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ATIKU: ROUGH ROAD TO THE SOAPBOX

By NBF News

Since he tasted political power in 1999, Atiku has spared no efforts in his presidential dream. Not even threats, blackmail and intimidations have slowed him down. At some point, events pointed to capitulation and death to the dream. But like the phoenix, he has always managed to keep it aglow.

Before his formal declaration of intent to contest recently, Atiku has been assailed with criticisms of vaulting desire to rule Nigeria at all cost. These criticisms and his immanent unstable political platform have cast a slur on his chances in the race, especially when viewed against the backdrop of a formidable opposition.

Strategies
This was not lost on him, as he has been locked up in strategic meetings with his associates, since April this year, when he formally returned to the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) which he co-founded, he has also in the last four months initiated moves to make up with some of his political adversaries who he considers crucial to his ambition. While some of the reconciliation moves pulled through, others came to naught.

Principally his desire to reconcile with his long term associate, and former aide, Dr. Musa Bugaje, who failed to return to the PDP with him after a tempestuous sojourn in the Action Congress(AC), now Action Congress of Nigeria(CAN) failed. Daily Sun learnt that efforts were made on more than three occasions to patch up their yawning differences.

Bugaje was said to have felt strongly offended that the former vice-president failed to convince him properly, and exercise patience and restraint before returning to the PDP. He also complained of a deepening gulf in their relationship since the 2007 presidential race, which Atiku has failed to acknowledge and respond to.

Bugaje allegedly told their mutual friend 'that since he lost in the presidential election in 2007, he has not related with me the way he used to, in spite of my passionate doggedness and commitment to his cause when Obasanjo was after him. He has only called me twice and on a number of occasions when I tried to see him, he was not available, and did not reciprocate my good gesture of calling on him.'

But a source at Atiku's campaign office dismissed Bugaje's complaints as mere alibi to justify his burgeoning chummy relationship with former Lagos State governor and ACN leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. 'We are aware that his relationship with Tinubu has reached a point of no return. He has to find excuses to remain in Tinubu's camp', said a source at Atiku's campaign office.

Daily Sun, however, learnt that, Tinubu being a clever and wily politician found in Bugaje, a complementary ally and friend whose resourcefulness and other positive attributes will in no small measure shore up his aspirations and outreach in the North, in the push to give the ACN a more national outlook. Their initial cordial relationship between 2006 and 2007 soon transcended into a close affair, with Tinubu positioning him as his 'front man.'

Bugaje also found in Tinubu most of the mercurial qualities that had sustained his relationship with Aiku, even against every odd. While battling to sway his estranged associates back, Atiku has also not lost sight of the looming threat from his friend, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida(IBB), who he met in this days as a young Customs officer in the late 70's. Although Atiku's camp is not losing any sleep over IBB's presidential ambition, and somehow believes that he may not contest after all, it believes that both camps can work out a blueprint of co-operation and support.

In line with this thinking, he brushed aside IBB's refusal to make him Comptroller-General of the Customs in 1988, when he was military President and launched subtle moves to enlist his support. An unnamed emissary he sent to him to sound him out returned without any breakthrough. The emissary, who is said to be a retired military General from Kebbi State, informed IBB of the multiple hurdles on his path to attaining his presidential goals. Chief of which is the Okigbo panel report on the 1991 oil windfall, which is being exhumed by the Federal Government, the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential polls presumably won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, as well as his age. IBB is 71.

He was said to have deferred his offers to him, which Daily Sun learnt includes a pact to protect his interests, integrate his political family into his government, institute measures that would make his eight years tenure a model and high point for incoming administrations, as well as ensure regular consultations with him on crucial state policies. Atiku's calculation is not only to tap from his rich political experience and sagacity, but to inherit his wide network of well cultivated structures.

A final word on the rapprochement is yet to be heard. IBB's presidential project is on course and there are no indications yet that anything and not the least, the aforementioned fears would make him buckle under.

Hurdles
Although he has hoisted his presidential banner, before him is a road strewn with thorns. His return to PDP has been viewed largely as a re-enactment of the loss of principles and integrity usually found in typical Nigerian politicians. The governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Alliance(DPA) in Lagos State at the 2007 general elections, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, said the interest of these politicians is only woven around winning elections. Regretting that Atiku has returned to PDP regardless of the circumstances of his exit in 2006, and the obtuse use of language against the party, he likened the present scenario to a dog returning to his vomit.

He urged the electorate to be wary and to sift genuine political office aspirants from charlatans, who would at all times try to manipulate them for their selfish desires. He lamented that many politicians today lack essential principles and ideological beliefs.

'At our level of democracy, what I find is that most members of the political class tend to do politics for the purpose of winning elections. It is not so much on principles. It is not so much on beliefs. It is once a party gives you the opportunity to run for an office and secondly being able to deliver the votes to win election for that office. I think that is what has driven most members of the political class in Nigeria. So, when you find that there are politicians who try to move from one party to the other, back and forth, it is not driven by principles and it will take sometime for people to begin to determine and I insist that politicians must hold on to parties and live only on principles rather than just on the basis of just wanting to win for winning sake.'

The head of the media unit of Atiku's Campaign Office, Mallam Garba Shehu, however, exonerates Atiku from Agbaje's submission. He said Atiku's return to PDP was as a result of the advice of his associates nationwide, after several meetings. But for the pending electoral dispute at the election petitions tribunal, all the remnants of his associates still in ACN would have returned to PDP with him, Garba optimized. He specifically pointed out former Anambra State governor, Dr. Chris Ngige as one of those associates, who will in the long run come back to the PDP to stay with Atiku.

Some political observers however believe that the residual members of Atiku's camp still in AC are there as part of the group's plan B approach to the 2011 polls. They reason that the failure of the mega party project which Atiku was involved in, has made him wise and he has asked them to stay back there and prepare the grounds for him in case he fails in clinching the ticket of the PDP.

There is also the Obasanjo factor in the calculations. The duo have no love lost between them, in spite of their public posturing. Fulani are said to hardly forgive their traducers, and do not forget easily. Owu clan in Abeokuta also have a reputation of vindictiveness and cunning. So, the die is cast for them. The perceived interest to contest in the 2011 presidential race by President Goodluck Jonathan is another fly in the ointment. With the structures in PDP as presently constituted and the incumbency factor, the journey to the seat for Atiku is made even more arduous.

He may also be axed, with article 8.9 of the party's constitution which states that 'persons who desire to rejoin the party after leaving it shall, unless exempted by the National Working Committee, be placed on probation for a period of time not less than a year.' How he paddles through this long turbulent road, will determine the success or failure of his presidential journey.