Why the Presidency is Afraid of Atiku Abubakar

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Atiku
Atiku

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.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

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.

Osinbajo
Osinbajo

“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?

“If President Buhari is uncompromising in cleaning the rot Nigeria was consigned into pre-2015 then how come the latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International reveals that Nigeria is more corrupt today than she was in 2015, having moved 12 steps backwards in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, moving from 136 in 2014 under the PDP to 148 today?

Obasanjo
Obasanjo

“Again, we ask how uncompromising a president can be when he allows a minister accused of forgery to remain at her job?”

Similarly, Abubakar accused the Buhari government of increasing the price of petrol while at the same time paying more subsidy on the product than the previous government which it accused of “subsidy scam.”

“It is only common sense that if the price of petrol increased by 68% from ₦87 per litre to ₦145, then the cost of fuel subsidy should also reduce, especially as the price of crude oil also reduced. However, by some strange mathematics, the Buhari administration pays a whopping ₦1.4 trillion on subsidy per annum according to the minister of state for Petroleum. This amount is almost twice what the Jonathan administration paid and yet President Buhari accused that administration of scamming the nation,” the former vice-president said.

The former vice-president’s ‘quarrel’ with the Presidency took another twist when he accused some person in the Buhari administration of planning to kill him and his family. Abubakar had on Friday, September 7, petitioned Buhari alleging threat to his life and those of his family members because of his decision to contest the 2019 presidency. He claimed that his wife and daughters had received separate text messages from a mobile line stating that unless he backs out of the race, they would be raped and killed. The former vice-president said the author of the threat text message said his family was being watched closely. “I present my highest compliments to the President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and have the honour to request your Excellency kind review/investigation and urgent consideration of extra protection for my family and I against some criminal intimidation and threat to my life, that of my family, and the cyber stalking against my family and I, using telephone mobile number +2348148228704,” he said.

Besides, Abubakar claimed that the author of the threat message also said, “we will blow your plane off the sky and we will poison you and your family. You are going to see what we will do with your family. We know when and where your children travel to.” The petition further revealed that the author of the message threatened that “they” will blow up all his property and those of his wife, adding “we control the aviation towers in Nigeria and South Africa. We are in government and Buhari will win again. Your party members will never select you and if they do, we will assassinate you. We will kill you by blowing up your plane.”

Consequently, he called on the president to order an urgent investigation into the matter, pointing out that it could lead to serious breaches and may constitute real danger to national security. Besides, he called for an increase in the number of security personnel attached to him as a presidential aspirant. There was no official response to alleged plot at the time of filing this piece.

Falana
Falana

In what seems to have characterised their relationship these days, the former vice-president took a swipe at the president on his show of fitness during Sallah holiday in August. Abubakar in one of his tweets on August 22, said: “I regularly jog more than a mile & exercise, but it will be pedestrian of me to ask Nigerians to vote for me because of that. I want my party – the PDP, and Nigerians, to vote for me because I WORK not because I WALK. I will work to create jobs. I won’t walk to create an illusion.”

Indeed, Buhari, had on Tuesday, August 21, had shunned protocol and walked a distance of 800 metres from the prayer ground to his private residence after Eid-el-Kabir prayers in Daura, Katsina State. Speaking on the issue, Garba Shehu, a senior assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, remarked: “I think there are two things here. One is that the president is responsive to the enormous support and commitment of his own people that came out in their numbers to see him. And he just decided that he couldn’t go on riding in a black vehicle, and he came out and walked the distance.

“The second thing, he is curious that these days, one or two people who are aspiring to be president are campaigning on their youthfulness and good health. I think the president has done one thing today – that the issue is not how old one is but how fit he is; how healthy he is. That the president has proven his fitness and wellbeing to continue in office is a settled matter.”

Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State had in the previous week, advised the president not to seek re-election on account of his age and health. “We love President Buhari and that was why we supported him in 2015 unconditionally. But when things are wrong, we have to tell him.”

The ruling APC replied Abubakar in a tweet on August 23, thus: “Dear @Atiku, @MBuhari was accused of poor health, he proved them wrong and walked 800m. You have been accused of corruption in America, prove us wrong by flying to USA. 4:19 AM – 23 Aug 2018.”

Indeed, his inability to get a visa to visit the United States, US, has been one of the blots dogging his ambition since he was named in a corruption trial in that country while he was serving as the vice president, VP. He has dismissed all allegations of corruption and challenged his opponents to bring out any evidence of his culpability in graft practices. The Premium Times report said that although Abubakar had argued that the Nigerian Constitution did not require that a citizen must possess the US travel credentials to be eligible for presidential election, he also said that he had approached the US Embassy in Nigeria for visa, but was turned down.

