It would not be contradictory to say that the person and character of Atiku Abubakar is a recurring feature. His roles are glaring and dot our democratic process for close to three decades now. The meeting of Atiku with retired Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua during President Ibrahim Babangida’s era, was the beginning of a friendship between the two men who left a lasting impression on both individuals and the Nigerian nation.
Atiku is one of the few Nigerians The Guardian once acknowledged as one of three Nigerians who had achieved the fame of being known and addressed by their first names. According to the newspaper, the other two great Nigerians were Fela and Gani. And these great men share some values in common – courage, doggedness, independence of mind, controversy and compassion. They were all anti-military in politics and they all paid one way or the other, great prices for their principled positions.
Atiku’s foray into private business, earned him resources and wealth that facilitated his successful entry and rapid rise in Nigerian politics. It all began in 1989 after the ban on politics was lifted when Atiku ventured into full partisan politics with Yar’Adua as his friend and mentor. Being a people-oriented person and having made contacts across the country, becoming a politician came natural. He started off in People’s Front of Nigeria (PFN). President Babangida subsequently cancelled the registration of PFN as a political party; and by military decree created Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC), funded by the government. After careful consultations, members of the PFN joined the SDP. Atiku is just a born democrat and has stood by anything democracy since becoming a consummate politician.
The best of Atiku was shown during the struggle against President Obasanjo’s tenure elongation. It took a huge political toll on him as he was forced to leave the PDP for the Action Congress in 2006, a platform upon which he contested the heavily rigged presidential election in 2007. Towards the 2007 elections, Atiku was several booby traps were placed on baselessly accused of corruption and declaration of his office as Vice President as vacant by Obasanjo by an illegally contrived Administrative Panel, was unduely unconstitutional disqualified by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) among others.
Atiku cleared himself of all these contrived allegations, as from the lower courts up to the Supreme Court he won fourteen cases.
Atiku returned to the PDP in 2010 to contest the 2011 presidential election primaries but lost the primaries to the sitting President Goodluck Jonathan. While winding up his Presidential Campaign Office and made it clear to his supporters, the media and his campaign, he told his workers: “I am not a quitter”. True to his words, he bounced back in 2014 in the newly-formed All Progressives Congress (APC) and contested for the party’s presidential ticket and lost to now President Muhammadu Buhari’ who won the 2015 presidential election. In his speech to concede defeat to Muhammad Buhari, Atiku stated that he would not give up on Nigeria.
As 2019 election campaigns kicks off, Atiku is yet again in the struggle to actualise his dream for Nigeria. Atiku has paid his dues very well in defending democracy, and therefore deserves every right and privilege that is due to a citizen who has served his country well. His politics so far has been influenced and driven by the principles of love and loyalty: First to Nigeria, above self. These principles are more important to him than submitting to the dictates of earthly rulers and their inordinate ambitions. Some of Nigeria’s military and political leaders have gone beyond their constitutional bounds and used state power and public resources to fight Atiku with all the might they could muster, but in the end, God and the goodwill of Nigerians keep Atiku waxing stronger.
A welfarist Atiku is a husband and a father of many children in a big happy home; a value he subscribes to from his experiences of lonely childhood. He is the founder of a leading development University – the American University of Nigeria – the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa – where students’ dreams are moulded for future leadership role.
These achievements have not robbed him of his natural humility and humanity as he chose to avoid a lavish birthday when he clocked 70; he urged friends, family and political associates to donate resources for such public adulations and felicitations to the internally displaced persons and the poor in our midst. According to him, “giving back to humanity has been my passion and my friends and associates would honour me better if they spent their resources on charitable causes to celebrate this special day of mine.”
It was therefore not surprising that THISDAY at the 17th edition of its Annual Awards chose to honour him with a Lifetime Achievement Award on February 13, 2012. According to the organizers of the event, it was in recognition of his person and contributions as “one of the icons of the Fourth Republic; a dogged fighter who with others torpedoed the third term ambition of his erstwhile principal, and for fighting successfully attempts to unjustly exclude him from the 2007 presidential race.”
Atiku has never been recorded to have used violence as an instrument of politics anywhere, anytime. Atiku and his family members have never been found guilty of corruption by any probe. He was the most investigated, vilified and harassed political office holder, but he has serially come out unscathed. The Nigerian people look up to this de-tribalised leader and good manager of men and resources to influence a great deal the direction of politics and economy come 2019.
Jim-Nwoko, a public affairs analyst, wrote this piece from Abuja.