The burning ambition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is dealt serious blows by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who recently dismissed him as incompetent to lead the country, but the Turaki of Adamawa appears to be getting ready to fight back despite political road blocks on his way
| By Olu Ojewale | Sep. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IF Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, is ever going to be elected as Nigerian president, his desire to realise the ambition on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, appears to be fading. First, President Goodluck Jonathan wants a second term in office, although he has not said so, which means that Abubakar is not likely to get the party’s ticket for the 2015 presidential election. Even if he decides to wait until 2019 when the party will have the opportunity to field another presidential candidate, the former vice president may have become irrelevant by then.
But Abubkar’s nemesis is not only President Jonathan’s ambition for a second term. The main obstacle is former President Olusegun Obasanjo under whom Abubakar served as vice-president. Obasanjo practically put a nail on Abubakar’s political coffin when he said: “I wanted someone who would succeed me so I took Atiku. Within a year, I started seeing the type of man Atiku was. And you want me to get him there?”
The former president, who was a guest speaker at the 4th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Ibadan, in collaboration with African Sustainable Development Network, was speaking on poor leadership in Africa. Answering questions on issues of poor leadership besetting the country, Obasanjo said the young generation had performed dismally in terms of integrity and probity. Thus, Obasanjo made specific references to Abubakar; Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State; Salisu Buhari, former speaker, House of Representatives; Deprieye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa state, Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State, and James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, as being among the younger generation of leaders with low integrity and probity records. He said during his administration: “We had some people who were under 50 years in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori, where is he today? One of them was Alamieyesiegha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinedion, where is he today? The youngest was the speaker, Buhari, you can still recall what happened to him? You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not anything worse than what Bola Tinubu did.” Of these politicians, only Abubakar has remained focused and assiduously pursing an ambition to lead the country as president.
Unexpectedly, Abubakar was not combative in his response to Obasanjo’s comment about him. A statement from Garba Shehu, his spokesman, simply said: “Yes, ex-President Obasanjo is right. He didn’t know Abubakar well. It was later he got to know him as a fighter for democracy and defender of the constitution.” In effect, Shehu was apparently saying that the only sin committed by Abubakar while serving under Obasanjo was on the issue of third term in which he joined forces with opponents to stop the former president. Both Obasanjo and Abubakar’s stories are believable and have elements of truth in them. But what is incontrovertible is that as long as the former president is alive, he is going to work against Abubakar’s ambition to become president, especially on the platform of the PDP.
This, perhaps, prompted the former vice president to encourage the reactivation of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, the erstwhile dormant political association, which was recently registered by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, as a political party. The former vice-president admitted that he was aware that some of his friends had decided to register the party but he would still remain in the PDP.
A statement by Shehu, media adviser to Abubakar, said: “Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has said while he remains a loyal PDP member, he doesn’t have the right or power to stop others from associating or seeking registration for new parties…. While acknowledging that many of his political associates are involved in registering the PDM, Atiku Abubakar explained that he had no powers to stop adults with common interests from coming together to form a party.” Besides, he said many of his political associates are equally members of political parties other than the PDP, and that he would respect everybody’s right to belong to parties of their choice.
But political observers have been making reference to the important role of the PDM in the country’s democratic transition period. Although, the PDM was the brainchild of the late General Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua in the late 1980s, Abubakar has remained one of its leading lights. The party had performed creditably so well in 1992, that Yar’Adu would have emerged as the nation’s president if he was not halted by General Ibrahim Babangida’s endless transition. The PDM was subsumed into the PDP in 1998 during the transition to democratic rule organised by General Abdulasalami Abubakar. It was from the crop of heavy weight politicians that the choice of Abubakar as running mate to Obasanjo in 1999, was made. Some members of that group are the likes of Anthony Anenih, chairman, board of trustees of the PDP, the late President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua and the late Chuba Okadigbo, former Senate president, among others.
