Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has practically been on the soapbox in recent time criticising the administration of President Muhammdu Buhari, which he played a major role in electing into office and offering himself as a better alternative, thereby causing an uproar in the ruling All Progressives Congress and realignment of forces in the party
By Olu Ojewale
IT is not for nothing that former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is in the news these days. In a subtle manner, the former number two citizen and Turaki of Adamawa, started his working campaign trying to warm his way into the hearts of Nigerians by criticising some government policies, perhaps, trying to get supporters for his ideas.
Judging from his pronouncements and body language, it is obvious that the former vice president is preparing the ground for presidential contest and wants Nigerians to know that he is already in the race come 2019.
But while doing that, Abubakar is apparently sending a message to electorate that he will not be supporting President Muhammadu Buhari, who he worked for election in 2015 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The subtle presidential campaign became open in an audacious manner when Aisha Alhassan, the minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, declared her readiness to support Abubakar’s bid for the presidency against Buhari should he decide to contest in 2019.
The video in which she made the declaration was leaked on social media. In the video, Alhassan, who spoke in Hausa, had referred to Abubakar as, “Your Excellency, our father and our president by the grace of God, come 2019,” adding: “Before you are your people, your supporters for life, the people of Taraba State.”
The video caused a great stir in the political circles as it appeared to unimaginable for a serving minister in the cabinet of Buhari would declare her support for another chieftain of the party.
Giving an excuse for her decision, Alhassan, in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, said she would support Abubakar in 2019 because “President Buhari has not told anybody that he would contest the 2019 presidential election.”
That notwithstanding, she said even if Buhari would contest, she would still support Abubakar because since her civil service years, the former vice president had been her mentor and godfather, and that: “He has remained so even now that I have joined politics. There is a reason for every political relationship.”
Interestingly, a few hours after, it was the turn of Abubakar, who spoke in an interview he had with the Voice of America in Hausa, in which he criticised the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
In the interview, the former vice president complained that he had been dumped by the Buhari government, despite spending his resources to ensure that the president got to power in May 2015.
He said: “Honestly speaking, I’m still a member of the APC; I was part of all the processes, including campaigns until success was achieved.
“But sadly, soon after the formation of the government, I was sidelined; I have no relationship with the government; I’ve not been contacted even once to comment on anything and in turn, I have maintained my distance.
“They used our money and influence to get to where they are, but three years down the lane, this is where we are.”
Expectedly, the statements by the two chieftains of the APC have caused some disquiet among some top members of the party, with calls from various quarters asking Alhassan to resign.
One of those leading the campaign for her resignation is Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, who asked Alhassan to resign from the Buhari administration in order to start campaigning for her benefactor (Abubakar).
In the same vein, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, who is believed to be one the closest allies of the president, said he and some others had been vindicated because they had opposed the nomination of Alhassan as minister in 2015.
Perhaps, fearing the damaging effects the outbursts could have on the party and government, the National Working Committee, NWC, invited the minister to a meeting at the party headquarters in Abuja, on Thursday, September 14. After the meeting, the APC announced that the minister had apologised for her ‘indiscretion.’
Bolaji Abdullahi, national publicity secretary, told reporters after the meeting that Alhasan had accepted her fault, adding that while she had a right to give support to whosoever she likes, the timing of her statement was wrong.
The minister herself declined to speak with reporters, who saw her coming out the meeting. Instead, she said: “I can’t talk when the APC spokesman is here with me. I’m not the party’s spokesperson.”
Abdullahi, who saw her off to the car, said the party recognised the minister’s right to say her mind but was of the view that with her position in the government and the party, the timing of her statement was wrong and capable of sending the wrong signal to Nigerians.
He said: “Since the issue of the comment she made came up, the party had not said anything regardless of what individuals might have told you because we are a party that recognise the right of her members to express their opinions or views.”
Nevertheless, John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the party, in an earlier interview, said: “The decision, whether our president will run for a second term, is a decision only President Buhari can make, and he will make it at the proper time. For now, he still has nearly two years of painful, strenuous reconstruction of the Nigerian economy and all the other promises he made both in anti-corruption and on security is still serious work in progress. At the proper time, he will decide, and at the proper time, the APC will decide and the public will know.”
