By Ochereme Nnana
AS we begin the homerun to 2019, many politicians are understandably hungry to be the next president of Nigeria. Only one appears to be doing so in a bold and emphatic manner: Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a former two-term Vice President of Nigeria and (putatively) a member of the ruling All Progressives Alliance, APC. I choose my words carefully because you and I know Atiku’s penchant to jump from one political party to another. Since he started running for president in 1993, he has never run on the same party platform twice. It is unlikely he will consummate his next presidential run in the APC if ailing President Muhammadu Buhari runs for a second term.
Yes, another prominent and viable material: Alhaji Sule Lamido, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, immediate past Governor of Jigawa State and a founding father of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has also indicated interest. But so far, he is still pussyfooting around the North. We wait until he makes his entrée on the national centre-stage. I do not take Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso’s presidential aspiration serious. I do not think it will be in the nation’s interest for a person like him to mount the Aso Villa throne. He is too sectional and divisive for my liking. We have seen the effects of such type of leaders on the wider polity. President Muhammadu Buhari is only a bit more extremist than Kwankwaso. The nation is reeling from the spin-offs of Buhari’s anti-national unity 97%/5% government which, unfortunately, he has abandoned to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to carry. Nigeria cannot afford any more parochial leaders.
If you have followed this column which has been running for twenty three years, you would have noticed that I have never taken Atiku Abubakar serious as a national leader. I have always seen him as a man who, after being leveraged into a position of uncommon material superabundance, has been regarding the presidency as the only conquest remaining to be achieved. I also detected that factor of regional irredentism and power arrogance which he had displayed when pushed to the wall in the past. In an article I wrote in December 2014 entitled: “Praying for Atiku”, I described him as a “born-to-rule Arewa politician”. My reason was simple. He had always openly claimed that the North calls the shots; once the North decides the rest of the country follows suit. It may be true to a large extent, and that is what infuriates people like me. I detest it that a section of the country that is always only pushing for its own interests will always impose its interests on me. Mine does not matter.
For a leader to openly pontificate this is a great affront to me. Even if it is true, rubbing it in is what I referred to above as sectional arrogance. People who display such traits should never be elected president of Nigeria. They will only bring upon the rest of us the centrifugal demons riding rough-shod over us today. We need a visionary nation-builder, wound-binder and father-figure for all Nigerians. We do not need a religious bigot, ethnic irredentist with medieval impulses or regional zealot. Enough of those!
Atiku’s challenge against President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 within the PDP was based purely on his age-old belief that once the North agrees the rest would follow. He financed the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, which sifted through Northern presidential aspirants. Atiku was selected to go and face Jonathan. He failed woefully to snatch the PDP ticket from Jonathan. But in 2015, his theory worked, only because a Northern pick, Buhari, had gone into an alliance with the South West and was able to defeat a President Jonathan who lacked what it takes to overcome. No region can (or should) win without alliances.
Again, I was not happy when Atiku, as Obasanjo’s Vice President, angrily threatened the Chairman of the Adamawa State Election Tribunal, Justice Kashim Zanna, for ruling that his political protégé, Governor Boni Haruna, had lost the 2003 election. He had described the verdict as “disrespectful”. True democrats should respect court verdicts even if they disagree.
However, apart from these unsavoury escapades in Atiku’s long political sojourn, he has come across as a very energetic, bold focused and organised leader. Certainly, Atiku is a fighter, and he has fought good fights. These include helping to stop the tenure elongation plots of his boss, Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006. Whether he did so because of his own political ambition was something else apart. Through his court cases against Obasanjo, he was able to firmly establish the fact that a President cannot sack his estranged Vice President.
Atiku has come into the run-up to 2019 a totally re-made man. He is now sounding intellectually-upgraded and in tune with the changes Nigeria needs to overcome its economic and political woes. I like the fact that he has fully embraced the imperative of restructuring. He has become an ideological proselyte for restructuring. That is leadership.
That Atiku has not allowed the recent thumb-down of devolution of powers in the National Assembly by Northern lawmakers to wilt his push for restructuring is something I find remarkable. It is only a person who is willing to risk his political standing in the conservative North that can condemn what the Arewa lawmakers did a few hours after they stood down restructuring and devolution.
Again, I am pleased with Atiku for openly and forcefully condemning the malodorous outbursts of Arewa youths who have threatened the Igbo people in the North because of the Biafra agitations. Atiku is now talking and acting like a national leader. His shadow is now looming large among us. But Igbo people will ask: “o sikwa gi n’obi?” Is it really from your heart? Or is it just a ploy to grab the elusive power? We watch.