The Atiku Challenge We Must Accept – By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me say categorically that anyone who has followed me closely would have noticed my admiration for the Wazirin Adamawa, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Of all the political leaders in their mid-seventies, he is my favourite, for very cogent reasons, as I shall explain briefly. From being a former high-ranking officer of the much maligned and impugned Nigerian Customs and Excise, I’m so impressed that he has since upgraded himself to an acclaimed international businessman, accomplished politician, respected educationist and benevolent philanthropist.
The second reason I admire him is the fact that despite the plethora of allegations and accusations of corruption against him, he’s never been proven to have been guilty or culpable with regard to those allegations and has never been prosecuted, much more convicted by any court of Law in respect of any of those allegations
The third reason for which I admire Atiku Abubakar is his steadfast belief in Democracy coupled with the uncommon tenacity to pursue his dreams of leading Nigeria, since 28 years ago, beginning in 1993, when he contested the SDP Primaries against Chief Moshood Abiola, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe and others. He has crisscrossed several political parties in the process and was a founding member of both the PDP and the APC, and a major supporter of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 after he lost the APC primaries to General Buhari. He returned to PDP after the 2015 elections to contest in 2019 against the same Buhari he supported heavily just four years earlier. I also supported him on that occasion because of the drift, rudderlessness and graft of the Buhari government between 2015 and 2019, but unfortunately Abubakar lost in a very controversial and highly militarized election.
I really hoped he would win as age was already counting against him even if, obviously, he looks healthier than many of the much younger ones parading themselves about today. But he didn’t and his age is becoming an albatross round his neck which he cannot ignore or do anything about. While some might readily dismiss the age factor in politics, I have since become almost paranoid after witnessing what happened to our dear beloved late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory, who although was much younger, died at 58 years old, had major health challenges which of course older people like Abubakar will be susceptible to as a matter of natural wear and tear in all humans.
This unease for me became compounded when I considered the significant health scare of Buhari in 2017 and how once again government almost became paralysed until Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took over the mantle and came into his own. Health is wealth they say and in the life of a nation there cannot be any greater truism as our experiences over the past 13 to 14 years have shown. The problems of Nigeria are so gigantic that even an elephant can collapse under its sheer weight. It is for this major factor that many younger Nigerians, and indeed patriotic older ones too, are likely to resist an Atiku Presidency in 2023. We simply do not want a geriatric in power, displaying all known bad vices of geriatrics including being stubborn, obstinate and unyielding, added to others which I need not go into here. The fact that Atiku wishes to contest the next elections despite the cacophony of deafening noises advising otherwise demonstrates that he too suffers from this malaise.
There is also another major challenge. How would it sound that another Fulani man, of nearer 80 years than 70, replaces the around 80-year-old Buhari in 2023, in a country littered with countless vibrant, brilliant, intelligent, detribalised, accomplished and cosmopolitan young citizens from other ethnic groups, particularly in the southern part of the country and the Middle Belt? This becomes more acute, stark and critical when we consider the terrorist Boko Haram menace and the dastardly Fulani terrorists and bandits that have riven our country and threatened to split us into unwholesome fragments.
Clearly the time has come for someone who can be seen to be a unifier to emerge from across the Niger and heal the raw open wounds of the country. I still believe 100% in this entity and nation state called Nigeria. It has amazing prospects which we cannot let a small group of ill-informed, ignorant and malevolent persons endanger and damage. If all the constituent parts can arguably succeed on their own, then there is good reason for keeping us together. This is because the success of many, as part of a whole, can only be geometrically and exponentially greater than the success of a small individual fraction.
Personally, as a Democrat, I recognize and respect the rights of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to contest elective positions, including the Presidency for as long as his will and health can stretch, but I believe Nigeria has been extremely kind to members of his generation. They have hugged and monopolised the political landscape of the country for many decades and deprived at least one highly potent and resourceful generation of a crack at running this country. What could have been if this were the case can only be a matter of conjecture. The sad thing is that in acting selfishly in their own interests the generation of Atiku Abubakar and President Buhari have foisted upon the younger generation, the dregs, flotsam and jetsam, of that younger generation in order to perpetuate themselves in power. That was the only way they could cling to power, or at least so they thought.
On a personal note, Atiku Abubakar has achieved what many members of his generation would not be able to accomplish in several generations. While it is his right to contest, I believe there comes a time when patriotism becomes far more important than personal interests and ambition. I know that my appeal will not be considered or heeded, but I want to thank Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for his magnanimity in challenging the youths to challenge him for the ticket of PDP. This sounds very reasonable to me. While to some of my friends and contemporaries, it may smack of over-confidence on Atiku’s part, I believe it could actually provide a David versus Goliath kind of fiasco for the great man. Considering that the Atiku behemoth in Nigerian politics may actually scare the daylight out of any would-be aspirant, I seriously believe it is doable and achievable for a resolute contender.
The truth is that those in the ilk of Atiku, who consider themselves larger than life and indispensable, are in for a Humpty Dumpty kind of collapse. They are spoiling for a demystification which will not augur well for the legacy that they had previously struggled to build and preserve. Why is it so difficult for them to exit while the ovation is loudest!
