A Fight For A Future


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



LUNARPAGES.COM and IPOWERWEB.COM - Despicable WebHosts - Read My Story





A Fight For A Future




Joseph Adeyeye




culled from THIS DAY, September 2, 2005


Unalloyed loyalty was the major attribute President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted in a vice president when he began shopping for one after his PDP primary triumph in 1999. Alhaji Bamangar Tukur, Professor Jibril Aminu, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Abubakar Atiku were the candidates presented by the power blocs that made up the PDP. Given their status and accomplishments, any of the four men could have been Obasanjo´s pick. But as Obasanjo rightly surmised then, none of them fitted the bill better than Atiku. Of the four men only Atiku had spent the months preceding the elections working very closely with Obasanjo and ensuring that all his wishes as regards his presidential aspiration were carried out. So, it was not surprising that Atiku was the one Obasanjo chose although the time he spent making up his mind was one filled with suspense. Neither was Atiku the punter`s choice. Many of the PDP stalwarts who awaited the announcement of Obasanjo`s choice were sure it was going to be General Ibrahim Babangida`s candidate, Prof. Aminu. Aminu was an insider in the IBB regime and his closeness to Babangida was also responsible for his survival of the two cabinet purges and the plush posting as Nigeria’s ambassador to the US. But that connection did little to sway Obasanjo’s mind as he held on to his choice. Perhaps, Obasanjo paid a greater stock on loyalty.
Thus, it is not strange that when the President finally spoke on some aspects of the long speculated strain in the relationship of the two men, loyalty was a major sore point.

 “If I have given my word you either believe it or not but people who know me know that I don’t talk frivolously. When there was a case of doubtful loyalty on the part of the Vice President, I took the Bible and the Koran and said between the two of us, I want you to swear to an oath of loyalty…but he refused to swear because there were proven cases of disloyalty on his part…it was bad enough,” the president said, during the last presidential media chat.


In the Beginning…

Fresh out of prison in 1999, Obasanjo lacked a political base. His emergence as the presidential flagbearer of the PDP, the strongest and biggest of the three parties registered, was itself the result of a novel cooperation between the civil and military power establishment. The ruling military establishment brought him out of prison, granted him a pardon and provided a big chunk of the funds used for electioneering. The non-military political establishment provided him funds and a platform to reach the voters. Atiku was the face of that civilian political establishment. He was not the oldest or most experienced of the political gladiators that lined up behind Obasanjo but he emerged the most influential. The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) which he heads ingested the other groups in the PDP and played a major role in Obasanjo´s Blitzkrieg of a victory in the 1999 presidential elections. Atiku´s ascendancy began after the incarceration of the group’s founder, late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Atiku became a rallying point for the group at a point when Yar´Adua’s absence was threatening the PDM with extinction. It was to Atiku’s standard that that this political family flowed. And Atiku with his immense pre-1999 wealth and astute political skills had little problem in winning the loyalty of the members of the group and welding them into the formidable political bloc it became. Such that by the time the PDP was going to be formed in 1999 the PDM quickly emerged as a dominant faction among the groups that formed the party. Thanks largely to Atiku’s generousity and enormous goodwill among PDP grassroots cadre the group made short mince of other groups such as the remnants of the old G-34, the old NPN stalwarts dominated All Nigeria Congress (ANC) led by Chief Sunday Awoniyi and the recluse Social Progressive Party (SPP). A source who was in the very center of the events of that period confirmed that Obasanjo’s choice of Atiku was not only as a result of the latter’s headship of the PDM but also because he believed his future deputy would be very loyal.

“The president said he chose Atiku because he knew him through Yar’Adua and Yar’Adua was very, very loyal to him,” the source said. In his lifetime, while he served as Obasanjo’s deputy during military rule, Yar’Adua was very loyal to Obasanjo. Although it has been said that the duo of Yar’Adua and former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen T.Y Danjuma ran Obasanjo’s military government with Obasanjo himself being only a titular head those who worked closely with them at the time said the two never gave Obasanjo any reason to doubt their loyalty. A source said but for Obasanjo’s intervention the presidential primaries that late M.K.O Abiola won to emerge SDP presidential candidate in the June 12, 1993 polls would have gone the way of the then powerful, Baba Gana Kingibe. “But Obasanjo called Yar’Adua and told him to support Abiola,” a PDP stalwart who played a major role in the SDP politics of the late nineties said. According to him, Yar’Adua’s response was an immediate, “Yes Sir!”.
Perhaps all this was at the back of Obasanjo’s mind when he called Atiku in 1999 and told him he was going to be his deputy.  According to information gathered by THISDAY, Obasanjo’s request shocked Atiku.
"Turaki, are you prepared to take orders from me?" Obasanjo asked.
"Ah, I have always taken instructions from you, sir" Atiku replied, "because you are a general."
"Okay you are my vice-president", Obasanjo told Atiku, "go and break the news to the party leaders!"


