Pendulum: AN EVENING WITH TWO PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANTS IN ABUJA
Fellow Nigerians, nothing is more uppermost in the minds of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria than that of Nigeria’s general elections next year and, in particular, the Presidential race. I have had the honour of talking to a few of the Presidential aspirants in recent times, one or one or by telephone. So far, I have interacted with former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Cross River State Governor, Mr Donald Duke, the Chairman of BEN TV London, Mr Alistair Soyode, and my former running-mate, Dr Yunusa Tanko. Two nights ago, I succeeded in sitting down with two very formidable aspirants, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, at their homes in Abuja. The separate meetings, which took place one after the other, lasted till the wee hours of Friday morning.
I was simply curious to catch a glimpse of their mind-set and, trust me, my efforts truly paid off. First to receive me two nights ago was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Sitting down with this friendly leader is always a great delight. This occasion was not different. We discussed frankly and openly. His confidence level is truly that of a man who has been in the system, and in the race, longer than most of the other aspirants. Before I go into details of our latest conversation, let me do a recap of my general observations of the ruling party, APC, and the leading opposition party, PDP.
I was one of those who suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari has no business seeking re-election, on account of age and diminishing stamina, but that advice seems to have been rubbished and dismissed by his apparent decision to go ahead, and contest again, next year despite the obvious. Though it is now belated, I wish to place it on record that the best way for APC to retain power is for President Buhari to do the unexpected, sacrifice his personal ambition and hand over to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was able to relatively stabilise and unite Nigeria while the President was away on medical vacation in Nigeria. I wish to assure the President that he would get accolades and a louder ovation than he did when he honoured Chief Moshood Abiola and June 12 recently. President Buhari, by this decision, would instantly kill several birds with one stone. He would have helped Nigeria kill the hydra-headed nonsense of unproductive zoning and ethnic jingoism. He would have also rubbished those who see and label him as a religious bigot and Islamic extremist which no one has been able to prove in concrete terms except through conspiracy theories. He would also have bequeathed to Nigeria a more than worthy successor who he can be confident will vigorously continue with the fight against corruption, whilst taking Nigeria to greater economic heights.
Failing to do this, the President would lead his embattled and beleaguered party into a war they are not likely to win, and risk being humiliated out of power and totally demystified forever. For the sake of all the fervent supporters who laboured strenuously for his victory in 2015, this is not the road and route to take. But I know this simple and straight-forward and patriotic suggestion would be dismissed and derided by those who view power as the beginning and end of life, the present beneficiaries who are ruling our country from behind the “iron” curtain. In the next few weeks, as the melodrama begins to unfold and explode in the faces of those who have failed to learn the lessons and examples of history, let it be said and remembered that I said my own, even if my saying was considered a heresy and anathema to their obstinate position and ambition.
Let’s now briefly move on to likely scenarios and possibilities. It is certain that going by the recent National Convention of APC many formidable members of the ruling party are more than disenfranchised and disgruntled. The only option left is for them to carry whatever is left of their dignity and self-worth and find other parties to join. Most naturally, and definitely, the greatest beneficiary will turn out to be PDP. APC would be shooting itself in the foot to think PDP has become so weak and can no longer spring any surprises in the near and foreseeable future. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself and what I can see very vividly from my crystal-ball is that the same grand conspiracy that swept PDP out of government in 2015 is about to recur with mathematical accuracy.
There is not a single State won by APC in 2015 that it can confidently say it would win bigger and better this time. Rather the figures would shrink and diminish. If in doubt, please, exercise patience. That is how divided the seemingly unifying party at the time has now become. The war of attrition within the party is eating at its very soul and core and it is making it to bleed and lose supporters and voters. The chickens will certainly come home to roost.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is upbeat that this is payback time for him and he is ready to finally claim the mandate that has eluded him since 1993 when he had to step down for Chief Moshood Abiola and in 2003 when he succumbed to pressure and allowed his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to seek and secure a second term. For him, life is a journey of destiny. He believes no one is as prepared and ready to hit the grand running as him. I asked if he is very sure that he will get the PDP ticket, his response is that he has reached out to all the stakeholders and he believes that those who don’t want Buhari to come back are very serious about who they see as having the national appeal to defeat him at the polls. His mathematical permutation is that he is the most visible and readily recognisable Nigerian politician in the race.