The Obasanjo regime was said to have crippled the influence of the PDM members in the PDP, by removing the party’s top strategists from important positions of reckoning or by compromising them. Bashir Ibrahim Yusuf, interim national chairman of the new party, was a political adviser to Abubakar and secretary of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF. This, perhaps, informed the reason why some analysts see the registration of the party as another political move by the former vice-president to get prepared in case of eventuality. The plan about the decision to register the party was in the public domain about two weeks ago. Abubakar did not feign ignorance of it, but claimed that the idea of reactivating it belonged to his friends and some of his political associates. While the platform may eventually serve the former president for his presidential ambition, it does not guarantee him any success. This, probably, informed why he declared that he was not going to leave the ruling party, even though his stay in the party has not been a happy one.
Early in the month, it became apparent that Abubakar had been denied his rights in the PDP. In a letter to Bamanga Tukur, chairman of the PDP, the former vice president called for the restoration of his rights as a senior member of the party. He noted his exclusion from several activities of the party, especially the recent dropping of his name from the delegates’ list to the mini-convention as “curious”, saying it amounted to the withdrawal of his privileges as a former vice-president, founding father of the ruling party and member of the party’s BoT.
The Turaki of Adamawa as Abubakar is fondly called by his admirers, alleged that he was not invited to the last National Economic Council, NEC, meeting in Abuja, and has never been invited to the BoT meetings since Anenih assumed office. He alleged that the amended constitution of the party was being implemented pro-actively to shove him aside from the party. He also recalled that he applied for and obtained a waiver along with other returnees to the party to participate in the last presidential primaries. He argued further: “Section 8, Sub-section 8(b) of the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, 2012, as amended, states that “a person who desires to rejoin the party after leaving it, unless given a waiver by the National Executive Committee of our party, be placed on probation for a period of less than one year.”
The former VP maintained that the omission of his name contradicted the Section 32, Sub-section 1(a) of the PDP constitution, which states that the Board of Trustees members shall consist of “all past and serving presidents and vice presidents, who held or hold the respective posts as members of the party and who are still members of the party.”
He also added: “As a member of our party, I look forward to the respect and privileges conferred on the office of the vice president and founding fathers of the party by our party constitution. I therefore, request for a correction and restitution of my right to attend the forth-coming special national convention of our great party and also membership of the Board of Trustees.”
Thus, it would not be out of place, as it is being speculated, that the emergence of the PDM is part of Abubabakar’s contingency plans to ensure that he is on the ballot for the 2015 presidential election. Some leaders of the PDP are said to be jittery about the resurgence of the PDM because of Abubakar’s political organisational ability. If, indeed, he chooses to seek his fortune with the newly registered PDM, it would not be the first time that he had jumped ship. In 2006, he had joined hands with Tinubu to found the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which was then Action Congress, AC. He used the defunct AC platform to prosecute his presidential ambition in the election of 2007 and lost to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who emerged as the elected president with Jonathan as his vice-president. But having reasoned that his fortune could only be best served on the platform of the PDP, he returned to the party.
His ambition to get the PDP ticket for the 2011 presidential election was dashed when Jonathan decided to run for the presidency. If, indeed, Jonathan secures it as expected, it would be difficult for Abubakar to realise his ambition on the platform of the PDP because another election will not hold until 2019, and by then the former vice president would have clocked 73 years and age would not favour his political ambition.
This, probably informed his decision to reconcile with Obasanjo. After the 2007 elections, Abubakar had in January, 2009, visited the former president at his hilltop home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, in company of respected members of the PDP, to pay homage. According to the feuding duo, it was a visit of an errant son to the father. Speaking after the meeting, Obasanjo said it was not a political move by Abubakar to get his support for the 2011 election. Rather, he said, “it is a normal visit of a son to his father. Though we had political differences which is normal; we looked at it as a political difference between father and son.” Atiku echoed the same sentiments as he told reporters after the meeting that the visit had nothing to do with the 2011 elections, saying, “I have only come to pay my respect to my boss. I am not here because of 2011 polls but on a courtesy call.” He was also asked whether he had reconciled with Obasanjo, to which he replied: “There is no personal issue between us; there is no personal animosity between me and the ex-president. Yes, we had political disagreement but such could even happen between a father and his son.”
