By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
THE battle for the presidential race ofÂ 2011 general election is one battle that has brought together two political dogged fighters with scores from the past to settle. They are the two most talked about contenders in the race for 2011 presidency.
Since former President Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar established theirÂ interests in the presidential race , the political arena has become dominant with intrigues, arguments and counter arguments over who among the two would have a stronger hold. To aggravate issues, both statesmen seem to be striving to outdo each other in their bid to win public favour despite the odds against them.
Sources told Saturday Vanguard that the competition between the two will be stiff because of where they were coming from.
â€œWhat many Nigerians donâ€™t know is that both statesmen have underlying issues between them and scores from the past to settle over a relationship that went sour.â€
Saturday Vanguard gatheredÂ that the duo became friendsÂ longÂ before IBB became theÂ military president from 1985-1993. Atikuâ€™s relationship with Babangida, said our sourceÂ dated back to the early 1970s.
â€œThey met in Lagos at a party and became good friends. Atiku was then a young Customs officer and Babangida an Army Major. In 1982 when Babangida, then a Major-General, imported a BMW car into the country, it was his friend, Atiku, who helped him to clear it from Lagos Ports. Babangida was not the only top military officer or prominent civil servant that Atiku assisted.
â€œBut despite the close friendship that Atiku and Babangida enjoyed, Babangida as military President in 1988 refused to appoint Atiku,Â Comptroller â€“ GeneralÂ ofÂ Customs when the position became vacant. Atiku was eminently qualified for the position but Babangida yielded to pressure from those who thought Atiku was already too powerful. Babangida had allegedly promised that he would make Atiku Abubakar the Comptroller-General of Customs but he did not keep his promiseâ€.
As if that was not enough, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, according to our source, during his botched transition to civil rule rubbed salt on the injury he had earlier inflicted ofÂ not making Atiku the Comptroller General of Customs when he cancelled a disputed SDP primary election between Atiku and Bala Takaya in December 1991Â and disqualified both men from contesting the gubernatorial election.
â€œBala Takaya had in 1991, during the Transition programme, entered the political arena, under the umbrella of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), to contest the gubernatorial seat of Adamawa State and contested the primary against Atiku.
In the heat of the primaries, the front runners – Atiku Abubakar and Takaya – were both disqualified from contesting by the military junta. Following this unsuccessful venture, Dr Takaya moved back to the banking sector where he worked for a brief period with a bank.
â€œ Atiku Abubakar hadÂ continuedÂ to work with his political mentor, General Shehu Musa Yar Adua butÂ in August 1992 when SDP primaries had held in five zones with Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua winning, Babangida allegedly cancelled the result of the primaries and banned Yarâ€™Adua and other candidates from running. Atiku had worked for the emergence ofÂ his political mentor, Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Aduaâ€.
With both men now back on bloc with the hope of contesting the 2011 presidential election, the past is creeping up on both men. For General Babangida, the question has been,Â what did he forget in Aso Rock after eight years as military dictator and for Atiku Abubakar, the issue of decamping from the party to contest presidential election in 2007 under the AC platform and now returning recently to PDP may contend with his immediate political aspiration.
Atiku may be knocked out through theÂ use ofÂ the partyâ€™s constitution, especially with Article 8.9 which notes that, â€œPersons who desire to rejoin the party after leaving it shall, unless exempted by the National Working Committee, be placed on probation for a period of time not less than a yearâ€.
In any democracy, the enthusiasm to serve is not enough unless one seeksÂ public office through election. Seeking election is, therefore, necessary for anyone aspiring to offer service to his nation. The late American President, Richard Nixon of Watergate notoriety, said he was seeking Americaâ€™s highest public office not because he wanted to become somebody but because it offered him the opportunity to serve his country.
Richard Nixon who was a Senator and Vice President kept up the tempo to serve until he was finally elected President. Former President Reaganâ€™s previous attempts at the presidency didnâ€™t stop the former film actor from trying again until he finally defeated the democratic incumbent President Mr. Jimmy Carter, a Nuclear Physicist.
