ATIKU: WASN'T THIS FLAG AT HALF-MAST?
It may well go into the books as one of the greatest comebacks in the political history of Nigeria. Atiku Abubakar, a man that committed political suicide, came back to life, bounced back into reckoning, and all these in powerful fashion. Amazing. Astonishing. Astounding. When he returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (AC, as at then), in April this year, I wrote that Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, had taken hemlock, and would have only himself to blame for the consequences. Why? Simple. Most Nigerians don't like the PDP, except power mongers. But things are turning confoundingly different. The man has been named consensus aspirant by the Northern Political Leaders Forum, breasting the tape ahead of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (retd), Gen. Aliyu Gusau (retd), and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
Let me tell you how much I'd reckoned Atiku politically dead. For six weeks, between April and May, this year, I did close-ups on likely presidential aspirants from the North. I looked at Babangida, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Shekarau, Danjuma Goje, Bukola Saraki, Murtala Nyako, even at Bamanga Tukur, being touted as possible vice president to Goodluck Jonathan then. But Atiku Abubakar did not appear on my total radar coverage. Why? When a man is dead, he's dead. Can he live again?
When I take certain positions on this page, I also stress that I can be wrong, as no man is infallible. Current developments have shown that I wrote off Atiku Abubakar too fast, too soon. The ways of Nigerian politicians are inscrutable, too bewildering for anyone that is not an active player of the esoteric, arcane game to fully understand. The former vice president as consensus aspirant? I wouldn't have placed a bet on it when the process started. But here we are today. What a rebound! A political ricochet, if ever there was one.
Till the middle of his second term as VP, I can say I was indifferent to Atiku. To me, he was just another politician, whose career I'd followed from a distance. From the Customs, to private business, to a Shehu Yar'Adua loyalist, an aspirant for president under the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and in 1999, he was elected as governor of Adamawa State. He eventually dropped the mandate to assume the country's number two position. First term in office, he was quite influential, and had a good enough relationship with his principal. Then came 2003, there was an attempt to drop him as running mate, and he fought back powerfully. I then began to take keener note of the man they call the Turaki, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What made me an Atiku sympathiser of some sorts, was the persecution, the maltreatment and oppression he began to suffer from Olusegun Obasanjo. Something in me goes out to the oppressed. I hate to see people trampled underfoot, treated worse than something the cat dragged in. So, I pitched my tent behind Atiku, and wrote many pieces in his defence. When he defected into AC, and ran for president in 2007, he had my best wishes. From the way he fought the third term gambit of Obasanjo, and how he left the PDP due to the injustice he suffered, I thought we had the archetypal champion and defender of democracy on our hands.
You could imagine my consternation, nay, incredulity, when I heard that the man was headed back to the PDP. My heart was almost broken, my confidence totally shaken. Our hero of democracy had bitten the dust. I sat in ashes and wore sackcloth. I was inconsolable. I have a number of good friends in Atiku's media team, and I remember a time we met. I told them matter-of-factly that we no longer shared the same political convictions. I told them they were holding aloft a flag that was at half-mast, and I can only wish them luck.
Then the shock came last week. The flag began to flutter again, proudly, triumphant. It was morning yet on creation day. Atiku Abubakar had resurged. 'Make the corpse walk,' is title of a novel by James Hadley Chase. This was it, in bold relief. The man had risen from the tomb of political suicide.
I pitied the office of President Goodluck Jonathan when it issued a statement, saying it was 'excited' at the choice of Atiku Abubakar by the northern political leaders, adding that it would make the ticket of the PDP a lot easier for the president. Excited? They should have wept. They should have raised a lamentation. Ibosi o. Ori iya mi alatarodo. (Sorry, non-Yoruba speakers. I dey laugh o).
They had just been pitted against a rugged, dogged, rigorous, robust fighter, and they were 'excited.' When such fighter has just resurrected from the dead, you simply turn the corner when you sight him afar off, you don't get excited. You change course, pretending you were going somewhere else, because he's like a stepping razor. Dangerous. I tell you, in Atiku Abubakar, the northern leaders could not have chosen a sharper battle-axe, a man needed for such times as these. The choice surprised, shocked me, but on reflection, I've seen the wisdom, the savvy, and the masterstroke of it all. The North is set for a political battle, and it has put its best foot in the circumstance forward, by picking a strategist and pertinacious fighter. IBB had too much baggage. Gusau was not enough of a politician, and maybe, too decent for the battle ahead. Saraki? Well, he's a candidate of the future.
Now, Atiku has the benefit of the human and material resources of the four aspirants together to himself. What an armada! Raymond Dokpesi, Ben Obi, Udenta Udenta, and all the other generals, all together in one army. What a massive, potent force. I should be afraid, and feel like peeing, rather than 'excited,' if I'm to face such opposition (well, maybe because I'm a coward, really). IBB had moral and political baggage, the worst being the June 12, 1993 elections he annulled. Saraki was from the fringe North, and bears a Yoruba name. Gusau had a rich professional background, but not much political muscle. Atiku? Sure, he has his own baggage. Tendency and propensity for walking near places he can easily be accused of corruption.
From the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) scandal, to Siemens, to Halliburton, alleged privatisation of public enterprises to himself and his cronies, laundering money into the United States through his wife, Jennifer, the William Jefferson allegations, to many others, Atiku Abubakar is prone to being tarred with the brush of corruption. Why? It's a valid question, but then, why has a single charge not stuck, to the point of trial and conviction? Even Obasanjo's former aide is standing trial on Halliburton bribery, and why not this man that has been serially accused? So, we give Atiku the benefit of doubt till the charges can stick, otherwise, they remain mere allegations. That is the fair thing to do. You don't crucify a man on mere allegations.
If Atiku gets the ticket of PDP, and goes to run in the general elections, and wins, he would then be our first elected president that was not reluctant. Shehu Shagari wanted to go to the Senate, he found himself in the seat as president. Obasanjo just came from prison, and wanted to be a rural, itinerant evangelist. He was asked to be president, and he said: 'How many Ps do you want to make of me? I've been president, I've been prisoner, now you want me to be president again?' Well, he ended up spending two terms. Umaru Yar'Adua had spent two terms as governor of Katsina State, and wanted to return to the classroom to teach Chemistry. He was railroaded into becoming president, when he hadn't the health for the assignment. Now in Atiku, we have a man who had always desired to be president, and who is battle-ready. If he gets it, trust him to serve with all his might to permanently shut up the sceptics and cynics.