The Mobiliser…

Obasanjo’s choice was also the result of his accurate reading of the important position which Atiku held in the emerging political structure. Before PDM succeeded in rendering other groups in the PDP impotent the group had proven itself as capable of coming up with a huge war chest at short notice and putting hundreds of thousands of PDP grassroots foot soldiers to work in little time. Indeed, but for the bigger war chest which the military establishment placed at the disposal of the Obasanjo campaign machinery (Obasanjo’s single and unexpected donation of N130 million to the PDP shortly after he signified his intention to run caused no little consternation among his less endowed contenders) Atiku’s contribution to the campaign would probably have been the biggest.
Atiku who retired from Customs after 20 years service plunged into business almost immediately garnering diverse holdings in Oil Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical Industries, Agriculture and the Media.

Atiku started out in politics as one of Yar’Adua’s closest deputies. Atiku’s was a recurring decimal in Yar’Adua’s ill fated and ultimately fatal ambition to rule the country. It was from Yar’Adua that he learnt that a true power broker is one who has almost limitless funds at his disposal. While planning for a career in politic’s Yar’Adua realized that he needed to have some form of independent financial power to be able to achieve his dream of ruling Nigeria. As a result, Yar’Adua devoted the period preceding the lifting of the ban on political activities by the Babangida regime to the acquisition of wealth. He invested in diverse businesses and tried to build a network of business cum political associates across the country. Yar’Adua met Atiku while trying to clear a consignment of beans at one of the nation’s ports. Atiku helped him. Yar’Adua was impressed with the efficient way Atiku handled the affair. And soon after they became friends. Atiku’s exit from the Customs in 1989 coincided with the resurgence of political activities. Atiku joined Yar’Adua who was neck deep in the intrigues and ‘politricks’ of the period. Yar’adua’s Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN) was a very formidable force and Atiku, Lawal Kaita and others were some of Yar’Adua’s closest deputies. Among these very dependable allies it soon became obvious that Atiku had all it takes to be a good politician and leader. Atiku, who grew up an orphan, having lost his parents at age eight, and having been ignored by relatives that could help, had little problem fending for himself. But his political experience was little, though he had played some bit of student politics in his student days. While at the School of Hygiene, Kano, Atiku was the President of the Students’ Union and at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he was Assistant Secretary General of the Students Union and, at a time, Deputy Speaker of the Students parliament.

During the period, Atiku learnt a lot from Yar’Adua. With careful planning and the help of Atiku and others Yar’Adua successfully transmuted PFN into a formidable force that dealt great blows to the established political parties. After the creation of two political parties by the Babangida regime, the PFN moved into the SDP. But Yar’Adua’s attempt to capture power came to an abrupt end when the Babangida regime cancelled the SDP and NRC primaries and disqualified the parties’ two presidential candidates, Yar’Adua and Adamu Ciroma. That disqualification paved way for the emergence of Atiku as the presidential aspirant of SDP. At the primaries, he came third behind Abiola and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe. And in the deals that followed the primaries he lost the vice presidential slot to Kingibe. Nevertheless, the events that would carve a space for the Atiku phenomenon in the Nigerian political sphere had already begun. The death of Yar’Adua in prison further gave this ascendancy more momentum and propelled Atiku nearer his dream of getting power.


Just Before Dusk…

If all Obasanjo wanted from his deputy in his first term was loyalty, he never lacked it. In the early years of the president’s first tenure both men worked as a team. Uncharacteristically, Obasanjo gave Atiku more responsibilities than any President has ever given any vice president in the history of the country. The vice president did not also give his principal any cause for concern. Atiku was the chairman of the National Council on Privatisation as well as chairman of the National Economic Council, two very powerful government bodies that saw to government’s twin prime economic policies of privatisation and the formulation of fiscal policies. In the political arena Obasanjo also deferred to Abubakar. A source said the president allowed the vice president to make very critical inputs to the selection of the men and women with whom they ran government during the first tenure. Prominent PDM members like Chief Sunday Afolabi, Yomi Edu, Dapo Sarumi, Dubem Onyia, Professor Ango Abdulahi and others got ministerial appointments. According to sources, when Chief Solomon Lar was to be removed as PDP chairman it was to the vice president that the president turned for a replacement. When the president turned against Chief Barnabas Gemade and sought to remove him, the vice president was one of the select men who drew the list of ten men from which Obasanjo chose Chief Audu Ogbeh. Although the two had occasional differences it was neither too big nor too serious for it to turn into a major quarrel. Neither could some of the president’s aides who had it in for Atiku get between the two men.

