Digging into a past
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar represents different things and comes across as a man of diverse parts, which when dissected, reveals quite a lot about his personality.
To his admirers, he is that quintessential politician and a power-broker who, if given the opportunity to lead the country, has the sagacity and erudition to take the country out of the current miasma it has found itself.
They are quick to point out his past rich manifestos which tend to dwell extensively on the ways and means of creating a viable economic base for Nigeria.
But to his critics and political opponents, Atiku is one man who should never be allowed to get near the corridors of power one more time. They see him as a corrupt politician, a dishonest and disloyal cheat whose only aim at the top political cherry in the country is to further enrich himself.
They are quick to point to accusations of financial impropriety against him which they say, make him unsuitable for top office in a country where corruption is a huge challenge.
His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo had, in his book ‘My Watch’, called Atiku some disparaging and uncomplimentary names including accusing him of being a thief, a blatant and shameless liar and a most disloyal human being.
He went on to say that God would never forgive him if he ever supports Atiku in his quest to become the President of Nigeria.
“If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support.
“What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background which was somewhat shadowy, his propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgement.
“His belief and reliance on marabouts, his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out on all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety, truth and national interest for self and selfish interest, are some the things that can never make me support him,” Obasanjo had said in the book published in 2014 after they left office.
To others, he is a serial defector, jumping from one party to the other and does not seem to have the capability to maintain one position for too long if he does not get his way.
Atiku’s serial defection is legendary having gallivanted between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), to the All Progressives Congress (APC), and back to the PDP with such regularity that Nigerians often wonder what next he has in stock as far as party loyalty is concerned.
READ ALSO: Before they ‘deport’ Atiku to Cameroun!
Atiku himself has been a mixed bag of controversies as he keeps bumbling from one storm to another, mostly on issues of his alleged corruption, embezzlement of public funds, allegations of bribery, selling of public utilities to friends and cronies in the name of privatization as the Vice President and to the most recent one of not being a Nigerian.
But in all of these, Atiku has continued to trudge on and has become one of the most talked about political figures in Nigeria. His unending quest to become Nigeria’s president by running in every election since 2007 is a story of legends and in this aspect, the man has stood out as a veteran.
And with the 2023 presidential elections a few months away, there are speculations that Atiku is revving up his machinery to once again, throw his hat into the ring, not minding the sentiments and agitations that power should shift to the south.
Cameroonian or Nigerian?
Atiku’s rise to fame has been presented as classic case of rag to riches, one in which he was once decorated as a common recruit with the Nigerian Customs, later emerging to become one of the richest men in Nigeria, and a politician of great reckoning.
He was born on November, 25, 1946, in Jada, a village which was then under the administration of the British Cameroons, with the territory later deciding to join the Nigerian federation through a plebiscite in 1961.
His father, Garba Abubakar, was a Fulani trader and farmer, while his mother, Aisha Kande, was petty trader. He was named after his paternal grandfather Atiku Abdulqadir who hailed from Wurno in Sokoto State and migrated to Kojoli village at Jada, while his maternal grandfather, Inuwa Dutse had earlier migrated to Jada from Dutse in Jigawa State.
Atiku became the only child of his parents when his only sister died at infancy. In 1957, his father died by drowning while crossing a river to Toungo, a neighbouring village to Jada.
Falling out of Police College
His father was against the idea of western education and tried everything to keep the young Atiku out of the traditional school system. When the government discovered that he was not attending mandatory schooling, his father was arrested and he spent a few days in jail until his mother was able to pay the fine that was imposed on him to spring him from prison.
At the age of eight, Atiku enrolled in the Jada Primary School, and on completion of his primary school education in 1960, he was admitted into the Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in the same year, alongside 59 other students. He graduated from secondary school in 1965, making grade three in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination.
He then had a short stint at the Nigeria Police College in Kaduna but was forced to drop out when he was unable to present an O-Level Mathematics result. He worked briefly as a Tax Officer in the Regional Ministry of Finance, from where he gained admission to the School of Hygiene in Kano in 1966.
He graduated with a Diploma in 1967, having served as Interim Student Union President at the school. In 1967, he enrolled for a Law Diploma at the Ahmadu Bello University Institute of Administration on a scholarship from the regional government. After graduation in 1969 during the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, Atiku successfully attended the recruitment of the Nigeria Customs Service where he was picked and thus began his life as a Customs officer.
