Muhammed Adamu on Thursday

October 11, 2018

Revisiting ‘On Atiku’s ambition’



By  Muhammed Adamu 

“If I can conceive it, and believe it, I can achieve it. It’s not my aptitude but my attitude that will determine my altitude –with a little intestinal fortitude”.  –Jesse Jackson

THE English playwright John  Webster, in ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, was the one who said “Ambition… is a great man’s madness” -impliedly suggesting that the urge to achieve is more the affliction of those who already have achieved, than it is the malady of commoners who should have every reason to want to achieve. If ‘ambition’ is more to the ‘great man’ than it is to the ‘commoner’, the question then arises, ‘why should ‘greatness’ allow itself to be troubled by the wearisome aspiration to be even greater? You would’ve thought that ‘ambition’, if it must be anyone’s ‘patent’, it makes better sense to suggest that it is the hallucination only of the poor or the delirium of the underprivileged.


Former Nigerian vice-President Atiku Abubakar raises his hands after winning the presidential ticket of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during the party’s national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on October 7, 2018. Nigeria’s main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has picked Abubakar to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari who is seeking a second term in presidential polls scheduled for February 2019. / AFP PHOTO /

And although Shakespeare has said that “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder”, yet the tragedy of the lowly ones, as one British labour leader said, has always been ‘the poverty of their desires’. As the great ones are chastised for being troubled by vaulting ambition, -seeking always to multiply their superfluous possessions and their stations in life- the lowly ones get to be praised for being content with meager provisions. It is the reason another English playwright Philip Massinger said “Ambition, in a private man a vice, is in a prince the virtue”.

What higher station in life must a man attain beyond which he seeks no further exploits? When is it enough not to seek to conquer any more territory? Truth is there is no ‘great man’ who has ‘greatness’ enough not to be troubled by the ‘ambition’ to be even greater. Ask America’s Donald Trump who once said “I wasn’t satisfied just to earn a good living. I was looking to make a statement”. Yes, make money, seek the highest political office in the land and have -at the very least- the whole nation, if not the world or a region of it, wait on you!


Nothing despairs more than to have no further station in life to aspire to. The Macedonian monarch, Alexander the Great must have learnt this lesson the hard way. At the end of all his conquests he would lament the absence of any “more world to conquer”. And so, ‘great men’ will have to do what ‘great men’ have to do: be ambitious; keep accumulating wealth and  acquiring stations, in like. Or life’ll cease to have any meaning! It is no sin, Shakespeare said “to labour in thy vocation”. To the high and mighty, vaulting ambition; to the low and lowly, content with high hope for a low heaven.

And just as Shakespeare described ‘love’ as ‘blind’ because “lovers cannot see the pretty follies that they themselves commit”, so is ‘ambition’ itself ‘deaf’, because the ambitious -the way that the falcon  is doomed not to hear the call of the falconer- cannot hear the freaky voices that often call them to moderation. And maybe it is the reason that Julius Caesar’s Mark Antony said “ambition is (usually) made of sterner stuff”. But as with Philip Massinger’s princes, to whom ambition is no vice but a virtue, so it is with politicians. Or so said Ralph Waldo Emerson, that ambitious politicians, just like ambitious princes, “hitch their wagon (always) to a star”. And like Angus Grossart, the Scottish banker has said, ambitious politicians would rather “die of exhaustion” aiming to ‘hitch their wagon to a star’  than not aiming to do so, ‘die of boredom’.

And so having hit wealth beyond measure, what should Atiku do if we say that he should not persist in ‘hitching his political wagon to a star’? What should he do? Stay stupendously rich, bored and die? Every great man is entitled to be implacably ambitious; as every commoner is entitled to be an un-stirring bum! And it is to that extent that I think Atiku is more sinned against by those who accused him of being ‘ambitious’, than he has sinned himself because, like Buhari, he has ‘serially’ hitched his political wagon to a star. The British poet Robert Browning said that “a man’s reach should (always) exceed his grasp.” And the American poet, James Whitcomb Riley has provided a logical basis for that: “The ripest peach is highest on the tree.” And if we have no reason to reproach bums who settle for the lower, hanging unripe ‘greens’, we should have no justification to reprimand those who climb high up to reach the ‘ripest’ fruit.

Nor is Atiku any more sinning than other politicians because he has been ‘serially’ unsteady in choosing a platform from which to ‘hitch his wagon’ to his chosen star. PDP, AC, APC are merely the names of the vessels. But as Shakespeare would ask, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose will smell as good if we call it by another name”. Unless the law expressly forbids change of module by which to ‘hitch one’s political wagon to a chosen star’, every politician is entitled to a choice of party platform as often as the need arises for them to do so.

It is sufficient to me that Atiku –from day one- has never made any pretence about his ‘motive’ for joining politics (after a rewarding career in Customs.) His goal has always been to climb up on the tree to ‘the ripest peach’. And that is even in a country where it’s been made some kind of virtue to always aim low even when you can reach higher. Atiku’s political motive has always been to ‘hitch his wagon’ right to our polity’s farthest star, to be President; -even in a society that makes a fetish of ennobling ‘high hopes’ always for ‘low heavens’.



They say that no sooner had Atiku ‘schemed’ to become Governor than he ‘connived’ to become Vice President. And that no sooner was he number two than he set out ‘influencing’ the legislature to dethrone his principal. And that when that failed, he had still angled to throw his hat in the ring to contest his boss’ ‘right of first refusal’ for a second term. And especially for these they said Atiku was –or still is- a conniving son-of-a-bitch. But I say no! Atiku is not the ‘son’ of a ‘five letter word’. He is only a scheming and counter-scheming true son of his mother –with an ‘ambition’ –you should know- that is made of the sternest stuff. And a reach to grab the ripest peach.


When a trembling, dagger-wielding Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth, says to his avidly ruthless wife, Lady Macbeth  “If we should fail….”, even before he finishes, this lady villain of implacable ambition retorts “screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail!”. And this is what Atiku has consistently been doing;screwing his ‘courage to the sticking place’. Ironically, it is a mettle that even Macbeth has to be nudged by a woman to evoke. But it is a mettle that has always come in handy with an Atiku; -the courage to mount his gilded horse of ‘ambition’, and to soldier on; never cowardly posing, like Macbeth, “If we should fail”; because he knows always that as much as a chivalry charge can fail, it can also succeed.

Atiku is ambitious, yes, but he makes our democracy tick. It cannot be denied that his series of previous litigious moves to challenge his electoral losses have enriched our jurisprudence. Said the English poet, Edmund Spenser, “he that strives to touch the stars, oft stumbles at a straw”. But in the spirit of good sportsmanship let us pray that even if Atiku does not “touch the stars”, -for the reason that he enlivens our democracy and he enriches our jurisprudence- he does not ever “stumble”.