Sources said the two men had a unique way of settling there disputes. Both, according to a source, would walk into either’s bedroom together and iron thorny issues.


As the Night Beckoned…

Depending on which side is doing the talking several reasons have been adduced for the collapse of the amity that once existed between Atiku and Obasanjo. But what is clear is that the present problems are the outworking of the deep mistrust that seeped into their once friendly relations.

The problem started in the run up to the 2003 presidential elections. Obasanjo who came into politics as a political orphan nurtured and directed by a motley of guardians was ready to listen when his aides began telling to build a personal political base. They kept pushing him to ditch his adopted family and start his own. One of the people that made him ‘see the light’ was Chief Tony Anenih. Anenih, it is believed told Obasanjo that he needed to have a political base made up of his followers. Obasanjo bought the idea and towards the tail end of his presidency, began to make moves to consolidate his hold on power.

But it was a tough task since nearly all the important positions in the party were occupied by Atiku loyalists. The Atiku camp which by then had begun to distrust the presidency also began to dig in. In 2002, some politicians and pressure groups began to campaign that President Obasanjo should not go for a second term rather they advised that he should, like former South African President, Nelson Mandela, quit after his first term. Obasanjo, who had his eyes on a second term did not take kindly to the campaign. Indeed, in the presidency the thinking was that Atiku’s aides were behind those calling for the Mandela option. But the first outward sign that all was not well between the president and his deputy came to the fore when Obasanjo flagged off his 2003 presidential campaign with the help of Anenih. The president and his campaign team kept quiet on who his running mate would be. Unlike what obtained when Obasanjo campaigned in the 1999 elections, Atiku’s picture was not placed on campaign posters. Atiku read the snub as a slight and an attempt to deny him the vice presidential slot. According to those in Atiku’s camp that was when he set off the series of moves that nearly truncated Obasanjo’s ambition for a second term. When it became clear that Obasanjo may ditch him for another candidate Atiku began to fraternize with those he considered to be the opposition.

Backing Atiku was the huge war chest he commands and more importantly the network of governors, political associates and footsoldiers at the grassroots level. Had he hurled himself headlong against this opposition, Obasanjo would have been humiliated at the PDP presidential primaries. Anenih who knew this too well began to make moves to either dismantle or counter the Atiku machine. But it was a difficult process. Anenih’s task was not also helped by the decision of some governors to oppose Obasanjo’s bid at the last minute. Led by Delta State governor, James Ibori, who at a point allegedly boasted that he would lead the ‘opposition army’ against Obasanjo if Atiku declines to lead. The governors mounted pressure on Atiku to contest or they would back the candidature of former vice president, Alex Ekwueme against Obasanjo. It was a tough moment for Atiku who was torn between staying faithful to a boss who he wasn’t sure was going to drop him and going for it alone.

While he pondered this, Atiku, THISDAY, checks revealed was also meeting with three other super-power brokers, former military heads of state, Babangida and General Abubakar Abdusalami and Major General Aliyu Gusau (Rtd.). During these meetings the group which styled itself the G-4 deliberated on Obasanjo’s ambition for a second term, his chances and vulnerability. Aside from their common interest in power what further bonded them was a common hatred for Anenih. It was this hatred that made Atiku to let down his guards and work with IBB whom he knew wanted the presidency as badly as he wanted. Outside politics, Atiku also had grouse with IBB. It was under IBB that Atiku’s time in the Customs came to an abrupt end. Atiku was one of the senior Customs officer purged by the IBB regime. At various times the G-4 met with the president and tabled demands, one of which was the removal of Anenih as the minister for works. Obasanjo who had by then grown very close to Anenih and who also placed much stock on Anenih’s contribution acceded to their demands and removed Anenih. He nevertheless kept Anenih close by as the national co-ordinator of his campaign team. The period was a particularly trying one for Obasanjo. More trying than the impeachment he survived in 2002 - the president is also said to believe that the impeachment move though spearheaded by the House of Representatives Speaker, Ghali Naaba, was the handiwork of his deputy.


