[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese are not the best of times for Nigeria’s former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Although this would be his sixth attempt at the Presidency, having made five previous unsuccessful attempts spanning three long decades, none can be said to be as tortuous, combative, uninspiring and deflating as the present experience.
Atiku Abubakar began his quest for Nigeria’s Presidency in 1993 when he contested the presidential primaries of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Unfortunately, he lost the primaries to the duo of Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe, whose candidacy inspired hope for a better Nigeria despite running on a joint Muslim ticket.
After that defeat and the successive military incursions that greeted it, Atiku’s presidential bid was considered benumbed. He took no further step but to downsize his ambition to rather vying for the Governorship of Adamawa State in 1999. Fate, however, smiled on him in the same year, as after clinching the Governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party for Adamawa State, he was picked by Olusegun Obasanjo as the running mate and Vice-Presidential Candidate of the PDP. The duo spent two terms of eight years that ended in 2007 amidst controversies and counteraccusations between them.
Obasanjo was quoted to have said in June 2022, while addressing students from selected secondary schools who participated in the final of the National Exhibition and Awards, organised by Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) that
“One of the mistakes I made was picking my number two when I wanted to become the president,” said former President Atiku Abubakar. “But because it was a genuine mistake, God saved me.”
Despite Obasanjo’s opposition, Atiku made a desperate bid for Presidency in 2007 after his joint term with Obasanjo elapsed. He left the PDP to clinch the presidential ticket of the Bola Tinubu-led Action Congress (AC) in the 2007 presidential election. He came third after Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and lost to Obasanjo-backed Umaru Yar’Adua of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In 2011 Atiku would return to the PDP and yet again contest the presidential primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party during the 2011 presidential election. But he lost out to Goodluck Jonathan. In 2014, he left the PDP, joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2015 presidential election, and contested the Party’s presidential primaries. Yet again, he lost to Muhammadu Buhari. Recalibrating his strategy and weighing his options, Atiku Abubakar 2017 returned to the PDP for the third time in 2017 and became the Party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 presidential election. Unfortunately, he lost for the second time to Muhammadu Buhari, making it his sixth defeat in 24 years of vying for the Presidency since 1993.
Is Atiku Abubakar Jinxed?
The 2023 Presidential elections would mark the 30th anniversary of Atiku’s multiple attempts at becoming Nigeria’s President. Given his serial failings and what has come to be identified with his political career, save for the jinx-breaking leverage he secured through the Obasanjo Presidency, an examination of the challenges confronting Atiku’s Presidential bid is now more essential than ever, especially based on the consequential nature of the 2023 General Election. So, what are the real challenges confronting Atiku’s 30-year Presidential bid today?
As it obtains in corporate circles, it also does in politics and governance. Nothing can be more damning to a prospective opportunity than a failed reference by a former superior. Obasanjo’s lack of support for Atiku, despite years of entreaties, appears to be one of the latter’s greatest undoing, especially following the rather hostile relations between the duo while in office.
Obasanjo was quoted to have told a national tabloid that, “I know Abubakar Atiku very well. And I have mentioned my position with Atiku. My position has not changed. If my children are getting married, he has sent representatives. If his children are getting married, I have sent representatives. That is social. That is not political. On political grounds, my position has not changed. If I support Atiku for a political office other than the one I supported him in the past when I did not know him,” maybe, but not “now that I know him, God will not forgive me.”
The report stated that “Mr Obasanjo did not offer further remarks on his grouse with Mr Abubakar, but he had repeatedly complained of his former right-hand man’s alleged sharp practices.
“Mr Obasanjo, 81, tapped Mr Abubakar as his running mate in 1999, and both went on to rule Nigeria until 2007. The pair started on a good note for Nigeria’s democracy, working together to dismantle the statist political economy imposed by successive military administrations for more liberal economic policies.
“Mr Obasanjo trusted Mr Abubakar with key government initiatives, placing him in charge of the National Council on Privatisation to midwife the sale of federal assets which were not only dysfunctional at the time but fast becoming white elephants draining national resources.
“But years into the administration, Mr Obasanjo started accusing Mr Abubakar of corruption, and at a point, set up a panel to probe his deputy. Anti-graft detectives allegedly devised damning dossiers that linked his lieutenant to a slew of financial misdeeds.”
Obasanjo’s current support for Atiku’s Vice Presidential running mate in the 2019 General Elections and former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, indicates his unchanged vow to not support Atiku Abubakar’s presidential bid.
Peter Obi’s Candidature
The emergence of Peter Obi as the Presidential Candidate of the rather obscure Labour Party (LP) was never conceived by power brokers in Nigeria to turn out as the major rallying cry of what appears to be the majority in Nigeria seeking a better country. This was made obvious by the initial condescending attitude of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, the PDP, to Obi’s emergence. From describing Obi as simply a social media fluke and his followers, now globally renowned as Obidients, as social media bots, the ruling party and its main opposition are now united in contending and combating Obi daily.
From Reuters to Bloomberg to The Economist and across reputable tabloids within Nigeria and around the world, Obi enjoys a blazing streak of all polls as Nigeria’s favourite presidential candidate and has been tipped to lead the country into its new era.
Peter Gregory Obi is a successful businessman, politician, public servant, and philanthropist who is contesting to be the President of Nigeria in the 2023 election under the platform of the Labour Party.