In an apparent move to mend cracks with Abubakar, the APC in Adamawa State said it planned to send its emissaries to the former vice-president to find out his grievances against the party.
Ahmed Lawan, organising secretary of the Adamawa State chapter of the APC, who disclosed this, on Sunday, September 17, said: ‘’Plans by the state working committee to wade into the issue have been delayed by the participation of some members of the state exco, who travelled to Saudi Arabia to observe the hajj…. we are only waiting for them to return and we are going to discuss this issue. Definitely, our meeting is going to dwell on Atiku, perhaps, we may form a committee to reach out to the former vice-president to ask him what his grievances are. Definitely, if there’s anything we can do as a party at the state level, we will do,” Lawan said.
But the meeting with the Turaki of Adamawa is going to be carrot and stick affair. As Lawan disclosed in a newspaper interview, saying: “The utterances of the former vice-president only portrayed him as a man whose sole motive for contributing to the success of the party is to profit from it, whilst it ought to have been selfless. We all sacrificed, nobody wanted to get something from it. If you want to contest, you wait for 2019 to test your popularity. If you are very popular, the people will listen to you and vote for you. There’s no need for any utterance which is capable of portraying the party in bad light. We are very surprised that the former vice-president came out to say the party didn’t reward him, which is like saying the party didn’t reward him enough. We all sacrificed, nobody did it because we wanted to get something out of it.”
If that is the overall decision of the APC, Abubakar may as well seek his fortune elsewhere to contest election in 2019.
His predicament in the APC appears to have attracted interest from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. On Friday, September 15, Chyna Iwuanyanwu, the national coordinator of the PDP Renaissance Group, which calls itself a group of patriots in the party, said in a press release that it would send a high profile delegation to woo him back as well as other prominent leaders who left the party.
The national coordinator of the PDP Renaissance Group stated: “Vice President Atiku Abubakar has been in political wilderness, in a strange land, cohabiting with strange bird fellows who are ideologically incompatible with his patriotic vision for Nigeria and his democratic antecedents and credentials.”
Iwuanyanwu noted that with the recent resolution of the crisis that nearly consumed the PDP, the leaders and members of the party had learnt great lessons and were totally committed to taking the party back to the vision of the founding fathers of the party, one of whom was the former vice president.
That, indeed, might look promising for Abubakar, but whether he would be allowed to pick the party ticket on the platter is another thing all together.
Aside the latest outbursts, Abubakar had since last year started making some statements which seemed to create an impression that the APC and the President Buhari-led federal government had failed to live up to people’s expectations.
On August 2, this year, the former vice-president, had criticised the APC (and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) of lacking internal democracy, for its refusal to hold vital meetings.
“In the absence of those meetings and elections, their existing leadership, often under the direction of the executive at the state or federal level, fills the void. That’s not party building but party bullying. And it’s certainly not a way to democratise parties and aggregate their members’ opinions, interests and aspirations,” he had said.
In the same vein, the former vice-president, also on September 11, took a swipe at Buhari, asking him to fulfil his promise of providing security to Nigerians.
While applauding the president on the successes recorded so far in the fight against Boko Haram insurgence in the North-East, he said it was not yet time to celebrate and jubilate because a lot was yet to be done and “the ruling government had failed in many fronts.
“Yes, there were successes but not comprehensive success because the Boko Haram miscreants are still very active, killing our people and many local government councils in Borno and Yobe are under their firm grip. People cannot dare go back to their dwellings.
“This thing baffles me; I never imagined that Nigeria will fight a protracted battle with Boko Haram for five years. At a time, we fought the Biafra war, which was more complicated because of the terrain in the South but the Biafran soldiers were roundly subdued in 30 months. But here we are, fighting an endless battle with the Boko Haram and there’s no end in sight,” Abubakar said.
As if that was not bad enough, a day later, Abubakar again rubbished the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption, saying he could fight corruption better than the president.
