My first encounter with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was in his office as the Vice President of Nigeria in 2005. It was during the disagreement with his principal. As I entered his office, I noticed that the whole place was a Siberia of sort, as only his few security details and personal staff were around him. There was no beehive and trappings around power. But as he spoke to me, I saw a solid man who was not overpowered by his surroundings. He exuded confidence and the clarity of his mind was so compelling. He registered a good impression on me after about 30 minutes’ discussions.
My impression of him that day was given a clear some 13 years after by Professor Ango Abdullahi during a visit to Lagos. After some evening engagement in Lagos, we were to see former President Olusegun Obasanjo together in Abeokuta. It happened the Lagos-Ibadan highway was impassable and we had to go through Epe to access Abeokuta. The long journey provided us an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues.
Atiku came up in the course of our discussions and the former vice chancellor who was very close to the late General Musa Yar’Adua told me the reason the strategic military officer told Chief M.K.O. Abiola to pick Atiku as his running mate, after they were reconciled in the build-up to the June 12, 1993 election. But it happened that the intrigue network of (Babagana) Kingibe was too strong for Abiola to honour the agreement, as he picked the then chairman of SDP instead of Atiku.
Professor Abdullahi told me he saw Yar’Adua after the announcement of Kingibe and he said: “Abiola has lost this. The reason I asked him to pick Atiku was that I know Babangida would not hand over power easily and Abiola would need a fighter like Atiku to back him up and not someone who would sell him easily.” The rest is history as Kingibe betrayed Abiola big time.
I worked around Atiku later in 2005/2006 on the Summit of Action Congress when it started as I headed the South-West mobilisation team of the party. He provided leadership for the group, much in money and he registered another impression on me in the course of those meetings. For men of his means, the temptation is always there to believe too much in money and its influence, but not for Atiku.
I remember one evening when there was a dispute on whether some already printed materials should be dropped or used. As the argument to discard the items seemed to be winning, a leader of the party fumed: “It is not possible. I have spent over N2000 million to produce those stuff.” Atiku looked at him and calmly said to him: “please stop mentioning figures here. People are spending money in their own ways.”
But I did not eventually back him in the 2007 elections as I backed out of the Action Congress (AC) before the election, due to irreconcilable differences within the party in my zone.
Atiku has remained an engaging personality to me ever since until I backed him for the last election within the decision of the Nigerian leaders and elders’ forum consisting of Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Pan Niger Delta Forum, Northern Elders Forum and the Middle Belt Forum. It was a long process. As we inched towards the 2019 election, the body decided to engage presidential aspirants on their vision for Nigeria. We had in sessions Mr Donald Duke, Mr Sina Fagbenro Byron, Mr Johnson Edosomwan, Dr Bukola Saraki, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa and Waziri Atiku Abubakar, among others. At the end of our interaction with them, we shortlisted Waziri and two others. The strongest factor in coming to the decision was chiefly on account of the commitment to the restructuring project and other factors.
Atiku eventually emerged as the presidential candidate of the PDP and his elucidation on the need to return Nigeria to the path of productivity was very convincing. He was eventually adopted as the candidate of the Nigerian leaders and elders’ forum.
I was bound by the group’s decision with the strong conviction that Nigeria needed to move in a different direction from what we had in the last four years. Within the period, Nigeria became the global secretariat of poverty and there was no clear economic direction to address the situation. We engaged in a borrowing binge to the point that the Debt Management Office now confirmed that our debt portfolio is now N24.3 trillion, as against N12 trillion at the end of March 2015. Today, we spend 65 per cent of our earnings to survive debt and Bloomberg has predicted we are moving to 83 per cent in 2023!
We are among the top six most miserable countries on earth today and that is very evident in the rate of suicide in our polity, kidnappings and banditry all over the country. Our frustrated citizens now emigrate to perpetrate crimes as evident in the bad news about them from Saudi Arabia and UAE in the last few days. Yet, there is no sign anywhere that there is any thought of getting us out of this mess, as all we see around us only is scheming for command and control.
Nigeria has exhausted all possibilities and can only produce misery and pain for the vast majority of the people but there is no visionary leadership to appreciate the need to retool. It’s all obsessions for power and using force to hold the country together, not knowing that such is not sustainable. If a mighty empire like Soviet Union could fall apart like a pack of cards, how much would it take a funny contraption like Nigeria?
This was why those of us who supported Atiku in the last election did so in order to put Nigeria back on track, with the commitment of the campaign to restructure Nigeria. The declaration of the incumbent as winner of the election has foreclosed the prospect of dreaming big about the future of Nigeria.
Another fallout of the turn of event is the mockery those of us advocating the restructuring of the country have faced from those who have moved beyond the idea of Nigeria. Such people have derided us but we have always told them that a restructured Nigeria would guarantee the happiness of all sections of the country and we would live together in peace.
It has become somewhat difficult to totally dismiss the views of such people with the views credited to Mr Anthony Sani, the Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) recently, on why the group supported the incumbent. “It is true that it is not the policy and practice of ACF to endorse party candidates outright. What the forum does is to provide leadership qualities required for purposeful leadership and party manifesto of political parties and performance of candidates. This is to enable voters to make informed judgment during elections. But that does not mean when the need arises, ACF would not endorse a candidate. You know there is always a deviation from the norm. In the extant case, the forum was of the view that inspite of some shortcomings of APC, the ruling party, it is still the best for the country in the circumstance; more so, that main opposition party (PDP) made restructuring of the country and sale of government assets its campaign mantra. This is against the fact that this country has undergone different kinds of restructuring, such as political, economic and geographical; and any further restructuring may be unhelpful. And given the fact that past sale of government assets did not yield the desired results, the forum was not favourably disposed to any further sale of government assets. Rather, prudent management of national resources should be what matters.”
What Mr Sani’s position means that the situation in the country that we complain is not okay is the best for some people, for as long as command and control are established. But they would not stop those of us who believe that this country can only move forward when it is run along the true tenets of federalism.
This was the basis of my support within group decision for General Muhammadu Buhari in 2011 (it turned out a deception though), for Dr Jonathan in 2015 and for Alhaji Atiku in 2019.
For the Buharideens who have run their mouths about my support for these men in the cycles, are they saying I should have slipped out of the political space after I withdrew support for the Buhari camp on principle? Could that have been out of consideration for being responsible for my education and training? I have been out there for 25 years before I worked with Buhari for six months in 2011. Would that short period then become the totality of my political existence?
I speak with Jonathan and Atiku from now and then. The only person I have kept my distance from is President Buhari, in spite of prompting by Governor Aminu Masari two years ago that I should call him. I would not do so, lest anybody say I am looking for something. I seek nothing from any soul.