Mr Obi served the people of Anambra State as their Executive Governor between 2006 and 2014. During his tenure, he demonstrated his core values of integrity, focus on human capital development, financial prudence, and an uncompromising commitment to public service, defining his globally recognised brand identity. Obi’s emergence has offset all known political calculations in Nigeria, as never in the country’s history has it had a three-horse race in which a hitherto relatively unknown party stands a chance to clinch power. The daily growth of the Obidient fold has also not helped either Atiku or his erstwhile friend Bola Tinubu, who is running for the Presidency on the APC ticket.
In Obi, the Nigerian youth see the hope for a better future currently suffered by predominant desolation. Although his movement has been criticized as being an offshoot of the dreaded End SARS campaign, which broke down to a flash of riots across Nigeria calling for an end to police brutality in the country, it is undeniable that the rave of Obi’s followership continues to surge across Nigeria violating agelong barriers posed by regional and religious considerations.
PDP’s Internal Battles
Atiku Abubakar does not enjoy his party’s overwhelming support, which is a major setback in his presidential bid. The rancour within the PDP is borne out of the political theatrics that preceded Atiku’s emergence as the party’s flagbearer. A section of the PDP believes that Atiku violated the power rotation policy of the party. Others believe he was a beneficiary of what they considered to be the miscalculation of the party’s major backer and governor of oil-rich Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.
Anticipating that the party’s ticket would be zoned to the South, Wike, who is of the South, is believed to have moved for the ouster of Uche Secondus, his countryman, as Chairman of the Party to enable a Northerner to emerge as the party’s chairman. The long tradition of rotating political offices in the PDP has constitutional backing Iyorchia Ayu of the North emerged as chairman of the Party, setting the stage for the party’s presidential candidate to emerge from the South. Both the chairman and presidential candidate of the party must emerge from each of the two amalgamating regions of Nigeria. Given that Wike was running for the presidency, it was only natural that the chairman emerged from the North.
Things, however, got awry following the PDP’s reluctance under Iyiorchia Ayu’s leadership to zone its presidential ticket to the South as was anticipated. To avert a monumental crisis, the party resolved to leave its presidential ticket open to both regions. This development signalled the beginning of the fragmentation of the arty. Atiku emerged victorious at the party’s primaries in what was considered a hotly contested election along with Nyesom Wike. But for the last-minute move by Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State and a longtime friend of Wike to step down in support of Atiku, many believe Wike would have narrowly clinched the ticket.
Although Atiku Abubakar won the Presidential ticket, his candidature remains dogged by controversy. The Atiku campaign has been unable to convince many Nigerians why he is best suited to succeed incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari despite being from the same region and in clear violation of power rotation in Nigeria.
Wike, the formidable governor of Rivers State, has now practically factionalised the PDP. Supported by four other PDP Governors and a litany of party leaders across the country, Wike is aggressively leading the charge for equity and inclusion within the PDP. Top on the demands of Wike’s faction is the resignation of the party’s Chairman Iyorchia Ayu in conformity with the constitution and agelong tradition of the party, especially since Ayu himself had said he would step down should a candidate of the North emerge as the party’s presidential flagbearer.
Atiku’s reluctance to get Ayu out of the way for political balance within the PDP and inclusion of the South in the party’s hierarchy offends the sensibilities of many Nigerians who read political fraud in the actions of the party chairman now enjoying Atiku’s support and defence. Although Atiku cites constitutional inhibitions to removing Ayu from office, many ask why the same inhibitions didn’t forbid his emergence as party candidate. It is not in doubt that Atiku now suffers credibility issues because of his handling of the PDP crisis. Touted as a unifier of Nigerians, the question on the lips of many is how he intends to unify Nigerians when he can barely hold his party together. It is also doubtful how he intends to promote the Constitution of Nigeria, having violated his party’s constitution.
Deborah Samuel and other divisive issues
For someone who runs on the campaign of unifying Nigerians, most Nigerians have been shocked to their marrow by the words and actions made by the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. The most shocking was the deletion of a tweet from his official handle condemning the killing of Deborah Samuel, a Christian girl stoned to death by a mob in Sokoto on alleged grounds of blasphemy.
Many had thought that Atiku’s initial condemnation was welcoming, as it gave assurance of leadership that could speak up and confront the dire issues, especially of religion, challenging the growth and development of the country. His consequential volte-face, however, to delete the said tweet following discontent among some of his followers in the North was made worse by his justification that it was not an approved tweet to be posted. Despite the overwhelming national criticism that followed his action, Atiku remained unfazed and never spoke in condemnation of the said killing. A spokesperson for his campaign, Daniel Bwala, shrugged off the issue asking those dissatisfied by Atiku’s actions to express their anger during the 2023 elections.
Unfortunately, the reaction of the Atiku campaign to the unlawful killing of Deborah Samuel has become a major rallying point for many. It has also defined his campaign in many ways. Most Nigerians now fear that, given presidential powers, Atiku would deal unfairly with them on regional and religious grounds.
That fear is further exacerbated by a recent divisive call by Atiku Abubakar to the North to reject Igbo and Yoruba Presidential candidates and focus on him, the Northern candidate, as he was better suited for them.
In a well-circulated online video, Atiku said “I know the whole of this country. I have built bridges across this country. I think what the average northerner needs is somebody who is from the north, and who also understands the other parts of Nigeria and who has been able to build bridges across the rest of the country. This is what the northerner needs. He (Northerner) doesn’t need a Yoruba candidate or an Igbo candidate. This is what the northerner needs.”
For many, this has sealed Atiku’s fate after 30 years of battling to be Nigeria’s President.
Oraye St. Franklyn is a lawyer, communications expert, and political operative who has served as a senior aide to Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike. He is the publisher of Nigerian Standard where this article was first published. He tweets from @OrayeEsq.
The opinions in this article are solely those of the author.