Obasanjo 2: Atiku 6, By Jideofor Adibe
The recent report that Obasanjo caricatured the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the consensus candidate of the Northern faction of the PDP brings to mind echoes of the epic battle between the duo during their second term in office. When asked what he thought about Atiku's emergence as the North's consensus candidate for the PDP presidential ticket, Obasanjo, an ultimate political comedian when he chooses to be, was said to have dabbled into a sarcastic laughter and then declared in Pidgin English: 'I dey laugh'. The Atiku Campaign Organisation quickly retorted, also in Pidgin English that 'we too dey laugh oo', after reminding the Ota Farmer of the declining fortunes of the PDP in the South West, which it blamed squarely on Obasanjo's mismanagement of the party in that zone. Since it is now obvious that the battle of wits between Atiku and Obasanjo has continued unabated since it first blew open in 2003, it may be worth assessing their score lines.
Some have traced the origin of the deep mistrust between Obasanjo and Atiku to April 2002, when the Owu chief reportedly organised an event and deliberately left out the Vice President from the protocols. It was said that Atiku not only felt humiliated at such a public event but also took it as a confirmation of the rumour that Obasanjo was contemplating to drop him as his running mate in the 2003 presidential election. It was said that from that time Atiku began to plan a counter attack, including preparations to run against his boss in the party's primaries, if need be. Sensing that Atiku had the support of most of the PDP Governors and delegates, Obasanjo, it was said, had to literally 'beg' Atiku for his support. Atiku acquiesced, allegedly on the condition that he would be retained on the ticket. If this version of the origin of the mistrust between the two were correct, then round one went to Atiku Abubakar, for successfully preventing Obasanjo from dropping him from the ticket.
Atiku developed ambition for high political office quite early in his political life. At the age of 47, and with only three years experience in politics, Atiku had sought the presidential ticket of the Babangida-created SDP after his mentor, the late Shehu Musa Yaradua, and the other presidential candidates in both the SDP and the rival NRC were disqualified because of alleged irregularities in the parties' primaries. In March 1993, Atiku emerged as the SDP presidential candidate from Adamawa State and headed for Jos to vie with 27 others, including 55-year old MKO Abiola, for the party's presidential ticket. The late Musa Yaradua instructed him to step down for Abiola on the understanding that Abiola would make him (Atiku) his running mate. Though Abiola eventually settled for Babagana Kingibe as his running-mate and Atiku was later to contest and win the Governorship election in Adamawa State, it is natural to surmise that Atiku nursed presidential ambitions and had hoped to succeed Obasanjo at the end of the latter's two terms in office.
It was said that Obasanjo felt that one way of retaliating for the perceived humiliation of having to beg Atiku for his political support in 2003 was to stop him from realising his presidential ambitions. He therefore started a process of not only dismantling Atiku's PDM political structure but also of whittling down his political influence in the government. The mistrust between the two reached its crescendo when Obasanjo decided to amend the Constitution to 'elongate' his tenure and Atiku chose to oppose it vociferously. Obasanjo successfully prevented Atiku from succeeding him - just as Atiku succeeded in preventing Obasanjo from elongating his tenure.
Score card: Atiku 1: Obasanjo 1.
Though Obasanjo succeeded in stopping Atiku from realising his presidential ambition, Atiku won the hearts of many Nigerians not only by the way he carried himself in the face of humiliation by Obasanjo and his acolytes, but also for literally fighting Obasanjo with 'bare hands'. He was said to be among the few with the courage to fight Obasanjo toe-to-toe when the Ota farmer held sway at Aso Rock. Therefore, though Obasanjo succeeded in preventing Atiku from succeeding him, the epic fight between the duo raised Atiku's profile both as a democrat and as a dogged fighter. In this sense, Atiku scores an extra point.
Both Obasanjo and Atiku vacated office in May 1999. After the Supreme Court affirmed the 'victory' of Umaru Yaradua in the sham that was the 2007 election, Atiku quickly found that his political influence was waning, especially as his new party, the AC (which has now renamed itself ACN) was rapidly being turned into a reincarnation of the Yoruba-dominated AD, with Alhaji Bola Tinubu as the unofficial leader. Efforts to build a credible opposition capable of wresting power from PDP had tumbled. It could be argued that Atiku suddenly found himself with only two options - to return to the PDP, which, despite its weaknesses, remained the only vehicle for him to realise his ambition of becoming President, or to allow himself to drift into political oblivion. He began subtle moves to return to the PDP. On January 19 2009, Obasanjo allegedly lured Atiku to what was supposed to be a top secret 'reconciliation' meeting between the two but tipped the press about it. It turned out that Atiku had not informed his party, the AC, or his loyalists of the planned meeting. The leaked meeting not only undermined Atiku's political image but also succeeded in shifting media focus from the daily negative reports about Obasanjo to speculations of the import of that meeting. Score line: Obasanjo 1 Atiku 0. Round five After the infamous meeting of January 19, 2009, Atiku became part of the efforts to create a mega political party that would be capable of defeating the PDP at the polls. When that idea fell through, and he began contemplating a return to PDP, all manner of obstacles were erected on his way - allegedly with the fingerprints of Obasanjo all over it. He was eventually re-admitted into the party after several allegations and counter-allegations. After the re-admission, came the huge hurdle of getting a 'waiver' to enable him contest for the presidency under the PDP. Despite stiff opposition from several quarters, Atiku not only secured a waiver but went ahead to become the consensus candidate of the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leadership Forum. Before this, many political pundits had concluded that the PDP presidential primary would be a direct contest between Ibrahim Babangida and Goodluck Jonathan.
Score card: Atiku 3: Obasanjo 0. Among Atiku's supporters, the common salutation these days is 'three down - two to go'. By this they mean that they have surmounted three key obstacles - re-admission into the party, getting a waiver and their Principal becoming the consensus candidate. The 'two to go' are - their candidate becoming the PDP's flag bearer in the 2011 presidential election, and eventually winning the presidency. From all indications, Obasanjo will do his best to stop the victory runs of Atiku, now daubed the ultimate comeback kid.
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