Monday, 9 September 2013

Read Simon Kolawole's Piece: The Return Of Atiku Abubakar

  Reports of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s political death have been grossly exaggerated, as Mark Twain would have said. When the former vice-president was beaten to the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, the conclusion of many commentators, including me, was that Atiku had been finally retired from politics.
Having been seeking to be President of Nigeria since 1993, and having failed to beat Jonathan to the ticket despite his deft calculations - including the Northern consensus candidate arrangement - Atiku could easily have been written off by anyone. But not by himself.

You only underrate Atiku at your own peril
As ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo would privately testify, even if he would openly deny being rattled by his VP for at least five of the eight years both of them shared in Aso Rock. President Jonathan, too, is gradually discovering that his immediate adversary is not the All Progressives Congress (APC) - as has been widely believed - but Atiku, who is fronting a coalition against Jonathan right inside the PDP rather than from the outside. Events at the August 31 PDP Special National Convention have shown that Atiku is still one of Nigeria’s foremost architects of political strategy.

Many Nigerians had a wrong interpretation of what happened during the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) chairmanship election. They thought there was a fight between the good guys and the bad guys in an attempt to “rescue” Nigeria’s democracy. I did warn then that it was all politics, nothing more. It was not about democracy and dictatorship. Some onlookers extravagantly celebrated Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s victory as a plus for the APC and an indication of how the PDP would be defeated in the 2015 elections. Even the APC went into festival mode. The media even reported that eight PDP governors were about to join the APC as a fall-out of the NGF saga!

But the picture should be getting clearer now. Do the calculations. All the opposition governors in Amaechi’s camp were 11. If all the 23 PDP governors had voted against him, he would have lost. However, eight PDP governors, who are in alliance with Atiku, went against their party’s position by voting for Amaechi. Unknown to many, this was not an endorsement of the APC, but an internal rebellion against the PDP hierarchy to make a statement against Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. It was the first in a series of steps to move for his removal as the PDP chairman.

The mathematics of the NGF election can be simplified thus: 6 ACN governors + 2 ANPP governors (one abstained) + 1 APGA governor + 1 CPC governor + 9 PDP governors (including Amaechi) = 19 votes for Amaechi. Six of the eight PDP governors who signed the communiqué endorsing Jonah Jang but later voted for Amaechi are now out in the open: Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Rabiu Kwakwanso (Kano), Aliyu Wamako (Sokoto) and Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara). We don’t know the remaining two yet.

Events at the PDP convention should start making sense to onlookers by now. By asking for the removal of Tukur, the Atiku faction is strategising to take over the party’s structure. The problem is not Tukur per se, but that Jonathan is in charge of the structure. If Tukur is sacked and the next chairman is Jonathan’s man, it will still not end the crisis. However, if the Atiku faction can’t take over the PDP structure (to scuttle Jonathan’s obvious intention to seek re-election in 2015), they may move to the just-registered Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) as a fall-back position. But I don’t see Atiku defecting from the PDP yet ─ he understands quite well that in an underdeveloped democracy, the ruling party is a surer route to power.

You cannot but admire Atiku’s understanding of the game of politics. He doesn’t always win, I agree, but you can hardly fault his tactical moves. In 2003, Obasanjo tried to drop him as running mate, but Atiku successfully rallied the PDP governors against him at the party’s presidential primary, so much so Obasanjo had to practically beg before getting the return ticket. He had to retain Atiku. But for Obasanjo’s use of raw state power, he could not have stopped Atiku from becoming president in 2007. As we approach 2015, Atiku is smelling blood again. He is working with Northern governors against Jonathan, with the support of his erstwhile foes - Obasanjo and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

What makes Atiku tick? I have studied him for a while and identified some of his strong points. One, he is a coalition builder. He can bring friends and foes together. Two, he is broad-minded. Until he started playing up Hausa/Fulani sentiments in 2011 because of his presidential ambition, Atiku was easily one of the most broad-minded Nigerian politicians: no religious, ethnic or sectional bias. Three, he builds loyalty. He has associates and supporters who are ever ready to stand for him. Four, he easily reconciles with his adversaries. Years ago, it was inconceivable that Atiku would be working so closely with Obasanjo and Babangida, or even Nyako, given their previous acrimonies.

Critically, Atiku is a game reader. He looks out for the currents and rides the wave, as we have seen in the events leading to the factionalisation of the PDP. The “New PDP” is a coalition of different interests those who feel marginalised by Jonathan since the last presidential election despite sweating very hard for him; those eyeing Aso Rock in 2015; those who feel wounded by recent party decisions such as suspensions and expulsions; and Obasanjo and his supporters whose political and business interests have been hurt in many ways. What other strong politician can front this battle if not Atiku, a veteran of political warfare?

But how will this game end? In 2011, Atiku successfully edged out the other Northern presidential contenders in the PDP through the “consensus” arrangement. Can he, with the factionalisation of the PDP, also successfully edge out the Northern PDP governors who are eyeing Aso Rock too? After all, he can claim to be their “political senior” and ask them to step down for him as the core North seeks to take back Aso Rock. Alternatively, will he use the PDM platform if the factionalisation does not work? 
Will he collaborate with the APC, which is also hoping to return power to the North in 2015? Will he eventually forgo his presidential ambition and merely help organise the return of power to the North? Plenty questions. I wish I had the answers.
By Simon Kolawole

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