Politics

2023: Hurdles Atiku must scale

Will Atiku jettison presidential ambition?

 

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has never hidden his ambition to lead Nigeria and has made unsuccessful attempts in the past. He is yet to officially declare for the 2023 presidential election but his ambition has put him on the spot, with many insisting that it was time he drops the aspiration. FELIX NWANERI reports

 

Who is afraid of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar? This is the question most political analysts and observers are asking over recent developments in the polity as the race for the 2023 presidency gains momentum.

 

Atiku, who was Nigeria’s number two man between 1999 and 2007, has not officially declared for the forthcoming presidential poll after the 2019 attempt in which he was defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari, but his body language speaks volume of his aspiration.

 

Campaign posters announcing his ambition have continued to flood the streets as well as trend on the social media. This is even as his supporters have kept drumming it that it was a matter of time before he makes his aspiration public. While some of the campaign posters are silent on the platform Atiku will use to actualise his ambition, others have the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) logo on them, and they had inscriptions such as “Atiku 2023,” “Vote Atiku Abubakar for 2023 presidency,”

 

Movement 2023: Atiku is coming” and “Atiku, my choice 2023.” among others. No doubt, the former vicepresident has not openly associated himself with the various support groups promoting the 2023 campaign, but his media aide, Mazi Paul Ibe, once said of the development: “The support groups are everyday Nigerians, who believe in an idea, and most times, they express themselves without recourse to anyone.”

 

Atiku, on his part, has been holding meetings with close political associates as well as criss-crossing the country, consultating with political leaders even when the likes of former presidents of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim and Bukola Saraki as well as Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) and Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) have gone ahead to declare that they will vie for the PDP presidential ticket.

 

Interestingly, while Atiku continues to keep his plans to himself, there is mobilization against him in various quarters. Within the PDP for instance, some elements are mounting pressure on him to drop his ambition to pave the way for a younger candidate to emerge. A coalition of civil society groups has equally joined the fray.

 

These moves, notwithstanding, the former vice president appears unperturbed. He has never pretended about occupying the country’s number one position and has continued with his consultation of major political stakeholders. He recently met with former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, in Minna, the Niger State capital.

Though Atiku said he was in the state to commiserate with the people over recent attacks by bandits, many said discussions centred on the 2023 presidency.

Atiku had after his retirement from the Customs Service in 1989, ventured into business and politics and ran for the office of governor in the then Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991, but was not successful.

His first shot at the presidency was in 1993, but he placed third after Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe at the presidential primary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

 

In 1998 he was elected governor of Adamawa State but was selected before his inauguration by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as his running mate.

 

The duo went on to win the election in February 1999. After his first term as vice president, some governors elected on the platform of the then ruling PDP wanted to deny  Obasanjo a second term.

The plan was to hand Atiku the party’s presidential ticket in that year’s general election but he opted for a joint a ticket with his principal and both won the election.

 

Expectedly, the botched plot pitched them against each other and the cold war that ensued after their inauguration, degenerated to a bitter political battle by 2006, when Atiku declared his ambition to succeed Obasanjo.

 

However, Obasanjo’s insistence that Atiku would not succeed him forced the latter to leave the PDP for the defunct Action Congress (AC), which handed him its presidential ticket.

Another round of power play that ensued led to exclusion of Atiku from the final list of 24 candidates for the 2007 presidential election released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The electoral commission cited Atiku’s indictment for corruption as the reason for the omission. But Atiku headed for the court to challenge his exclusion.

 

The matter got to the Supreme Court, which in a unanimous decision ruled that the electoral body had no power to disqualify any candidate for an election. The judgement paved the way for Atiku to contest the poll, but he came a distant third to late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

He rejected the result and called for its cancellation, describing it as Nigeria’s “worst election.”

After the 2007 elections, Atiku returned to the PDP in 2009. While his return was initially resisted by his state chapter of the PDP, he was granted a waiver by the party’s national leadership. That paved the way for him to contest the 2011 PDP presidential primary.

He was selected by the Northern Elders Political Leaders Forum (NPEF) led by a former Minister of Finance, Mallam  Adamu Ciroma, as the region’s consensus candidate, but was floored alongside Mrs. Sarah Jubril by then acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, who later won the election.

The 2011 defeat did not deter Atiku as he surfaced again 2014 ahead of the 2015 presidential poll. He had before then made good his threat of dumping the PDP should the party’s leadership fail to return to the vision of its founding fathers with his defection to the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

 

He said of his defection at that time: “As a former Vice President, I am by virtue of the PDP constitution, a member of the party’s Board of Trustees and its National Executive Committee.

