INTERVIEW: ‘Why Atiku seems best candidate to beat Buhari in 2019’

Adekoya Boladale

Boladale Adekoya is a PDP-leaning public affairs analyst whose contributions have been featured on local and international platforms. He speaks with PREMIUM TIMES’ Head of Northern Operations, Sani Tukur, on the 2019 election and the potentials of the opposition.

Given the level of alignments going on in Nigerian politics, do you see the opposition winning the 2019 presidential election?

There are lots of indices that determine the ability of a political party to win an election. If you take the peculiarity of the Nigerian political system into focus, you will understand that while alignment can create storms in the political circle, it is not enough to guarantee victory.

For an opposition to win in Nigeria, one of the most important factors is the efficacy of the candidate the party is presenting for election. For you to defeat a sitting president, you can not afford to joke around. So the greatest test for the opposition is the presidential primaries. Once pragmatic politics is not considered over theoretical rhetoric, then they should kiss the election goodbye.

In 2014 during the All Progressive Congress’ presidential primaries, Bola Tinubu played the greatest joker by insisting that the venue be moved to Lagos instead of the conventional Eagle Square in Abuja. If the primary was held in Abuja, Rabiu Kwankwaso would have won that election. By moving it to Lagos, Mr Tinubu was able to take charge of the delegates and secure most of them for Muhammadu Buhari.

He is a pragmatic politician who understands quite well that, as an opposition then, you do not play the game with the template of the Western world or refined politics as some put it. As at then APC needed the fanatic posture of Mr Buhari in the North to solidify the sentiment and narrative already established there. Mr Tinubu understood this and even though Mr Kwankwaso was much younger and without much blemish so to speak, he was denied the ticket. What may be considered to be generally intelligent and right turns out most times to be hara-kiri in politics.

You talked about the efficacy of the candidate. We have seen young Nigerians coming up to contest, do you think they have what it takes to win elective offices?

Well, I think the influx of young Nigerians into the political process is commendable. We actually need to start building and preparing our younger generation to take over from the older ones, especially with the population we have. However, I do not think victory on a large scale is possible for the youth in 2019.

I think we should first get into the process and then gather enough experience to take charge. What that ‘Not Too Young to Run’ law did for the youth is open up the space more for participation but it is not a blanket approval to take over power. In 2019, the opposition requires the service of an experienced politician with nationwide spread that will be acceptable to everyone across the geopolitical divides.

Do you have anyone in mind?

Personally, I do not. But if I am to be analytical with you, from the array of aspirants that have shown interest directly or indirectly within the opposition, only one individual stands tall to have the pragmatic capacity to defeat Mr Buhari in 2019 and that is former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.

However, I understand that lots of horse-trading are expected to take place before the primaries, but if the Peoples Democratic Party were to be strategic, they would use their best candidate.

Why did you say this?

It is a no-brainer. Of all the aspirants who have indicated interest, none possesses the experience and political clout like Atiku. We all know he is a successful businessman and a cosmopolitan fellow who enjoys acceptability across the country irrespective of ethnic or religion.

In a time of great disunity like ours, we need someone to unite the country and create an antidote to the cancerous Buharinomics operating today. Most importantly, Atiku has an established nationwide political structure that if fused with the support of the opposition Governors and leaders, the possibility of having victory is much higher than any of the other aspirants.

But that is my personal opinion, we will wait to see how the primaries turn out.

Don’t you think Atiku is too old and could be limited in capacity as critics are saying of the incumbent?

While I subscribe to youth taking over the political process, I do not think the whole talk of age is tenable. I have a different opinion. Governance is not a training ground, what is a training ground is appointive position.

The way political office works is different from how business works. In business, you are profit-oriented and criticism is limited to the office environment. In political office, your first job is welfare, either it makes business sense or not. People will criticise your moves and you can not just fire them. So to me, what we require in 2019 is a president with experience and receptive mind and a very young cabinet made up of individuals with fresh ideas and innovations.

Atiku is often criticised as a serial defector with multiple allegations of corruption, you know?

To start with, the issue of defection will continue to reoccur in our democratic process for a while until we have been able to attain an age of maturity. Make no mistake, our democracy even though stable is still nascent compared to other countries beyond the continent of Africa. If you look across our political parties, there is no clear cut ideology we can identify any of the parties with.