Atiku was in the Nigeria Customs Service for 20 years, rising to become a Deputy Director of Customs, as the second highest position in the Service was then known, before retiring in April 1989 to take up full-time business and politics.
Atiku’s is believed to have leveraged his appointment at the Customs to build a business empire linked to Nigerian ports. His most important business move reportedly came while he was a Customs Officer at the Apapa Ports. Gabrielle Volpi, an Italian businessman in Nigeria, was said to have invited him to set up the Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), a logistics company operating within the Ports. NICOTES would later go on to become Intels Nigeria Limited, an oil servicing business with extensive operations in Nigeria and abroad, which provided immense wealth to Atiku Abubakar.
Weaving a political career
Atiku Abubakar’s first foray into politics was in the early 1980s, when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was the managing director of the NPA. Atiku canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur, and also donated heavily to the campaign team.
Towards the end of his Customs career, he met General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second-in-command, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yar’Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yar’Adua’s Lagos home, which gave rise to the Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN).
The PFN included politicians such as Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Baba Gana Kingibe, Bola Tinubu, Sabo Bakin Zuwo, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila.
In 1989, Atiku was elected the National Vice-Chairman of the PFN in the build-up to the third Nigerian republic. He won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly, set up to decide a new constitution for Nigeria. The People’s Front was eventually denied registration by the military government alongside other political affiliations, with the merging of the government-created Social Democratic Party (SDP).
On 1 September 1990, Atiku announced his bid to run for the Gongola State gubernatorial seat but a year later, before the elections could hold, Gongola State was broken up into two, Adamawa and Taraba States, by the military government. He fell into the new Adamawa where he contested and won the SDP Primaries in November 1991, but was later disqualified by the government from contesting the elections.
In 1993, Abubakar contested the SDP presidential primaries in Jos but lost to the eventual winner and presidential candidate of the party, Moshood Abiola.
After the June 12 annulment of the presidential elections by then head of state, General Sani Abacha, Atiku again showed interest to contest for the gubernatorial seat of Adamawa under the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), but the transition program came to an end with the death of General Abacha.
In 1998, Atiku moved to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and once again, vied for the Adamawa governorship seat where he contested successfully and won the December, 1998, governorship elections, but before he could be sworn in, he accepted a position as the running mate to the PDP presidential candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo who went on to win the 1999 presidential election ushering in the fourth Nigerian Republic.
Will he be 6th time lucky?
Since his entry into politics in 1993, Atiku Abubakar has unsuccessfully contested five times for the office of President of Nigeria in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
In 1993, he contested the Social Democratic Party presidential primaries, losing out to Abiola, while in 2007, he was the presidential candidate of the Action Congress where he came third behind Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP who was declared the winner and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Part (ANPP).
In 2011, Atiku tried his hands again at the top job when he contested the presidential primaries of the PDP but lost out to then President Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2014, he joined the APC ahead of the 2015 presidential election and contested the presidential primaries, losing to Muhammadu Buhari.
In 2017, he returned to the PDP and was the party’s presidential candidate during the 2019 presidential election, again losing to incumbent President Buhari.
Atiku seems to be quite at home with controversies and the thicker they come, the better it gets for him, as he always has a way of wriggling out of such situations like the proverbial cat with the nine lives.
One celebrated controversy is the failed third term agenda of then President Obasanjo which he opposed vehemently, causing a rift and a fall out with his principal.
The controversy generated by the botched constitutional amendment momentarily caused a serious crack within the then ruling PDP after the National Assembly vetoed the amendments allowing Obasanjo to run for another term.
By 2006, Atiku’s relationship with Obasanjo had broken down irretrievably which saw the first of serial defections when he left the PDP fir the ACN in preparation for the 2007 elections.
In an interview in November 2013, Atiku said of Obasanjo’s alleged attempts to justify his third term bid:
“He, (Obasanjo) informed me that ‘I left power twenty years ago, I left Mubarak in office, I left Mugabe in office, I left Eyadema in office, I left Umar Bongo, and even Paul Biya, and I came back and they are still in power; and I just did eight years and you are asking me to go; why?’
“And I responded to him by telling him that Nigeria is not Libya, not Egypt, not Cameroon, and not Togo; I said you must leave; even if it means both of us lose out, but you cannot stay.”
