By Ohereome Nnanna
FORMER Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is the national record holder on defections from one political party to the other. He was one of the founding leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in 1998. He later in December 1998 contested and won the governorship of Adamawa State. But after helping General Olusegun Obasanjo to win the presidential ticket of a party which he (Obasanjo) knew nothing about how it was formed, Atiku was offered the Vice President slot. He took it and left the governorship seat to his Deputy Governor designate, Mr. Boni Haruna.
But due to his burning ambition to become president, he put pressure on Obasanjo to do only one term as South African President, Nelson Mandela, had recently at that time done. That infuriated the Ota chicken farmer, who virtually forced Atiku to stay as his running mate (remember that occasion when he held Atiku’s hand, dragging him as he walked round the campaign podium in 2003). Atiku was that important – beside Obasanjo – rather than far away. But soon after securing his second term, Obasanjo sought to run the Adamawa political warlord off the ruling party, while at the same time, Atiku fought to prevent Obasanjo from extending his tenure after 2007.
Eventually, Atiku had to leave the PDP in 2006 to take the presidential ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to run against PDP’s Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua. In 2011, Atiku also rallied Northern political leaders to grab the PDP presidential ticket from President Goodluck Jonathan who had just completed the late Yar’ Adua’s tenure. Jonathan trumped him massively at the presidential primaries. An embittered Atiku, again, flocked with the rest of the PDP renegades to the new foundling All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2014. Again, he contested for the party’s presidential ticket along with Muhammadu Buhari, Rabiu Kwankwaso and others, and lost. His return to the PDP on Sunday, 3rd December 2017 is his fourth carpet-crossing venture. I told you: he holds the national record.
Another national record Atiku is on the verge of achieving is the longest aspiration for president. His presidential aspiration started in April 1993 at the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, presidential convention in Jos, though he was merely a pawn in the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua political chessboard. It is on record that he came third after Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe. If he succeeds in obtaining the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2018, he would have also become the national record holder in the number of times and years spent by any Nigeria living or dead in presidential aspiration. The former holders were Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who started vying for the Chief Executive of the Federal post in 1959 but were forcefully retired by the military and, perhaps age, in 1983.
Before I continue, let me note that changing political platforms is not new in Western liberal democracies. The word: “carpet crossing” is a term in the British political lexicology which describes the change of political platform, especially by elected Members of Parliament. It is also called “ratting”. Countless British politicians have changed parties. The legendary Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a prominent “rat”, had moved from the Conservatives to the Liberals and back to the Conservatives. But most historians agree that his moves were based on ideological principles. So, it is possible to be a “principled rat”.
The same thing applied to prominent American politicians, such as Ronald Reagan (who moved from the Democrats to the Republicans where he was later elected President) and Hillary Clinton (who moved from the Republicans to the Democrats where she was nearly elected President) to mention but a few. Hillary changed to work for a politician she admired. When Reagan left the Democrats in 1962 over JF Kennedy’s alleged drift towards socialism, he later wrote: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Party left me”. So, principle and ideological shifts are valid grounds to shift base.
But really, can we say Atiku has been serially ratting due to principle? I do not think so. In Nigeria, people rarely change political camps over ideological principles. Two main factors guide Nigerian rats: the first is stomach infrastructure. The other is ambition. Both come under the umbrella of opportunism.
A lot of people, like former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, achieved great heights in the PDP but as soon as the Party lost power at the centre they switched over to the new ruling Party, APC, and started badmouthing the party that gave them so much. I have noticed that once people taste public office, they never want to pass up any opportunity that would return them there. Many politicians find it difficult to survive or stay in political parties that have no public office or its attached benefits to offer them. Under Buhari some politicians, like Orji Uzor Kalu, switched to APC for political relevance and protection from their past actions as politically-exposed persons.
But in Atiku’s case, ambition is definitely the driving force. Atiku and America’s Donald Trump have achieved every other thing their countries have to offer. All they want is power. They want to be president. Atiku’s ambition for the presidency verges on desperation and impatience. If he had been a little more patient in the PDP no one could have stopped him from eventually ruling Nigeria when the Party was still unassailable.
Political inconsistency and vaulting ambition, however, should not detract from the quality of leadership someone like Atiku is capable of providing if he becomes president. I certainly rate him far higher than President Buhari in executive capacity, organised and focused leadership and ability to unite the country and govern with social justice.
I look forward to the thrills of the 2018/2019 transitional politics.