The Obama magic and miracle in American politics remain my veritable inspiration. The mood of the nation currently favours a paradigm shift. What is required mainly is the courage to take on the establishment and tear down the status quo which is now premised and founded on ageism. I’m reasonably convinced that after the 30-year penalties, suffering and injuries we’ve endured since the annulment of the June 12, 1993, Presidential election, the principal actors of that era now have almost the last chance to foreclose that tragedy. This can only be done by bringing on board an Abiola-like personage with a powerful template and recipe for a new productive and progressive Nigeria. This is a task that must be achieved.
However, what I find most worrisome is the almost incurable affliction of self-doubt and inferiority complex in many of our youths who still believe that only their aged or ageing oppressors have the chance of winning elections ad infinitum. I believe Nigeria no longer has the luxury of time for a game of musical chairs by septuagenarians and octogenarians. Nigeria has bled for far too long and is almost haemorrhaging to death because we no longer have selfless, inspired youths ready, able and willing to lead the way. This was the tradition our political fathers of yore were brought up in. I still remember vividly and with pride Papa Obafemi’s declaration after the 1983 elections that he would never contest elections in Nigeria again partly on account of the corruption of the electoral process, but mainly because of his age at the time of that declaration. Our aged political leaders will do well to learn from the great sage and muse himself.
The time has come for a complete turn-around unless we’ve signed a pact with the devil and sentenced ourselves to perpetual servitude and stress. Our youths must wake up from their self-immolating slumber and chart a new course and direction for our long-suffering country and its people. We can no longer continue to fold our arms like victims of mass hypnotism. Nigeria must be rescued by all means necessary. Whosoever is happy with the state of things in Nigeria today must truly hate our country. I believe and know that we can do much better.
Going back memory lane, unknown to many Nigerians, Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory was quite young when he used his humongous popularity and generosity to capture the imagination of all Nigerians at home and abroad. He was born in the Gbagura quarters of Abeokuta on August 24, 1937, so he was just 56 when he contested and won the June 12, 1993, elections. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was born on August 16, 1951, in Katsina and was just shy of 56 years when he contested and won the April 2007 Presidential elections. President Goodluck Jonathan was born on November 20, 1957, in Ogbia in what is now Bayelsa State, and was, a bit younger at, 53 years when he contested and won the Presidential elections in 2011. How can anyone now tell me that I’m too small or too young to lead Nigeria at 61 after all my hard work and global experience and exposure. I reject this type of curse on behalf of my generation. We’ve been too docile and over mesmerized for far too long and we’ve never been able to wriggle out of this fear-induced stupor from those who do not wish our country well but merely wish to continue to feather their own nest.
We should therefore at least be grateful for the Democratic propensity of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for encouraging the youths to join the race instead of lamenting like the Biblical Jeremiah. We should stop wallowing in self-pity and, instead work assiduously to take power from members of the old brigade who have held Nigeria by the jugular for ever and ever. Those who want power must simply work and fight for it. It is not going to be handed to us on a platter.
In 1993, Chief Abiola was able to convince his Party that he had what it takes to win the Presidential election despite facing the Herculean task of wresting power from Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, who was Chairman of the Party and the favourite choice of the SDP Governors, and also Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who was the political godson of the highly influential Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Abiola won the ticket because he did not allow himself to be bullied or intimidated by the almost impossible Mount Everest ahead of him which he knew he had to climb. He simply girded his loins and set about his daunting but achievable task. That is what our young men and women of today simply have to do.
I have read elsewhere that some of our modern day Abiolas are complaining about the vast resources and financial obligations needed to execute the primaries in mainstream political party, but I wish to call this nothing but self-defeatism. While it is true that huge sums of money would be needed, your personal charms and charisma may carry you far. Your ability to show off your contacts and connections in every part of Nigeria as well as your international relevance will certainly attract massive attention and support. This was the template that catapulted Chief Moshood Abiola beyond and above his competitors. Most of the potential candidates in Nigeria are usually local champions who force themselves on the respective political parties. Very few have any real political base or structure. It is merely a matter of perception. The Godfathers should by now understand and regret the incalculable damage the incompetent candidates have caused and how they have destroyed our great country. They can salvage this now by yielding ground and supporting the right candidates.
The other myth that Chief Abiola shattered was the one that says only hardcore career politicians – Governors, Senators, Honourable Ministers, and others – can aspire to the Presidential office. Chief Abiola was ahead of Donald Trump in this regard. The time has come for non-career politicians to run Nigeria like a successful conglomerate and not like a national cake to be shared among party loyalists and lackeys. The country should be calculated by profit and loss and never written off as a bad loan.
The next leader of Nigeria must be adequately prepared for the onerous tasks of nation-building by embracing a government of national unity and a broad-based coalition across party lines in other to powerfully uplift our nation out of perfidy and poverty. Step forward our intelligent, diligent and proficient youths. Your time has come!
– Momodu is a respected journalist and publisher of Ovation International magazine