How Atiku killed his presidential ambition, by Ochereome Nnanna


FORMER Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, called out President Bola Tinubu and his Works Minister, Senator Dave Umahi, over the signature project: Lagos to Calabar Highway. Atiku did what the Godswill Akpabio-led National Assembly ought to have done but did not do: ask the administration to tell Nigerians the facts and figures of the 700 kilometre project.

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He wanted to know what competitive bidding process led to the award of the contract to Tinubu’s business ally, Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech Construction Company Limited. Atiku had speculated that the project would cost N8bn per kilometre, but Umahi later posited that its cost per kilometre would be N4bn.

Atiku obviously wants to use this issue to revive his shop-worn presidential ambition. Atiku holds the oldest record of presidential aspiration – 31 years. He has run for president a record seven times – 1993, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. Compare him with Tinubu who developed presidential ambition around 2007, officially declared for president in January 2022, and got elected after only one try.

Why did Atiku run and fail seven times while Tinubu, with all his moral and health baggage, nicked it one hand – as our mechanics would say? The answer is simple, and it is a great lesson to other aspiring leaders. Tinubu won because he exercised the virtues of cold, calculated planning, patience, gamesmanship (using others as pieces on his chessboard), intrigues, disruptive opposition, endless financial investment, party capture and finally, state capture. Tinubu showed his readiness to sacrifice today’s myopic comforts for tomorrow’s strategic victories, and he readily endured Muhammadu Buhari’s eight-year tyranny with his eyes firmly fixed on his own “time to shine”.

Atiku is the direct opposite of Tinubu in almost every item listed above. He displayed short-sightedness, opportunism, disloyalty, arrogance, and kept his distance from the playing field until the next contest. Atiku was groomed in politics by the late retired Major General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua, the grandmaster of political intrigue. Tinubu also started his political career under Yar’ Adua around 1990. While Tinubu meticulously applied what he learnt from Yar’ Adua in his political journeys, Atiku allowed himself to be distracted in so many ways.

By 1999, Yar’ Adua, who had fielded Atiku to run against Moshood Abiola in the Jos presidential primaries of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1993, had died. Atiku scaled down his ambition and ran for governor of Adamawa State in 1999. However, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was anointed by the departing military and Northern political establishment to pacify the Yoruba over Abiola’s victory annulment, picked Atiku as his Vice President.

If Atiku had maintained strong loyalty to Obasanjo, he might have been chosen to succeed the Ota chicken farmer. Some may however argue, correctly, that it was almost impossible for any patriotic Nigerian to remain loyal to Obasanjo because of his tenure elongation ambition. Be that as it may, I strongly believe that if Atiku had remained within the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, providing leadership and building his political base, he stood a strong chance of winning the presidency after Goodluck Jonathan. But, Atiku joined in fighting Jonathan, destroyed the PDP and killed his own presidential chances.

Atiku’s first blunder was his ill-advised bid to muscle (or “disgrace”, as some may put it) his boss, Obasanjo, out of power in 2003. He felt he could rally the North and “take back” the power they “loaned” to Obasanjo and the Yoruba after only one term! Obasanjo used his power of incumbency, the blanket support of the South and loyalty of Northern PDP Governors to win his second term by a landslide, after which he put his disloyal Deputy, Atiku, in the doghouse. Obasanjo’s sudden discovery of his own political ascendancy after 2003 led him to seek tenure elongation and the expulsion of many party leaders, including Atiku, from the PDP.

Atiku went from PDP to Action Congress, AC, in 2007. He returned to the PDP and contested the 2011 presidential ticket as a “Northern” candidate, and lost woefully to Jonathan at the primaries. He dumped the PDP and joined the newly-formed All Progressives Congres, APC, where he contested for president but lost to Buhari at the December 2014 primaries held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos. A couple of years later, he returned to the PDP in order to contest the 2019 presidency.

The final nail Atiku put in his own political coffin was the role he and other PDP leaders played in denying the South- East (which had supported Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua, Jonathan and Atiku himself in 2019) their right to enjoy the benefit of power rotation principle of the party in 2023. This was what drove Peter Obi out of the PDP, thus robbing the party of over six million votes (as officially claimed by Mahmood Yakubu’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Not only that, Atiku allowed his personal friendship with Prof. Iorchia Ayu to becloud his sense of judgement, which led to the exit of Governor Nyesom Wike and his four other “court jester” colleagues from the party’s presidential campaign.

Atiku did not stay to rebuild and lead the PDP to leverage on its humongous national network. The party now stands a chance of ending up the way the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, did. After contesting, Atiku would abandon his party and Nigerians and go to hide in Dubai till the next election.

Who does that? It is now that his presidential “career” is basically over that Atiku will stay home and act as an opposition pretender? Is it in 2027 when he will be 80 and Tinubu will be running for a second term with an INEC board he will appoint that Atiku hopes to win the presidency?

It is too little, too late.

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