Nigeria: Atiku Under Storms As Fayose, Ortom, Obasanjo Fire Salvos

Atiku Abubakar faces a major hurdle. Since the commencement of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, no president has been elected to succeed another from the same region of Nigeria.

Atiku Abubakar is entangled in a web of controversies, roughly one month after clinching the ticket of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the second consecutive presidential election.

The complex crises ricocheting on the front burner of national discourse concern moral standing, zonal propriety and the democratic style of the PDP candidate.

The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, and former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, Wednesday landed uppercuts on Mr Abubakar’s presidential quest. While Mr Ortom criticised him for not choosing Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike, the candidate overwhelmingly recommended by a 17-member advisory committee of which the Benue governor was a member, as his running mate, Mr Fayose emphatically reaffirmed his commitment to power shift to the southern half of Nigeria in 2023.

Mr Ortom accused the candidate of failing to honour the democratic choice in the selection of his running mate. He also berated him for failing to reach out to Mr Wike and other aggrieved members of the party after picking Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, for the slot.

Mr Ortom, who spoke in an interview on Arise TV, said he was waiting for God’s direction on whether to campaign for his party’s presidential candidate or not.

On his own part, Mr Fayose, through his verified Twitter handle, stated that it was important for power to return to the South after the eight-year rule of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from Katsina State in the North-west geopolitical zone.

Atiku, PDP, Fayose and the North-South power rotation

Since his emergence as the PDP candidate against the grain of the rotational understanding, Mr Abubakar has been carrying the moral hunch of running away with a ticket that ought to have been held by someone from the southern part of the country. As the incumbent president, the opposition candidate is a Fulani-Muslim from the defunct Northern Region.

Nigeria, as a single entity, was formed through the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates of the British colonial empire on January 1, 1914. Based on a common understanding anchored on the need to foster unity and inclusiveness among the citizenry, the PDP enshrined rotation in its constitution.

Mr Fayose in his tweet harped on that provision when he contended that: “The PDP Constitution provides for a rotational Presidency. Section 3(c) provides that the party shall pursue its aims and objectives by ‘adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.”

He added: “The current President of Nigeria is a 2-term Northern Presidency, thus implying that it MUST be a Southern Presidency in 2023 or NOTHING. Awa ‘South’ lo kan’. Nigerians should await details soon.”

Since the commencement of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, no democratically elected president from either north or south has taken over power from an outgoing president from his own section or region of the country. Similarly, no president from one ethnic group has handed over to another president from his own ethnic group.

In a complex country like Nigeria, with more than 250 ethnic groups, this scenario may weigh against Mr Abubakar when all the variables and analytics are put on the table in the approach to the 2023 general elections.

However, the zoning brouhaha is by no means the only moral burden resting on Mr Abubakar’s shoulders. There is an overhang of corruption allegations and counter-allegations.

Obasanjo’s salvo and Jibrin’s ultimatum

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of PDP, Walid Jibrin, on Monday called out former President Olusegun Obasanjo and gave him 48 hours to clarify his statement that his choice of Mr Abubakar as his running mate in the 1999 presidential election was a mistake. Mr Jibrin, a northern Fulani-Muslim like Mr Abubakar, threatened to expose Mr Obasanjo unless the former president withdraws the statement.

Mr Jibrin said he would be left with no option but to expose the former president and tell Nigerians and the whole world who Mr Obasanjo is in reality if he failed to explain his statement about Mr Abubakar.

Mr Jibrin, who addressed a press conference in Kaduna, said despite the high regard the PDP has for the former president, it would be very disappointing if he indeed made the statement credited to him (Obasanjo) and carried by virtually all the nation’s news platforms.

He said the statement, among others, that he made a mistake in picking Mr Abubakar as his running mate in 1999 was worrisome.

Mr Walid’s 48 hours ultimatum expired Wednesday without a response from Mr Obasanjo or Mr Jibrin as to his next line of action.

Mr Obasanjo, while reflecting on his political experience, during an interaction with some students, on Saturday, remarked that one of the costly mistakes he made in life was his choice of Mr Abubakar as his running mate in 1999.

Mr Obasanjo, who was fielding questions from selected secondary school students that participated in the final of the National Exhibition and Awards organised by Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta, said his mistake in choosing Mr Abubakar psychologically impacted him.

