By ABBA MAHMOOD
For some weeks now, this column has been absent. It was a deliberate sabbatical. In any case, the opinion of this column on the two main presidential contenders is well known.
President Buhari has disappointed many, but for the majority Atiku is not an alternative, so it is better to stick to the president and hope for changes in both personnel and policies. Buhari is not a saint but he is by far better than what the discredited Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has presented. Thus, the results of the February 23 presidential election is invariably an accurate summation of the mood of the voters, just as the observers have said in their reports.
With the benefit of hindsight, there is need to assess the election and its outcome. Preparation for the elections started rather late. This was partly because the National Assembly under the once almighty Bukola Saraki was fighting the executive and did not approve the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) until a few weeks to the commencement of the election. It was indeed a miracle that INEC chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his team were able to organize what is a fairly credible election in such a rather tight time-frame.
To contest against incumbent President Buhari, the main opposition PDP nominated Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and an ex-customs officer. That was the first strategic blunder of the PDP. This is because Atiku is part and parcel of the party’s terrible image and belongs to the Buhari generation. He represents all that is bad in the PDP and indeed Nigeria’s past. Atiku was born and brought up in Adamawa State, but in his official biography he claims that his father was from Sokoto and mother from Jigawa. He even stopped voting in his birthplace in Jada and started voting in Ajiya ward, Jimeta-Yola. He was roundly defeated by Buhari in all these places during the February election.
To give him legitimacy, an Adamawa princess was married to him and a title given to him by the Adamawa Emirate. But still, there is a subsisting court case challenging his actual citizenship. Suit number FHA/ABJ/CS/177/2019 filed by Mr Kayode Ajulo, an Abuja-based human rights lawyer, is challenging the eligibility of Atiku to contest the 2019 presidential election on the grounds that he is not a citizen of Nigeria but Cameroon. Thus, apart from Atiku’s internationally acclaimed corruption cases, he is also afflicted with an identity crisis. He is trying to distance himself from the northeast which has a border with Cameroon, and in the northwest he is claiming to be from he is unknown.
With all the Atiku baggage, the campaign started in earnest. Atiku promised to sell the NNPC “even if they are going to kill me”, whatever “they” are! It was almost like he was addressing an external audience in his effort to convince people that he is all for the privatization of the most strategic national asset. He then promised to grant amnesty to all treasury looters, obviously so that all the corrupt elements at home and abroad would queue behind him, which was exactly what happened. He also promised to enrich his “friends”, thus telling those who are not his friends they would continue to remain poor. Those three promises, more than anything, defined his campaign message to Nigerians and the world. What a pity!
It thus came as no surprise that virtually all the corrupt elements, tribal jingoists and confused irredentists lined up behind Atiku this time. In the thick of the campaign, he got a chance to go to the US after being denied entry to America for over 10 years. He dashed into Washington when there was government shutdown as if getting American support will secure him the presidency of Nigeria. He wrote to the embassies of key Western countries reporting Buhari to them. Like a small pupil relying on his school headmaster, Atiku tied his political destiny to Western support and virtually stopped campaigning.
While Buhari was busy campaigning in all the 36 states, Atiku was busy cutting deals with religious and tribal groups. While Buhari was addressing issues – security, infrastructure, and fighting corruption — Atiku was busy spreading fake news and ridiculous propaganda. It was very easy to see that Buhari had the people who vote while Atiku had the social media and propaganda which don’t vote. John Nwodo’s Ohanaeze became like the militant arm of the PDP. It wasn’t long to see that Atiku’s ambition has been reduced to an Igbo project, which is what it is now. What a pity!
Meanwhile, Atiku’s campaign director-general Senator Bukola Saraki lost his seat and his state in the February 23 election, bringing to an end a 40-year political dynasty started by his late father Dr. Olusola Saraki. It was the end of arrogance. In fact, all those who fought President Buhari were roundly defeated during this year’s election; in a way it was the people’s verdict on them. The Atiku campaign was aggressive, hysterical, insulting the president and overconfident as could be seen in their claim of victory while collation of results was just starting. Buhari was calm, not provoked and exhibited statesmanship. The old generals deceived Atiku into believing that he had their support. Atiku does not know that he does not belong to that club, as a retired customs officer.
They spread false propaganda that Buhari was going to Islamise Nigeria, whatever that means. Meanwhile, Buhari’s deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is a pastor; the secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, and the head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Madam Winifred Oyo-Ita, as well as half the cabinet are Christians. The highest ranking military officer since Buhari emerged, chief of defence staff General Gabriel Olanisakin, is a Christian, among others. In any case, is Atiku not a Muslim? Atiku has built mosques and has converted his Igbo Christian wife Jennifer to Islam, naming her Jamila. That is why when they say Atiku has the support of the “middle belt” it is funny because the common middle belt identity is Christianity.
The clear message that came out of this election is that no religious or tribal sentiment will eventually prevail in a democracy. No one can Christianize Nigeria, just as no one can Islamize Nigeria. It also shows that “endorsement” by tribal or religious groups amounts to nothing politically. The influence of money has also been reduced substantially in our politics as President Jonathan can testify. The society is becoming more sophisticated by the day and the people are becoming more politically enlightened. That is why they vote different parties for different positions based on the quality of candidates presented, and they collect money without voting for those giving them the money.
Atiku must know that you don’t have to be a president to contribute your quota to national development. He must address people and institutions with respect. His arrogant disposition puts a lot of people off. For instance, during his press conference post-election he was calling former head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar by his name only, not even “General” or “His Excellency” as his position demands, as if Atiku has no proper upbringing. In any case it was arrogance that destroyed the devil.
President Buhari should reach out to all sections of Nigeria and quickly address real and perceived grievances. He must build a national platform as his second term will define his legacy, just like President Obasanjo’s. He must assemble the best team of good people to help him carry out his mandate. He must do away with the deadwood around him. Personal loyalty should be separated from national interests. We wish him all the best.
History is on the side of the oppressed.