is that “slow poison” against Atiku has failed, and now, the only option left is a “quick tasteless poison” which could have a telling, crippling effect on his chances in the presidential poll. But, would all of this work? Hold your judgment.
Let’s look at just a few of the smoking guns, starting with the latest. Last week, the government claimed it has found evidence against Atiku in the collapsed Bank PHB. Atiku was in the USA last week, to the shock and disappointment of the ruling party after it failed to convince the US Embassy in Nigeria not to grant him a Visa. The Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who briefed State House correspondents in Abuja on Friday, said Atiku would have questions to answer when he comes back from the US, over N156m belonging to the defunct Bank PHB, now, Keystone Bank.
According to the Information Minister, the Federal Government has found evidence indicating that Atiku benefited N156m from slush funds that led to the collapse of the bank. “The document we have”, Lai Mohammed said, “shows that he (Atiku) benefited to the tune of N156m from that slush fund”. The Information Minister also claimed that the paper in government’s possession, stated that from an internal memo dated January 13, 2009, an overdraft of that amount was written in favour of Atiku, at his request. I had thought that when you have an undisputed evidence against someone, the right thing to do is file a case in a court of competent jurisdiction with all the supporting evidence. Or has the APC government become a master of over simplifying complex issues, reducing them to one line-quips?
The problem with such allegation and distortion of facts, is that it could, in a short time, be very effective politically, especially to give the gullible electorate impression that the government is tough on corruption. But it could have the opposite effect, particularly when the desperation is clear. Such desperation, which is becoming obvious every passing day as the election approaches, represents nothing more than politics as usual. Nothing can be further from the truth.
But, no let up in search for a crime to soil Atiku’s name. The tactic is:If one ploy fails, try another, may be, it will stick. And, you begin to ask: Could this foretell something we don’t know yet? Is the ruling party afraid of the PDP presidential candidate’s chances at the poll? Reserve your comments. Hold your final cheers until after February 16. PDP has described all the allegations against its presidential candidate as “fabrication”, saying Atiku is “an honest and hard working Nigerian who has no skeletons in his cupboard”.
I find this last-minute desperation, nervousness and failed attempts to dig up crimes against Atiku, so distracting and appalling. It is unlikely to work. Perhaps that’s why Atiku remains cool under this intense pressure. We need to recall that not too long ago, the Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, was widely reported in the media to have said that the presidency has searched everywhere and could not find anything incriminating against Atiku Abubakar.
I thought we were assured at the beginning of the political campaigns that the campaigns would be issues-based, that the candidates would campaign on a high plane, on issues that matter to the citizens. And these issues are many: insecurity in the land, getting our economy on the right track, tackling unemployment, poverty, high crimes, devolution of power/restructuring. Why deviate from these noble issues and engage in mudslinging, verbal swipes that are widening the fault lines that divide us.
Last month, the Director, Strategic Communications of President Muhammadu Buhari campaign organisation, Festus Keyamo, SAN, dared Atiku to set foot on US soil and see if he would not be arrested over a slew of corruption allegations. When that didn’t work, the story changed that Atiku cannot enter the US as a private citizen. This is in spite of US Justice Department statement of ‘No indictment’ against Atiku. Keyamo went further to describe the Justice Department statement as “only a defence for the ignorant ones”.
I am not saying that Atiku is as clean as a whistle, without blemish. Either are those throwing stones at him. Hypocrites lose their footing the very moment they begin to hold others to the very standards they cannot keep. Many of those accusing Atiku of corruption live in parallel lines, in glass houses, yet throwing hard stuff to destroy others. We should be in search of new leadership, not smoking guns.
Majority of Nigerians feel the present leadership has become hackneyed, an emblem of what we loathe to see in our leaders. We need transference leadership, a leadership that has the ability to connect with our diversed peoples and shape their aspirations. That’s what life in the presidency ought to be.