Atiku: From the brink to reckoning

Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, at Tuesday’s press conference in Abuja, took a swipe at the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, accusing the president of needlessly depleting the country’s foreign reserves. That was his first public outing after his emergence on Monday as the consensus candidate of the North for the 2011 presidential ticket of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). His selection has unarguably brought some excitement to a campaign that has become lackluster owing to the endless wait for constitutional amendment and amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act to accommodate postponement of the election from January to April. Also, with yesterday’s release of the election time table by INEC, the tempo of political activities will pick up again.

The timing of the announcement of the North’s consensus candidate for the 2011 election appears to be perfect. That is not lost on Atiku as he is already basking in the euphoria of his imminent struggle with Jonathan, a contest that pronmises to be titanic. Already, there are reports that as many as 17 northern governor and nine others from the South have reached out to him within 24 hours of his selection.

The choice of Atiku over former military president, Ibrahim Babangida; former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau and Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki by the consensus committee of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum did not come as a surprise to many observers given that there had been speculations in the last two weeks that the committee led by veteran politician, Adamu Ciroma, might actually give the nod to Atiku

For Atiku, what has happened is like coming back from the brink or even as some may say, from a political valley. His finest political moments were in the first two years of ex-Prersident Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term as civilian president. Atiku, as vice president, became the most powerful Number 2 man in Nigeria’s history. While Obasanjo was busy globetrotting around the world, Atiku was put firmly in charge of the economy. He was put in charge of the administration’s privatisation programme and the federal government’s interface with state governors. He built enormous goodwill among the governors of that period and some say, his personal financial fortunes also moved northwards.

But then midway into that first tenure, there was a huge crack in government and the then vice president soon found out that he was holding the short end of the stick. Their relationship was so bad that even after Obasanjo declared that he was going to seek a second term in office he was reluctant to announced Atiku as his running mate.

On his part, Atiku was reluctant to back his boss for a second short at the presidency. He was once quoted as saying in a BBC Hausa service interview that he had the option of running as a presidential candidate or back former vice president, Alex Ekwueme, who at the time was challenging Obasanjo for the presidential ticket of the ruling party. It is said that Obasanjo had to go down on his knees before Atiku mobilized the governors to support him and he ran with Atiku for the second tenure.

Events later proved to Atiku that he had a serious mistake supporting Obasanjo. The relationship between both men once Obasanjo won the 2003 election for second term went from bad to worse. To ensure that Atiku never succeeded him in 2007, Obasanjo told PDP governors to shop for a 2007 presidential candidate from among them. In addition, a fresh registration in the party effectively shut the then vice president out of the party. Jubril Aminu, a senator from Adamawa, was the leader of the party in the state and under his watch, Atiku was denied re-registration.

Using his extensive contacts, he then founded a new political party, the Action Congress (now Action Congress of Nigeria ACN) but owing to protracted legal battles he had to fight before getting a green light to contest the 2007 election, Atiku went into the contest thoroughly bruised and exhausted politically.

The period from 2007 to early this year marked a kind of political wilderness for Atiku but when the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua died in May this year, he felt he could come back to PDP with the hope of running in 2011 to complete the two terms allocated to the North based on the informal zoning arrangement the ruling party had adopted in a caucus meeting held in December 2002.

When Atiku made the decisive move to leave AC for PDP a few months ago, not a few people felt the former vice president had made a great mistake. Not many people in the ruling party were enthusiastic that he was coming back to the party. His trouble started at the home front in Adamawa, where the state chapter of the party in initially refused to grant him a waiver.

Even before he was yet to resolve that issue, he declared interest to run for presidency on the ruling party’s platform. He worked tirelessly to get the waiver. The rest as is commonly said is history.

With his endorsement by the Northern political elite to contest for the ticket of the party for the 2011 election, Atiku has bounced back from political wilderness and the coming months will be interesting in the politics of Nigeria.

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