Friday Discourse (134)
Laalee e Atiku
I have come to support Atiku, not to praise him. He is accused of conniving with Ghali Na-Abba to impeach Obasanjo. People may think it is wrong. I think it is not only right but also necessary for his sake, for the sake of the party and for the sake of a vibrant democracy beyond 2003.
It should not surprise Atiku, his aides, the PDP or my readers if I commit my pen to support Atiku in the ongoing feud between him and Obasanjo. Even on the surface, I have enough reasons to do so. I am from the same zone with Atiku; in fact I did my secondary school in his hometown, Ganye. He speaks my language very fluently. That is enough, in the judgement of many, to qualify him as one of my own and so defend him in whatever way possible.
However, I am not motivated by any regional or ethnic commonality. I am siding with truth, conscience and justice. No one has inherited Aso Rock from his father. Until it is privatised, as Nasiru intends to do with the National Assembly complex, the President has no right to exclude other Nigerians, Atiku inclusive, from vying for it. His tenancy is expiring next May and the landlord – majority of Nigerians – is justifiably not ready to renew it. Obasanjo has proved to be a bad tenant. He has kept the house clumsy, noisy and made it a brothel of political prostitution. Worse still, in the past three years he has been vandalizing its parts. If the landlord allows him another tenancy there is strong evidence to suggest that he will sell it to a third party, of course with the help of Nasiru and in accordance with the suggestion of his friend, Sam Nda-Isaiah.
To begin with, however bad is his situation, Obasanjo has himself to blame, not Atiku or anyone else. He has refused to listen, neither to the public nor to any well meaning adviser or minister close to him. He only respects the counsel of his prison experience and some few micro-nationalists and political opportunists. The input from the two has misguided him into neglecting five out of six geopolitical zones in the country and the economy. He has become restless, like ping-pong, visiting nations at odd times and with odd frequencies to the extent that they have now shown signs of host-fatigue. I believe neither Atiku nor Ciroma would advise the President on this chicken itinerary. Neither could they advise him to abandon agriculture, to fail in registration of voters, to fail in revitalizing NEPA, and so on. He should blame the people he trusted, particularly his de facto Vice-President – Mr. fix it.
Happily for the country, in spite of the billions his team has gathered for the campaign, Obasanjo has reached the end of the road. He must swallow the bitter pill of defeat. The crux of the matter is who among his army of ministers and assistants is ready to share that pill with him? I see the President offering it to each of them, and quickly does each shake his head sideways, in decline. Obasanjo stands alone.
I know it is too late for some. They are too old to nurse any ambition anymore. They have crowned their lives with failure. Sorry. As for the young – and Atiku has just two years ago counted himself the young – the sky is the limit. They are beginning to see the writing on the wall more clearly than before, now that it is at a close range. Many of the assistants and advisers will certainly find accommodation in other camps. Many ministers will return home and try finding some relevance in their states, within the limited breathing space that their governors could permit, before contesting gubernatorial elections in 2007. In any case, these ministers must know that they are leaving Aso Rock latest next May 29, whether Obasanjo is continuing or not. If he loses, they are surely going to leave along with him; if he wins, which is most unlikely, he will bring in fresh hands that are not soiled or oiled enough during his first tenure to calculate rebellion.
For the Vice-President however, the spectrum of political arithmetic is not so wide. He could only look up or side ways. As one time Vice-President, we do not expect him to look down and vie again for the position of Bony Haruna. He must have known by now that he has never been the governor of Adamawa and I join him in his prayer that there should never arise a situation that will compel him to be one any day in the future. Forward ever, backward never. He cannot also be a minister under Obasanjo or under any PDP government. That is a position less executive than that of the governor. Perhaps, a senator; yes, for the sake of its honour. Whichever way you look at it however, Atiku has only one clear choice. That choice is to vie for the Presidency, now. If he leaves it until 2007 or beyond, he is not sure of the factors that will come into play to make his dream unrealistic. The decision therefore is immediate. It must be now or never during the tenure of this administration.
