With 2019 general elections less than two years away, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, expectedly dumps the ruling All Progressives Congress and returns to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, for the third time in his political journey to seek for the party’s presidential ticket, but whether the party is willing to allow the adventurous politician to have his way remains to be seen
- By Olu Ojewale*
THE move had long been expected and speculated. So, when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar formally announced his departure from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on Thursday, November 23, it did not come as a surprise to a lot of Nigerians. Even though the announcement of the resignation was made in November, it was discovered that Abubakar had sent his resignation to his ward as far back as October 18.
Since his defection from the APC, the political atmosphere has been abuzz with different activities and arguments on what he would do next. His supporters and, indeed, speculators did not have to wait for too long. The former APC chieftain returned to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the party which made him a vice president between 1999 and 2007. It was a welcome development for members and supporters of the PDP as he formally announced his defection to the party on Sunday, December 3.
Abubakar’s return to the PDP is largely seen as a big gain for the opposition party and a great loss to the ruling APC, the party he helped to found. It is being speculated that some big wigs in the APC may soon follow in Abubakar’s footstep back to the PDP.
In fact, the waziri adamawa on Tuesday, December 5, while visiting party chieftains in Abuja, publicly beckoned to some of those who left the PDP with him to join the APC to return to the party. Some of those he called include Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate; Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State; Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State; Danjuma Gojea and Rabiu Kwankwaso, both senators as well as Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transport, among others, now holding prominent positions in the APC-led government. Abubakar’s call was received with quiver among some of the former PDP chieftains, most of who preferred to be left out of the issue.
Making a similar call on Wednesday, December 6, Walid Jibrin, chairman of the board of trustees of PDP, made a passionate appeal on aggrieved members who left the party to follow the footsteps of Abubakar “and return home.”
Jibrin, who made the call while briefing journalists in Abuja, said: “As the party joyfully welcomes Atiku back to his home PDP, we are equally waiting to receive more members. We are waiting for the president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, other senators, members of House of Representatives and APC governors who left the PDP.”
It was still unclear at press time how great the impact of departure of the former vice president from the APC would have on the ruling party. What seems apparent in the time being is that the political manoeuvrings in the party have been gaining momentum since Abubakar returned to the PDP.
More so, because the former vice president has made it clear that he did not just jump ship without the necessary groundwork. He said in his Facebook post: “After due consultation with my God, my family, my supporters and the Nigerian people whom I meet in all walks of life, I, Atiku Abubakar, Waziri Adamawa, hereby tender my resignation from the All Progressives Congress while I take time to ponder my future.”
Not long after that statement, his ship voyage berthed at the PDP, where he hopes to further his political ambition. According to inside members, the waziri Adamawa had consulted widely and spoken to the PDP hierarchy before making his decision.
Nevertheless, it appears, he is not going to have it easy picking the PDP’s presidential ticket. Before his return to the party some aspirants had already began their own campaign to clinch the party’s presidential. As such, governors had already aligned themselves with candidates of their choice.
Hence, Abubakar’s return could upset the political equation already on ground. In fact, some of the governors and party leaders were said to prefer Ahmed Makarfi, chairman, National Caretaker Committee of the party, while some were rooting for Sule Lamido, a former governor of Jigawa State, while others put their support on Ibrahim Shekarau, one time governor of Kano State.
As for Abubakar, he is believed to have the backing of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been helping him to mobilise other members in the party hierarchy for support. But there were indications that some of the governors were already kicking against Jonathan’s plan to get the former vice president the party’s presidential ticket. They allegedly claimed that the former president did not consult them before hand. Besides, some of them said they were willing to work for Abubakar.
Indeed, a governor, who spoke in confidence said in a media interview: “Not all the PDP governors have bought into the Atiku agenda, we are not united on him. If we have our way, some of us will go for Makarfi who has shown uncommon leadership in reuniting PDP. And those of us in this group are encouraging him to join the presidential race.
“Some of our leaders also prefer Lamido or Shekarau. If we have any issue with Makarfi, it is about rumours on his health and we have conducted our research, the ex-governor is as fit as a fiddle. It is all propaganda.
“As I am talking to you, we have not been fully consulted by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on Atiku’s candidature.
“At the end of the day, we will follow the rule of law, the party’s constitution and go to the field to elect a presidential candidate. What if our members decide not to grant Atiku a waiver to contest the presidential primaries? He is a new member, he can as well queue like others.