However, I am not invited to the meetings of those organs nor consulted on their decisions, apparently because I dared to exercise my right to contest in the party’s primary election for a chance to be its flag-bearer in the 2011 elections.”

 

While many believed that Atiku would be the candidate to beat in the APC presidential primary given his financial strength and political structure, he lost the ticket to Buhari, who enjoyed the support of party leaders and governors.

 

The former vice president came a shocking third with 954 votes, trailing a former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (974 votes) and Buhari (4,430 votes). As a statesman, Atiku accepted the result and pledged to support the party’s choice in the election though he was later accused of not showing much commitment during the campaigns.

But having ousted the PDP, a battle ensued within the APC over who gets what. The struggle was unexpected as the party was an amalgam of various parties and political interests.

 

The blocs include the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Buhari-led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and later, a faction of the PDP led by Atiku.

 

Though the APC leadership initially played down the squabble, it didn’t take long before it manifested.

 

The crack was brought to the fore at the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly on June 9, 2015, with the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.

 

The APC leadership had wanted Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (current President of the Senate and Speaker of the House) for the two positions but Saraki and Dogara pulled the rug off the party’s foot and it was alleged that Atiku brokered the deal.

 

The turn in events offered the opposition PDP the opportunity to clinch the position of Deputy Senate President through Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

 

The consequence of the political coup was an attrition war between members of the various camps in the ruling party and the supremacy battle got messier ahead of the 2019 elections, particularly over

scheming for the presidential ticket. By the time it was clear that Buhari would pick the ticket, Atiku had no option than to return to the PDP. Though he picked the party’s presidential ticket, he lost the election to Buhari.

 

2023 and groundswell of opposition

No doubt, only Atiku can decide on his 2023 political move but the question over the groundswell of opposition against his presidential ambition is: Will the former vice-president jettison his aspiration and support a younger candidate in line with what many analysts have described as the mood of the nation ahead of the poll – clamour for a youthful president – which even some chieftains of the PDP, including Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State recently attested to, when he said that Atiku is fatigued on account of age and labour for the country.

 

The former vice president alone can proffer answer(s) to this puzzle, but not after weighing the implications of whatever choice he makes. He will be 76 in November this year and the next presidential will hold on February 18, 2023.

 

So, the question against this backdrop is: Will the former vicepresident afford to jettison his dream over the age factor, when every indication points to the fact that 2023 might be his last opportunity to contest for the office of president.

 

One factor that may guide Atiku in taking a decision on the age issue is the power sharing arrangement between the north and southern parts of the country. Power is expected to shift to the South in 2023 after Buhari’s presidency given the zoning arrangement between the country’s two geographical divides, which took effect from 1999.

 

Assuming the rotation agreement stands and the two leading parties pick their respective presidential candidates, the South will have the presidency for, at least another eight years.

 

This means that the North, where Atiku comes from, would have wait till 2031 before it gets the position again, and the question is: Will Atiku still have the strength to present himself again for the nation’s number position. This perhaps informed the former vice-president’s insistence that zoning of political offices as being canvassed by some politicians as well as other stakeholders is not provided for in the nation’s constitution.

 

He reiterated the position at a recent meeting with the Fix Nigeria Group on issues concerning the 2023 presidential election, especially as it relates to zoning and age. “The constitution has not barred anyone of us. There is no zoning in the constitution. There is none. I was a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted this very constitution.

 

Then, as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, we felt that there should be a sense of belonging. I remember that I had a very heated argument with the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme at the Constitutional Conference. I said, ‘Alex, you want to bring in zoning because you want to break away this country.’

 

“We had a very heated debate with him and later on, I apologised to him and told him, ‘you reason better than myself. I was emotional in my reasoning. I think the zonal thing that you are proposing is a good thing.’ I have never seen this country have so many challenges at the same time.

 

Sometimes when I lay down on my bed, I begin to wonder whether I should go for this thing or not because the challenges are just too many. All my life, I have never seen the country in such a bad situation,” he said.

 

Angst over position on zoning

 

While Atiku’s position on zoning was condemned by southern political leaders, it has raised some moral questions on his stand on the burning issue of restructuring of Nigeria.

 

He had consistently expressed the view that Nigeria as currently constituted is not working, and believes that greater autonomy to states is the panacea to the country’s multi-faceted internal crisis.

 

No doubt, this position is not in synch with that of most of his northern kinsmen, however, it has won the former vice-president a lot of admires in the South.

