Friday, July 1, 2022

Advantage Atiku Abubakar!

Ironically as late as it comes, 2023 may turn out to be Atiku Abubakar’s best chance at securing Nigeria’s presidency.

• May 31, 2022
Atiku Abubakar (Credit: Ifeanyi Okowa)
Atiku Abubakar (Credit: Ifeanyi Okowa)

I am not at all surprised that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar won the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries last Saturday May 28, 2022. It was always the most probable outcome.

In the article with which I commenced my commentary and analysis on the 2023 presidential contest titled “The Journey to 2023” published in Peoples Gazette (https://gazettengr.com/the-journey-to-2023/) on December 10, 2021 and on my personal blog (https://opeyemiagbaje.com/category/2023/), I wrote the following about the presidential contest within the PDP, “On the PDP side, Atiku Abubakar, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Bukola Saraki appear to be current front-runners though it is too early to be definitive. Atiku remains formidable and may run this (final?) race with everything he has, financially, politically and spiritually! Some younger PDP elements may prefer the two others, Saraki and Tambuwal but in all the calculations, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike will have a big say! It is interesting to see former Senate President Anyim expressing interest and Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Peter Obi may not be disinterested in the Presidency or Vice-Presidency. Senator David Mark remains potentially very influential within the PDP”

By May 1, 2022, I was sufficiently confident of the probabilities to predict (in my presentation at the strategy conference of a leading healthcare enterprise in Lagos) that while the All Progressive Congress’ (APC) presidential contest remained unpredictable, I was more-or-less certain that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would win the PDP primaries. What I did not forsee was Peter Obi leaving PDP to contest on the platform of the Labour Party. I thought Peter Obi would eventually do a second run as Atiku’s running-mate!

Atiku’s strengths include his competence in policy and economy; large nationwide network; perception as relatively de-tribalised and pragmatic in spite of his Fulani and Northern Nigeria origins and his depth of political experience. He is a veteran of many political battles who first ran for Nigeria’s presidency in 1992 in the old Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries alongside the Late Chief MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. Atiku’s support of Abiola was critical in Abiola’s eventual victory in the SDP primaries enabling Abiola to contest the later annulled June 12 1993 elections. Atiku is a natural politician.

On the other hand, Abubakar Atiku’s albatross has been the perception of corruption which his former boss President Olusegun Obasanjo hung on his neck after their relationship turned sour around 2003. The APC severely leveraged this baggage of perceived corruption against Atiku in 2019 when he contested against President Muhammadu Buhari as Buhari sought and secured his second term in office. Given the scale of corruption we have observed under Buhari in the last seven years, I dare say, the weapon of corruption with which Atiku was badgered in 2019 may be less effective in 2023. Indeed, it may well backfire as APC may have lost credibility on the issue of corruption!

Apart from the issue of corruption, age and the perception of a perennial presidential loser may also work against Atiku’s chances. In addition, the issue of zoning and/or rotation is also a possible drawback. The moral and political imperative after eight years of a Buhari presidency and the attendant parochialism, ethic irredentism and nepotism in favour of Buhari and Atiku’s Fulani Muslim compatriots makes the possible advent of another Fulani Northern Muslim presidency seem problematic for many Nigerians. Nevertheless, I can concede that if as it increasingly seems possible, the APC also presents a Northern candidate for the presidency, Atiku may be quite competitive as a more secular, more nationalistic, probably more competent option depending of course on who the APC selection is.

The APC now appears to now have the alibi regime and regional strategists were all the while looking for-an excuse to also present a Northern presidential candidate. Indeed, many Southern politicians, commentators and even ordinary folks are already making the argument for them-“since PDP has chosen a Northern candidate, APC will have to do the same.” The matter is not quite as simple as that! While the PDP may succeed in re-uniting its ranks around Atiku, the consequences of a Northern candidacy in APC may prove to be more destructive of the party’s fortunes and cohesion. In the PDP, most of those perceived as viable presidential candidates were from the North; not many people considered Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Udom, Ayo Fayose or Dele Momodu as probable Nigerian presidents in 2023! In addition, having been excluded from national power for eight years, the PDP rank and file probably are united in the view that their best pathway for a quick return to Aso Rock will be a Northern presidential candidate.

The reality is likely to be different in APC! Leading Southern and particularly South-Western politicians are likely to perceive the selection of a Northern presidential candidate as a grand betrayal and fundamental breach of faith. And unlike PDP, there is a plethora of persons from the region correctly perceived as strong presidential aspirants in APC particularly Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Kayode Fayemi. The APC is likely to suffer negative consequences in the event it picks a presidential candidate from the North. Having said that, it is unfortunate that all of the leading Southerners in the APC were complicit in the creation of the worst political legacy of the 2015 and 2019 elections-the electoral gerrymandering that resulted in the vastly lopsided and in my view, fictitious allocation of voter registration and votes to the North in effect conceding a presidential veto power of a scale not witnessed before 2015 in Nigeria to the region; and suggestive of the impression that Nigeria can have a succession of Northern presidents more-or-less at the will of the North!

Ironically as late as it comes, 2023 may turn out to be Atiku Abubakar’s best chance at securing Nigeria’s presidency. We wait with bated breath for the APC candidate to emerge and for the evolution of Peter Obi’s increasingly popular candidacy.

Opeyemi Agbaje is Founder and CEO of leading strategy and business advisory firm, RTC Advisory Services Ltd. He was former Head of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Lagos Business School and is a lawyer, economic and policy expert and strategist. He is also Chairman of Stairways Communications and Advocacy Ltd, a political consultancy.

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