“Some of our leaders speak about Atiku as a political asset in the North but he was a distant third in the APC presidential primaries. We won’t be blind on our choice this time around. I think programmes and not personality should matter to PDP.”
That notwithstanding, a former member of the National Working Committee, NWC, said: “Some of the governors have been working behind the scene with Jonathan on the Atiku project. We see him as a game changer and that is why we are desperate to woo him.”
Nevertheless, Abubakar is also seen as an indictment of the APC-led government and, perhaps, one of those who would help the PDP to wrestle power from the ruling party.
Samuel Anyanwu, a PDP senator representing Imo-East, described Atiku’s exit from the APC as a gain for the PDP and that his departure would bring about a mass exodus of its members to the opposition party.
He said: “It is an indication that the PDP is set to take back power in 2019. Those who left the PDP are now coming back. In days to come, you will see members of the National Assembly and serving governors who left the PDP returning to the party.”
Sounding a similar note of optimism was Lamido, who described Abubakar’s resignation from the APC as “a disgrace.”
The former Jigawa governor, who spoke at the weekend during the inauguration of a PDP office in Ringim local government of the state, said: “If Atiku would quit this party it will be morally wrong for any Nigerian to continue to patronise the APC. It is unfortunate that the APC that comprises of those seen as “saints” could be classified by Atiku as a symbol of poverty, betrayal, disrespectful and a dungeon of hell.”
While pleading with the former leaders of the PDP in the APC to return back to the party, Lamido said: “We had known that sooner or later this would happen, because it is an amalgamation of strange bed fellows that formed the APC that people like Atiku felt he could support its course, yet today they have betrayed him and they will all betray you if you don’t leave them.”
Adesoji Akanbi, a senator of the APC from Oyo State, agreed that it was painful to see Abubakar leave the APC, but he would not begrudge the former vice-president of his right to join any association or party of his choice.
Akanbi argued: “Everybody has a right to exercise his or her freedom of association. Whatever the reason given by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, it is a matter of choice.”
That notwithstanding, Doyin Okupe, a former PDP chieftain now a leader of the Accord Party, believes that wrestling power from the APC would not be achieved by the defection of Abubakar alone, but would require the coalition of opposition parties to defeat President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC in the 2019 general elections.
According to Okupe, a former presidential spokesman, the PDP as currently constituted, is weak to remove the APC from power but should team up with other parties to realise the dream. Buttressing his point, he said: “It took a coalition in 1998 to be able to send away military. The coalition crystallised into PDP, won election and held it for 16 years.
“It took a coalition of forces again in 2015 to be able to wrest power from the PDP and that is what Nigerians should do in 2019.”
That, indeed, is a tall order. This is because Abubakar’s overriding interest seems to be the presidential ticket of the party. Besides, he may also be weary of getting involved in another coalition effort, having failed in the previous one which gave birth to the APC, the party he helped to form.
In any case, the former vice president tried to dispel the notion that his decision to dump the APC was all about him and his ambition. He said in his resignation letter: “As I said in 2006, it is the struggle for democracy, constitutionalism and service to my country and my people that are driving my choice. Let me emphasise, again, that this is not about me. We have to have a country before people can aspire to lead it.”
But some political observers would want to believe that he is more driven by his personal ambition than services to the country. Indeed, in pursuing his political ambition, Abubakar has demonstrated that his political ambition supersedes other considerations.
Having served as vice-president of Nigeria between May 1999 and May 2007, he has been pursuing an agenda of ruling country; a legitimate ambition. But for him to realise it he has traversed many political parties.
Problem started when in 2006, Abubakar was involved in a bitter public battle with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, his boss, ostensibly arising from the latter’s bid to amend certain provisions of the constitution so that he could go for a third term in office. But the former vice president led a campaign that truncated the move.
The face-off which ensued damaged the personal relationship between both men. Hence, on November 25, 2006, when Abubakar announced that he would run for president, he was not going to use the platform of the PDP because Obasanjo had schemed it for the late Umaru Yar’Adua, who eventually was elected.
By then, Abubakar had moved to the Action Congress, AC, and in December 2006, the party picked him as its presidential party flag bearer.
On March 14, 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, released the final list of 24 aspirants for April 21, presidential election. But Abubakar’s name was missing from the ballot. The electoral umpire issued a statement stating that Abubakar’s name was missing because he was on a list of persons indicted for corruption by a panel set up by the government.