He says the Nigerian government has lost total grip on all aspects of governance and that President Buhari appears to be totally confused. He believes Buhari has refused to tap into the huge human resources and talents it has pleased God to bless Nigeria with. He is of the opinion that Nigeria is bleeding dangerously because Buhari has virtually polarised the country like no one else since the civil war. “Therefore, the leader Nigeria needs urgently is one who can unite the country and heal the deep wounds, not another Buhari who would further divide Nigeria and deepen the wounds,” Atiku declared matter-of-factly. He is relying on his track record as someone with the requisite cosmopolitan experience and exposure. He said Nigeria is being led by those whose views belong in the stone age and if Nigerians give him the chance, they will see the difference instantly, because he would assemble the best and most competent Nigerians for the best posts as he’s always done.
“Check my records Dele, my office as Vice President reflected the best of Nigeria; the guys were young and vibrant, and I gave them the wings to fly…” he said. I asked how he intends to tackle the seemingly pervasive public perception that he is a corrupt leader and he responded with all the emphasis at his command: “I have thrown the challenge repeatedly that anyone who has any corrupt charges against me should come forward… I never stole government money. Do you think President Obasanjo would not have exposed me if there was any such act of stealing?”
I fired the next shot as always and told him Nigerian youths are asking why he cannot enter the United States and he answered again like he did during our last chat in Lagos: “The youths have every right to ask and be answered convincingly. The youths of today are confident and bold. No leader can treat them as nobody. But in my case, they have been lied to about Atiku and fed with a lot of propaganda. I applied to America for visa which was not granted. A man who is afraid of being arrested won’t go near the American Embassy, it is simple logic. If America says come today, I will board the flight and go there soonest. Perhaps, America was fed with lies about me. It is normal in politics. The Indian and Kenyan leaders could not visit America at a time. America is not like Nigeria where we convict people on the pages of newspapers.”
He pleaded that his business dealings are above board and very professional and that any of our past and current leaders who have done better should come out to show what they have done. “I will definitely create an enabling environment for our business icons and young entrepreneurs to thrive. What I see today in this government is the promotion of poverty and the glorification of backwardness. How can a government be gloating that they are fighting corruption when thousands if not millions are losing jobs and even their lives,” he opined.
Before I left, he said he has done his best to persuade members of his party about his ability to defeat Buhari and reverse our lack of progress. ‘Nigeria has to be managed as serious business and I’m certainly equipped in that aspect more than any other…”
I left him and headed to Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso’s home. We had met in South Africa last year and I was looking forward to this interaction. Our recent meeting was graciously arranged by his wonderful son, Mubarak, a much younger friend of mine, very calm and intelligent. Kwankwaso was having dinner with his hordes of supporters when his son sent him a message that I was around. He immediately asked that I should be ushered in to join them at dinner, but I already had mine. He looked very relaxed despite the tension of the moment. I waited for him to finish and we moved into his small office. He reminds me of the friend of the ‘talakawa’, in the mold of late Mallam Aminu Kano.
My first question to him was if he’s still in APC since he boycotted their National Convention in Abuja last week. He smiled, almost sarcastically, and said, it was obvious some people did not want to see his face there and he too did not dignify them with his presence. “A man who respects himself should never force himself on anyone,” he stated. He said he is proud of his contributions to APC and how God used him to deliver 1.9 million votes to Buhari in the last election. Does he mean he has finally dumped the party? He appeared serious this time without exhibiting any bitterness: “I’m a free man now and available to try my luck elsewhere but I know that PDP is the biggest party and as long as they follow democratic principle, Buhari will easily be defeated, but if they handpick and force any candidate on the party, they will fail. “
I really enjoyed the way he analysed things and broke down the politics of Presidential electioneering in his own simple terms: “PDP needs someone from the 3k States, Kano, Katsina and Kaduna to win the next election. That’s where the votes are. It would be difficult to win if they pick someone from any other zone…” This was new approach to me. So, I asked if he feels he is the only candidate who can beat Buhari in a popularity contest, he said “of course, yes.” He likes to showcase his humongous achievements as the Governor of Kano State. He has compiled his work into a book and I must say, it is very impressive. He expects Nigerians to allow him replicate what he has done in Kano nationwide. His experience also as a former Defence Minister makes him a veritable choice to tackle the menace of terrorism in Nigeria.
He claims he gave APC the structure that produced the monumental result that catapulted Buhari back to power and that he still holds that magic wand. He said there is no way Buhari can repeat such impressive showing in Kano when he is fighting him and his counterpart, the former Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau. He studiously avoided discussing the chances of Atiku picking the PDP ticket and if he would support who ever emerges as the flagbearer of the party. His simple and non-committal response is that he cannot hand votes over to those who are not better than him and that PDP would have to think well and make the best decision.
“I can guarantee them that I will beat Buhari if given the chance…” he declared before we stood up to take pictures to commemorate our meeting. As I said good night, I could see the face of a man so determined to go into battle with Buhari, but in need of a good and viable platform.
By Dele Momodu
The next days ahead should be very interesting indeed …