Atiku Abubakar has been around the Nigerian political scene long enough to become a household name. Building a political career that has spanned over three decades, the Waziri Adamawa has never left anyone in doubt about his intentions of becoming the President of Nigeria someday. He made the first attempt towards actualizing this in 1992 when he contested the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential primaries but lost to MKO Abiola, the eventual presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential elections. Becoming running mate and subsequently Vice-President to Olusegun Obasanjo on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999, Atiku established himself and his political following in a relationship with the former President that was both turbulent and revealing of the Atiku essence.
Today in the run-up to the 2019 elections, Atiku Abubakar is the only politician who has shown enough seriousness on ground to present a formidable challenge to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.
Being the frontline challenger to the incumbent (at least at the moment), Atiku Abubakar deserves more than a passing analysis of his chances at landing the top job. Perhaps a SWOT analysis may be necessary to provide a peep into the content that this politician will offer Nigerians at the polls if selected by his party, especially his avowed belief in the restructuring of Nigeria.
Atiku is believed to be widely connected in Nigeria. His political relationships cut across all geopolitical zones of the country just as his outlook, friendships and business interests are pan-Nigerian. He has face-value acceptability across the country as a detribalized person for whom being Nigerian is not merely lip-service – the ethnic origins of his wives reveal a man who is at home anywhere in the country, a quality much valued in these days of hyper-ethnocentrism.
However, apart from his personality, perhaps the most prepossessing consideration of the Atiku campaign is his buy-in into the campaign to restructure Nigeria. In the face of the contemporary socio-economic and political realities which confronts Nigeria as a country, there is an increasing acknowledgment of the need to reconfigure the federal architecture of Nigeria for greater efficiency of its component units. Even the ruling APC has come to the same conclusion going by the El-Rufai report on restructuring. It has become all too clear that whatever Nigeria achieves today with such defective, maladjusted and disproportionately top-heavy system will be mere tokenism compared to the bounteous potential it could release by operating a more dynamic and efficacious truly federal system. It is in this wise that Atiku Abubakar’s campaign for true federalism is sure to resonate among many voters and garner him a lot of support. The restructuring debate has been hot in the last few years and has taken on the life of a major election issue. It goes without saying that a lot is wrong with the present dysfunctional structure of the country especially as regards issues like state police, resource control and equitable distribution of opportunities that accrue from being a nation-state. Many of the festering issues in the polity like insecurity, economic downturn and separatist tendencies have their roots in the unwieldy quasi-federal structure of today where controls are over-centralized and therefore ineffective and so, provision of solutions by political actors who will have either real power to effect the changes or real influence to push for same will matter a lot to the discerning electorate.
To the apostles of restructuring, Atiku’s presidential bid is important in the sense that he has promised to initiate certain restructuring programs that do not require constitutional amendments and have the capacity to impact meaningfully on Nigerians in six months while pushing for constitutional amendments for the issues that require same. Even though the slippery nature of politicians especially in these parts is well-acknowledged in the ‘promise-and-fail’ syndrome, the increasing consciousness of Nigerians spearheaded by social media has become a very effective tool to hold politicians to their pre-election promises and Atiku will not be different. On many issues, the Buhari administration has had to cower to the shrill angry reminders of its promises and this serves as warning to wayward politicians. Effective means of tackling political dishonesty are being articulated by citizens who have been bruised by sweet mouthed politicians. Future governments will learn to become faithful to their words especially when Nigerians tear their credibility to shreds on account of betrayal of promises. This rising public awareness and the vociferous social media is a platform of hope that politicians like Atiku will be circumspect in their promises.
Atiku’s paper, ‘Restructuring for Nigeria’s Unity’, delivered at a book presentation in 2016 provides valuable insight into his ideas for restructuring, perhaps the first by any major aspirant to the highest office in the land. In it, he clearly outlined the desiderata of a truly working federation as being a smaller, leaner federal government with reduced responsibilities, autonomy for the component states and localities to determine their development priorities, a tax-centred revenue base, diversified economic activities and productivity, an end to indigene-settler dichotomy and lastly, the all-important state police to augment the federal police.
Even though these are well-thought out ideas and arguments, Atiku Abubakar would do well to further fine-tune and break down the precepts in a manner that would be easily assimilated by the electorate. More, efforts must be made to reassure all sections of the country about the win-win attributes of these ideas. Selling such far-reaching change must be done professionally and passionately, engaging Nigerians in a massive media offensive that also drives home the truth using the reality of the present state of dangerous insecurity and anomie as counterpoint.
The importance of Atiku’s candidacy to the restructuring movement does not lie in the ignorant hope that if elected, he would have the power do it alone. Rather, the fact that a dedicated advocate of restructuring would occupy the No1 office will not just give impetus to its translation from an idea to a working reality but the hope is that such a President will bring the enormous influence of that office to bear on facilitating the constitutional process to unshackle Nigeria from the deadweight of near-unitarism and set Nigeria on the path to a glorious dawn via true federalism. A good starting point may be the adoption of some core proposals of the 2014 National Conference and presentation of same to the National Assembly as an executive bill.
At 72, (73years by 2019), it does not appear Atiku Abubakar will have another crack at the Presidency. As a bearer of real hopes of instituting a working federalism in a country in dire need of it, his candidacy presents an opportunity to put a powerful influence in office to kick-start the restructuring process. As his supporters (‘Atikulators’ they call themselves) would say, it is now or never.