Indeed, their time together in office, especially during the second term was tumultuous. During the first term, Abubakar was said to have masterminded an impeachment process to remove his boss from office. With that seeds of distrust and discord sown during their first term in office, there was no more harmony between the two leaders. Then, on the eve of the presidential primaries of the PDP, Abubakar who had also obtained the form to contest the primaries had to be begged by Obasanjo to drop his ambition when it was obvious that Abubakar had the support of the PDP state governors and was ready to use it against his boss. The president had to use all his instrument of office to appeal to the vice-president to drop his ambition. But no sooner they began the second term together than the already strenuous relationship snapped. It was further stoked by the president’s third term ambition in 2006. Abubakar openly disagreed with his boss, worked and sponsored opposition against the agenda. Obasanjo never forgave him for the audacity and decided to handpick his successor. He found a favoured anointing in the then Governor Umaru Yar’Adua of Katsina State, and also made Jonathan, the then governor of Bayelsa State, his running mate.
A lot of analysts see Jonathan as using the same power of incumbency to get himself the party’s ticket for the next presidential election. Hamza Ibrahim, a public affairs analyst, said the PDP ticket for 2015 would be a one-horse race affair. “President Goodluck Jonathan is systematically committed to pocketing the ruling party to preclude free and fair elections. He pays lip service to his commitment to democracy because every step he has taken so far is a designed to make a free contest impossible,” Ibrahim said. The analyst said there was a wide disconnect between Jonathan’s commitment to democratic values and what he has been doing as president. Invariably, Ibrahim suggested that if Abubakar really wants to be on the presidential ballot, it would be better to look towards another political party other than the PDP.
Simon Okechukwu, a politician based in Enugu, said it was common knowledge that Obasanjo and Abubakar fell out towards the end of their first term in office. He said now that Obasanjo has brought up the matter again, it means that he does not want Abubakar to become president. “I think that misunderstanding between them will linger for a long time. Lack of a cordial relationship between them will affect Atiku’s chance of winning any political position in this country, considering the position of Obasanjo as the former president and the fact that he is involved in decision making in the country. I know Obasanjo will not live to see Atiku win PDP’s primary election and it is obvious that without the PDP, Atiku cannot win election with any other political party in Nigeria bearing in mind what happened in 2007.” Okechukwu, therefore, advised the former vice-president to join another party, preferably the All Progressives Congress, APC, if he ever wants to realise his presidential ambition in 2015. “With a strong running mate like Governor Rochas Okorocha (Imo State) he will give the PDP a good fight,”
It was not clear at as press time whether the former vice president would like to take that option. When Realnews contacted his spokesman, he said “Turaki would be in Lagos, next week. I will arrange for you to speak to him.” When he was told that the story could not wait, he sent an email back saying he and his boss would like to ‘contribute’ to the report. But he did not reply to the email sent to him or answer the reporter’s subsequent calls to get his reactions.
In the time being, the question being asked in the political circles is whether Abubakar has arrived at his final political bus stop. In the political arena, the PDP is the only party to beat in the general election and the former vice president is not likely to get the party’s ticket to contest it. The All Progressives Congress, APC, a conglomerate of three parties, is yet to be tested to know how strong it will perform. Even if he joins forces with the new party, there is no guarantee that he can get the party’s ticket. The PDM, which looks a viable option is for now, largely unknown and has no elected officers anywhere in the country which can be used to assess political strength. This makes Abubakar’s position more precarious. So, if the former president does not consider his former second-in-command as honourable enough to lead the country, whose recommendation would speak for him? Perhaps, what the former vice-president needs to do now, without wasting his own time and money, is to kiss the office of the president good-bye. Any other option looks grim and unrealistic.
Reported by Anayo Ezugwu