The Stench of Treachery…

It is also this period that Obasanjo is believed to have called Atiku to confront him with details of his alleged disloyalty and to ask him to swear by the Quran. THISDAY checks revealed that Atiku may have unwittingly played into the hands of IBB the originator of G-4 who wanted Atiku moved out of the way of his presidential ambition.

According to a source, just before the 2003 elections IBB went to Obasanjo and told him that Atiku was disloyal. Rather than being taken aback the president reportedly vouched for his deputy. But Babangida insisted he was right and left promising to return someday with proofs. The proof was the G4 meetings which Atiku was convinced to start attending and which Obasanjo was made to know about. As the PDP primaries approached Obasanjo’s position looked rather vulnerable as the governors had to be begged and cajoled to support his candidature at the primary. But what presidency sources say the president considers to be a mortal blow was the interview Atiku granted BBC Hausa Service on the eve of the primary.

In the interview, the vice president said he had three options before him at the Convention the following morning. He said he could run on his own or run with Obasanjo’s challenger, Ekwueme or run with Obasanjo. When he was asked what his choice would be the next morning he said he didn’t know. That interview lacerated Obasanjo’s ego. Sources say it was a blow, which the president is yet to recover from. According to a governor, who accompanied the president on a recent trip abroad the president has not been able to live down the fact that his vice humiliated him, so publicly, during this period. “He (Obasanjo) said to us, ‘You people you just talk about me being hard. Who among you can stand his deputy coming to tell him that, ‘See, I have the governors behind me, I have the party, this is what I want?’”.


Things Fall Apart…

After Obasanjo’s triumph at the polls in 2003 he began to whittle Atiku’s powers. With every move it became clearer that Obasanjo had only lulled Atiku into a false sense of security. He removed Atiku as chairman of the National Council on Privatisation as well as chairman of the National Economic Council. Not only were Atiku’s men not accommodated in the new scheme of affairs his efforts to plant them in good positions were frustrated. At the beginning of the new democratic experiment Atiku’s choice for Speaker of the House of Representatives was defeated. The governors who led the post-PDP primary rebellion, many of whom are his supporters, have also faced the wrath of the President. The president also took over such mundane tasks as the hiring and firing of Atiku’s personal staff. Not even, Adinoyi Onukaba Ojo, one of Atiku’s aides and Obasanjo’s once time protégé, escaped the sack frenzy.

The gulf created between the two men by the events of 2003 has not been bridged by any of the peace efforts by third parties. In January one of such peace meetings held in the presidency. A mortified Atiku who called the meeting apologized for his conduct during the 2003 presidential primaries. Sources at the meeting said Atiku apologized and reminded the president that but for the infractions of the 2003 election period he had been a very loyal deputy. “The Vice President listed a number of occasions, incidents and issues (during) which he had opportunities to stab the president in the back but he acted as the honest and loyal lieutenant,” a source at the meeting said. The source also said that the aborted Al Mustapha coup was only possible because of the loyalty the VP has to Obasanjo.

One reason why it is difficult to make peace between the two men, according to sources, is because of the divisive roles being played by hawks in both the president and vice president’s camps. The hawks in the President’s kitchen cabinet have the president’s ears and are forever spoiling for a fight with Atiku. What has largely kept them at bay is believed to be the formidable firepower Atiku may deploy if push gets to shove. Nevertheless, they have been in the vanguard of those asking the president to move against his deputy and put him in his place. The Atiku camp is not also lacking in hawks. When Obasanjo asked Atiku to stop his supporters from campaigning for his 2007 ambition, Atiku acquiesced. It was a decision that was not well liked among Atiku’s supporters, especially the hawks. As one of the members of the group pointed out, “if Obasanjo was unable to stop those campaigning for the extension of his term why does he expect Turaki to control those campaigning for him.”


