ANALYSIS: As Atiku joins presidential race for the 4th time in 22 years, can he brace the odd this time?

Left to Right: Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar

On Wednesday (today), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar will be on the march again as he begins the process of taking another possible shot at the Nigerian presidential seat. Mr. Abubakar will, in a few hours, formally declare his intention to contest the 2015 presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Abuja.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr. Abubakar’s decision to declare his presidential bid was based on months of consultations with his political associates and supporters, the last of which was a meeting held in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, his home state on September 1.

At the meeting, the associates of the former vice president critically analysed his chances in the impending contest, not just in the APC, but also in the main presidential election fixed for February.

Although, Mr. Abubakar, who is Turaki of Adamawa, and had been linked with the registration of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, was away in Imo State where he chaired the lecture of the Progressives Governors Forum while his associates were meeting in Yola, the meeting resolved that the declaration should hold September 24 ahead of October when the APC will commence the process to pick its presidential candidate for next year’s election.

“The former Vice President, His Excellency Vice President Atiku Abubakar (GCON), the Turaki Adamawa will contest for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the 2015 presidential elections. The former Vice President will be making the declaration on Wednesday September 24, 2014,” a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu, announced five days after the meeting.

The statement said Mr. Abubakar “is of the view that 2015 is special and a potential turning point in Nigeria’s history, that we need to seize the moment, to give every Nigerian a chance to help redefine Nigeria as a place for them and their children to prosper and feel safe. He says a change is needed now, and he is ready to lead that change.”

It added that the campaign would be directed by a former Education and Aviation Minister, Babalola Borishade, a long standing political associate of Mr. Abubakar.

It stated that Mr. Borishade, a professor from Ekiti State, is a political strategist who worked for the victory of the late Shehu Yar’Adua, Moshood Abiola and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The fresh attempt at having a shot at the presidency is Mr. Abubakar’s fourth. He had in 1992 sought to occupy the presidential seat during the botched Third Republic under the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the military junta headed by Ibrahim Babangida.

He was however to withdraw for Moshood Abiola, who eventually emerged the party’s candidate and was coasting home to victory in the June 13, 1993 presidential poll when the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election.

Mr. Abubakar tried his luck again in 2007 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress, AC, on the eve of the exit of the Obasanjo administration in which he served as vice president.

A statement by Mr. Shehu on April 7, 2006 announcing the intention of Mr. Abubakar to run in the 2007 presidential election, said, “The Vice President has formed the decision to run for the 2007 presidency on the basis of united, prosperous and peaceful Nigeria. The Vice President believes he is the most experienced having been VP for seven years now going to eight years.”

The statement said Mr. Abubakar would not run Nigeria as CEO because he did not believe good leadership was about a single individual, but the ability of a leader to assemble some of the best hands to help him realize his objectives.”

Apart from the Niger Delta issue where he believed a lot needed to be done and very quickly to address it, the former vice president, who was stoutly opposed to the alleged Third term bid by his boss, Mr. Obasanjo, said he would also tackle corruption and eradicate poverty.

He formally announced his plan to contest on November 25, 2006 and was chosen as AC flag-bearer on December 20, 2006.

In that election held on April 21, the former vice president lost woefully. Going by the result of that election released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, only 2,837,848 Nigerians voted for him thus placing third behind Umaru Yar’Adua of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Muhammadu Buhari of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.

In 2011, Mr. Abubakar made another move to contest the presidency. First, he returned to the PDP and was granted waiver in September 2010. The following month he announced his plan to again seek the highest political office in the land.

Thereafter, precisely on November 22 that year, some northern elders, led by Adamu Ciroma, picked him as the northern consensus presidential candidate ahead of the former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, former Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki, former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau.

The former vice president subsequently ran in the party’s primaries in January 2011, but was roundly defeated by President Goodluck Jonathan who polled 3,542 votes to Mr. Abubakar’s 805 and Sarah Jubril’s one vote.

When he dumped the PDP for the APC in February this year, barely three months after he played a host to the party’s leaders who came to his Abuja home to woo him, those familiar with his politics easily knew Mr. Abubakar was hatching a fresh political plan. He had been virtually sidelined in the PDP and he knew the ruling party would most likely not give him an opportunity to even aspire to run.

He had complained loudly, and truly so, that the PDP was not giving him his due regard as a former number two man in the country. He was not even being invited to meetings of the relevant organs of the party.