That was my first line of defence. Here is the second. Doing away with Obasanjo is a decision that the PDP must take in order to remain relevant at the Federal level, as I argued over three weeks ago. I have no doubt about its success at the state and local government levels. It has a number of governors and local government chairmen, who, combined with their incumbency, stand the best chance of winning. But Obasanjo is a dead wood. Hence, my advise to the party to support the move by the House to impeach him, even if that may fall short of removing him from office. It will anaesthetise the President and make him inactive to contest even the primaries. I am happy that this is exactly what is taking place.
The PDP, if I will digress a bit, should not be allowed to sink completely. Just let it remain neck-deep. As I said two weeks ago, the alternative party – the APP – is yet to prove that it is better in ideology and in practice. It is only enjoying the opportunity of being in opposition that is blessed with the windfall of Obasanjo’s failure. When it is in power, the APP will have the opportunity to prove that it is better. Until then, ba za mu yi saurin yabon dan kuturu ba. In fact in 2003 presidential elections, Nigerians will most likely vote for the merit in a candidate, not for the manifesto of his party.
A BBC correspondent queried why I should assist the PDP to solve its problems. I defended myself by saying that though I would like a certain APP candidate to win, I would also like to see him compete against a strong contender from the PDP and, after winning, run an APP government with a national assembly that has a PDP majority.
Nigerians must not repeat the mistake they committed in 1999, giving away both the presidency and the legislature to the same party. No. Let us do it the American way. Even if we have a transparent and honest leader, the best guarantee against the sort of abuse of power that we witnessed under Obasanjo is meaningful opposition from a legislature that belongs to a different party. Democracy is best protected and it flourishes most under a bipartisan leadership. The President will be forced to circumspect and resort to extensive lobbying and consultation, since by his transparent nature he will not employ any ‘Ghana must go.’ Then, only the constitution, reason and fairness will see him through. That is my stand.
So let both parties remain strong, PDP in the National Assembly and at the level of states and local government. APP occupies the presidency, that is controlling about 54% of the federal revenue. Wai angulu da kan zabo. For PDP to remain strong, Atiku is necessary today. It cannot have a better presidential candidate than him. In fact, not even Obasanjo can win the primaries of his party without Atiku. If Obasanjo does not know it, Atiku must educate him.
So far in our discourse we have established that the end of Obasanjo’s political carrier does not necessarily end Atiku’s, unless the latter chooses it to be so. Two, the interest of the PDP should override the interest of any single individual, including the President if it is to remain relevant to our democracy. I believe these are the personal and corporate political exigencies that compelled Atiku to contemplate opposing Obasanjo.
The third. Obasanjo will prove an ingrate if he should doubt the loyalty of Atiku. Atiku has throughout the tenure of this administration given enough support to Obasanjo at the detriment of his people and the risk of his political carrier. When at the beginning of this administration his constituency – the North – started to express its disenchantment with some policies of Obasanjo, it was Atiku who fired the first anti-aircraft. He visited Arewa House and bluntly and boldly accused the so-called Arewa leaders of opportunism. That week, I think, he gave an interview to the Weekly Trust in which he disowned his northern constituency and claimed that his constituency is the whole Nigeria. Fair enough.
At the middle of the tenure we have seen him even resort to misinforming the public just in defence of the administration, like when he announced his infamous reversion to status quo ante on shariah as the decision of the Council of State. Nothing has proved catastrophic in his relationship with the North like it. Even two months ago at a PDP rally in Sokoto he publicly claimed that the federal government has spent N45billion in rehabilitation of roads in the Northwest zone. Since then, Bafarawa and the APP in the zone have been relentless in their attacks on Atiku. They have listed all the federal roads in the zones and challenged Atiku to show where even N1billion was spent. However, they should not press much on this because Atiku is only exhibiting his loyalty to Obasanjo. After all, we know the figure is not correct; it was for the consumption of that gathering. More importantly, we know he does not allocate resources nor does he award or supervise contracts of that magnitude. Mr. Fix It will answer that some day.
Even recently, Atiku has been doing his best to ridicule the political fortune of Muhammadu Buhari despite the crushing support for him that he witnessed in Kano. We do not bother because there are strong signs that as far as 2003 is concerned the North in particular has made up its mind. It is only seeking the support of God. Atiku is making matters worse for himself from this angle. What a pity.
