By Richard Mammah
Former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar fought a feisty battle to emerge as flagbearer of the opposition People’s Democratic Party at the weekend in Abuja.
But even when that came as one more personal occasion of triumph for him in a political party where he is both a founding member and returnee (having moved on to other political formations for one or more seasons), the fact of his running in a contest to find a replacement for outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari – given that both of them are from the geographical North of the country – remains a bone of contention.
Indeed, sources say this is one of the principal reasons why one of his major contenders on the platform of the PDP, former Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Gregory Obi had pulled out of the party and presently pitched his tent with another opposition player, the Labour Party.
Another issue that was a challenge in the entire process and which Mr Obi and another contender who also pulled out of the PDP primaries process, Mohammed Hayatudeen, referred to as part of their discomfiture with the primaries proceedings in the party is the alleged monetisation of the process, a euphemism for delegates being induced with huge monetary offers.
These withdrawals notwithstanding, the Special Convention went on with Atiku beating his closest rival, incumbent Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike by 371 to 247 votes. Other contenders like former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel and Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed also failed to make the mark.
Beyond winning however, Atiku now has the task of uniting the party. One testy point in this regard has to do with his potential choice of Vice Presidential candidate. Already, some commentators are tipping the immediate runner up, Wike, for the role, but that again would be a matter of negotiations and consultations.
Also on the burner is the issue of pacifying upset Southern and Middle Belt voters that had been heavily traumatised by what Atiku himself had called the ‘divisiveness’ promoted by the outgoing administration and which had encouraged very strident calls for restructuring of the federation, power shift, devolution of powers and a rotational presidency. In a country that is broken almost down the line by a historic North/South divide, Atiku will particularly now have to look beyond himself to find answers for strident queries by Southerners, and particularly South Easterners, who are unwilling to live with the possibility of another Northern Fulani Muslim occupying the Office of President of the country after Buhari.
Then there are the permutations within the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which has been engaged in shadow boxing with the PDP in terms of who would blink first in the choice of candidates vis a vis the zones from which the candidates come from. Though the APC was able to secure one more week to put its house in order and conduct its own primaries, feelers are that the party is still embroiled in disputations over the choice of candidate.
Whichever way that pans out, the reality on ground is that the chosen APC beneficiary would ultimately slug it out with Atiku and others for the attention of the electorate in an election that promises to be one of the most hotly contested yet in the country.
A former Customs Officer, Atiku Abubakar cut his political teeth in the Peoples Front political association that was associated with Major General Shehu Musa Yar Adua. The group was later renamed as the Peoples Democratic Movement and was then to fuse into the Social Democratic Party and later the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and on whose platform he had made his first pitch for the presidency, and lost to Bashorun MKO Abiola.
Elected as Governor of Adamawa State in 1999, Atiku gave it up to run as Vice Presidential candidate alongside General Olusegun Obasanjo in the presidential elections that followed. Upon their victory, Atiku was sworn in as Vice President alongside his principal in May 1999. He later fell out with Obasanjo and moved over to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in 2007 on whose platform he contested the presidency and lost to Umaru Yar Adua.
He returned to the PDP after a season but was to also take another exit when the nPDP faction that he was associated with pulled out of the then ruling party to connect with other political players in the fledgling coalition that was eventually to become the All Progressives Congress, APC. He contested the presidential primaries here but was defeated by General Muhammadu Buhari.
Atiku thereafter left the APC and moved back once again to the PDP from where he secured the party’s nod to fly its flag in the 2019 polls which he lost to President Muhammadu Buhari.
So long an aspiration.