2019: Why Atiku Abubakar holds the aces
Waziri of Adamawa, represents different things to different people. Whatever your views of him, one common thread that runs through perceptions about him is that he is a man of conviction, a bridge builder, a consummately detribalised Nigerian and a shrewd political gladiator who sees 2019 as his brightest chance ever to clinch the highest office in the land; the Office of the President of the Federal Republic. He has a mountain to climb in President Muhammadu Buhari. For now, the incumbent president and Alhaji Abubakar are the strongest names being bandied around to slug it out in a national contest in February next year. While President Buhari made history by being the first from an opposition party to dislodge the candidate of a ruling party, another shock may await the nation if the current standings of both personalities are anything to go by. For good measure, some people have expressed the desire for fresh blood to join the race. While the nation waits with bated breath for that to materialise, pound-for-pound, Alhaji Abubakar seems to hold the ace.
Known as a man of many parts, a businessman, philanthropist, patriot and a veteran in the Nigeria political firmament, Atiku, as he is fondly called, is not a politician without his own garbage, real or imagined. The most strident allegations against him were his carpet crossings from one political party to the other and an allegation of corruption amplified by his former boss and beneficiary turned ardent foe, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which, however, remained unsubstantiated and unproven. When signals emerged towards the end of 2017 that Atiku might again throw his hat into the presidential ring, the initial reaction from a cross section of the vocal few was that of outrage but as the days went by, the dust settled and people were more receptive to listening to his message and ideas of how he intended to turn things around. A series of recent political gaffes by President Buhari and other series of unmet expectations pumped adrenaline into the Atiku candidacy. A lot of people were impressed with the way the Buhari regime handled the problem of insurgency which at a period threatened to turn Nigeria into another Iraq or Afghanistan under the Jonathan Goodluck administration.
Reputed as a man of integrity who would not dip his hands into the public till, Buhari went after looters of the treasury upon assumption of office and recovered our stolen commonwealth. Many Nigerians were also appreciative of the efforts of the current administration for working assiduously to move Nigeria out of recession into slow but steady growth by the third and fourth quarter of 2017. Many would, however, argue that the Nigerian economy which was growing previously at up to 7 per cent under the much upbraided Jonathan regime might not have slid into recession if the Buhari administration had handled the economy differently. For months after its inauguration, neither did the administration issue any clear cut fiscal and monetary policy nor constitute its cabinet. The Buhari government also mismanaged the restiveness in the Niger Delta which made the militants to resume the destruction of oil pipelines, leading to a significant drop in the nation’s oil production, the mainstay of the economy while many foreign investors who would buckle under the slightest sign of uncertainty and insecurity, fled the country in their numbers. Coupled with the drop in the price of oil in the international market from about $100 per barrel to as low as about $26 per barrel, the impact on the economy was devastating.
The exchange rate of the US dollar to the naira skyrocketed from about N170 in 2015 to as high as N500 in 2017 before stabilising at about N360. By the time the administration marked its first anniversary in office, it gave the nation an unexpected gift as it increased the pump price of petrol from N87 to N145 contrary to the promise to even reduce the price from N87 when campaigning for office. The misery was complete. The health challenges of President Buhari also did not help matters. Nothing painted the picture of the gloom in the land more than the statistics on the website of Nigeria Bureau of Statistics where the number of unemployed and under employed increased by 11 million from 17,724,668 in the last quarter of 2014 to 28,575,652 in the last quarter of 2016. For a regime representing a party that promised to add three million jobs annually through various interventions, that was a dismal performance.
With time, the anti-corruption war of the government also started to lose steam when allegations of malfeasance were levelled against top government officials without the president acting on the reports immediately. It took a concerted effort for the President to sack the indicted former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal and the boss of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency, Mr. Ayo Oke after many months of inaction. The nation is also incensed by the near lukewarm attitude of the Buhari Presidency to the recurrent Fulani herdsmen crisis which has claimed several lives across the country. Already, many states in the Middle Belt are threatening not to back any future presidential ambition of General Buhari because they felt he has done little to protect them from the marauders. Also fresh in the minds of Nigerians is the accident involving Yusuf, the son of Mr. President. While Nigerians endured the agony of fuel scarcity and people were spending hours to search for fuel, news broke that Yusuf crashed his multimillion naira power bike while racing with a friend on the deserted streets of Abuja. Though sympathetic with the Buharis over the incident, millions of Nigerians were miffed by the insensitivity and the extravagance from a family they expected to be frugal. The luxurious wedding of the President’s daughter in 2016 was another reference in the litany of complaints by a weary nation.
In all these, Atiku is waving the concerns about him aside to position himself as a pragmatic leader who understands the political challenges facing Nigeria like the back of his hands. His biggest political asset for now is the way he has mobilised resources to support the clarion call for restructuring while President Buhari has stated categorically that he did not believe in such. Advocates of restructuring across the country believe that’s the fastest way to save Nigeria from disintegrating. Atiku also claims to have an effective strategy to put millions of unemployed and under employed Nigerians back to work. His political antecedents seemed to project him as a leader who knows his onions. Many credited him with some of the economic successes recorded by the Obasanjo regime in its first term. Right from the 1993 Convention of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) where he featured prominently and emerged third in Jos, he has remained relevant in the national polity. Nigerians got to know of Atiku in the build –up to SDP’s presidential primaries and the intrigues that followed the process of picking a vice presidential candidate for the party’s flag bearer, late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
While a group favoured Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who came second, another group, especially the People’s Front led by late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had earlier been disqualified by the Military Government from the Presidential race, pressed strongly for Atiku.
Olanrewaju lives in Lagos.