Both General Babangida and Atiku Abubakar have aspired in the past with Atiku going the extra mile of scaling through the primary to become the AC Presidential candidate in 2007 general election where he lost and General Babangida was a former head of state whoseÂ initial plan to contest democratic electionÂ in 2003 did not work out. He left the scene when the heat escalated over zoning of presidency to the South.
And now both men are back in the arena and this time, our sources said itâ€™s going to be much more than just politicking between the two men. They have scores from the past to settle.
For Atiku Abubakar, he perhaps needs the resilience of Abraham Lincoln who became a symbol of resilience after trying for twelve times without success to win election to various officesÂ and eventually won to become the United States PresidentÂ through conviction, passion and perseverance.
The spokesmanÂ ofÂ former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Mallam Garba Shehu who spoke with Saturday Vanguard said there is nothing desperate about Atikuâ€™s presidentialÂ aspiration or his return to PDP.
â€œ Atiku is not desperate and he is fully registered. His PDP card is not fake. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria repeatedly attempted to become Nigeriaâ€™s President and, when he finally died without achieving that ambition, the nation regretted its folly, describing him as â€˜the best President Nigeria never hadâ€™.
Awolowo pursued that ambition with genuine conviction, passion and persistence and the fact that he failed didnâ€™t in itself suggest any lack of competence in him. A manâ€™s consistent pursuit of a well-meaning ambition doesnâ€™t suggest a desperation. In fact, Awolowo couldnâ€™t have been looking for the highest office for material rewards because his business and professional acumen had brought him enough rewards already.
â€œ Former Vice President Atiku Abubakarâ€™s presidential ambition is not any different. General Muhammadu Buhari attempted the presidency twice before â€“ 2003 and 2007 â€“ and he is still determined to pursue that aspiration because he is imbued with the passion to serve. Does his repeated ambition to become president make him desperate as if it is something criminal to seek an elective office?
â€œIt is curious that Atikuâ€™s opponents keep describing his genuine ambition as desperate. We have former Governors who sought election to the Senate after completing their 8-year tenures each and yet nobody accuses them of desperation. Strangely, even some columnists tend to popularize this mischievous political label when it comes to analyzing Atikuâ€™s presidential ambition.
â€œI acknowledge that Atiku and Awolowo belong to different political generations but the passion to serve is the binding principle they share in common. And it is no crime if younger politicians like Atiku try to emulate the virtue of perseverance from political icons like Awolowo. Repeated pursuit of an ambition is no crime eitherâ€.
Garba further argued that the former Vice PresidentÂ assembled a formidable team of experts in 2007 to formulate his blue-print for governing Nigeria entitled â€˜From Reform to Prosperityâ€™ if elected President.Â â€œA man who had no idea of what he wants or the direction he wants to take his country wouldnâ€™t have conceived the idea of assembling experts to produce a blue-print.
The document remains one of the most brilliant and pragmatic blue-print ever produced. Its contents are practical and achievable for any president sincerely committed to those ideas.
â€œIt is hard to understand then why Atikuâ€™s consistent ambition to serve should be perceived as desperation. Public offices should go to those who are well prepared for the challenges more so, the grim task of leading a complex and diverse country like ours. Imposing leadership on individuals has many consequences, including promoting incompetence and political lethargy. Commitment to work is infectious; the leaderâ€™s zeal is as keen as those around him. If you donâ€™t provide adequate leadership, the zeal in your team flags.â€
Atikuâ€™s aide argues further that when a leader is perceived as incompetent by members of his team, he automatically loses the ability to inspire them.
â€œIn this context, no dispassionate and sincere analyst can fail to grasp the significance of Atikuâ€™s presidential ambition.â€
Aspirants must prove themselves based on their track records of competence and adequate preparation for the challenges of the office. If aspirants with adequate preparation hesitate to contest or run, then the nation would continue to grapple with lackadaisical political leadership. Rather than perceiving Atikuâ€™s ambition as â€œdesperateâ€, we should commend aspirants like him who are determined to improve the quality of governance.â€