The Obasanjo-Atiku wars
Atiku’s pursuit of becoming Nigeria’s president has not been helped any bit by his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, who in in 2014 book, ‘My Watch’, said he would never endorse him (Atiku) to run for president as he is a man that can never be trusted. Obasanjo went on to call Atiku a number of unprintable and nasty names.
Stating clearly that God will never forgive him if he supported Atiku, Obasanjo said:
“How can I be on the same side with Atiku? To do what? If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support. I do not have personal grudges with anyone. If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us.
“It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual. If you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria it does not matter who you are I am not working with you.”
The retired general further painted Atiku in very bad light when he said he (Atiku) was not only a thief but a pathological and shameless liar who can cut any corner for his self-aggrandizement.
In an interview in 2018, Obasanjo had said:
“I know Atiku very well. And I have mentioned my position with Atiku. My position has not changed.
“He is a blatant and shameless liar. Those who can be regarded as influential and who publicly accused me of allegedly manipulating a third term were Atiku Abubakar who is a blatant and shameless liar who was behind the episode of turning wholesome constitutional amendment efforts of the National Assembly to a futile exercise as a means of riding on its ashes to be a Nigerian President.
“Atiku is one of the most disloyal human being I have ever known.”
Going on to accuse Atiku of being a chronic thief who was under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as law enforcement agencies in the US and the UK, Obasanjo said in the same interview:
“Atiku Abubakar’s name was among names sent to us. Up to that time, the EFCC had enjoyed a close cooperation and collaboration with law enforcement agencies in the UK and the USA. I gave the green light to Nuhu (then EFCC boss) for the investigation as requested by the authorities and forwarded his report to the USA. The report was uncomfortable and unsavoury about Atiku and his associates.”
Though the two later kissed and made up during the run up to the 2019 presidential elections with Obasanjo lending his support for Atiku and endorsing him, the damaging statements he had made in the past had left an indelible mark in the minds of Nigerians who have continued to see Atiku as a man that cannot be trusted and no matter what he does, he has been unable to wash off the stain from his body.
Multiple corruption cases
Atiku has been implicated in several corruption cases over the years and they would never go away anytime soon. In 2017, he was involved in an international bribery scandal and that caused him a temporary restriction order from entering the United States.
In January 2017, the U.S. government had released a statement saying it would need the “consent of the politician before it can disclose the true state of his immigration status to the United States.”
Atiku was alleged to have diverted the sum of $6m which he, alongside one of his wives, Jennifer and an American politician, William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, funded a Kentucky-based communications firm, iGate, when the company wanted to do business in Nigeria in 2004.
Jefferson had been under investigation in the US since March 2005 for allegedly using his position to help iGate which had sought contracts with Nigeria and other African nations, and taking bribes in return. During investigations, the FBI said it recovered $90,000 stashed in a freezer in Jefferson’s home during a search.
He was also fingered in a messy bribery case when he was implicated in the Halliburton scandal which led to the conviction and the imprisonment of his American business partner, Jefferson.
In 2010, the US Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigation released a detailed report of how Atiku wired $40 million from offshore companies to US accounts allegedly controlled by him and his wife, Jennifer.
He was also alleged to be involved in an international syndicate of money laundering, looting, and corruption, which reportedly earned him a visit ban by the US Department of Homeland Security.
Back home, Atiku has also been involved in many diverse corruption cases, especially during the privatization process under Obasanjo when he was the Chairman of the National Council on Privatization (NCP).
According to the allegations, he had allegedly influenced the sale of government enterprises to his friends and cronies and ultimately, rerouting the funds to himself.
He was also accused of diverting a whopping $25m of government funds to build his private university, the American University of Nigeria in his native Adamawa State when most public universities were collapsing under his and Obasanjo’s watch.
The money was said to have been used to build the university and another $8m he allegedly paid to the American University in Washington D.C. to get the license to build the Nigerian version of the institution.
While still in power, Nigerian senators accused Atiku of diverting more than $100m of public funds to his private businesses after an inquiry indicted him of siphoning off taxpayers’ money to companies he was connected to.
The Senate had launched the investigation after Obasanjo accused his then deputy of corruption shortly after their famous fallout.
The Senate report read:
“The investigating panel has agreed with the findings that Atiku Abubakar helped divert $145m from government accounts to banks and some of these monies were then fraudulently converted as loans for three companies connected to the vice-president.”