The former president said, in response to a question by one of the students, “One of the mistakes I made was picking my number two when I wanted to become the president. But because it was a genuine mistake, God saved me… I will say there are many things that could have been a mistake but God saved me from them all.”

Mr Obasanjo was President of Nigeria between May 29, 1999, and May 29, 2007 with Mr Abubakar as the Vice President. After serving their first four-year term from 1999 to 2003, he re-nominated Mr Abubakar as his running mate in the 2003 election which they won despite their fractured relationship.

Atiku in Obasanjo’s lens

Preparatory to the unveiling of his memoir titled ‘My Watch’, Mr Obasanjo in December 2014 called his former deputy a ‘shameless liar’ amid other accusations.

“Those who can be regarded as influential and who have publicly accused me of allegedly manipulating a third term were Atiku Abubakar, who is a blatant and shameless liar, who was behind the whole episode of turning wholesome constitutional amendment efforts of the National Assembly to a futile exercise and as a means of riding on its ashes to be Nigerian President.

“Third term was not my agenda or intention although I would not say I didn’t know about it. I didn’t mastermind third term. Those who were telling me to go on were the governors that were going to benefit from

it.

“If I did not want tenure elongation when I was military Head of State and had need to, I see no reason why I should be falsely accused of coup planning by Abacha and tenure elongation by Atiku.”

On pages 31 and 32 of the book, MY WATCH proper, Mr Obasanjo wrote about the former Vice President: “What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background which was somewhat shadowy, his propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgment, his belief and reliance on marabouts, his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out on all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety truth and

national interest for self and selfish interest.”

The former vice president on his part had fought his former boss over the third term plot to remain in office beyond eight years.

In an interview with a Hausa newspaper, RARIYA, which was translated to English and published by PREMIUM TIMES in 2013, Mr Abubakar claimed that Mr Obasanjo nursed the ambition of tenure elongation. The former vice president said one of the instances he had altercations with President Obasanjo was about the third term ambition.

Mr Abubakar quoted Mr Obasanjo as stating as follows while craving his support for a controversial third term in office as against the maximum of two terms enshrined in the constitution: “I left power 20 years ago, I left Mubarak in office, I left Mugabe in office, I left Eyadema in office, I left Omar Bongo, and even Paul Biya and I came back and they are still in power; and I just did eight years and you are asking me to go; why?”

Mr Abubakar said he responded by telling him that Nigeria is not Libya, not Egypt, not Cameroon, not Zimbabwe and not Togo. “I said (to Obasanjo) you must leave; even if it means both of us lose out, but you cannot stay.”

Messrs Fayose and Obasanjo’s missiles have again brought into public focus, the moral issues surrounding Mr Abubakar’s perennial presidential aspiration.

With Mr Fayose’s usurpation clanger added to the familiar Obasanjo salvos, the former vice president’s incubus in the coming election is now two-pronged – the odium of corruption painted by Mr Obasanjo and the Southern tenure grabbing red flag raised by Mr Fayose.

The array of accusations, true or false, is certain to negatively affect Mr Abubakar by making many people distrust him.

However, Mr Abubakar and his political foot soldiers are not resting on their oars as they have continued to respond to the allegations, dismissing some of them as baseless products of bilious politics.

PDP’s negative perception

Shrugging off the charges is a task not just for the presidential candidate but also for his party leadership under its National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu. The main opposition party, which ruled Nigeria for 16 years between 1999 and

2015, is still seen by many critics as a platform that willingly lent itself as an organ for the perpetration of sleaze and sundry opaque deals in governance.

The presidential primary of the party in Abuja which produced Mr Abubakar as the candidate was also suspected to have been egregiously dollarized. On the eve of the PDP presidential primary, one of the aspirants, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, withdrew, alleging that the contest had been ‘obscenely monetized’.

Mr Hayatu-Deen’s withdrawal came a few days after another contender, Peter Obi, withdrew from the race and resigned entirely from the PDP. Mr Obi cited ‘recent developments within the PDP’ which were incongruent with his moral conscience and made it impossible for him to continue participating and making constructive contributions.

