It must be somewhat disappointing to most Nigerians that, unlike 2015, this year’s general elections did not end on an amicable note jointly bestowed by the spirit of good sportsmanship adopted by the two leading presidential contestants purposely to foster the highly desirable no-victor-no-vanquished post-election political atmosphere across the country. The disappointment is an indication of the disturbing implications of extending and escalating the tension and animosity of partisan rivalry beyond the electioneering period with the indefinite suspense of contentious litigation, haunting the tense minds of Nigerians.
In the middle of the lingering national dilemma is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP who lost to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in the keenly contested elections. The peculiar circumstances surrounding the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate, especially the prominence of certain controversial opposition activists, definitely influenced the conduct of campaigns and eventually the post-election responses.
Similarly, the exigencies of changing fortunes have dictated differences in the focus of respective stakeholders in the Atiku Abubakar presidential campaign caucus, such as the surprising “defection” of its chief strategist and Director-General, Gbenga Daniel, to the ruling APC, even as the defeated candidate was perfecting his petition to the election tribunal! Loyalty and commitment are routinely dispensed with in Nigerian political culture that is generally motivated by comfort zone alignments but this could not have come as a surprise to a veteran like Atiku Abubakar.
In fact, contrary to the trending impression of Atiku Abubakar as a defeated presidential candidate, who is desperately determined to secure by litigation what he lost at the polls, it is not in the former V-P’s character or political temperament. A review of Atiku Abubakar’s political profile and outlook, as his career evolved from governor-elect to vice-president and from state politician to frontline national statesman and political leader, reveals a consistent commitment and willingness to relegate his political interest in order to uphold and promote the larger interest of his people and nation, and ultimately peace and stability.
In particular, desperation for any political office is alien to Atiku Abubakar’s political track record. Even at the early stage of his outstanding political career, Atiku Abubakar was not prone to the exuberant eagerness that fires inordinate ambition of many politicians. In his days in the IBB-government sponsored SDP, Atiku’s strategic selflessness was the saving grace in the hotly contested national primaries in Jos, as he offered to withdraw from the race involving him, Babagana Kingibe and late MKO Abiola, thereby removing the looming stalemate and enabling Abiola to emerge clear winner while rescuing the party from predictable implosion. His patriotic and foresighted sacrifice denied the military junta’s notorious agenda of seeking an excuse to prolong its treacherous transition programme.
A more dramatic but definitive episode that again highlighted Atiku Abubakar’s rational and responsible approach to politics was witnessed in the electioneering period of 2003 when he was vice-president and PDP governors intent on unseating President Obasanjo, mounted intense pressure on him to contest in the party’s presidential primaries. It was a highly tempting scenario for Atiku Abubakar, which not only caused a rift in relations with his boss but also threatened national stability. Remarkably, Atiku Abubakar was more devoted to the stability of the nation than exploiting a short-cut to become president. He refused to betray his boss.
“I am not desperate to become president. If I were desperate, I would have taken the Presidency in 2003. If I were desperate, I would not have stepped down for Abiola. I have the interest of this country at heart,” the former V-P responded when confronted with the accusation of being desperate by people, who were obviously misinformed or perhaps mischievous.
It is pertinent to recall that only four years later, in 2007, Atiku Abubakar demonstrated the potency of his patriotic fervour as a defining quality of his acclaimed practice of principled politics for responsible leadership in the national interest, when he courageously distanced himself from President Obasanjo’s brazen bid to elongate his tenure by a devious unconstitutional third term plot, and partnered with the majority of legislators to scuttle it. He took that stand, knowing that Obasanjo would unleash his vindictive venom on him and displayed heroic perseverance by remaining unfazed when the vendetta began.
This brief and factual review of the former vice-president’s political profile and instructive insights into his practice of principled and patriotic politics captures the overriding national interest and concern for national stability that motivates his most profound contributions to exemplary elder statesmanship and responsible political leadership. It is therefore not in his character to embark on an exercise that will cast shadows of doubt on such a noble legacy.
The Atiku Abubakar Nigerians have known and still admire will, for example, not persist in pursuing a presidential election bid when the generality of Nigerians have moved on, thanking God for preventing the outbreak of post-election mayhem, and praying fervently that lasting peace will quickly return to the country. It is not in Atiku Abubakar’s character to be the last man standing in exercising his right to seek judicial review of the INEC-declared outcome of his latest quest to be the popularly elected President of Nigeria. Atiku Abubakar is not desperate to become president. If he was, he would have taken it in 2003 when it was offered to him unconditionally. Atiku Abubakar has the interest of insecurity-threatened Nigerians, earnestly praying for lasting peace and stability, at heart.
Martins is a teacher in Awka, Anambra state.