Incidentally, the issue of visa or corruption did not stop him from winning the opinion polls conducted by some loyalists of the president. Abubakar emerged winner of a series of polls conducted by loyalists of Muhammadu Buhari in June. In the first poll, the former VP garnered 35 percent of the votes compared to Buhari’s 32 percent. Fela Durotoye and Omoyele Sowore, the two other contestants, scored 21 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

In the second poll, Abubakar reportedly got 39 percent of the votes while Buhari came second with 34 percent. Kingsley Moghalu and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the two other aspirants, scored 18 percent and nine per cent, respectively.

In both polls respondents were asked: Who would you vote for president if elections were held today? Of the total combined votes of 81,065, Atiku secured 29,672, representing a cumulative percentage of 36.6 percent compared to Buhari’s 26,590, representing 32.8 percent. When results of the polls by the pro-Buhari loyalists are aggregated, it gave Abubakar a nine percent lead over Buhari with the PDP presidential hopeful securing 41 percent of the 106,000 votes as opposed to Buhari’s 32 percent.

That notwithstanding, Abubakar has some huddles on his way to surmount even if he gets the PDP ticket to run for the president.  First, there is the former President Olusegun Obasanjo factor. His former boss is believed to have a big clout in the Nigerian politics. His support is also believed to be critical to anybody contesting for the presidency under Nigeria’s present political configuration. But Obasanjo has vowed never to support Abubakar’s political ambition to be president.

In an interview with Premium Times sometime in August, Obasanjo said he had no personal grudges against Atiku but only works with anyone working for the good of Nigeria. “If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support.  It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual. If you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria, it does not matter who you are, I am not working with you. I do not have personal grudges with anyone. If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us,” he was quoted as saying.

He added that his opposition to Abubakar’s ambition is only within the political sector and does not translate to other spheres of their lives. “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,” he said, adding that “on political ground, 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 … God will not forgive me,” Obasanjo said.

Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate, has once disclosed that Obasanjo “knelt down” before Abubakar in a bid to clinch the ticket of the PDP for his re-election bid for the 2003 presidential election.

Besides, although no court has convicted him of any corruption charges, the corruption tag foisted on him during his tenure as VP by Obasanjo appears to have remained indelible. In apparent frustration Abubakar said recently: “It is sickening to continue to regurgitate allegations of corruption against me by people who have failed to come forward with a single shred of evidence of my misconduct while in office.”

Nevertheless, another huddle standing in his way is the large number of aspirants in the PDP right now. At least 15 aspirants are jostling for the same ticket which Abubakar wants. His chances to get the ticket is further narrowed by the fact that he is 71 years old this year, and if the party should use the performance of Buhari as a septuagenarian to elect its candidate, Abubakar may not emerge as the party flag bearer.

If the opinion polls conducted by the Sunday Punch newspaper is to be used as yardstick to measure the popularity of Buhari, a good number of Nigerians would not want him back in office. The newspaper said out of the 9,524 participants who took part in the poll, 58 percent (5,519 respondents) said they would not vote for Buhari in 2019. Up to 3,588 people, amounting to 38 percent, said ‘YES’ to the poll while four percent (417 votes) were indifferent to Buhari’s 2019 re-election bid. “The poll, which has been read over 10,000 times, confirmed that many Nigerians are not happy with the performance of the president,” the newspaper said. Many prominent Nigerians including Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a retired lieutenant-general and former Defence minister, have also expressed reservations about Buhari’s re-election bid.

Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights lawyer, has lamented the possibility of Nigerians having to choose between Buhari and Abubakar in the 2019 general election, stating that it portends trouble for the populace. Falana, who said this while making a contribution during a panel discussion at the ongoing Lagos Book and Arts Festival holding in Freedom Park, Lagos, also urged Nigerians to make use of the internet to raise serious developmental issues on the future of the country.

Be that as it may, Abubakar is no doubt a force to reckon with. In any case, Buhari is most likely to be on the ballot for the 2019 election, while Abubakar is at the mercy of the PDP. Having the two of them in the ballot paper now looks a forlorn hope. Let’s all hope and pray that Nigerians choose wisely and not out of sympathy or sentiment.

– Sept. 21, 2018 @ 13:15 GMT |

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