Political punditry and freelance consultancy services and analysis for my Party, the Democratic Party of the United States, are not what I do for a living, but they are my major preoccupation and pastime in America. That is so, because I am a Political Science Major with congenital interest in Politics because I was born into it. My old man, Akintide Gbangba, the Hero, now deceased was a strong pillar in the Action Group in Akure and an unrepentant believer in Awo. I have gotten myself involved in political punditry from my Secondary school days when I used to keep vigil listening till the early hours of the morning to Election results I have picked to win. The Hausa word “Bako da ya” was the first Hausa sentence I ever learnt as a young man growing up in Akure.
I was again heavily involved in political punditry using Probability theory and formula to predict the outcome for the second term chances of President Omobowale William Jefferson Clinton, when he won what could be termed, a landslide victory considering the difficulties he had had to surmount before getting there. I continue to crow about that victory because of the caliber of the real juggernaut Clinton had run against in the one and only Robert Dole, a War Hero, and one of the funniest, finest and most respected and American leaders you will ever know. I went on to play the same role by joining others to get Iron First Lady, Hillary Clinton elected the first Empire State Senator in the powerful US Senate. I did it again for Albert Gore in 2000. He too had won the popular vote by half a million votes against George Bush, but narrowly lost the Electoral College vote, because he had not heeded our advice (mine included) to allow the Houdini of American Politics to campaign for him especially in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida, because the Republicans had deliberately cajoled Gore into believing that President Clinton appearing with him in certain strategic states could only hurt and not help him. It was a white lie, and the outcome of my mathematical analysis had said so loud and clear. I had championed a completely different view in a paper I mailed to the Gore Campaign, months before the Elections. I told Gore’s handlers the Republican advice was nothing but a set up, and I was proved right. I could bet my life that Florida would also have been won narrowly by Gore and Lieberman in the same way that Tennessee and Arkansas would also have been won, making Al Gore the President with certainty. It pained me so much. Such punditry and prediction based on probability theory is not possible in our Nigeria because it is impossible to correctly read the barometer of voters’ feelings or preference for any candidate in our own environment, because we are pathological liars. Exit polling based on what voters tell you on leaving the Polling Booth would be so wrong that your predictions would be as hollow and phony as what most of our weather forecasters in Nigeria often say, “occasional rain and occasional sun shine. You are therefore left to figure out the weather for yourself. My forecast here is based on some empirical research and the election profiles of the majority of our voters. I have also factored in the Omoboriowo factor in our Politics and the influence of bribes and kickbacks in our system.
I have gone into all these because 2007 is damn too futuristic and contentious and unpredictable for any pundit to be making a totally reliable forecast. What I am doing here is not so much a prediction of victory, but an endorsement of sorts. But since I will expect my candidate to finally win, I guess it might sound and smell like a prediction of victory. Atiku Abubakar does not even know me, but I know him from a distance, from his days at the Nigerian Customs, and when he had served as one of the confidants to the late Yar Adua, one of the smartest political strategist of our time who was clearly a shoo-in for the position, Obasanjo is holding today, had he managed to outlive M.K.O. Abiola the Abacha Gestapo. I am doing this pro bono as part of the contributions I could make to my country. I did the same thing for Olusegun Agagu in Ondo and I even contributed unsolicited money to his Campaign that was never acknowledged to this day. I did it because he was my junior at school and because I particularly wanted him to win. I have caught the bug from my sojourn in America where you are allowed to contribute money to the Campaign of the candidates you favor. Before I go into explaining why I am endorsing Atiku four years ahead of schedule, I need to digress a little bit to articulate an observation that is very germane to my central thesis in this write-up.
