So, the magic year 2019 is already here, not any longer in the distant horizon beckoning to all and sundry. The gladiators are rehearsing. Buhari is ready to go. He is only waiting for the INEC whistle. His body language says it. He already dropped the hint and estranged Bola Tinubu has suddenly become an ally, a member of presidential delegation and "our" leader, not for now "one of the leaders" of the APC. This was after Tinubu himself had read the handwriting on the wall and threateningly dashed to Akure, touching base to pay homage to his own leader in Ondo State, the birth place of progressive politics in Nigeria, but South West in particular, the conclave against which he himself had rebelled and had estranged himself since 2003.
It was in the midst of these permutations and calculations that Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President quit the ruling APC, and in his own words, was "back home" as the prodigal son in the PDP. His exit from the APC was predictable. What with his outcry of loss of reckoning in the APC; what with insults from loquacious and impudent El-Rufai with nobody seemingly capable of calling him to order; and what with Atiku's consequent strident criticisms of the President. All along, Atiku himself has left no one in doubt that he has been warming up, showing that he is ready for the mantle of leadership at the highest level, of being the President.
Since he exited from APC, the political temperature of the land has changed because of his stature. The stakes have been raised really high. There can be no sitting on the fence in matters concerning Atiku. For someone of his stature socially, business-wise, and politically, there are those who are fiercely loyal to him: who will say no evil and hear no evil about him. But there are equally those who cannot stand him, arguing that he and President Olusegun Obasanjo had a very serious disagreement on the treasury and political struggle which is documented in OBJ's book, My Watch. And so, the demonization and debriefing of one who wished to be king by his adversaries have begun in full swing.
I want to believe that Atiku is aware of the missiles being thrown at him in the social media, about the U.S. Senate probe report on money wired to his wife, Jennifer. He does not appear to place much count on the report, especially as much of it had to do with American University to buy the institution's licence and have its chatter for his own university in Yola. His wife was not tried in the United States. Although he has been refused visa to America, the U.S. Justice Department is reported to have said there are no records of any case pending against him in their courts. Jennifer herself was home in Nigeria at some point to go to the Law School. Atiku himself has gone on to contest for the Presidency since the bitter and open fight between him and Obasanjo who removed him as Vice President until the court overturned it. He contested for the Presidency in 2007; he did again in 2011. There was no Daboh to Tarka him with an affidavit all of that time.
Lately, in defence of his integrity, he has had to say confidently: "On the issue of corruption, I have challenged anyone, anywhere, who has any evidence of corruption against me to come forward. I'm sure they would have combed everywhere trying to find anything incriminating against me, but they have not found it, or they are still searching."
The Buhari handlers too are not taking things for granted. They have come out with accomplishment comparison between Buhari and Atiku, the goodies Buhari has brought to the people of North East within two years and what Atiku brought to the same zone his primary constituency in long eight years of his stewardship as the Vice-President. Their conclusion is that Atiku was in government only to serve himself. Their listing accomplished goes as follows: American University of Nigeria; AUN Hotels; ABTI Printing Press; ABTI Schools; Gotel radio/FM/TV; Rigo Gado Animal Feeds and Atiku Farms.
For Buhari the long list captioned 'Buhari's 2+ Years presidency in North East' reads: Reconstruction of Gombe-Yola Road--ongoing; Rehabilitation of Bauchi-Gombe road--ongoing; Completion of Kano-Maiduguri Expressway--ongoing; Reconstruction of Numan-Jalingo road--contract awarded; Rehabilitation of Mayo Belwa-Toungo Road--contract awarded; Mambila Plateau Hydro-Electric Dam--Fund sourced; work to commence after 35 years of conception; North-East Development Commission--Bill signed into law/fund provided in the 2017 budget; Defeat of Boko haram and gradual return of IDPs to their communities; The return of the search for oil in Bauchi and Lake Chad. These are not all.
The list of the sterling performance continues with appointments: Chief of Staff to the President -North East; Chief of Army Staff, North East; Chief of Air Staff, North-East; National Security Adviser, North-East; SSA Domestic Affairs--North-East; Comptroller-General Customs--North-East; SGF--North East; GMD, NNPC--North East; INEC Chairman, North East; MD, AMCON--North East; Chairman, National Insurance Commission--North East; EFCC Chairman, North East; DG, NOA--North East; MD, FAAN--North East; and DG, ASCON--North East.
The conclusion of the Buhari men is "Be the judge and let's shame the wailers." And for Atiku, their conclusion is "Atiku has done great with these his personal investments."
I have gone this length to show the odds Atiku is up against. It is to show that determined as Atiku may be to reach the pinnacle of his political career, he has daunting challenges to surmount. He will require a strong, bold, knowledgeable, quick witted and articulate media men to begin first with his image polishing--a Lai Mohammed, for example, who would say setting up of schools and universities are more important than building roads, because it is universities and polytechnics that produce architects, engineers and technical hands that design, build roads and maintain them. It is they who would determine the needs of Mambila Hydro-Electric Dam. It is products of schools and universities who would run financial institutions and raise funds for the Mambila hydro-Electric Dam.