Many of such instances can be cited. The first one-year was particularly full of costly mistakes for Atiku, all made in his effort to prove his loyalty to Obasanjo. He joined the bandwagon of presidential aides who liked booing the North whenever it complained of one misdeed or another. In the jubilation of having found a new master they jumped at every microphone of the Lagos media and start parroting like a recorded tape. They thought the best compensation they should offer Obasanjo for their appointment was to hang the North, making it irrelevant and guilty at the same time.
I knew it wouldn’t last. That was why I quickly wrote Atiku and His Excess Luggage. I still remember the final words of that composition which read thus: “I am only afraid that Atiku will painfully realize that when the market of this regime closes, everyone will return to his house. What a pity, he is presently helping others to set his own ablaze!”
I am glad that the message did reach him. He has been trying his best to mend fences his own way by reassuring the North of his support through holding conferences on the state of its education and industry. He has also sponsored programs on the radio in which he tries to broadcast the contributions he made to the region as Vice-President. I can see that the name of Obasanjo is conspicuously absent from such programs, as if the Vice-President is eager to dissociate himself from his master.
What I have tried to prove on this line is that Atiku has fulfilled his own side of the obligation as a Vice-President. He has patiently toed the line of the President even though on many instances he is ignored for the counsel of political pundits and fixers. Having done so, I think, he has every right to disembark, without waiting for Obasanjo to throw him out.
The fourth. Yes. Obasanjo has been under intense pressure, so I heard, to drop Atiku, if he is to qualify for the second time political support of the forces that claimed to have brought him to power in 1999. Atiku knows this and it has already led to the initial reluctance of the President to announce him as his running mate in 2003. He did so only half-heartedly to forestall the premature disclosure of his true intentions regarding Atiku which he plans to ripen only after the primaries. Who does not know that he has promised an adviser and at least three northern governors the vice-presidency? Since then it must have been clear to Atiku that the degree of doubt about his political career has reached dangerous levels in the mind of the President.
How then do we expect Atiku, who believes he is still hail and healthy in politics, to sit back and watch the coffin of his burial crafted and the rope of his execution weaved without making any attempt to play the game of survival? How fair are the President and other Nigerians to him?
The efforts of survival he has made so far, according to the Presidency, include instigating the impeachment of the President. Some magazines have elaborately covered this last week. They claimed that the President has called Atiku and told him, point blank, that he strong evidence linking him to the impeachment terror in the House. Ordinarily, we expect Atiku to swear heaven and earth that he is not involved. In fact he even offered to negotiate a truce by visiting the House and tangentially pleaded with them to drop the matter. Given the situation, this is cowardly.
I would like to assure Atiku, as I will do to every governor and minister, that he does not need to fear Obasanjo anymore. The Vice-President must henceforth look straight into the eyes of his boss and tell him that “one, oga you be responsible for the mess you found yourself in o. Two, if you want be president again, you need me. Otherwise, terminate the dream here and now.” Obasanjo will, after Atiku might have left, think twice and know that what he said is a actually true.
Going through the impeachment, in my opinion, is long, tedious and unnecessary. What I would have done as the Vice-President is to work through the party. I will get the most influential people in the party convinced that Obasanjo is a bad product for 2003. Then we will together seek appointment with the President and put before him his ‘unmarketability.’ We should also be bold enough to bluntly tell him that, therefore, for the interest of the party we are not supporting him in the primaries. And suddenly leave. From then we must have gotten the freedom of action that is necessary to save our party from defeat.
Atiku has the background, having grown among the Fulani, to take this route that is more honourable than engaging in conspiracies and intrigues, justified as they could be in this case. It will seem like a coup. But sometimes coups are the inevitable answers to questions of survival. Being apologetic will only make Obasanjo feel that he is still relevant to the party while in actual sense he is a liability. He has exhausted his usefulness and Nigerians, and indeed the international community, will be glad when one day they wake up to find out that they are relieved of his nuisance.
So, factually speaking, all the exposition about Atiku working against the President is cheap as his doing so is totally in consonance with the rules of power. What will be surprising is for Atiku to remain on the sinking Titanic without disembarking. He needs to save himself, the PDP and the nation from Obasanjo. Right now, from here in the North, I assure him that, in spite of all that happened between him and the region, he is welcome back home. Laalee e sumpo. Laalee e Atiku.