A Man and his ambition…

Despite the wishes of hawks on both sides the two men have managed to keep the peace until the Atiku’s THISDAY August 22, interview which the President replied to during his presidential chat. Analysts have contended that the vice president’s presidential ambition, which Obasanjo seems to be ill-disposed to may have induced the boldness with which Atiku spoke during the interview.
In the THISDAY interview the Vice President spoke at length about his experience as Obasanjo’s deputy. Although he kept his frustrations to himself he was nevertheless forthright. On Obasanjo’s alleged ambition for a tenure extension, the vice president said, “I have discussed with with Mr. President he has sworn to me on one to one that he is not going to stay beyond 2007.”
For the first time ever the vice president also discussed the elongation of tenure issue in public. “The President has never told me he wants to continue and I don't believe he will. Secondly, the issue that we are doing well, I think continuation does not lie with individuals, continuation lies with the institutions. When Reagan (Ronald) was getting to the end of his tenure, he didn't want to go even when he was almost senile. He didn't want to go, but the institution is so entrenched in the United States that you dare not say you want to remain. When Margaret Thatcher (former British Prime Minister) was voted out of power she was shedding tears when she was leaving 10 Downing Street. But because the institutions were so entrenched she had to go.
“I think what is important here for Nigerians to make sure that those democratic institutions that have been planted are so entrenched and they support those institutions to make sure that no individual comes and says he is sitting tight and continues to govern this country for God knows when. I think this is how I will approach this issue,” he said.

The president’s reply, when it came during the media chat, was acerbic. “I read the interview by the Vice President in THISDAY of August 22 and a couple of other statements he has made. I think they contain a lot of misrepresentation, misinformation and misrepresentation. He said I swore to him, I did not swear. I did not swear to him. For what? The only swearing I made was the public oath I made, the oath to respect and defend Nigeria’s constitution and doing all manner of good to all manner of men and women.  But there is nobody who can say that I have told him that I am staying. I don’t need to swear on that. I have sworn to defend the constitution. For what reason do I swear that I am not staying? To do what?

“If I have given my word you either believe it or not but people who know me know that I don’t talk frivolously. When there was a case of doubtful loyalty on the part of the Vice President, I took the Bible and the Koran and said between the two of us, I want you to swear to an oath of loyalty…but he refused to swear because there were proven cases of disloyalty on his part…it was bad enough.”


What Future?

With the commencement of moves by some elders to intervene things have quietened down a bit, but analysts have argued that given Obasanjo’s antecedents it may be the peace of a graveyard. Obasanjo has been known to lull his opponent into sleep in the past before striking. But would Obasanjo dare an opponent that is as formidable as Atiku? Knowing that Atiku is neither an Ogbeh nor an Okadigbo analysts have contended that a full-fledged Obasanjo-Atiku clash would be politically and socially suicidal for both the two personalities and the nation. Two options that the presidency is likely to consider, giving its antecedents, if the present problem snowballs into a full crisis is either to pressurize Atiku to reisgn or to engineer his impeachment. However, neither option possesses much utility. The popular view is that Atiku, given his fighting spirit and tenacity is not likely to resign. And as for the impeachment option, Atiku enjoys wide support in the National Assembly, which the presidency would have to rely upon. For one, analysts contend, the presidency would have to commit considerable energy and resources to fight Atiku and even then there is no guarantee of success. What is certain, they say, is that the polity would become heated and the gains of democracy, such as the privation process and foreign investment inflow would suffer.

But what does the future hold for Atiku as a politician, particularly for his presidential ambition? For long, the thinking was that opposition to an Atiku candidature come 2007 would come from Babangida. But the Atiku camp is said to be beginning to think that the enemy may be much nearer home given increased speculation that the president is interested in the elongation of his tenure. Besides the issue of treachery and disloyalty, the president is said not to be well disposed to an Atiku presidency because he does not want a successor that would turn against him when he is out of office.

A more interesting reason, is the one that started making the rounds recently: some of the president’s advisers are said to be pushing for the Chinese model in which Obasanjo would transmute into party leader while an appointee would be the head of government. But projections for such a plan is dealt an easy blow by Obasanjo’s story. With the instrument of state at his disposal, Obasanjo has successfully turned the table against those who brought him into power. What guarantee is there, watchers ask, that the person whom Obasanjo will select would not give the president the ‘Obasanjo’ treatment  when he is out of power? While answers to these and many of the questions thrown up by the Obasanjo-Atiku imbroglio may be a matter of conjecture, what is not is the fact that Atiku remains a very formidable factor in the twists and turns that would determine who takes over from Obasanjo.



horizontal rule

© 1999 - 2006 Segun Toyin Dawodu. All rights reserved. All unauthorized copying or adaptation of any content of this site will be liable to  legal recourse.

Contact:   webmaster@dawodu.com

Segun Toyin Dawodu, P. O. BOX 710080, HERNDON, VA  20171-0080, USA.

This page was last updated on 10/27/07.