The President Muhammadu Buhari administration appears to be intolerant of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a presidential aspirant in next year’s presidential election, for his populist ideas which may give him an edge over the president if he succeeds in picking his party’s ticket
By Olu Ojewale
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar does not need any introduction in the Nigerian politics. In the past two decades, Nigerians have come to know him as one of those whose who want to lead the country in elective capacity. In fact, Abubakar has been on the presidential ballot once and tried to get his parties’ presidential ticket four times. He is, again, looking for the presidential ticket of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. If the ticket is secured, he would have Presidential Muhammadu Buhari to contest against. Indeed, from the recent independent opinion polls carried out by different agencies, his rating against the president looks encouraging, which perhaps, is the reason why the Presidency regards him as a threat to the re-election ambition of Buhari.
One of the major campaign issues is likely to be on restructuring on Nigeria. Actually, the position of the Presidency on the matter was made manifest in Buhari statement on Monday, June 18, when he told a delegation of Urhobo Traditional Rulers and Urhobo Progress Union, who visited him in Abuja, that the calls for the restructuring of the country was parochial and laced with self-interests, hence discussions and arguments on the matter failed to capture his attention.
But like a leech, the issue is not likely to give way anytime soon. In recent times, Abubakar has been championing the call for the restructuring of the country as the only reasonable way for Nigerians to live together in one indivisible nation. But this has infuriated the Presidency. For instance, on Monday, September 10, the former vice-president accused the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, of being dishonest about the issue of restructuring of Nigeria. Abubakar outburst against the Presidency was in reaction to a statement by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who, while speaking at a town hall meeting in Minnesota, the United States, recently said the problem of Nigeria is not geographical restructuring but prudent management of national resources. Faulting the stance of Osinbajo, Abubakar stressed that the current vice-president was wrong about his claim on restructuring. “Restructuring is not just about the devolution of powers to the states, it is about transforming the respective roles of the federal, state and local governments to perform more efficiently in matters of territorial as well as economic governance.”
Osinbajo, in his response to a piece, titled “Osinbajo got it wrong on restructuring,” accused Atiku of promoting a ‘vague’ concept of restructuring. “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition,” the vice president wrote. “First, let me say that I really would have expected Alhaji Abubakar to at least get the full text of my comments before his public rebuttal of my views. But I understand; we are in that season where everything is seen as fair game! He quoted me as saying that “the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring… and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic restructuring. Yes, I said so.
“As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems. Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of States that make up the Nigerian federation.”
As the former and current vice-presidents bickered on the issue, the APC said that the calls for restructuring by many politicians is often time a populist and opportunistic ploy to latch on and politically exploit simplistic public narratives on the panacea to Nigeria’s problems and not necessarily for its realism and practicability. The party also called Abubakar a latter-day convert to the idea of restructuring.
However, Paul Ibe, Abubakar’s spokesperson, stressed that the stance of APC was an indication of the ruling party’s desperation. In a statement he issued to the press, he charged: “We are glad that the APC, which has repeatedly denied and avoided its own promise to restructure, has now acknowledged that restructuring is populist. It takes guts to make such an admission and we commend them.
“We also urge the APC to go the full haul and admit that the Waziri Adamawa is no latter-day convert to the restructuring idea but has been a consistent advocate of the idea since 1995.” Ibe then went on to list all Abubakar had done since then until recent times.
Similarly, Abubakar has had cause to quarrel with the Presidency over the government’s war against corruption. On Sunday, September 2, the former vice-president accused Buhari of compromising on corruption. Abubakar made the allegation in a statement by Ibe in response to a statement by the Presidency on his interview with the AFP. He had in the interview described Buhari as uncompromising and ready to use force to win the 2019 presidential race.
But a statement by Femi Adesina, a special adviser to the presidential on Media and Publicity, said Buhari was only uncompromising on matters of corruption. The president’s spokesman said in his statement: “President Buhari is uncompromising in the quest to restore probity and accountability to public office. He is uncompromising in cleaning the rot Nigeria was consigned into pre-2015, thus the war against corruption is being fought without fear or favour. The president is equally resolute in the determination to ensure that Nigeria is no longer a mono-economy, depending only on oil.”
Adesina’s claim was disputed by Abubakar, who listed cases in which he alleged Buhari had compromised. Ibe, in faulting the Presidency’s claim, said in a statement: “If the above is true, then why did the Presidency do nothing as the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, went to court to secure a kangaroo court order to stop the Senate of the National Assembly from investigating who recalled, reinstated and double promoted Abdulrasheed Maina?