Atiku Abubakar: Virtuous or Vile? Fola Ojo

In the eyes of the apparatchiks of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress, and tub-thumpers of President Muhammadu Buhari, there is no vacuum in the presidential leadership today. Buhari, a man who seems to have triumphed after wrestling with the beast of an undisclosed ailment, remains the President. From all indications, those of us praying for an upbeat health for this President may have got a nod of approval from Divinity. I pray for more blithesome strength for Mr. President.

The next presidential election may still be about 600 days away, but the jostle, push and pull have already begun for the juicy job Buhari holds. This is not an abnormality; it is how democracy works. But what if Buhari decides to refrain from running for a second term in 2019? Who is that man or woman with the requisite pedigree to dig Nigeria out of the trenches of bedevilling ailments of all sorts? Some of the names bandied about will either make you angry, get you excited, or tickle you into laughter. They also convince me that kakistocracy, a system of government run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous citizens may soon eviscerate democracy and disembowel political sanity before our eyes in Nigeria. The list is too tiresome to run in this treatise. I doubt it not that the assembly-line of presidential office seekers will stretch on longer as we draw closer to 2019. But one name that is already rehashed in our ears, and one who seems to have begun an overt campaign to chase out Buhari from Aso Rock is Atiku Abubakar.

Seventy-year-old Atiku is a stupendously rich, and a furiously famous man. Many close to the Turaki of Adamawa will tell you he is a good and generous human being. Atiku is a big splurge. A big-spender Nigerian politician is a darling in our system because money answers many things with my people, especially where millions are hungry and poor. Atiku the politician, businessman and philanthropist, held the position of the VP from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the PDP when Olusegun Obasanjo was President. Before then, he once ran the customs as deputy director; elected governor of Adamawa State 1998; and before he was sworn in, the PDP selected him to run with Obasanjo as running mate. The party won the election and continued its domination for 16 solid years.

In the annals of Nigerian political history, Atiku may easily pass for the most powerful vice president Nigeria ever had. He was literally in the fore-front of many economic policy decision-makings in the country. Talk to Nigerians home and abroad, the man from Adamawa, unfortunately, is perceived a corrupt man unhinged. Money and love of it are an inevitable inebriant to the former VP, many Nigerians opine. You don’t have to believe me; read what erstwhile Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and now Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said in his book, “The Accidental Public Servant”. El-Rufai suggested that Atiku, as chairman of the National Council on Privatisation meddled in the privatisation of NITEL which ultimately truncated the process. The inference was that Atiku was the arrow-head of NITEL privatisation drive of the government and he drove the tractor-trailer of the juice of many government projects to his house, allegedly selling most of the initiatives to himself, and using his friends as fronts. El-Rufai opened some can of worms on Atiku in that book. It is still said until today that Atiku’s fingerprints were all over almost all departments of government plum jobs when he was VP.

If one man fears an Atiku Presidency, it is his old boss, Obasanjo. Baba has said it many times in public that there is a “halo of corruption” hanging over Atiku’s head. If you read Baba’s book: “My Watch”, you will be assured of the former President’s conviction that Atiku must be feared running Nigeria’s treasury. Atiku denies that. He said he stumbled on wealth through hard work and luck. He has challenged anyone who has any shred of evidence of his alleged thieving nature to come forward. Nobody has come forward; but Obasanjo said his evidences are plenteous. “Take a trip to the US, when you return, then I will keep quiet”, Baba once challenged his friend and co-labourer. Atiku, to the best of our knowledge, may have not taken a trip to the US in about a decade. Who is telling the truth?

After Atiku dumped his old party, the PDP, I recall a report credited to the VP that one of the reasons he left the party was because of its mastery in “cleaning the treasury”. With all manner of stories of corrupt escapades lately regarding the PDP men and women who once held positions of power, Atiku knew what he was talking about. I was sort of tickled by his accusation of his old fold. There are a lot of Nigerians who believe that if any politician in the history of Nigeria possesses the most potent detergent to “clean the treasury”, he may be in the company with other grievous hyenas.

With audacity, he came out swinging a few days ago saying he would fight corruption better than Buhari if elected President. He also reinforced: “It is sickening to continue to regurgitate allegations of corruption against me by people who have failed to come forward with a single shred of evidence of my misconduct while in office.” If the allegations of corruption against the former VP are just smear campaigns to deter him from becoming President, his detractors may be winning.

Despite this, his votaries are singing sonorously in his ears that he should take one more swing at the Presidency in the next election cycle. A woman came out publicly the other day vowing that she had no other “god” but Atiku. She is Buhari’s Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan. Even against her sitting-President-benefactor Buhari, Aisha has sworn to do all she can to make Atiku President in 2019. Wow! There is no doubt that Atiku is well-loved by those who love him well.

In conclusion, I ask: Is Atiku Abubakar a leviathan of graft and grift? Is he one of Nigeria’s oppressive and sozzled impresarios of corruption; and one tenacious member of the fraternity of garroting grievous hyaenas troubling Nigeria? Or is Atiku just simply a man who found himself in the right place, at the right time, hooked to the right people, and walked into the buoying bubble of goodluck as he now claims? It depends on who you ask. If you asked el-Rufai and Obasanjo, they’ll tell you it’s risky for Nigeria touching Atiku even with a long pole. If you asked the Alhassans of Nigeria, Atiku is Nigeria’s hidden precious stone; and an under-appreciated blessing to Nigeria. It is why I ask this week: Is Atiku Abubakar virtuous or vile?

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