Atiku Abubakar has proved to be a bugaboo figure not only to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) but also to some reactionary forces plaguing this nation that do not want to change the status quo. There were indications before the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries of subterranean moves by some individuals within and outside the party to scuttle his political ambition but he had a resounding victory in the keenly contested PDP presidential primaries contrary to the expectations of cynics. His emergence sent jitters into the spines of many individuals, chief among them is former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ), under whose regime Atiku served as vice president and who has been quoted on many occasions trying to impugn the personality of the PDP presidential flag bearer who has borne OBJ’s diatribe with equanimity. The latest of OBJ’s smear campaign and disparaging remarks about the personality of Atiku was when he played host to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate who paid him a courtesy visit recently. In a subtle campaign for his kinsmen as is characteristic of him, OBJ attacked Atiku using the nebulous entitlement argument that it is the turn of the South to produce the next president of the country.
Ordinarily, there would not have been any need for me to respond to OBJ’s ad hominem arguments given that as a citizen, he has the right to campaign for anyone he wishes but for the fact that some ignorant members of the public who have no means of verifying the veracity of his assertions may take his remarks seriously because of his status as an ex-president. This was why OBJ and his ilk misled Nigerians into committing the blunder of 2015.
OBJ’s PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 years out of which the South (through OBJ himself and Goodluck Jonathan) ruled 14 years and the North through late Musa Yar’Adua ruled only two years. So, in PDP whose turn is it supposed to be now, South or North? By 2023 our current democratic experiment would have been 24 years between APC and PDP out of which the South has ruled for 14 years and the North 10 years. So, on the whole whose turn is it supposed to be? Besides, of Nigeria’s six geopolitical blocs it is only the South-east and Atiku’s North-east zone that have not produced president ever since and Atiku made it from the outset that if the presidency is zoned to the South-east he would withdraw from the race and support whoever emerges as the party’s candidate. Clearly, if OBJ is sincere, he would have advised Tinubu to withdraw from the race and support a South-east candidate or maintain sealed lips. As an elder statesman, he is supposed to be neutral politically but he is not only partisan, he is clannish. Atiku has shown more maturity in conduct and in speech.
Clearly, OBJ is using the spurious campaign for southern presidency to malign Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP standard bearer, but he has other motives. It is obvious that he is misleading the nation with lies and prevarication because he wants to settle old scores with Atiku. It is established that OBJ’s grouse with Atiku was because while he was the VP to OBJ he never allowed himself to be used as a puppet. He knew his constitutionally assigned roles and so he acquitted himself creditably to the chagrin of OBJ who wanted a lame duck VP. He knew that his loyalty is to the people and the constitution and not the president. And as a true democrat, Atiku employed civil and legal means to resolve issues. But, Obasanjo by nature and orientation as a jackboot soldier seemed not to understand the tenets of democracy, hence his preference for command and control. He did not understand the tools of democratic governance and did not want to learn. He never accommodated criticisms or dissenting views.
He never believed in the rule of law or the principles of checks and balances. He brooked no opposition and saw civil advocacy as treasonable. He demanded loyalty from everybody. He saw the party platform that produced him as his private enterprise; bullying and riding rough shod on everybody. Anyone who dared to hold contrary view was an enemy. He introduced impunity into the political process. OBJ is never a democrat. With his own mouth he said unashamedly that politics is a do-or-die affair. And part of OBJ’s do-or-die politics is to fight perceived political enemies by any means necessary including force, propaganda and prevarications to harm them or damage their reputation. Obasanjo tried to amend the constitution to perpetuate himself in office but unfortunately for him Atiku and other democrats frustrated his insidious plan and while leaving, he amended the PDP constitution to make himself the party’s Board of Trustee (BOT) chairman.
This was his grouse with Atiku, who is a patriot and a democrat. He felt threatened by Atiku’s towering political profile. He felt intimidated by Atiku’s democratic credentials and pervasive influence on the political class. The jealous OBJ tried in vain to suppress Atiku including set-ups. But because Atiku was good to all around him every move made by OBJ to frame him failed and he resorted to blackmail and unsubstantiated corruption allegations. The question hypocrites never bothered to ask is: if Atiku is as corrupt as OBJ is painting it why did he who claimed to fight corruption not try him? Or petition EFCC when Atiku was out of office?
