THE MAN, HIS POLITICS
The suspense was long. Animated by the tensions and animosities of politicking. But when the declaration eventually came, it was a mixed grill of expectant surprise and cutting acceptance. For the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), it was a mere confirmation of sallies from his political past.
Pitched against former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), respected spy chief, General Aliyu Gusau, and Kwara State Governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki; former vice president Atiku Abubakar undoubtedly deserved the pie. It may not have come courtesy of his academic or professional credentials, service delivery, character or trust. He may not have been adjudged the wisest, the richest or the one that has the key to the hearts of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates. But he came tops, willy-nilly.
Atiku's political track record rings like a tale from the fictional world. In the aborted transitional period of 1990-1993, when he cut his political teeth under the late General Shehu Yar'Adua, he surreptitiously came from 'nowhere' to upstage more tested politicians to become the general's alter-ego and eventual successor as the ultimate leader of the all-conquering political machine, Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
He held it together, amalgamating more disparate structures nationwide. And when the curtains drew on the military interregnum in 1998, he deployed it to full use to dominate affairs in the PDP, which has since ruled the country.
Though, he was elected Adamawa State governor in 1999, he again supplanted hot favourites for the vice presidential position to clinch it clearly against the run of political analytical tradition.
As vice-president, his influence loomed large. Most of the governors in the dispensation oscillated towards him. It was not long before his presidential dreams came to the fore.
In the 2003 elections, it took a last minute trade-off for the governors, acting on his behest to allow his boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a second term ticket. The war of attrition between him and Obasanjo soon snowballed into a full-fledged war, where all kinds of intrigues and arsenals were deployed.
All through the fiery brickbats, he was in a vantage position, although variously bullied and bruised by Obasanjo. Unlike Obasanjo, the vice-president was a jolly good fellow, with robust cordial relationships with the media and the political class.
Governors, ministers, top civil servants and other top government functionaries gravitated towards him. A minister from Obasanjo's South-west who raised the alarm over the soaring profile and influence of Atiku in his government, got the boot at the insistence of Atiku. But Atiku bidded his time. By the turn of 2005, it was obvious that Atiku was gradually being caged. Deliberately, stories of economic mismanagement and sleaze filled the air and they were all put on the 'vee-pee's' doorsteps. To rub it in the more, a ministerial committee, headed by former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Nasiru el-Rufai indicted him. Obasanjo eventually seized the moment to accuse his deputy of disloyalty. Subsequently, his sweeping powers were curtailed and he became a nominal figure in the government. It was a big fatal blow to his succession plans to Obasanjo.
Pronto, the struggle for his political life began. Frantic efforts were made to impeach him without success. He ran to the court for judicial protection and latched onto the third term ambition of his boss as a straw. He stopped him. But Obasanjo had ensured his strangulation in the power levers of the PDP. He left and found succour in the Action Congress (AC) now Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
He flew the presidential banner of the party in the 2007 elections but lost. In the cold, he tried to put together a mega party arrangement but failed. His efforts to reconcile with his former boss in Abeokuta made the headlines, but did not click too. Eventually, he quit AC, saying, it lacked internal democracy and returned to the PDP.
His critics likened his return to the proverbial dog returning to his vomit. He was accused of not being a principled politician, but his supporters say he is only epitomizing the political adage of no permanent friend or enemy in politics.
When he showed interest in the 2011 presidential race, many thought he was up against many odds. The same forces that demobilized him ahead of the 2007 elections were still around and positioned for President Goodluck Jonathan's presidential interest.
His structures and support base nationwide was in disarray. But he trudged on. He has also lost his base with the governors.
The party's constitution stood against him as a returnee. He applied for waiver and patiently waited for it. The waiver indeed came and proved yet again his political prowess and invincibility. With Obasanjo waiting in the wings to confront him, his emergence as northern consensus candidate opens an epic vista in the PDP.
Will Obasanjo beat him again?
Atiku, the quintessential politician has the pedigree. His personal networks are wide and far reaching encompassing traditional rulers, aristocrats, military and para-military top brass, the men with blue blood, peasants, labour leaders, the intelligentsia.
The PDP ticket is the next battle. He will no doubt approach it with his vintage axe. To win or lose is yet a mark in his political odyssey.