In the fifth of SaharaReporters' presidential election review series, we examine Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in a village known as Jada, in Adamawa State, Nigeria. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Atiku Abdulkadir as it was the wont, then, of the Fulani people to name their first sons after their paternal grandfathers. His father’s name was Garba Atiku Abdulkadir and his mother’s name Aisha Kande. Atiku Abubakar is the only child of his parents.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Being a devout Muslim and a disciplinarian, Atiku’s father was averse to western education, which he believed came with a baggage of laxity and immorality that could corrupt the impressionable minds of children. Atiku’s father wanted his son to be an Islamic scholar, an authority on Islamic theology who would be presiding over a madrassa. Garba Atiku wanted his only child to become a deep and inexhaustible well of Islamic knowledge that would always quench the thirst of the Muslim faithful known as Ummah for understanding God in the Islamic way. He (Atiku’s father) himself was a renowned Islamic scholar in the village. He did all he could to shield the young Abubakar from the prying eyes and the proselytizing arms of the Native Authority officials, who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region but all his efforts proved futile. However, for trying to stop Atiku from going to school, his father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 shillings.
Atiku started Primary School in January 1954 in Jada Primary School. He was registered by his mother’s elder brother as Atiku Kojoli. After the completion of his primary education in1960 he was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola. He finished his secondary school in 1965 with Grade Three in West African School Certificate Examination. Atiku proceeded to Nigerian Police College, Kaduna. He left Police for a job to make ends meet at the home front for his mother, who was a widow. His thirst for knowledge acquisition later took him to the Ahmadu Bello University in 1967 to study for a Diploma in Law programme.
CAREER BEFORE POLITICS
Towards the end of Atiku’s Diploma course, in June 1969, a team from the Federal Civil Service Commission came on a recruitment drive to the university and they recruited him into the Department of Customs and Excise. While at the Department of Customs and Excise he completed his training at the Police College in Ikeja, Lagos and at the customs training School in Ebute-Metta in Lagos. Immediately after his training in Ebute-Metta he was posted to Idi Iroko border station. In 1972, Atiku was posted to Ibadan in 1975 and promoted to Superintendent of Customs. In 1976 he was transferred to Kano. He was transferred from Kano to Maiduguri command in 1977 where he rose to become Area Comptroller. Atiku was transferred to Kaduna in 1980 and back to Apapa Ports in 1982. In 1987, Atiku was promoted to the post of a Deputy Director in charge of Enforcement and Drugs. In April 1989, aged 43, Atiku voluntarily retired from customs as a Deputy Director.
This is the 27th year since Atiku Abubakar first tried to be President. In 1992, he sought the presidential ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but he was unsuccessful, coming third in the behind winner MKO Abiola and runner-up Babagana Kingibe.
Atiku had joined the People’s Front of Nigeria (PFN) in 1989 at the behest of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the party’s founder. He became one of the National Vice-Chairmen of the party and the party’s sole financier in the defunct Gongola State. When the party was disbanded by the then Head Of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who came up with National Republic Congress (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), Atiku joined the SDP.
On August 21, 1991 Babaginda created Adamawa and Taraba States from Gongola State. Atiku constested for the governorship position of the newly created Adamawa State; he purportedly won the primary election but the election was said to be marred by violence and so cancelled on the instruction of the head of state.
Atiku joined the Peoples Democratic Movement(PDM) when the military announced its transition programme in 1998. PDM would later come together with other groups to form what is now known as Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). He was chosen by Olusegun Obasanjo, who had defeated Alex Ekwueme to clinch the PDP presidential ticket, as his running mate. Before Obasanjo chose him as his running mate, Atiku had also defeated his perennial rival, Bala Takaya of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), to win the governorship election in Adamawa.
Together with Obasanjo they won the presidential election in 1999. They re-contested in 2003 and won again.
In 2007, he defected to the Action Congress(AC). He won the party’s presidential ticket. He contested and came third behind Umaru Yar’Adua of PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP, who came first and second respectively. After the election, he defected back to PDP.
In the buildup to the 2015 election, he defected to the newly formed ‘merger’ party – All Progressives Congress (APC).
His geo-political zone. Atiku’s influence in the politics of the Northern Nigeria generally is huge. His political clout in the North-East especially in Adamawa and Taraba, which used to form the old Gongola State, is immense and almost immeasurable. He is the Waziri of Adamawa State, the most senior kingmaker in the Adamawa emirate, which makes him a confidant and adviser of Lamido — the king of Adamawa. He will leverage this position to garner massive votes.
He has a network of friends that cuts across the nation. Atiku is a retired customs officer and successful businessman which has helped him to build a vast network of friends across the country. This is a big plus for his political ambition.
Political experience. He is a veteran on the political terrain of Nigeria. He’s been on the scene for the past three decades. He knows the lay of the political land and knows how to navigate his way through the torrid terrain. He is a two-time Vice-president; a former presidential aspirant of the SDP and Action Congress (AC). In fact, he came third in the 2007 election, polling 2,637,848 votes (7.45%) behind Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP who polled 6,605,299 (18.66%) and Umaru Yar’Adua, the winner who had 24,638,063(69.60%). This factor may make some people think he is the right man for the job.
Choice Of running mate. Atiku’s running mate is Peter Obi, the two-time former Governor of Anambra State who is also an astute businessman and politician. Obi’s south-eastern bloc will massively give their votes to their son. Don’t forget they have always complained of marginalization in the scheme of things in Nigeria. Nnamdi Azikwe once served in the top echelons of government but it was as a ceremonial Governor General and titular president. The closest they ever got to the exalted seat of power, apart from Zik’s time, was when the late Alex Ekwueme served as a second in command to the late Shehu Shagari. This, no doubt, is a grist to the mill of Atiku’s campaign machinery and by extension his political ambition.
There is also the Association of Aggrieved Politicians (AAP). Atiku will be counting on the support and political clout of disgruntled politicians who defected from the APC to the PDP. The politicians are so desperate that they will stop at nothing — if they really want remain politically relevant — to ensure Atiku emerges victorious at the poll. This is because failure at the poll might sound their political death knell.
Unimpressive voter demography. Though Atiku is an influential politician in the North, his main stronghold is the north-east geopolitical zone. Unfortunately, his geopolitical zone and that of his running mate have the lowest number of registered voters, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The northeast has 11,289,293(13.44%) registered voters while the southeast has 10,057,130(11.97%) registered voters. This is a big minus for the Atiku camp.
His privatization drive. One of the thrusts of Atiku’s manifesto is privatization of public assets. He categorically said during one of his speeches that he would privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Not that privatization is bad in itself but Nigerians cannot forget that Atiku presided, as head of the National Council on Privatization, over the sale of several public enterprises which have gone moribund. This privatization idea may be considered suspect in some quarters especially when Atiku’s alleged corruption baggage is reckoned in the political calculation. Privatisation may work against Atiku.
And, finally, corruption and the Obasanjo factor. No politician in recent memory has been accused of involvement in corrupt practices more than Atiku Abubakar. He has even been investigated on cases bordering on corruption on several occasions, and he has been found guilty on a couple of occasions. From Nigerian Ports Authority case to being linked with the US congressman William Jefferson who was sentenced to 13 years in a US jail for bribing Nigerian officials in 2007. In fact, a Senate investigation in 2006 found Atiku guilty of illegally taking funds belonging to the Petroleum Training Development Fund (PTDF).
His former boss wrote reams about Atiku, using unprintable words in his book ‘MY WATCH’. Though they seem to have buried the hatchet now, most Nigerians will not forget those words, believing it was a dispassionate assessment of Atiku by his former boss. This, of course, will count against him.