Atiku's Political Antecedent


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Atiku’s Political Antecedents




Michael Uchebuaku




culled from SUNDAY INDEPENDENT, April 10, 2006


Analysts insist that one political truth about Atiku is that he is a man gifted with a high
degree of intelligence, experience, charisma and steadfastness needed to ascend to the highest ranks of any group or political party he joins. However, with political hindsight, the Vice President appears to be haunted by an ineplicable jinx in leadership, which manifests itself in his seemingly recurring failure to win the most coveted prize of getting to the glorious number one position after many years of devotion to a monumental political movement or cause.


Records of the Vice President’s journey through the maze of Nigerian politics indicate that though he may have been or still is the most charismatic and industrious leader of ‘a party within a party’, his sweetest dreams somehow always seem to evade him at the moment he needs them most. To many observers on the watchtowers of politics, Atiku’s political history has been defined by a seemingly immanent tendency for his ‘personal god’ to desert him at the critical moment, like the warrior in Chinua Achebe’s epic work, Things Fall Apart, whose personal god or ‘chi’ as it’s called in the Igbo Language, ostensibly goes on a visit to his in-laws at the crucial moment his warrior is in the thick of battle and extremely needs his support.


The Vice President’s antecedents stem from his time in the Nigeria Customs Service where he rose rather rapidly through the ranks to the highest levels, before leaving the civil service for the more glamorous, yet risky sphere of politics. With the shadow of dexterity ever before and behind him, he joined the Social Democratic Party (PDP) at a time Nigeria’s former Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) held the glowing reins of power. And although many politicians of the time harboured a deep-seated sense of mistrust for the transition programme being midwifed by the ‘evil genius’ due to his perceived trademark of vacillation and equivocation, Atiku contested the SDP presidential primaries with the late symbol of truncated democracy in Nigeria, Chief Moshood Abiola.


Atiku lost the SDP primaries to Abiola, even with his longstanding association with the man who was arguably the greatest political gladiator of the era, late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Before the 1992 SDP presidential primaries, politicians had been banned and un-banned according to what analysts describe as the capricious manner IBB ran his transition to civil rule programme. Various party primaries had also been cancelled by the military administration.


In fact, Atiku is said to have been a most loyal disciple for several years within the inner circle of Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar’Adua; and even passed in the perception of many as his deputy. However, though Yar’Adua seemed on the verge of becoming the next president of Nigeria in 1992 after the party primaries, which echoed with his brilliant victory in Lagos, IBB unexpectedly ended the party by canceling the primaries and applying the brakes on Yar’ Adua’s enigmatic ambitions.  Thus, the stage seemed set for Atiku to take up the mantle of leadership from where his mentor left it, and reach the promise land. So, Atiku contested the SDP presidential primaries with Chief Abiola with the hope of emerging victorious as the presidential flag-bearer of the party and leading the Yar’Adua political institution to Aso Rock in 1993.


Unfortunately, he lost out at the crowning moment, and in the following years of crisis over the June 12, 1993, presidential elections, Atiku seemed to sleep without a blanket in the political cold. He had got to the near-summit, he had been both a loyal disciple and deputy, and the assumed heir to Yar’Adua’s enchanting political machine; but the summit flew through the window at the hour of history.


Still, the Turakin Adamawa persevered on the political picture of Nigeria. He seemed to have embraced the thoughts of Coolidge, the American president who said that perseverance and determination are omnipotent. At the nativity of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he went into the party project with the biggest and most effective faction – the PDM (Progressive Democratic Movement), which was Yar’Adua’s well-oiled political machine. Atiku’s PDM hardware took the PDP by force, and before long, the former Customs officer seemed to be in omnipotent control of the new party.


However, twists and turns were to define the new political era, and General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) was swept off the grounds of his Otta farm to Aso Rock when the time came to select a presidential flag-bearer for the party. It is still said that the military regime of Abdulsalami Abubakar favoured Obasanjo because it was thought that he would be more well disposed towards the North. However, Obasanjo needed a faction within the party to support him, and Atiku is said to have propelled him using the PDM since his mentor, Yar’Adua had been Obasanjo’s deputy in 1976 when the latter was a military head of state.


With the PDM machine in his control, analysts say that Atiku could have comfortably contested and won the PDP presidential primaries in 1999, but in another twist of fate, he was to lose the summit again. As a consolation prize and also as an expression of gratitude, it is believed that Obasanjo chose him as his running mate in the 1999 presidential election. In 2003, many thought that Atiku would make another move against the twists and turns of his political life, but out of what many call loyalty to Obasanjo’s right to contest for a second term, Atiku waited.


Now the race for 2007 is gathering steam and Atiku, it seems, can’t wait anymore to get to the promised land. But again, it seems some unknown forces are playing tricks on him. In a recent interview, he reportedly said that President Obasanjo swore to support him for the presidency in 2007. However, Obasanjo has denied that and even seemed to accuse the Vice President of disloyalty. To add insult to injury, the United States police recently raided Atiku’s home in the U S as part of what they say is an investigation of Congressman William Jefferson who is suspected of bribing public officers in West Africa.


Jefferson was said to have been involved in a telecommunications deal for an American company in Nigeria's telecoms market, and is suspected to have got ‘too close’ to Atiku, who incidentally, was the Chairman, National Council on Privatization (NCP).


These appear like precarious times for Nigeria’s Vice President, especially at this time when politicians seem set to contest the presidency in 2007 and he has indicated interest. At this time, Atiku seems to be in desperate need of Obasanjo’s support, especially considering rumours being circulated of an alleged IBB plan to return to the presidency in 2007 with or without President Obasanjo’s support. The U S incident at this time is bad publicity for Atiku, considering the war on corruption. Any hint or suspicion of corruption, analysts say, may damage Atiku’s presidential ambition.


Now, it appears President Obasanjo has taken over the PDP and may leave Atiku in the political cold once more. Is Atiku about to lose the presidency again? Is he jinxed in politics? Why is it that at the last moment, something keeps coming up to scuttle his ambition for the Nigerian presidency? Now, there are rumours of him been frustrated and leaving the PDP to set up a new party to advance his presidential ambition. He has always got to the near-summit, he is there again as Vice President of Nigeria, would he ever get to the summit? Two factors now seem to stand between the PDM faction helmsman and the coveted prize: an Obasanjo third term, and IBB’s participation in the 2007 presidential contest. Will it be due to a jinx in fate, or pure betrayal if Atiku fails to reach Aso Rock in 2007?


The presidency has already described the raid on his U S residence as ‘his personal affair’ and support doesn’t seem to come from President Olusegun Obasanjo. Will Atiku’s ‘personal god’ lead him gallantly to Aso Rock in 2007, or will it abandon him again at the crucial moment? Political observers are eagerly waiting to see how far the Vice President’s ‘personal affair’ will go in 2007.



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