Blowing his trumpet, Abubakar said he didn’t become a vice president in 1999 as a pauper because he had been a successful investor since he retired from the Nigerian Customs Serve. He said: “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. People, who are bereft of ideas about entrepreneurial spirit always think that everyone else is a thief just like them.
“Despite previous desperate efforts to link me with corruption, the William Jefferson trial in the United States ended in 2009 without indicting me or linking me to corrupt activities.
“If Atiku is a thief merely because of his resourcefulness and successful investments, my political enemies should tell Nigerians the sources of their own stupendous wealth.”
Also, since last year, the former vice-president has been one of the most vocal voices calling for a restructuring of the country, which Buhari had said was not on his administration’s priority list.
Indeed, Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and culture, had on June 9, said restructuring was not on the federal government’s priority list.
But when the calls for restructuring became intense the party eventually set up a panel some weeks ago, headed by el-Rufai, to look at the subject and how the government could key into it.
Indeed, the prevailing mood in the country has shown strongly that the push for restructuring could become a major issue in the 2019 general elections. If that be the case, Nigerians should probably, expect the Buhari administration to shift ground if he wants to re-contest.
Already, some supporters of the president seem to have started to lead the campaign for his re-election in 2019.
Lauretta Onochie, presidential adviser on Social Media, sent the message on Twitter on Saturday, September 16, saying: “We’re working on Buhari’s return to power in 2019.”
The same goes for Northern governors in the APC, who have joined the fray. Speaking through Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, last weekend, the governors declared their support for Buhari’s 2019 re-election. Muhammed Garba, commissioner for information and culture in the state, in an address, delivered said that the governors’ support for Buhari was total and unconditional should the president decide to seek a second term.
Similarly, Governor Ibikunke Amosun of Ogun State has also lent his voice to Buhari’s yet unannounced re-election bid, saying that the only thing that could stop the president from contesting is his failing health.
Eulogising the president’s performance so far, Amosun said: “If not for this present administration, only God knows where Nigeria would have been. When the government came on board, it was like jumping into the pool at the deep end.”
In its own wisdom, the Kaduna State chapter of the APC on Saturday, September 16, endorsed Buhari and el-Rufai for the 2019 elections.
Rising from a stakeholders’ meeting with party officials from the 255 electoral wards on the day, the party said the endorsement was without prejudice to the right of other party members to seek the offices in 2019.
Also supporting the president’s bid is the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. Anthony Sani, secretary general of the ACF, at the weekend said: “If President Muhammadu Buhari is able to deliver on his campaign promises substantially, and be as fit as a fiddle to undertake presidential responsibilities and tasks by the end of his tenure, there will be no reason not to support him.”
As the frenzy on whether the president would seek for re-election continues, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has remained a factor in the choice of presidential candidates over the years, seems to have adopted a wait-and-see approach. In a recent BBC Hausa Service interview recently, Obasanjo said: “If Buhari says he will re-contest, I will look at his overall performance before I take a decision. I voted for him two years ago because I could vote for anyone besides Goodluck Jonathan.”
It is also not clear whether the former president has forgiven Abubakar, his former deputy, who he accused of betraying his trust. Obasanjo had hoped to hand over the reign of government to Abubakar, but the mere fact that the former vice president tried to contest the presidential election against him while he was seeking a re-election in 2003 put him off.
That notwithstanding, Daniel Onyeabuchi, a lawyer and public commentator, said the clashes between Buhari and Abubakar seemed to have started over 2019 elections. And that realignment of forces had already begun.
While campaigns for 2019 are subtly going on for Buhari and Abubakar, political observers believe it wouldn’t be long before those in the camp of Bola Tinubu, a national leader of the party, also start their campaign.
Hassan Abiodun, a political scientist and social commentator, said in an interview that it would be wrong for anyone to think “Tinubu is sleeping.”
He said: “We are not yet in 2018 and we are already seeing all these. I tell you, by next year, lots of intrigues will take place in the APC. Some people might be thinking because the North seems to be in control of the party, Tinubu can’t do anything.
