The whole of Nigeria knows that becoming president is, and has always been, a passion that burns deep inside Atiku Abubakar. In the roughly 30 years he has spent chasing his dream, the February 23, 2019 presidential election was the closest he has come to fulfilling it.
And with age slowly creeping on him, the loss at the election could be the most painful he has experienced. But then, he hasn't given up just yet. For him, the election is not over. He hasn't lost; victory is still around the corner.
For three decades, why has Atiku remained so hopeful even in the face of one defeat after another? Two people that have worked closely with the former Vice President have attempted to write a psychological profile of the man Atiku Abubakar. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo and Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, in their separate autobiographies, painted a picture of a man who allegedly believes he is destined to be president because his marabouts had said so. And anyone who stands in his way stands in the way of destiny.
How Obasanjo puts it is that "all his plans, appointments of people and his actions were towards the actualisation of the marabouts prediction". Twenty years ago, it was Obasanjo that stood in Atiku's way. Everyone knows how the contest between the two ended. It divided the ruling party, spilt over into the Supreme Court and almost tore the country apart. And for over a decade, Obasanjo remained unforgiving. Today, it is President Muhammadu Buhari that stands in his way.
No one ever expected perfect, European-type elections where not a single person would have to raise his voice during the voting process because ballot papers are missing here or boxes were missing there. The outcome of the 2019 general elections was always going to be contentious. But from what is being reported in the media, the opposition PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, are not satisfied with just filing a petition at the presidential election tribunal.
They have taken it to a whole new level.
The PDP candidate has gone as far as hiring lobbyists, Fein & DelValle PLLC in the United States, to get the government to hold back from accepting the outcome of the February 24, 2019 presidential election and recognising Buhari as the winner. In that respect, the mission has already failed considering that the U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though with reservations, has extended congratulations to President Buhari on his reelection and to the Nigerian people. That failure alone is making Atiku look more like a sore loser. But the thought of hiring a foreign lobbyist alone, to influence events in Nigeria, follows a now familiar pattern by the Atiku campaign. It's a pattern aimed at orchestrating events in both the local and international arena that undermine the sovereignty of the Nigerian state.
The way events are unfolding, the Atiku campaign is no longer simply contesting the outcome of the elections but is seeking to undermine the entire democratic process. It started by mounting unimaginable pressure on groups and organisations, particularly the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), not to congratulate Buhari. CAN was important to the Atiku strategy because there is no better tool than religion to raise tensions and keep the country divided.
Then came the story of the U.S lobbying firm.
But even before the elections, the PDP was working on overdrive to drag Western Powers into the Nigerians election. At the slightest provocation, it begged the U.S, U.K and E.U. to get involved in the electoral process and at a point even wrote letters to foreign embassies listing constitutional breaches by the Buhari government.
To some extent, the activities of Atiku suggest he believes that sovereignty of the Nigerian state is in the hands of Western Powers; and that Nigeria is still a colony of the U.K or even now the U.S. How else can his efforts to convince the U.S government not to recognise the 2019 elections be explained or the view that the U.S can determine what happens in Nigeria? Even if he doesn't know it, his actions are damaging the image of the country and are showing a lack of faith in its institutions, from the electoral commission to the judiciary. But that is not the worst part.
In the terms of service for the lobbyist, as reported by the media, it will encourage U.S lawmakers and the government to accept the verdict of the judiciary if they are "in accordance with the rule and due process, free from military or political influence." The implications of this are grave. What happens if Atiku feels the Supreme Court verdict on the elections do not meet these conditions? He stated he would accept the outcome of the elections if they were free and fair.
Worrying about political influence is a genuine concern. It's happening everyday in Nigeria and even he, as a former vice president and a partisan politician, cannot claim innocence. But where is the talk of military influence coming from? What are they trying to imply? The majority of reputable organisations and observers felt the elections met the minimum standard of credibility. He alone chose not to see it as such and he could do the same with the judicial verdict.
And if Atiku chooses to push ahead with efforts to lobby U.S officials to delegitimize the Nigerian government, the consequences would be dire for everyone. At that point, the only option open will be a regime change. So much for being a democrat! It is probably why he has denied hiring the lobbyists. Yet, an online newspaper, The Cable, has come out with documented evidence suggesting he truly did hire a firm.
For the lobbying firm, what is expected of it if the judicial verdict on the elections does not meet Atiku's laid down conditions and an absence of military and political influence? There are dozens of dissidents in the United States lobbying for regime change in their respective countries, not just Venezuela. Maybe the longest and most organised campaign has been against the government of Cuba.
But regime change has actually succeeded in a few places. Ahmed Chalabi fancied himself as a possible president or prime minister of Iraq. And believing the U.S government would support his aspirations; he lobbied and pushed for regime change in Iraq. Working with the firm BKSH & Associates, he finally found sympathetic ears in the U.S presidency of George W. Bush. Chalabi provided a lot of the intelligence describing the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction allegedly stockpiled by Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. In the end, Chalabi succeeded in toppling Saddam from power in 2003 and plunging Iraq into a decade-long civil war. But he never succeeded in becoming prime minster and no Weapons of Mass Destruction were ever found. It was a fabricated excuse for regime change.
That brings us to all that the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, has said in response to Atiku's destabilising activities. The signs are there. It goes beyond the international lobbying and the continuation of his campaign with the so-called pukka posters depicting him as the authentic president. He is trying to instigate a political crisis. Obviously, the petition at the presidential tribunal is not enough on its own. The right political conditions have to be created both locally and internationally to make it possible to unseat Buhari by any means necessary.
So, Lai Mohammed is wrong on one count, but treasonable is not too strong a word. These are actions that wouldn't stand in the U.S, a country that just conducted a two-year investigation into foreign influence in its elections, indicting and imprisoning several individuals along the way.
- Shuaib writes from Abuja