Although Mr. Abubakar had claimed that he was merely coming to nurture the party and ensure good governance returns to Nigeria in 2015, it was not difficult to believe that he would aspire to be president on the opposition party’s platform.

In a recent interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Abubakar was asked why he insisted in occupying the nation’s presidential seat. He explained that he merely wanted to give back to Nigeria which had given him so much.

Hear him, “Must Atiku be President? No. It is not a birth right. The difference I had wished to make when I ran was to give back to a country that has done so much for me. I owe to Nigeria. Nigeria. Nigeria does not owe to me.”

He told AFP he would do better than Mr. Jonathan because of his wealth of experience. “I told Nigerians that Jonathan did not have the capacity; he didn’t have the experience. He didn’t have anything and yet they gave him the chance, the opportunity.

“And they can now see the chance and the opportunity they gave him. Of course, I am experienced than he is. I believe my capacity cannot be compared with his, in all respect.”

Perhaps! Mr. Abubakar forayed into politics in the 80s and has since built extensive political structure across the country. He teamed up with the late Shehu Yar’Adua and belonged to his political family – Peoples Democratic Movement and Peoples Front. Although he won the SDP governorship primary for Adamawa, Mr. Abubakar was disqualified from contesting by the then military junta.

In 1998, he sought to occupy the governorship seat of Adamawa State on the platform of the PDP and won. However, before the swearing in, Mr. Obasanjo picked him ahead of other contenders as his running mate and they won the February 27, 1999 presidential election.

Mr. Abubakar occupied the position for the next eight years. But before the end of his tenure, the former vice president fell out with his boss, Mr. Obasanjo who on his part did everything not only to sack him, but also to frustrate his presidential ambition.

In the statement announcing his plan to contest the presidency, the former vice president said “This is not about me. It is about our young people. It is about Nigerians. It is their future, not the past. It is about reforming government, securing the people and reconciling the nation.”

But how far will Mr. Abubakar go?

Granted that Mr. Abubakar has the financial power and political structure to prosecute the presidential contest, it is almost certain that the road will be rough for him. He will have to contend with other and equally powerful aspirants to clinch the ticket of the APC.

Although they are yet to make their bid for the presidential ticket known, there are media speculations indications that a former Head of State and chieftain of the party, Muhammadu Buhari, governors of Kano, Edo and Imo States, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, Adams Oshiomhole and Rochas Okorocha might join the race.

There are also indications that although he has not announced his exit from the PDP, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, might also seek the presidential mandate on the platform of the Nigeria’s main opposition party. It they do, the former vice president will have his hands full dislodging this equally formidable aspirants to clinch the ticket.

In the main, some of the party faithful are already drumming up support for Mr. Buhari, himself a serial presidential aspirant like Mr. Abubakar.

A forthnight ago, a group, Buhari Vanguard, organised a rally in Lagos demanding the entry of the former military leader into the presidential race.

“We’ve seen it since 1999. After 1999, when General Buhari saw what was happening in Nigeria, he entered politics. In 1999, you can remember General Buhari never said a thing about politics, but because those that came to do it did not do it he decided to enter politics,” the group’s chairman, Jasper Azuatalam, said.

“We know he is only one that can end corruption in Nigeria, the only one can promise and keep it. He has no oil well. This is the right time. Now that APC has come, it is a party with structure. And with APC, General Buhari will coast home to victory.”

Like Mr. Buhari, some groups have also emerged to back Mr. Abubakar’s ambition. Only last weekend the Atiku Support Group and a coalition of NGOs debuted in some northern states to pledge support for the former vice president.

Closely related to this is that should the APC presidential ticket go to the North, which will most likely be the case, votes from the region during the primaries will be shared by Messrs.Abubakar, Buhari and Kwankwaso. As things presently stand, the former military leader appears to have more cult-like followership than the others.

One other thing Mr. Abubakar will contend with in his bid to pick the ticket is winning the support of another leader of the party, Bola Tinubu. It is believed that one of the reasons he left the AC for the PDP in 2010 was because of his not-too-smooth relationship with the former Lagos State governor. Party sources say even now, Mr. Tinubu, who is immensely influential in the APC, is more comfortable with a Buhari presidency.

But Mr. Shehu, the former president’s media aide is certain of the outcome of his principal’s current bid for presidential power despite the odds.

“If we are not sure of getting it we won’t come out,” he told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.


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