“But by now, even the dumbest politician should know that Tinubu in a way wields a strong influence in Lagos and even in the entire Southwest. Tinubu might seem to be sleeping now, but I think he’s making his own calculations too.”
That, perhaps, prompted Senator Sani recently to ask Buhari to reach out to Tinubu because “he (Tinubu) could “drown” the president.
Sani had made a veiled reference to Buhari and Tinubu in a Facebook post last Saturday, September 16, saying: “The Lion Monarch should reach out to the aggrieved but silent Lagoon Lion so that he doesn’t explode like the hippo. The Lagoon Lion controls waters that can drown.”
The senator had confirmed that “The Lagoon” represented Lagos, while “The Lagoon King” was in reference to Tinubu, a former governor of the state.
Bode Mustapha, a chieftain of the party in Ogun State, similarly warned that the APC was beginning to make the same mistake the PDP had made. He said: “Let us face it. When APC was coming, the mantra at that time was ‘Any Other But Jonathan’, AOBJ, but that had come and gone. Now, the PDP is trying to put its house in order. Now, APC is beginning to make the same mistake that PDP made.”
Mustapha pointed out that one of the mistakes APC has been making is imposing candidates and depriving party members the opportunity to chose the person they wanted.
That notwithstanding, Bolaji Akinyemi, a professor of Political Science and former minister of External Affairs, said given the choice of Buhari and Abubakar, the president would get the North’s endorsement ahead of the former vice president. Besides, he is the only Northerner that has the gut to restructure the country.
He reasoned: “Apart from being the president, he (Buhari) probably right now, is the only Nigerian that can ensure that we don’t end up in a ditch; in spite of what he says at times, he is the only Nigerian. Not that he stands the chance; he is the only person. Whether he will do it or not, is a different kettle of fish.
“Now, why do I say that? The present system that we have is skewed in favour of the North and the way forward will have to be the surrender of issues from the 1999 Constitution controlled by the Federal Government to the states. Some issues on the exclusive list should be moved to the concurrent list and possibly, there should be a creation of the reserved list. So, it is the North that needs to make the concession.
But if you’re going to be rational in your approach, the North has to be persuaded that it is not being asked to commit political or economic suicide and the only person right now that the North truly trusts and believes will not play politics with their interests is Muhammadu Buhari. He stands now in the kind of position that the (late) Sardauna stood in the sixties. An average person on the northern streets believes in Buhari in the way that they don’t believe in (former Vice President) Atiku (Abubakar) or my former boss, IBB, because those are the people who have spoken out forcefully calling for restructuring. The northern streets will conclude that these persons are playing with their interests.
“But Buhari stands in that position of trust in the estimation of the northern streets that ‘if he should say that we need to give up these issues, he’s not selling us.’ What we need to do is to find people in the North that Buhari trusts – people who can discuss with him, that he believes are not setting a trap for him. The Yoruba leaders’ meeting in Ibadan and this interview will not get through to Buhari. But there are people in the North who can speak with him. There must be mutual trust between Buhari and those speaking with him.”
But Dapo Shogbola, a public commentator, “The political class in the North does not like Buhari at all. He will never get their support again even if his health improves. Their problem with Atiku has to do with the fact that he hails from a minority tribe. That was why they kicked when he in 1999 Obasanjo picked Atiku as running mate. They were angry with Obasanjo who further compounded matter by empowering Atiku to succeed him as president. When Obasanjo could not be stopped his Northern brothers tricked him to be disloyal and persuaded him to surreptitiously sponsor the impeachment move against Obasanjo.
“Sadly, the same group furnished Obasanjo with all the details of Atiku’s acts of disloyalty. That explains why Obsanjo was livid with anger against a man he loved so much.”
Hence, Shogbola said Nigeria had better look for a fresh candidate to lead the country from any part of the country.
Perhaps, but the current campaign looks like a tip of iceberg as the year 2018 draws near. It is only then that the country can hope for a full blown up campaign.
– Sept 22, 2017 @ 15:56 GMT /