Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is contending with perhaps one of the most painful political headaches in his political career: the existential threat to his political ambition as well as his party, PDP.
He has had too many of these political irritants threatening to force the sun to set on the morning of his political carrier since becoming Chief Obasanjo’s vice president in 1999. Is Kismet amusing itself at his expense? Perish the thought.
Recall, if you may, his crisis with Obasanjo in their second term in office when Abubakar was stripped of all responsibilities and all his political aides were fired. Obasanjo did not fire him because he could not fire him. Abubakar was humiliated but he refused to give in to self-pity over his shabby treatment in the hands of his principal.
They called him names; they pinned allegations of corruption on him. His calm and stoic posture defeated his traducers. He disappointed those who expected him to resign and go home, head bowed, from the second highest political office in the land. He went on to contest presidential nominations and elections, including the 2019 presidential election.
He is seeking the presidency for the fourth time. He is flying the PDP flag in 2023 as he did in 2019. He has thus equalled President Buhari’s record. It remains to be seen if he, like Buhari, would be the fourth time lucky. There won’t be a fifth time for him.
When Abubakar emerged the presidential candidate of his party, PDP, I shook my head in disappointment. I thought he knew that the clamour for power shift from the north to the south in 2023 was not idle noise. It was rooted in a new moral political code incubated by the largely unexpressed views but strong wishes of the masses of our people rooting for justice and fairness in politics and governance in which no section of the country is denied the right to aspire to the highest political office in the land.
I am a strong advocate of power shift or power rotation between the north and the south. We had had it four times before now. If we scuttle this process now and give in to the temptation, if not the greed, of hoarding power in one section of the country, it will take something away from the good health of our national politics. I thought that Abubakar knew more than most that hoarding power in one section of the country is a wrong approach to uniting our fractious and atomistic country.
Why did he choose not to listen to the clamour and be the statesman he is supposed to be? Is he motivated by self-interests or by national interest? It is not one of the easiest things to know about politicians. But when I read his declaration speech of March 22, I perked up my ears. Something in it resonated with me. He said, “As one people with one future we will be one country.” Brief but profound. Later in the speech he said, “The 2023 election is not just the usual elections; it is a referendum to decide whether we want greatness or continuous destruction. It is a choice between two paths: the path of unity and progress or the path of division and backwardness.”
I am a sucker for profundity in thoughts, words, and deeds. It was something we found among the politicians of the first and second republics. It is about vision and breath in the essential task of human and resource management. It is something absent in our current crop of politicians, some of whom have elevated inarticulate dullness in thoughts and words to an ugly art.
Abubakar seems to wish to project a new national image we can all relate to and together we can pull the country from the rut of incompetence and mediocrity into which it has been sunk. I did not forgive his decision to run but his speech points to the fact that he has what it takes to give whoever emerged as APC presidential candidate a good run for his money. Abubakar looked strong. I began to entertain fond hopes of profound political debates that will uplift the national conversation by men who are not stuck in the mud of our national fault lines and driven to make vague promises that mean less to them than they do to the people.
And then suddenly, things began to look rough for him. First was the dust kicked up by his choice of governor Okowa of Delta State as his running mate. His party has found itself increasingly embroiled in internal sabotage with governor Wike of Rivers State leading the charge against his own party. It is a disturbing development. We can only laugh to cry.
The current clamour by Wike and his supporters is for the national chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, to resign. Ayu survived a vote of confidence at the last national executive committee of the party. I would not know why members of his party are baying for his blood. Still, I find it disturbing. The crisis in PDP at this critical time in the election season cannot but have a negative impact not just on the forthcoming elections but on our patchy-patchy democracy itself. It is a great setback for the country. We are beginning to walk backwards.
Abubakar’s own party members are pulling the rug from under his feet. A few days ago, some leading members of the party announced that they were withdrawing from the party’s presidential campaign council. Abubakar described it as “blue murder.” It was a most unusual development in a country whose politics cannot pretend to be a stranger to unusual developments. Still, this one takes the cake. Is it about Abubakar? Is it about PDP?
Ayu is still part of the problem. Abubakar is not willing to sacrifice him to appease the gods in opposition to him. He wants the party constitution respected. He has urged “every single person who loves the country as I do (that) we must forge on with the task and the mandate that we have been bestowed with. It is time, therefore, to move on with the formidable tasks of nation building ahead of us.”
Is Abubakar putting on a brave face in the face of this storm darkening the sky of his political ambition? His party is in a profound mess. He knows that. He must somehow feel isolated. The party has been badly damaged by internal sabotage occasioned by tantrums, infantile chest-beating, and posturing. Politicians have a remarkable skill in patching things up. Yes, they can put Humpty Dumpty together again and the party can limp to the 2023 general elections. I just hope that in his fourth try at the presidency Atiku Abubakar does not become the first presidential aspirant to lose an election well ahead of an election.