Let me make it abundantly clear from the “get go” that if it were left to me alone, the next President of Nigeria should have been someone from the South East or the South/South zone. So Atiku would never have come under my political radar in the next Election circle in Nigeria if it were left to me alone. But the reality in Nigeria today is telling me loud and clear the two zones I have identified here, have themselves conceded that the next President must again come from the North. That being the case, it would appear to be foolhardy or silly on my part to be sticking out my neck for them in this article. The number two point I must underscore here is the observation that the core North does not believe in the axiom of 6 geographical zones that elder Statesman, Tony Enahoro, the same man who had moved the motion to set Nigeria loose from British rule in October Ist, 1960, had propounded with a lot of sense and political chutzpah. The old North and their surviving power brokers do not buy the notion there are six geographical zones and 36 States in Nigeria. As far as they are concerned, they are still sticking with the Lord Lugard mindset that there are only two zones in Nigeria, namely the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere. Since the Northern Protectorate was the older, and perhaps the more politically savvy, even though the less educationally ready and able of the two, the North, as always, has continued to believe, rightly or wrongly, they are “numero uno” in Nigeria, and the South is decidedly number two. We all seem to have become captives of that way of thinking, if the truth must be told. Even when Nigeria used to have three Regions, the so-called concept of Nigeria being a tripod, had never sat well with the old North. They have always equated the two Regions in the South to be equal or perhaps slightly less in power and stature than the one dominant Region in the North. Our British colonial Governor Generals from Lord Lugard to James Robertson our last one had always rubber-stamped that presumption. It is therefore not an accident that the North has already taken it for granted that Obasanjo has already served the turn of the South, and that, it is now their turn again to produce the next President of Nigeria. I believe the Biafran War paranoia would also appear to have further compounded that feeling or presumption. The North is viewing the defeat of Biafra as a technical defeat or a minus for the South which must never again feign or claim equality with the North, the senior partner in the Nigerian coalition. You all should take this analysis as a needed back-up to why I feel empowered to say who I am endorsing for President come the Year 2007, as foggy and as unpredictable as that exercise may be, given the rough and tumbles of Nigerian Politics which always defy logic, if you ask me. I must also acknowledge here that I have read the brilliant article written by one Abdulmatin D. Abubakar titled “Why Atiku Abubakar is the right choice for 2007”, and I concur with most of the points he has highlighted in that article with less or more emphasis, but from my own unique perspective as a Southerner, and as a one time Secretary to the Joint Economic Commissions of Nigeria with other nations of the World from 1983 to 1984. I held that office first under Abubakar Alhadji Alhadji (Tripple A), now the Sardauna of Sokoto, and later under Ogbuefi Chikelu as Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Economic Planning in the old Federal Secretariat at Ikoyi, Lagos. I knew something about Law and Economics and Political Science as a major platform for anyone who would go into Politics any where in the world.
Awolowo was head and shoulders above his peers in Nigerian Politics because he had majored in Economics and Law, and had picked up Journalism as a hobby. Political science came to him naturally. That was why Awo was so terrific and uniquely qualified and competent above and beyond most of his peers. He had made a strategic mistake leaving the West for the Federal at the time he did. If he had stayed long enough to make the old West the Singapore of Africa, he most, probably, would have been begged to come rule the whole Federation of Nigeria as things began to fall apart irredeemably for the Federal Government. The issue today is Atiku Abubakar, and that is where I am going now in full force, if you care enough to come along with me.
At a time Ibrahim Babangida and his cohorts in Nigeria are insulting Nigeria’s collective memory by telling us the North could not find any other candidate to sponsor for President in 2007, one has to agree with the position articulated by Abdulmatin Abubakar, and even go a step further to crown his effort in that regard by having a Southerner speak up for Atiku for whatever it may be worth. I won’t be writing this, if I think Atiku does not have what it takes to run and win election as President in Nigeria. The first thing is called Cash, “Kudi”, “Owo” and “Ekurube” in my own neck of the woods in Ondo State, the political conscience of Nigeria. I am reliably informed that Atiku can match IBB Naira for Naira, Sterling for Sterling and Dollar for Dollar today, if the whole struggle has boiled down to cash, and who has too much of it as we speak. I don’t want to probe the source of that wealth in this article, and it doesn’t really matter because Nigerians are really not interested on how our political leaders make their money. As long as they have not been indicted or charged for anything, they are fine with us. In my own part of Nigeria, you will be hailed and idolized even if you have “seso” to acquire the wealth. “Seso” simply means getting rich through some voodoo improvisation where you sign a contract with some evil spirit, and pledge your life after a specified number of years in absolute wealth, or sacrifice your wife or your favorite son to get filthy rich. It is enough for me to know in this article that there is another Northerner in Atiku who can stand, toe-to-toe with IBB whose greatest claim to the presidency, in spite of his track record, is the fact that he believes that everybody has a price that he is able to meet. He even believes that Lucifer can be settled in Nigeria, if the price is right, and he is damn right on that.
