Since the announcement was made of Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party on the 7th of October, many reactions have been generated across all circles in the country. Even as the official ban on election campaign has been lifted, many of these reactions had not gone down. Instead, they are brewing hot day by day. For many, he is definitely the only man from the opposition camp that can give President Muhammadu Buhari a hot contention come February 16, 2019. But the way he emerged was rather surprising. No one would have imagined he would win the party primaries with such a landslide especially when one takes into consideration those that contested for the ticket with him. Those he beat to the party ticket include Senate President Bukola Saraki, Senator David Mark, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Sule Lamido, Ahmed Makarfi, and Jonah Jang. With a vote of 1,532, the closest person to him was Aminu Tambuwal who had 693. This was a difference of 829. With his emergence, one can easily say he enjoys popular support from his party members. But the way money was said to have exchanged hands would fault that conclusion. However, he wasn’t the only one who threw money around during the party primary. But as they would describe it on the street, money pass money. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was only the amount of money he shared that gave him the ticket. As it could be seen by many within and outside the party, he is the strongest man from the PDP that can garner enough votes that can probably see the opposition party return to Aso Villa.
As a politician, Atiku Abubakar has been around in the political space for about three decades now. His itinerary in Nigeria politics began in 1991 when he contested for the governor of the defunct Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba states), two years after he left the Nigeria Customs Service as the Deputy Director to venture into business and full-time politics. In the build-up to the annulled June 3rd, 1993 election, he said he stepped down for late Chief M.K.O. Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He contested and won the governorship seat of Adamawa state under PDP in 1998. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as the country’s president in February 1999, Atiku Abubakar was chosen by PDP to be the vice-president. It could be said albeit not impeccable that he enjoyed a hitch-free first term with his boss up till 2003. Trouble began when he opposed Obasanjo’s third term ambition and Obasanjo would not let him succeed him to the number one seat in the country. Besides, some corruption cases were brought against him and he is still being haunted by that till date.
Because of the strained relationship with his boss, he defected from PDP to the newly formed Action Congress (AC) in 2006. In the presidential election that followed in 2007, he got his party’s mandate to run. Atiku contested against late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The election was won by PDP and ANPP came second and AC third. This particular election was bedeviled with many electoral malpractices across the federation. The results from the state were not released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the chairmanship of Maurice Iwu. In fact, the late Umaru Yar’Adua confessed that the election that brought him into office was not free and fair. Overall, PDP had 24,638, 063 votes, ANPP 6,605,299 and AC 2,637,848.
Atiku remained in Action Congress till 2009 before defecting back to the PDP. This was a miscalculated move in the hope of getting PDP’s ticket to contest the 2011 presidential election. It was Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that got the party’s ticket having polled 2,736 votes at the primary election as against Atiku’s 805. Had he remained in Action Congress that had turned Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) by this time, he could have dislodged Nuhu Ribadu as the party’s candidate for that year’s presidential election. In that election, ACN came third with 2,079, 151 behind PDP that polled 22, 616, 416 votes and Congress for Progressive Change(CPC) with 12, 250, 853 votes.
In his search for a perfect place to contest for the presidency, Atiku again left PDP in 2013 to team up with the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC), a merger of the three major opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Tom Ikimi. His defection was hinged on PDP’s choice of Goodluck Jonathan as the consensus candidate of the party. Unfortunately for him, it was Muhammadu Buhari that emerged as APC’s candidate for the 2015 presidential election with 3,430 votes in the primary election of the party held on the 10th of December, 2014. APC would go on to win the general election with a total vote of 15, 424, 921 as against PDP’s 12, 853, 162 votes.
In his usual prostitute-like movement of crisscrossing from one party to another, he announced his defection back to Peoples Democratic Party in a Facebook live chat in the evening of December 3rd, 2017. This time around that had paid off for him and he had finally got what he wanted from his journey in the political space. People from Buhari’s camp know in their heart of hearts that he would be a formidable opponent at the next election, no matter how they might try to conceal it. But because Atiku has never won an election against Buhari on a one-on-one basis, they could have a reason to rejoice. In the 2007 presidential election that the two men lost, Buhari had 3,967,451 votes more than Atiku. When the two men also contested for the APC presidential ticket alongside Rabiu Kwankwaso and Rochas Okorocha in 2014, it was Buhari that won. Atiku did not even finish second but third with 954 votes. The difference between his votes and that of Buhari was 2,476. If history is anything to go by, one might be convinced to say history always has a way of repeating itself in different shades at different times and Atiku might again lose. But when one considers the “anything but Jonathan” shout that preceded the last presidential election and a similar cry that is now being made about the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, one might be convinced to say Atiku has a better chance of winning. Of course, many Nigerians are disappointed that having ridden on the back of change and integrity to Aso Villa, President Muhammadu Buhari, had hitherto performed woefully in all spheres of the term, more than the former occupant of that place according to many Nigerians.
In reality, the only advantage that Buhari has over Atiku in this coming election is the presidential leverage which we’ve seen at work in times past except during the election that birthed the rule of APC. Otherwise, the two men have a large followership in the north, Buhari in the North West and Atiku in the North East. This means they would both have to depend on votes from the southern part of Nigeria to a large extent. From recent history, one can say PDP would win the south-east and probably south-south where it has a large electorate base and also the choice of Peter Obi as running mate to Atiku. However, that cannot be confidently said about APC and the south-west especially with the way federal power was wielded at both Ekiti and Osun governorship elections and the way the ruling party was accused of being an unfair player truncating the will of the people. Religion might be said to have a limited role to play in the coming election as both men are Muslims.
The integrity that could have been Buhari’s ‘selling point’ in this two-horse race is being questioned by a large percentage of Nigerians with the activities of those within the president’s circle with many of them being named in one case of corruption or another. With Atiku as an ‘advocate’ of restructuring which might be one of the deciding factors in the election, he might win many people to his side. But that again is not going to be easy. The APC has promised to make their campaign an issue-based one and the PDP has even started that by giving the ruling party a list of fourteen posers to respond to in October. Besides, Atiku now has the support of his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. In times past, the Obasanjo-effect on presidential elections were overwhelming albeit being inconspicuous as it was in 2015. Even as the campaign has just started, many Nigerians have decided who they are going with and no campaign will make them change their mind. In fact, social media has been buzzing and much propaganda is being circulated across all platforms.
The two men, Atiku and Buhari, have a long history in Nigeria’s politics and one could be assured of a keenly-contested election that would be decided by external factors as the men were not themselves the best to hold the scepter of power. Buhari is an old man of 75 that does not possess the political sagacity to govern a 21st-century Nigeria. Atiku is not better off as he is also close to his 72nd birthday. But as it is now, this is the best time for Atiku to win the election. If he loses, he would be 77 in 2023 and would be too old in the face of the political evolution in the country.
It is without a doubt the two men are not ideal personalities. But they are with the political wherewithal to win the election and we would have to make do with either of them. None of them can be assured of victory but one of them will surely win. Who the winner will be time will tell. For now, other candidates have no chances at all except for some kind of divine intervention that has never been witnessed before in the country’s political space. It is worth saying that the election will be an interesting one and no one can assure himself of victory on a platter of gold. The two candidates have ‘equal’ chances of winning and losing the election. We can only rest our backs as the campaign gets underway all over the country and watch as propagandas collide with one another as we move closer and closer to the election.
God bless Nigeria.
Segun Ogunlade writes in from University of Ibadan, Ibadan.