 

But his stand on the zoning debate ahead of the 2023 presidential election has raised doubt over whether he will walk his talks on equity if given the nod to lead.

 

The Southern and Middle Belt Alliance (SaMBA), which shares this belief, said such statement contradicts Atiku’s previous postures as a statesman that has always demanded for equity, fairness, and justice in the country.

 

The group, in a statement by its spokesperson, Prince Rwang Pam Jnr, recalled that the former vice-president was in the vanguard for zoning in 2011, when he wanted to wrestle power from then President Goodluck Jonathan, and that his campaign for zoning led Northern PDP leaders to stage a walk out of the PDP National Convention in 2015 during a speech by Jonathan, when he stated that he will run for president.

Advising Atiku to show statesmanship, SaMBA charged him to desist from actions that portray the image of a desperate politician and queue behind people of good reason, fairness and equity to return political power to the South in 2023.

 

“We expect Atiku to support one of his political associates from Southern Nigeria, who have been with him for many years, especially the South-East that massively supported him in 2019,” the group said.

THE South-West Development Frontier (SDF), which has also urged Atiku to drop his presidential ambition, said those canvassing for his presidency are trying to perpetuate injustice, which is against the unity of the country.

 

Speaking in Lagos during a protest, the convener of the group, Mr. Olufemi Osabinu, said: “2023 is a crucial moment that will determine a lot in the stability, or otherwise, of our democracy. Nigerians should be allowed to elect a leader, who can stabilise the polity and move the country forward from where the current administrations will hand over in 2023.

“We are at the forefront of the call for political parties in the country to have their presidential ticket zoned to the Southern part of the country, for the sake of equity and justice.

 

While the aspiration of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar sits comfortably with the letter of the 1999 constitution, it negates the spirit of the same constitution which recognizes the principle of federal character in appointments into public office, though it does not expressly bar such persons from aspiring to lead their country.

 

“Furthermore, we make a clear and undiluted call on former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to give second thoughts to his desire to contest for the office of president again in 2023.

 

While Atiku has served the nation with distinction, as evidenced in the fact that we have been his supporters for years, it is also undeniable that at 77years of age going into this race, it will be a mismatch of national priorities to support his quest, taking into consideration the unique interplay of circumstances currently confronting our country.” The apex Igbo body,

 

Ohanaeze Ndigbo, is equally not left out in the campaign to get Atiku drop his presidential ambition. Deputy Publicity Secretary of the group, Chuks Ibegbu, is of the view that Atiku should rather support the South-East to produce Nigeria’s next president.

 

His words: “We are practicing democracy and every Nigerian is free to aspire to be president of the country including me as long as they are qualified. However, the issue is that we are talking about fairness, equity, and justice.

The North has had its fair share, the South also have had theirs, so it’s now the turn of Ndigbo. “In as much as Atiku is free to advance his political course, but on the basis of  justice and equity, he should support Ndigbo to produce Nigeria’s next president. We supported him in 2015, so this is the time to show statesmanship politics by supporting us.”

 

Support groups dismiss ‘campaigns of calumny’

 

While it is the prerogative of the former vice-president to heed to to the plethora of advices or not, members of his support group under the aegis of Atiku Support Organisation (ASO), are of the view that no amount of campaigns of calumny will stop him from becoming the next president in 2023.

 

Director of the group, Akinze Moze, who described Atiku as someone who will represent and protect the interest of all Nigerians particularly the youth, while speaking at a recent forum in Abuja, called on him to present himself for the presidency in 2023.

He condemned what he described as sponsored attempts to malign the former vice-president, saying: “Nigeria requires a leader with two fundamental characteristics; the experience to untangle our socioeconomic and political quagmire, and the determination to chart a sustainable future for our country.

We clamour for an Atiku presidency in 2023 because no politician in Nigeria’s history has invested in preparing himself for the office of the president of Nigeria as much as Atiku has. ”We need a leader that identifies with the youth. We need someone who is ready to lay an impregnable path for the younger generation to take charge and this cannot happen by magic.

 

This is a man who has guaranteed 40 per cent of his cabinet appointments to the youth, including the physically challenged people if given the opportunity, a detribalised Nigerian, a man whom we refer to as WAZOBIA; having family roots in all parts and segments of Nigeria which connotes unity in diversity.”

 

No doubt, the decision on whether to contest or to back down from the 2023 presidential race is that of Atiku to make, the fact remains that whatever choice he makes will portray him as a statesman or a desperate politician although one his promoters, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, recently declared that the former vice-president will serve for one term if elected president in 2023.

 

 

 

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