Atiku Abubakar’s Political Odyssey By Dan Agbese

It will be uncharitable not to empathise with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in his long quest to occupy Aso Rock villa. It has been a long journey through the gates of successes and the gates of frustrations in the land of politics where nothing is ever what it seems.

Four times he asked for the people’s mandate and four times they gave him the thumbs down. It has been the odyssey of a fighter and a resilient politician. Anyone in his position must be naturally as disappointed as he is. The gods of politics did not bestow on Abubakar Buhari’s fourth time lucky charm.

Abubakar is a battle-scarred politician who refuses to nurse his wounds. He has been through it all and seen it all and appreciates more than most of us the quirks of democracy inherent in the most powerful legal piece of paper in the world, the ballot paper, through which, all things being fair and true, the people exercise the right to say yes to some and no to others in their quest for political power.

Atiku Abubakar may be the best president we ought to have had but destiny appears to have a different idea. He may end his glittering political career as the best president we never had. He would have probably made a better and more competent president than some of those against whom he contested the most coveted political office in the land.

The race was his to run but not for him to be the first to breast the tape. Politics does not often produce the best man for the job. Some incompetent men capable of mediocre leadership breast the tape and leave the best men for the job at the starting block.

I like Abubakar’s take on true federalism as distinct from the current stifling military federalism. A man who knows what ails his country is a man who has given some serious thoughts to what retards and encourages our political leaders to mistake motion for movement. And knows what to do. Recall the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s constitutional prescriptions for the country.

Abubakar launched what he called True Federalism campaign in 2017. He said that “political decentralisation will also help to deepen and strengthen our democracy as it will encourage more accountability. True federalism will encourage states to compete to attract investments and skilled workers rather than merely waiting for monthly revenue allocation from Abuja.”

He has always been a decent politician who shuns grandstanding and treats his political opponent with a certain degree of accommodation. It would seem that this time, he chose to take off his gloves for what it was worth. I am sorry that in doing so, he has pork marked his political odyssey.

After the Supreme Court affirmed the election of President Bola Tinubu, it was not unreasonable for some of us to expect the former vice-president to transform himself from a grieving political juggernaut into a good sportsman who knows that winning and losing are facts of life, more so in competitive games. We expected him to congratulate the president, roll up his mat and thumb his nose at the electorate that repeatedly denied him the key to the gates of Aso Rock.

But he told the press this week he would not go away. He cannot go away. He looms large in the firmament of our national politics. He is a political grandmaster and godfather. For sure, no one can erase his place from the great book of our national politics. He is a fixture in our national politics as well as its economic and social development.

He is in the critical business of producing our country’s future leaders through his elite educational institutions – primary and secondary schools and a university. He believes that “our country’s educational institutions are clearly not providing quality learning. The steady decline of education in Nigeria is a reflection of our country’s relegation of education to the background of national necessities.”

He was in the trenches during our winter years of military dictatorship. He rightly told the press last week that “my generation worked hard to return the soldiers to the barracks and defend the right of the people to elect and establish for ourselves a legitimate government.”

He, like some of the major figures in the pro-democracy movement in the country, has some physical and metaphorical welts to show for the struggle to end military rule and give democracy back to our country. He first sought the people’s mandate during the transition to civil rule programme of President Ibrahim Babangida. In 1993, he lost the presidential nomination of his political party, SDP, to the late Moshood Abiola.

The late General Sani Abacha relocked the gates of democracy later that year. General Abdulsalami Abubakar re-opened them in 1998. Abubakar sauntered through them and was elected governor of his state, Adamawa, in 1999. Before he could take it up, he moved up as Obasanjo’s presidential running mate. Fortune smiled on him but sadly his political fortunes began to dance to the drum of uncertainties and shenanigans.

Things fell apart between the president and the vice-president. Abubakar was the worse for it. Obasanjo lacked the constitutional power to sack him, but he had the administrative power to humiliate and embarrass his vice-president. He exercised that power to the hilt. Abubakar refused to bow. His ambition to succeed his principal was incinerated by the latter’s decision to cling to power even beyond the constitutional limit of two terms of eight years.

Abubakar left PDP and joined AC and became its presidential candidate in 2006. A lower court disqualified him on the grounds that an administrative panel set up by Obasanjo indicted him for financial misconduct. The Supreme Court saw through the mago-mago and threw out the lower court ruling. Abubakar contested the 2007 presidential election. He lost to the late President Umar Yar’Adua. He soldiered on.

In 2011, a panel of northern elders chaired by the late Adamu Ciroma chose him as a northern consensus candidate for the 2011 presidential election. Again, things did not go down well for him. He soldiered on and was once again nominated as the presidential candidate of PDP at the party’s convention in Port Harcourt on October 7, 2018. Absent of luck, he lost the 2019 presidential election. He picked up himself again for the February 25, 2023, presidential election on the platform of PDP.

Given Buhari’s record, it was an election Abubakar ought not to have lost. But his own party members led by the mercurial Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, worked hard to make him lose the election. He disagreed with the INEC declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner. He took his case to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and the Supreme Court. The justices did not see things his way. He is still in a huff.

I have gone to this length in briefly tracing Abubakar’s political odyssey to show that this time, Abubakar, rather uncharacteristically chose to play it dirty in and outside the courts of law. He did not seek merely to invalidate Tinubu’s contested victory but more importantly to show the world that in choosing the latter, Nigerians have entrusted their future and the future of their country to a man burdened with alleged moral and legal baggage.

In the history of contested electoral victories in our country, this year’s presidential election challenges show the depth and the length to which our politicians are prepared to go in deepening the battered image of our country.

As Abubakar told the press, “This quest is not for or about Atiku Abubakar. It is a quest for the enthronement of truth, morality, and accountability in our public affairs.”

It may well be so, but the unintended consequences will haunt the nation for many years to come. It will be sad if history judges his role in our political development by his inadvisable decision to continue fighting when the fight had ended.

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