If any political party is to be formed today, for it to gain traction you will need the political bigwigs to come on board. So those that are moving, including Atiku, I believe are doing so because they feel either a sense of injustice or that the party they were in was no longer representing the ideology they thought it would uphold.

I think people should look beyond political parties though and start looking at individuals. Martin Luther King Jr. at a point in his life supported the Republican Party in the United States but that same Republican Party now is being viewed by some as a White supremacy party. So I believe the issue of cross-carpeting is merely a phase that will pass with time.

On the allegations against Atiku, few years ago, a friend of mine based in Canada was writing a contribution to a political journal and I had to help him with some research works. Part of my brief was corruption cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and in my course of research I came across the U.S. Senate report many now claim to have indicted Atiku. I think the major issue with Atiku then was that he offended some very powerful individuals when he stood his ground on the third term agenda. The U.S. report many are now citing did not indict Atiku. The allegations bordered majorly on the Siemens bribery scandal and what the U.S. Senate tagged suspicious movement of funds.

If it is suspicious, is that not enough of moral and legal burden?

If you look at the Siemens issue, you will realise that making reference to it is a mere waste of time. iGate, a telephony company in partnership with Siemens wanted a contract in Nigeria and a Louisiana Congressman, William Jefferson, who happened to be the leader of Congressional Black Caucus offered to help using his African root.

Around that time, Nigeria was lobbying the international community for foreign investment and Atiku represented one of such lobby sessions. From the report I read, that was how iGate was introduced to him. Along the line, the F.B.I suspected that the Congressman was engaging in shady deals and decided to conduct investigation.

In the course of the investigation, one of the iGate executive -I have forgotten the name now- was wearing a wire unknown to Mr Jefferson. So he met with Atiku and talked about the iGate project and the company’s proposal in private without the iGate executive but when Mr Jefferson later met with the executive, he alleged that Atiku demanded $100,000 from the company before the proposal could be accepted.

The FBI provided marked bills through iGate to Mr Jefferson believing he will present to Atiku but unknown to them, the demand for bribe was actually from Mr Jefferson and not Atiku. When F.B.I later raided Mr Jefferson’s home, they found $90,000 left of the marked bills they gave to him. Mr Jefferson was later found guilty and jailed but in all fairness that has nothing to do with Atiku.

Also, as PREMIUM TIMES has reported again recently, the U.S. court that sentenced Mr Jefferson to jail did not find him guilty on all the counts where Atiku’s name was mentioned in the court documents. This logically means the court has cleared Atiku by clearing Mr Jefferson on those counts.

The second one was on the issue of suspicious founds to the United States through his wife, Douglas. Though the woman indicated- and I think the report also established that- that the funds were part of the financial requirements and obligations toward the establishment of the American University in Yola to the parent body in the States.

In fact that report stated that Atiku’s company, Intel Services got over $200million from one of the several oil companies it was providing logistics for as payment for work done. So it was established that he actually has the means outside politics to make enough money to establish the university or transfer to his wife. I think the major grudge they had with him was that his wife did not declare that her husband was a vice-president hence her accounts were not placed under the usual politically exposed persons (PEPs) status.

Generally speaking, I think it is insulting and actually undermines our sovereignty that we are demanding that an aspirant visit the United States first before he contests for the presidential position. When Barack Obama was contesting, in spite of his much publicized African root, did he at any time come to Nigeria for validation? When Donald Trump was contesting, did he pay a visit to any African country to seek approval?

Do you think he can defeat president with what many say is a ‘cult following’ in the North?

I do not know where you people are getting this lexicon from. Do not let us start ascribing what is not to anyone. Analytically, Mr Buhari does not have any cult following anywhere. Yes, there are individuals that share the same level of reasoning and ideology with him and as such follow him around but to say ‘cult’ in terms of voting population is fallacious.

Statistics have shown that whenever Mr Buhari is coming up against a Northern candidate he doesn’t do well at all. An indication that his narrative becomes non-effective when it is entirely a Northern game and in spite of the merger of the APC, the South doesn’t still trust him, in fact he barely won in the Southwest in 2015 in spite of having four of the six states under the control of his party.

With the opposition party making tremendous inroad into the North Central, once a formidable candidate is picked, victory is assured.


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