A few days after, Mr Obi joined the Labour Party and emerged as its presidential candidate. His message, which centres on low consumption, productivity and frugality, has been making impact especially among the youthful segments of the population.

PDP and the Wike dilemma

Mr Wike may be the proverbial last straw that will break the camel’s back as far as Mr Abubakar’s controversial presidential bid is concerned. He is believed to be incensed over Mr Abubakar’s ambition and alleged shifty stance. Judging by Mr Wike’s well-known stance on power rotation and the manner he was elbowed out at the presidential primary in May, will PDP be able to pacify and rekindle his faith in the party?

Mr Fayose exclusively told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that he could wager that Mr Wike would never support the current presidential bid of Mr Abubakar. The former Ekiti State governor insisted that power must shift to the southern part of Nigeria in 2023 after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.

Mr Fayose exclusively told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that he could wager that Mr Wike would never support the current presidential bid of Mr Abubakar. The former Ekiti State governor insisted that power must shift to the southern part of Nigeria in 2023 after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.

So far, Mr Okowa’s choice has not excited many PDP apparatchiks in the South, including some incumbent and former governors like Mr Fayose, and Mr Okowa’s two predecessors as governor of Delta State – James Ibori and Emmanuel Uduaghan.

“Wike never said he wanted to be VP, but when Atiku visited him, he was the one who said, ‘I want you to be my VP’. He said that to Wike. If that then changes, is Wike not supposed to be told? Is he not supposed to know?” Mr Fayose told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr Fayose berated Mr Abubakar for ignoring the recommendation of a committee set up by the PDP leadership to shortlist his running mate. “PDP set up a committee to recommend a running mate for the candidate and the committee voted and picked Wike, but they didn’t comply with the recommendation of the committee,” Mr Fayose fumed.

“If the party is now a one-man show, we will show them that we can resist it. We are with Wike 100 per cent. When they need Wike’s money and Wike’s support, they will say, ‘Wike is good enough’. Wike has been injured, but we will remain with him. Whatever he does is what we would do; wherever he asks us to go is where we will go,” the former Ekiti governor declared.

Obi and Tinubu: who benefits?

In the evolving context, either the Labour Party’s (LP) Mr Obi or Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who are the leading candidates from the South, may profit handsomely from the widening rift in the PDP, with the former being the likely beneficiary.

The ruling party is already a crowded platform by bigwigs who may not easily yield space for big rivals like Messrs Wike, Fayose and other aggrieved PDP chieftains.

On the other hand, the LP, apart from the cult following of its presidential candidate by the youth, is still literally a tabula rasa waiting to be annexed by gladiators. That position makes the party an attractive platform for aggrieved secret backers from the two leading parties – PDP and APC. Such covert backers can only come to the fore if their gambit succeeds in pulling an upset victory for the supported candidate.

Mr Fayose was non-committal when asked whether they would support either Obi or Tinubu. “This is not about Bola Tinubu or Obi, but this is about our belief that power must come to the South and it is a struggle we must actualise.

“This time, it is the turn of the South because Buhari has spent eight years. Why will PDP be insisting that it must again be the turn of the north?”

Mr Fayose also stated that he does not care if his actions are perceived as anti-party activity.

“What I am saying is, it is the turn of the South? And if they want to expel me, to hell with them. I am not taking money from anyone to belong to this party.

“If they want to rock this boat, we will help them to rock it,” the outspoken former Ekiti governor declared.

With these signals, accentuated by Mr Obasanjo’s darts, the PDP presidential candidate certainly has enough political, psychological and moral burdens to bear.

As things presently stand, all the commanding positions in the PDP are held by members from one region – the presidential flag bearer, National Chairman and the BoT Chairman.

Indeed, Mr Abubakar and the PDP leadership have a gargantuan task to stem the worsening tide and restore the confidence of all the stakeholders in the party.

Mr Abubakar, on Thursday, acknowledged that many leaders of his party were uncomfortable with his emergence and his choices. He promised to listen to their complaints.

“The @OfficialPDPNig will remain united. Focus on our actions. We are taking action to address the feelings of all party members. The unity in our community is my priority. Our resolve to unify Nigeria starts in our party and moves to the community, then on to society,” he wrote on Twitter.

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