Those who are rooting for IBB tell us they are rooting for him because he has been there before for eight to nine years and because he has experience. What they easily forget is that IBB and his long time associate and confidant, are the “Fons et origo” of most of our problems today. Just think for a moment on how much money the two of them are known to have stolen from our treasury? You will be amazed. True, IBB has experience, but so was Abacha. But the real question is what kind of experience? IBB has experience planing and executing successful coups in Nigeria. He has experience as a military Dictator. He has a lot of experience knocking heads, and saying one thing and doing the exact opposite. He has experience approbating and reprobating at the same time. He has experience as a master dribbler better than Diego Maradona in scoring goals with the legendary hands of God, without the Nation taking notice. He has experience spreading the wealth of the Nation amongst his few hand-picked friends and diehard supporters across the country. He has experience making them millionaires at the expense of our Nation. He has experience running Nigeria as his private estate, and he has experience stealing money, left, right and center, and not getting caught or prosecuted. He has experience letting Obasanjo know that, without him and his clever moves, there is no way Obasanjo could have come out of Prison to lead a Party that was put together while he was still being held behind bars. He has, by so doing, boxed Obasanjo into a corner thus making it impossible for Obasanjo to do anything to him that might be seen or misconstrued as “biting the fingers that have fed him.”
What IBB does not have is any experience at all as a democratic Head or even Deputy Head of Government like Atiku. That is precisely where I am going. Atiku was essentially an administrator as Head of Custom for many years. I am told he too did dip his hand into the cookie jar at the Custom, but he never got caught and he moved on to the very top of his cadre in that moneymaking Department of the Federal Public Service. By 2007, Atiku would have spent eight consecutive years in office as Deputy Head of a democratic Government and a very good one at that, as demonstrated by Abdulmatin Abubakar, and as I would demonstrate in this write-up if you bear with me. Being an Idi Amin or Abacha, is not the same thing as being a democratic President in a civilian regime.
Part of the reason Obasanjo is running into so much problems leading our democratic experiment today, is because he still projects the figure of a Baba Sala or Baba Mero with their funny attire and huge and funny-looking bow tie, if you still remember. Obasanjo is still wearing his flowing agbada, but he behaves, as if he still has his jackboots and his beret cap on. Can you all imagine what a funny persona such a profile should make him look like. That is the problem with Obasanjo. There is a part of him that wants to do the right thing, but his military training and background have constituted a major handicap. If IBB is ever allowed to succeed him in 2007, we can all expect a worse case scenario. Therefore in that unique sense, Atiku is the man to beat for the Presidency in 2007. I deliberately kept way from putting Muhammad Buhari in the mix, because we are going to get the same result with IBB. The only possible exception may be Marwa, the erstwhile military governor of Lagos State who was another Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia who did wonders in the Mid West at a time the Federal Government had tried to showcase the Mid West as a ploy to demystify Awolowo record in the old West. As soon as the old Mid West was carved out, it was declared an oil producing area and provided so much money for development that the old West was denied when the Mid West used to be part and parcel of Western Region The good news was that Ogbemudia had actually spent the money on developing the old Mid West to the best of his ability. Even if he had stolen money, which all our leaders do, Ogbemudia definitely had something to show for his leadership of that Region just like Awolowo.