The report called for Atiku’s prosecution, from which he is protected while in office. However, a Senate impeachment would strip him of his protection and disqualify him from April’s presidential elections. He could also then face criminal charges.
However, true to type, Atiku dismissed the allegations with a wave of the hand and called it a witch hunt by Obasanjo and those who wanted him impeached and part of a grand plot to keep him from running for Nigeria’s top post.
“This is just a grand plot to stop me by my enemies. The legislative body should not allow its name to be dragged into the mud by a few members who may be pursuing their own hidden agenda,” Atiku had said in a statement exonerating himself.
Atiku had also been accused of conflict of interest even as a public officer on account of his involvement in business while he was a Customs Officer who exercised supervisory authority.
On his part, Atiku defended his involvement in business, by saying that his connection to the businesses was limited to the ownership of shares which is permitted by government rules, as he was never involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
Perhaps the weightiest of the controversies that have continued to trail Atiku Abubakar and has stood out like a sore thumb has been the allegation that he is not originally from Nigeria and as such, is not qualified to run for any elective position.
The allegations surfaced when Atiku filed an appeal at the Presidential Election Tribunal challenging the victory of the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari after the conclusion of the 2019 presidential election.
In a bid to discredit him, the APC told the Tribunal that Atiku was not a Nigerian, but a Cameroonian, and on that basis, was not qualified to have contested the presidential election in the first place.
The ruling party averred that Atiku was born in Jada, a town in Adamawa State which was in the northern part of Cameroon and was therefore, is a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth.
This, according to the APC, was contrary to the assertion of the PDP candidate as he had no right to vote or be voted for as a candidate in the election to the office of president of Nigeria.
One of the lawyers of the ruling party had argued:
“Recall that in 1961, a plebiscite organised by the United Nations was held in the British controlled part of Cameroon (British Northern and British Southern Cameroons).
“The referendum was to choose between joining a self-governing Nigeria or re-unification with sovereign Cameroun. On February 12, 1961, the results of the plebiscite were released and British Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria, while the southern part voted for reunion with the Republic of Cameroon.
“Our dear Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, situated in the then British Northern Cameroon. He was born a Cameroonian. Atiku is a Cameroonian citizen by birth and became a Nigerian by referendum. He is not a Nigerian by birth. We have to get that right. The 11.1m votes recorded in favour of Atiku is a waste, and should be voided by the tribunal.
“The constitution of Nigeria is very clear on the requirements for vying for the office of the President. The candidate must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth. Citizenship by referendum is not recognised by our constitution for the purpose of elections.”
The case resurfaced again in 2021 when the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, told a Federal High Court in Abuja that former Atiku is not constitutionally eligible to vie for presidency in Nigeria as he is not a Nigerian by birth.
Malami, who was in support of a suit lodged against Atiku by a group under the aegis of the Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa, argued that “having not been born a Nigerian or by Nigerian parents, and having not met the provisions of Sections 25(1) &(2) and 131(a) of the constitution, Atiku, would be violating Section 118(1)(k) of the Electoral Act should he put himself forward as a presidential candidate.
“The first defendant (Atiku) is not a fit and proper person to be a candidate for election to the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The first defendant was born on the 25th of November, 1946 at Jada, at the time in Northern Cameroon. By the plebiscite of 1961, the town of Jada was incorporated into Nigeria.
“The first defendant is a Nigerian by virtue of the 1961 plebiscite, but not a Nigerian by birth. The first defendant’s parents died before the 1961 plebiscite.”
Citing provisions of the 1960, 1963, 1979 and 1999 Constitutions, the AGF further argued that “reasoning of the lawmakers in ensuring that the persons to be the President of Nigeria is a citizen of Nigeria by birth is because such a person is the number one citizen and the image of the Nigerian state.
“This is even more so where his parents do not belong to any tribe indigenous to Nigeria until their death. The facts of his (Atiku’s) birth on the Cameroonian territory to Cameroonian parents remain unchallenged.
“Whether by section 25 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), is the sole authority that spells out ways by which a person can become a Nigerian citizen by birth.
“Whether by the provisions of section 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), only a Nigeria citizen by birth can contest for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“At best, the first defendant can only acquire Nigerian citizenship by the 1961 plebiscite. The citizenship qualifications under Section 26 and 27 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), by implication, has limited the first defendant’s privileges or rights and cannot be equal or proportional to the privileges of other citizens who acquire their citizenship status by birth.