He would need a man who would argue that payment of school fees is to engender quality education. It is only right that fees are paid in token compensation for the efforts of the university that imparts knowledge in line with the Law of Balance. A Lai Mohammed would argue that North East zone more than any other, particularly Borno State, requires all efforts to expand educational opportunities, for they lag too far behind. Atiku will need a Lai Mohammed who would say the list has only proven clearly the charges of provincialism against Buhari and that Atiku transcends the narrowness of horizon, a serious charge that has come strikingly from no less a personality than Prof. Ben Nwabueze.
A Lai Mohammed would tell you that Atiku is one who has genuine friends all over the country and he is the most prepared for the Presidency of all his contemporaries, who has commissioned and has had papers prepared for him on every subject imaginable under the Nigerian sun. He will need a Lai Mohammed who would say it a good tree with sweet fruits that receives the most and unrelenting stones from every passerby. A Lai Mohammed that would speak with conviction, consistency and vehemence; who would say, by the way, Atiku was never a President. A Lai Mohammed that would be in his elements saddled with such a task! Fortunately, like Bola Tinubu, Atiku is known to be a gifted head hunter.
He will need the likes of Babatunde Fashola, known for clear-headedness, deep thinking, who has eyes for details, one who is known for homework and preparation, who has a keen sense of public duty and matchless application to work, as well as the language and dignified carriage to convey clear messages. He needs a Shehu Sani who will say it the way it is and who is a respected leader of youths, some of the disciples of Balarabe Musa in terms of principle, integrity and wholesomeness. He will need an Osita Chidoka, a dashing and exceedingly eloquent young man to crisscross the land talking how liberal minded he is. Atiku must be seeing keeping the company of visibly credible people in the public eye, a Bishop Kukah, an Oby Ezekwesili; a GG Darah, a Pat Utomi, a Charles Soludo, a Peter Obi, an Onyeama Ugochukwu as examples, to mention just a few. They are all over the place. In the South-West he knows the consistent political establishment to convince. There is, of course, the triumvirate of the national establishment comprising Obasanjo, Babangida and Abubakar Abdulsalam he has to convince. Pray if Obasanjo would not be the hard nut to crack and be his albatross.
Realising the power of the ballot paper, Buhari himself has tamed his temper and moderated his brash pronouncement. Stormy petrel Junaid Mohammed has said Buhari is the man to beat, the same refrain that first came from El-Rufai who has a twin brother in Shettima in Maiduguri. And Orji Kalu has said if Buhari refuses to contest he and his unnamed crowd would force him. Dave Umahi, a governor on the platform of PDP has already sent 2, 000 bags of rice and 2, 000 tubers of yam to Buhari, the cargo of which the President said he was sending to Daura. He did not stop at that. Umahi has asked legislators from his state to always give support to whatever program of the President that might require legislative nod. Eze Eberechi Dick, speaking for traditional leaders in the East, said to Buhari on the occasion of the visit to Ebonyi State, "You are a great leader. We love you so much. We are solidly behind you." To prove it Buhari was given the chieftaincy title of Ochioha Ndigbo, translated to mean "Leader of Igbo People."
These are what Atiku is up against. Aside from his proverbial integrity, Buhari, though stern, has a disarming sense of humour which is also a plus for him which is also something makes him loveable. It is Atiku's last chance to have a go at the Presidency. By 2019, he would be clocking 73 years. By 2023, the contestation would shift to the South. The people of South East, the Igbos, have their gaze firmly fixed on the Presidency and they are not likely to forgo that for Restructuring when the chips are down, the glittering thread that binds the Southern Zones and Middle Belt for now. Everything seems to point to that eventuality as of now--restructuring the South East leadership has used to calm frayed nerves of the youths pressing to break away. It is a campaign to which a national icon, Emeka Anyaoku has lent his great voice, to which Prof. Ben Nwabueze has lent his accustomed scholarship, a campaign to which Ike Nwachukwu has lent his polish and avuncular carriage as well as restrained and patriotic voice; something for which Horsfall; former governor Ezeife; and insurance guru Joe Irukwu all stood to be counted, in a struggle led by Edwin Clarke.
The short-term gain of the Presidency seems irresistibly alluring, come 2023. By 2031 a time the Presidency it is reckoned the Presidency may go back to the North, Atiku would be 85. Except Nigerians will be rooting for a Mugabe, they are not likely to countenance his candidature at that age even if Nature is so generous to him, his senses are still sharp and he possesses the energy the youths have at their command in their 20s and 30s or 40s.
What will make the election of 2019 colourful is to have a candidate of Muhammadu Buhari's stature coming from PDP. Most discerning might want to settle for Atiku to give Buhari a run for his economy! Those in the observatory, as Allah De and Sad Sam would put it, will closely watch the development that promises to be an exciting and epic battle royal.
*I regret the promised thoughts on THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE cannot be run today. It will be run next week.