Why must Nigeria continue to go along with ex-military leaders to guide our ship of State? More than 30 years of pure Military rule and 8 years of transitional para military Government represented by Obasanjo’s first and second terms should be enough. Enough is enough. Atiku will be the first full-fledged civilian President to be elected after Shehu Shagari, and that is what I think we should be shooting for. The military chaps have had their time. They should leave the Nation alone, because they have done more harm than good to our collective interest. Period. I was a senior civil servant in the Federal Service for much of their tenure, and I served as the pioneer Director of DIFFRI (Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures in Ondo State, and I knew how the funds provided for the takeoff of that program in most of the States were squandered to cater for the creature comforts of most of the Military Governors. The only possible exception is Okhai Mike Akhigbe. He never, for one day, tried to teleguide or micro-manage me or seek undue favors for fraudulent contractors who wanted to dig a well, but get paid thousands for drilling imaginary Bore holes. It was that bad. I got fired, and I loved it, for calling the bluff of a silly Governor who had set up the Adegoke Panel to probe me, falsely accusing me of diverting into my own pockets, money that had been voted to construct the rural roads in Ondo State. When the probe was concluded I was the one that had the last laugh. I am able to write about it today as an insider even though I now live and work in the United States. I am following Nigerian Politics very closely, and I enjoy doing it.
I now want to examine the role of Atiku in the first four years of Obasanjo as a civilian President. I guess if you want to be fair, you can call Obasanjo the traveling President or President “de jure” while Atiku was the real President “de facto”. Atiku has not only functioned as a Vice President, he has also functioned as a quasi civilian President, under Obasanjo, for four years without any question. In most civilized polities, the position of a Vice President is seen as a training ground for who will be the next President. That is what the American Constitution we have plagiarized to fashion out our own, specifically demands. Our Nation is crazy to think otherwise.
A man who was Vice President to a President who had been so successful, that he had won a landslide victory that took him to a second term ought to have all legitimate claims to aspire to being President if our nation is not walking on her head, which is abnormal. Al Gore still managed to coast to a victory in the popular vote in spite of Clinton’s moral failings, because Clinton was considered a very successful and effective President. Clinton had won a second term with relative ease, and Al Gore as Vice President was able to get the nomination and cruise on to victory in the popular vote by no less than 500,000 votes because Al Gore was seen as a major part of Bill Clinton’s success in office. By the same token Atiku should be viewed the same way.
Now let us go to the tale of the tape like they say in Boxing. I believe Obasanjo has already paved the way for Atiku in a way he can no more undo this late in the game, without destroying himself and his image as a leader. There will never again be another Vice President who would ever be as powerful as Atiku. I want you to remember how Atiku had come from no where to be picked as Vice President. Abubakar Rimi was dying to become Vice, when Obasanjo had passed him over to pick Atiku who was on his way to becoming the landslide Governor of Bauchi State. Atiku did not beg to take that office. Obasanjo had picked him because he knew he had what it takes to be a good Vice president, and because he, Atiku, had used the Shehu Yar Ardua political machine on the ground to help Obasanjo to survive the 22 wheeler Truck that was coming to rollover Obasanjo after he has been elected President, through the machinations of men like IBB and the powerful Generals including Theophilus Danjuma who had bankrolled Obasanjo into office, to begin with. Atiku was therefore a great selection by Obasanjo before the evil genius and his hatchet men had begun to come between him and Obasanjo for their own selfish interest. That is what it is.
Atiku was a smart guy because he got the greatest mileage out of his relationship with Obasanjo before the fifth columnists had managed to start coming between them peddling rumors that were designed to break them asunder. It is true that Obasanjo and Atiku’s relationship today may not be as good as it ought to be, that should not dent Atiku irredeemably, if what I know about him, today, is totally correct. Atiku’s political and strategic instincts are positively good, and that should see him through with some diplomacy and tact.
