Celebrating Atiku, a colossus, at 70

I first met Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, GCON, Turakin Adamawa and former Vice President of Nigeria, in 1994 at his former residence on Lekki Taba Street, Jimeta, Yola, Adamawa State. He was then a delegate to the Constitutional Conference convened by the General Sani Abacha regime sequel to the June 12 imbroglio and the ouster of Chief Ernest Shonekan’s lame Interim National Government.

After retiring from an illustrious career in the Nigeria Customs Service, Atiku was already a famous political figure. He had run an effective campaign to be governor of the defunct Gongola state and featured prominently as a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP. In an attempt to contribute to the socio-political and economic development of our state, we had formed a non-partisan association and wanted his support. I led a delegation of interim officials of that association to meet him.

On that day, Atiku said things that have remained indelible on my mind. He stated that “I am probably the most misunderstood politician around. The rich and powerful in the society do not understand why I associate with the poor. The poor do not trust me because I am rich and relate with the powerful. But I have since realized that this is a prize I must pay for the development of the society.”

In August this year, I had the privilege of leading a delegation of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association as its national president to Atiku’s palatial Asokoro residence in Abuja, to invite and request him to be the Chairman at the joint sixth African Veterinary Association/53rd Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association scheduled to hold in Enugu. The Turaki graciously granted our request and attended the congress where he delivered a highly incisive speech on 1st November, 2016.

I have had the privilege to meet Turaki at other different fora: weddings, funerals, birthdays, seminars, special events, and so on. He has tended to electrify such occasions not only with his presence, but added much impetus to the intellectual content of such meetings with his speeches and remarks.

Atiku’s life story engenders great inspiration and is the stuff of legends. From being an orphan and deprived of the comfort, security and guidance that a nuclear family vouchsafes, Atiku surmounted tremendous vicissitudes to rise to the upper rungs of Nigeria’s social, political and economic ladder.

But it is not just the socio-political height that he has attained including the position of Vice President of Nigeria that makes him tick: he has made tremendous impact in the lives of people irrespective of tribe, religion, geography, gender, social status or political affiliation. His generosity and philanthropy is legendary, often devoid of the patronizing, condescending and demanding features that philanthropists display. You sense that he genuinely wants to provide opportunities for people to utilize their potentials and earn a decent means of livelihood often without expecting anything in return.

In Adamawa, Atiku is indisputably the highest employer of labour besides government. His massive investments in the state are second to none. The sectors he chooses to invest in allude to his persona: education, agriculture, media, hospitality, water, oil and gas, etc. These are critical to Nigeria’s socio-economic development. His investments in education and the media especially the American University of Nigeria and Gotel Communications appear to have been driven more by altruistic considerations rather than profit. AUN’s community development initiatives include the Adamawa Peace Initiative and the Almajiri Feed and Read scheme initiative which first batch of students graduated 19 November. Indeed, AUN is in words and deeds a development university.

At the 11th AUN Founder’s Day on 19th November, 2016, which was celebrated along with his 70th birthday, Atiku’s speech during the occasion was very touching. In his 30-minute address, there was no single moment that he talked about himself: he devoted the entire speech to orphans, almajiris, Adamawa state, insurgency, north-eastern Nigeria, Nigeria and sustainable development.

Of course Atiku is a politician. It is on the political turf that he has demonstrated remarkable dexterity, sagacity, courage and penchant for democratic values and ethos. As an unrepentant democrat, he developed a Teflon-coated skin and fought numerous political and legal battles to advance the cause of democracy. For the past three decades, Atiku bestrode Nigeria’s political scene like a colossus. On virtually every political issue, candidate or party, the pertinent questions would always include: where does Atiku stand on this?

Over the years, Atiku has maintained a large, devoted and loyal followership. This is due, in part, to his famed generosity and large-heartedness. He not only gives, he forgives. Many people have betrayed him but he easily forgave those who retraced their steps and seldom allowed political perfidy to affect future relationships.

In a salutary twist of irony, Atiku who grew up as an orphan is today the patriarch of a large family. He has also lived to be 70, an age nobody has attained among his relations. Evidently, he cherishes his family, as a doting father, devoted husband and faithful servant of his Creator.

Like every human being, Atiku has his weaknesses. Some people have also been unhappy with him out of envy, mischief, fear or pain of being defeated. But this piece is deliberately meant to pay tribute to Atiku’s strengths and successes as he clocks 70.

In his remarks at the recent AUN Founder’s Day, Atiku referred to Britain’s “Brexit” vote out of the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections as a poignant warning that the opinions of ordinary people should not be taken for granted. Really! I think that ordinary people should also not take the sacrifices of sensitive leaders like Atiku for granted. It is in that light that I pay this tribute and wish Atiku Abubakar a happy birthday and many more years of service to God and humanity.

  • Dr Edgar Amos Sunday, Public affairs commentator, Jimeta – Yola, Adamawa state.