January 13, 2011

Atiku: An unyielding spirit

THOSE who accuse Atiku Abubakar of instability in his political relationships easily eat their words when they acknowledge the consistency of two of his life passions, making money and building relationships. That he has survived unimaginable political machinations of friends and foes is indeed reflective of the success to which he achieved in the two vocations.

Atiku has not only surpassed the imagination of contemporaries, his survival instincts in the political and financial maelstrom that has been his lot since 1989 when he left the Customs is indeed remarkable.

Born in 1946 to Garba Atiku and Aisha Kande Abubakar, the young Atiku knew very little of his father and was thrown into a world where he had to survive on his own. He quickly learnt to survive through relationships that he was able to build early in life.

He attended Jada Primary School from 1954 to 1960 and followed up to Adamawa Provincial Secondary School, Yola, from 1961 to 1965 where he took courses in Economics, British Economic History, Government and Hausa language. It is said that it was during this period that the young Atiku became acquainted with the then Lamido of Adamawa and was taken into the household.

Following his secondary education he attended the School of Hygiene, Kano from 1966 to 1967, graduating with the Royal Society of Health Diploma.

He cut his teeth in politics during his training in Kano as he was elected President of the School of Hygiene Students Union. However, assumptions that the young Atiku was on track for a career in the hospital or medical profession were to be overturned when he proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University Zaira for a diploma programme in law between 1967 and 1969.

While at the Kongo Campus of ABU, he built on his political prowess when he was successively elected as the Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Speaker of Parliament of the Students Union of the Institute of Administration, Kongo Campus, Ahmadu Bello University.

1969 was the last Atiku then 23 saw of a formal classroom as he was immediately employed by the Customs and Excise Department that year. He served in various locations including Kano, Maiduguri , Kaduna, Seme, Ibadan and Lagos.

He rose to the rank of the Deputy Director, an equivalent to Deputy Comptroller_General before retiring in 1989.

His authorized biography written by Onukaba Adeniyi_Ojo, his Man Friday, tells the tale of how Atiku started making money through real estate while he was in the service of the Customs in the early 80s. The loan he is believed to have secured to build his first house was the foundation for the multi_billion naira business empire that Atiku controls now across different continents.

While the foundation of his wealth may look eerie to some, especially undying critics, the fact that not one allegation of corruption has been firmly tied to him is revealing.

Atiku’s business interests spans Oil Services, Agriculture, Food and Beverages, Print Media, Banking, Insurance and Pharmaceuticals.

He is reputedly a major investor in Intels, an integrated logistics solution provider to the oil industry with facilities that put the state owned National Ports Authority to shame.

Following his retirement from the Customs, Atiku embraced active politics in 1989 under the stewardship of Gen. Shehu Musa Ya’Adua. With the Tafidan Katsina, they founded the People’s Front of Nigeria which later collapsed into the Social Democratic Party, one of the two political parties that were enacted into being by the then military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Atiku first set his eyes on the governorship of Adamawa State, but the disqualification of his political leader, Shehu Yar‘Adua set him on the presidential sweepstakes in the 1993 presidential primaries that was eventually won by the late businessman, Moshood Abiola.

Gen. Sani Abacha’s truncation of that democratic experiment in November 1993 set Atiku’s political career back, albeit temporarily.

But when the junta allowed a constitutional conference in 1994, he qas elected to represent Ganye/Mayo Belwa constituency in Adamawa State.

As expected, he identified with Yar‘Adua at the constitutional conference which slammed a time limit on the junta to exit from power.

The vengeance of the regime which reportedly culminated in the controversial death of Gen. Yar‘Adua in prison may have forced Atiku into exile. Atiku claims that the junta at that time equally sought to frustrate his businesses.

His political opponents have, however, sought to make political capital out of the fact that Atiku did not or could not do much to rescue his political leader from the jaws of the lion as represented by Abacha.

Abacha’s death and the opening of the political space in 1998 allowed Atiku to blossom. He was one of the foundation members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and had set his eyes on the governorship of Adamawa State. He easily got his prize but came from the blues to be picked as the running mate to Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1999 presidential race.

As Vice_President between 1999 and 2003, Atiku was unarguably in charge of the economy. His politics was equally focused, if not dangerous. His aides were reportedly behind the fabled Mandela Option, a calculation believed to persuade Obasanjo to serve one term in office and retire as a glorified statesman.

Obasanjo rejected the initiative and towards the end of his first term in office began plotting how he would return for a second term while at the same time plotting his vengeance against Atiku.

In the second term of the Obasanjo presidency between 2003 and 2007, Atiku was a mere onlooker, as Obasanjo’s vengeance took full steam.

Atiku’s canny survival instincts helped him as he navigated the several intrigues that were set around him in the presidency finally opting out of the Obasanjo team in late 2006.

Atiku matched up with another survivor of the Obasanjo’s vengeance in the person of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to form the Action Congress of Democrats.

His money and his relationships helped him at this time. He was subjected to internal and external probes within the executive arm of government, notably the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF among other probes.

As it was the AC was a ship with two captains and eventually Atiku opted out and in an unbelievable somersault made peace with Obasanjo. It was a peace that made many Nigerians laugh and indeed Obasanjo laugh at Atiku’s seeming desperation.

His return to the PDP, the party he founded and once sought to destroy before returning to it is indeed the very underbelly of Atiku’s present presidential campaign. With the ACN now the major threat to the PDP, the question on many lips as to what have been Atiku’s prospects had he remained in the AC is open to question.

Atiku holds several traditional titles among which include

*Turaki Adamawa since 1982 when he was only 36.

* Sardauna Ganya

* Maiyedero of Lagos

* Ekwueme of Anambra

* Atayese of Ijeshaland

* Zanna Zantaelma of Borno

* Zege Mule U Tiv

* Shettima of Biu

* The Suka of Ogoniland

* The Unuamani of Adamawa

* The Baagbile of Oke Ona Egba of Egbaland

* Omekaojuora of Ibusa

* Otun Balogun of Mopaland

He is married with 27 children.