Atiku and Obasanjo can be said to be joined in the hips when you are talking of the few achievements of Obasanjo in office, that Obasanjo himself has so far failed to brilliantly frame and articulate. Atiku, very early in Obasanjo’s first term had correcetly positioned himself, and Obasanjo had seen him as his key to getting the cooperation of the North and all its power brokers, just like Theophillus Danjuma was supposed to be Obasanjo’s king pin or what the Yorubas call “Agbebo d’orun” of the Military brass in Nigeria. Atiku was therefore given all of the most powerful positions in the Nation arsenal. The move had made him even more powerful than the President himself. What is important is that Atiku had taken full advantage of those powers to ingratiate himself with his people in the North in particular, and some other sections of Nigeria, in much the same way like most Nigerian Presidents from the North had always done without exception?
Atiku had presided over all major national Institutions responsible for Economic Policy Formulation, implementation and Coordination in Nigeria under Obasanjo. He was named Chairman of the National Economic Council. As Chairman, Atiku had quietly liberalized and opened the way to competition and free enterprise in line with what the American and the British Government, the Paris Club, the IMF and the World Bank had specifically ordered and approved. He not only gave himself visibility by so doing, he had clearly let those Authorities know that he is, without any question, the man of the Future. He had gone a step further to initiate the National Economic Revitalization Program (NER) and had become the Chief Coordinator of all Public Enterprises in Nigeria, a move that had brought along with it, international confidence and acceptance for Nigeria in the committee of nations around the World.
As Chairman of that body, Atiku had single-handedly managed to set in motion the US/Nigerian Joint Economic Partnership Committee, as well as the Nigeria/South African National Commission and then the Nigeria/UK Forum among other strategic moves. He had also reactivated the Joint Economic Commissions of Nigeria with nations like Jamaica, Senegal, Chad, India and Morocco. The National Council on Privatization which he had also presided over was where he was able to do the most good for himself and for his people at large Those are things that his constituents and supporters would not forget easily. They are called Pork barrel favors in America and they usually translate into political I.O.Us when it is time for payback. That had really paved the way for him to be in touch with the power brokers of the Nigerian Economy, and more importantly, with the Governors of all the States controlled by the PDP Government before their last landslide rollover in the last Elections in Nigeria. It was not for fun that Tip O’Neil, one of the best Speakers of the American Congress used to say that “all politics are local. Atiku would not be forgotten when the time comes.
Atiku had seized his amazing power and clout to help the North in much the same way like Awolowo had single-handedly opened up the old West in a way that no other Region was able to match. He had particularly focussed the Universal Basic Education Program for the strategic revival of Education in all of the North. Atiku has not only become “the veritable phoenix” of the Nigerian democratic future, he is, without any question, the very center of gravity in Obasanjo’s First Term as President. Atiku has been a quick study, and has learnt a lot under Obasanjo that should make him the right choice to succeed Obasanjo, if the North is allowed to pick the next President.
Atiku will be good for Nigeria and good for the North I completely agree with Abdulmatin Abubakar that Success is not only judged by what has been achieved alone. We also have to look at the obstacles surmounted and the bona fide efforts made and the staying power of the individual leader. My point is that “failure” is not necessarily a bad thing, if you are able to learn the right lessons from it, and choose not to repeat it, for the future. That is why William Shakespeare once had cause to say “Sweet are the uses of adversity” The Obasanjo/Atiku ticket has recorded some quiet and not so visible successes. I can tell you that Atiku can claim as much credit for those successes as Obasanjo. There have been some failings for sure. But when all is said and done, I can tell you the score card is not as terrible as we are being made to believe.
I have to believe that the relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku is redeemable and reparable. As long as Atiku hangs in there, and is not removed mid stream as Vice President, no other candidate from the North, as we know it, should have a higher claim to the presidency than him, come 2007.
If IBB is 007, whatever that means, Atiku may well be our 2007. Keep hope alive. “Ma gana ya kare. Shi ke na”.