“This would include the legal preclusion of the first defendant from contesting for the office of the President of Nigeria.”
In response, Atiku asked the court to dismiss the suit which he said was grossly lacking in merit as he is “a bonafide citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
He told the court that aside serving as Vice President from 1999 to 2007, he held many public/private offices in Nigeria, including serving as Governor of Adamawa State and was a commissioned officer of the Nigeria Customs Service.
He argued that both his parents, grandparents and great grandparents were born in Nigeria and they lived, died as Nigerians and were buried in Nigeria.
Atiku added that he is qualified and eligible to be elected into the office of the President of Nigeria, and contended that the plaintiff filed the suit with the aim of maligning his person.
Life of a serial defector
In his quest to become the president of Nigeria, which, according to him, has been his life-long ambition, Atiku Abubakar has changed parties countless times and has become, perhaps Nigeria’s political defector-in-chief.
Moving from the PDP to the APC to the ACN back to the PDP has been Atiku’s pattern as he keeps looking for that party that would give him the springboard to realizing his long held dream. Nigerians have come to christen the former Customs boss as the serial defector and the tag is justifiable if one is to look at his antecedents.
Here is a timeline of Atiku’s series of defections.
In 1999, Atiku was elected governor of his home state, Adamawa, on the PDP ticket but before he could be sworn in, he was picked by the party as the running mate by Obasanjo who had secured the PDP presidential ticket.
The ticket proceeded to win the presidency, with Atiku becoming Nigeria’s Vice President from May 29, 1999 and for a second term in 2003.
Before the end of the second term in 2006, Atiku, after years of internal battle with Obasanjo, unceremoniously left the PDP for the first time and joined the Action Congress.
Atiku’s influence in the PDP was systematically eroded through fresh membership registration that saw most of his supporters pushed out of the party, as Obasanjo ostensibly tried to ensure that he was not nominated as his successor.
Atiku’s mission to become president saw him contest the primaries of the AC but was eventually denied the ticket. He was in the AC from 2006 to 2009 but following disagreements with former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was one of the party leaders, the former Vice President dumped the AC and returned to the PDP in 2009 where he ran for the presidential ticket in the 2011 election but lost to Jonathan.
The success of the PDP in 2011 and the appointment of Bamanga Tukur as the National Chairman of the party threw the PDP into serious crisis, forcing Atiku and some of staunch supporters, including seven serving governors, to stage a walk out of a PDP national convention in August 2013, accusing the leadership of the party and then President Jonathan of impunity.
Atiku and his loyalists eventually formed what they called the ‘new PDP’ but after efforts to reconcile with the Bamanga Tukur-led PDP failed and their push to stop Jonathan from running for election also failed, Atiku and five of the governors who left the PDP with him announced their defection to the APC in November, 2013.
Atiku and former Kano State governor who was also in the ‘new PDP’, Rabiu Kwankwaso, ran for the APC presidential ticket but lost out to Buhari who eventually won the 2015 election.
He, however, remained in the APC longer than usual but was consistently absent in many of the party’s activities at the national level after complaining that Buhari and the party had been side-lining him.
Atiku once again defected from the APC back to his first love, the PDP, after he allegedly received a commitment from the top hierarchy of the party that the PDP would give him the platform to run for president in 2019.
The rest, as they say, is now history.
2023: To run or not?
As the race for the 2023 presidential election gets hotter by the day, there are indications that Atiku will once again put himself forward for the plum job. But this time, there are lots of obstacles and hurdles before him which might make it quite impossible for him to finally actualize his dreams.
For one, there has been a deafening clamour for the next president to come from the south with many political stakeholders urging all political parties to consider zoning the presidency to the region.
If that is done, it will be left to be seen if Atiku will get the mandate of any party he decides to pitch his tent with.
But the ultimate downer for Atiku in his next quest for the top cherry has been the damaging and destructive assessment of Atiku by former President Obasanjo, a man he worked with for eight years and may have known him more than any other Nigerian.
The disparaging and caustic description of Atiku in the most vicious manner by Obasanjo has placed a perpetual and permanent suspicion in the heart of many Nigerians which no amount of image laundering may erase.
By Isaac Dachen
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