He thus, went to the courts on March 16, to have his disqualification overturned, and eventually, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on April 16, that the INEC had no power to disqualify candidates.
The ruling allowed Abubakar to contest the election, and according to official results, he placed third place, behind Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari, the then candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, with approximately seven percent of the vote (2.6 million votes). Abubakar rejected the election results and called for its cancellation, describing it as Nigeria’s “worst election ever.”
Following the 2007 elections, Abubakar returned to the PDP. In October 2010, he announced his intention to contest for the presidency. On November 22, a committee of Northern Elders selected him as the Northern Consensus Candidate, over General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military president; Aliyu Gusau, a former national security adviser and the then Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
He thus, contested for the PDP presidential ticket alongside President Jonathan and Sarah Jubril, in 2011 and lost the primary, garnering 805 votes to Jonathan’s 2736.
On March 30, 2014, Nigerian media reported that a delegation from the Northern Youth Leaders Forum visited Obasanjo at his home in Abeokuta and pleaded with him to “forgive your former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of whatever political sin or offence he might have committed against you.”
In response Obasanjo was quoted as saying that “as a leader and father, I bear no grudge against anybody and if there is, I have forgiven them all.”
In August 2013, he led the formation of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, in order to fulfiill his political ambition. He later acknowledged that the party was founded by his “political associates,” but that he had chosen to remain a member of the PDP.
But on February 2014, Abubakar again left the PDP to the join the APC. On the new party platform, he again contested for its presidential ticket in 2015, but in the primaries which held in Lagos, he placed distant third behind Buhari and Kwakwanso.
Now that Abubakar has returned to the PDP a third time, his hopes of getting the party ticket are still not assured.
In fact, some of his critics expressed reservations, saying his return was nothing but selfish.
“But the reality is that Atiku is a very damaged and unsellable ware. He is perceived as very corrupt, vain, petty and unintelligent politician who is ruled by such elephantine ego that can sacrifice any value for selfish ends. Atiku is seen as a desperado that sees political office as a compulsive addiction. His present trajectory shows a power monger that is ruled by innate desire for office and nothing more,” Peter Claver Oparah, a political analyst, said.
That notwithstanding, Rafiu Ibrahim, an APC senator from Kwara State, said that Abubakar should not be underrated. He said in an interview: “Let us be strategic in the APC. We should not take it from the angle of the Governor of Kaduna State who said he (Abubakar) is a serial defector. This is the kind of words that make you lose what you have.”
The legislator said that while many critics of Abubakar might blame his move for his undying presidential ambition, the former vice president could choose to support a candidate against Buhari.
Indeed, Shehu Sani, also an APC senator from Kaduna State, has a thrown in a caution. He said it was time for the APC to consider grievances expressed by the former vice-president, and not criticise him like others.
Sani said: “The attacks on Atiku for changing political party are uncalled for. The APC should carefully study the issues he raised and make the necessary corrections that would convince other party loyalists to remain in the party.”
Indeed, one of the party loyalists that may follow Abubakar is Aisha Alhasssan, minister of Women Affairs in the Buhrai cabinet. Alhassan was shown on the BBC Hausa language saying she would support Abubakar for the 2019 presidential election. In the video shown in September this year, she said: “Atiku is my godfather even before I joined politics.
“And again, Baba Buhari did not tell us that he is going to run in 2019.
“Let me tell you today that if Baba said he is going to contest in 2019, I swear to Allah, I will go before him and kneel and tell him that ‘Baba I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve your government as a minister but Baba, just like you know, I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather. If Atiku said he is going to contest.”
The kind of loyalty displayed by Alhassan if followed through and found many other supporters may be a big boost for the former vice-president.
As Paul Ibe, media adviser to Abubakar, has stated in an interview that his principal is a big a consensus builder and would be ready to get the PDP ticket based on it if necessary, and that he would be willing to reconcile with Obasanjo as advised by Jonathan.
Ibe said: “His Excellency, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, is a savvy politician and he will not discountenance the importance of carrying everybody along in order to build a consensus.”
But whether Abubakar would accept defeat as fait accompli if he should he fail to clinch the PDP presidential ticket is a matter of conjecture. In the time being, the former vice-president’s hope of being elected as the nation’s president still hangs in the balance.
*Culled from Real News Magazine