Another dimension to the smear campaign against Atiku as it is alleged is associated with the fact that OBJ likes to attract attention to himself. He knew his political time has expired and to continue to be relevant he has to pick on a major political gladiator using corruption as a bare-faced camouflage. So it was in 2015 when Obasanjo and his kinsmen vilified the real democrat, President Jonathan, called him names and then picked a fundamentalist whitewashed him and dressed him in the garb of a man of integrity and a repented democrat. And today as the race to 2023 elections is on, they have come again with their gimmicks to hoodwink members of the public. This time OBJ has picked on Atiku while he, OBJ, is in dalliance with the real kleptomaniac. Perhaps, he is still licking the wound of his failure to perpetuate himself in office as well. It is also possible that OBJ is afraid of facing reprisal action when Atiku becomes president, aware that Atiku knows all his misdemeanors while in office and may institute a judicial probe against him for official high-handedness and abuse of office.
Looking at it dispassionately, between Atiku and Obasanjo who should Nigerians accuse of corruption? Before 1999 Atiku has made his billions through private business undertakings. Before the current democratic dispensation, Atiku was the major financier of PDP and other political activities in Nigeria. OBJ came out of prison in 1999 broke, hopeless, helpless and despondent but today, he is stupendously rich. He allegedly used his kinsmen and cronies to acquire our choice national assets through his bogus privatisation exercise and then turned around to blame Atiku. His regime was riddled with many unresolved corruption scandals.
I read an unconfirmed media report where it is alleged that OBJ claimed that Atiku pressured OBJ to hand over Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun after the World Court judgment. Is it not ridiculous and farcical to say that Atiku forced him to surrender Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun? It is also irresponsible to make such assertion, if he did.
He was also quoted to have said that he regretted picking Atiku as his running mate. That to me is also mischievous and misleading. Between the two, it is actually Atiku that should regret ever supporting OBJ when his people rejected him. In 1999, OBJ was a political orphan with no political base and needed one that Atiku’s Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) could offer. Of course, OBJ picked Atiku because that was what he needed at that time to be relevant politically.
Atiku, who against his own will, stepped down for late MKO Abiola in 1993 for the interest of democracy, did not contest against OBJ in 1999, not that he was not qualified, but to compensate for the perceived June 12 injustice. He was already elected the governor of his home state Adamawa before he relinquished it to run alongside OBJ in 1999. As at 1999, the biggest political figures in Nigeria were Alex Ekwueme, Atiku Abubakar, Chuba Okadigbo, Bola Ige, Olu Falae Abubakar Rimi. OBJ who just came out of prison was a political orphan that had no electoral value. So, his choice of Atiku as his running mate was strategic and was to his own advantage. It is therefore surprising to hear the statement credited to him that he regretted picking Atiku as his running mate.
Nigerians should ignore the antics of OBJ. He wants to hoodwink Nigerians into repeating the mistake of 2015 where in his bid to promote his military acolyte, Buhari, he ran a campaign of calumny against Jonathan and foisted an obnoxious regime that brought misery and pain on Nigerians. Indeed, we know OBJ’s motives and whom he is working for. When Obasanjo and his tribesmen mounted a smear campaign against Jonathan in 2015, it was not because the latter was corrupt or that he committed any constitutional infraction but because they needed power. Now this is 2022, they have picked on Atiku Abubakar. Part of OBJ’s ploy is to distract and frustrate Atiku while he surreptitiously works for his kinsmen. Therefore, it is expected that Atiku should ignore him as he has done and remain articulate, focused and committed to the task ahead; the task of rescuing, unifying and making Nigeria work again.
Obasanjo and his co-travelers feel they have the power to decide who governs Nigeria but this is time to say no to them. It is time to review our positions, reengage ourselves productively, retrieve our country from the drones and anarchists, reunite the country and reshape our future.
Irogboli, an economist, novelist and public policy analyst, writes from Abuja via [email protected]