Atiku: Clearing a new path to 2019 presidency

By Samson Ezea and Dare Odunowo |   21 September 2017   |   3:55 am  

Atiku Abubakar

Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar who has been a strong contender in the race to Nigeria’s presidency since the aborted Third Republic is, by his recent pronouncements and political activities inside President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, exploring all avenues to have another shot at the top seat.

What many people see as the build-up, plots and intrigues to 2019 presidency recently came to the public domain with the open declaration of support for former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition by the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, to the surprise of those who are not conversant with her antecedents.

Even though, Alhassan has reportedly recanted the support during a visit to the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, it is obvious the damage has been done. 
In an interview with BBC Hausa Service, the Minister declared that even if President Muhammadu Buhari decides to contest the next election, she would still support Atiku.

While many condemned Alhassan’s action, some have praised it, describing her as a courageous and loyal politician. But one thing that appears certain is that her position is not only a prelude to Atiku’s planned political moves, it is a sign of what may befall the ruling party in the days ahead, considering that she is obviously not alone in the crusade. The likes of the suspended assistant National Publicity Secretary of APC, Timi Frank, Adamawa State governor, Jibrin Bindow, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and others may soon join the train of those who would not agree with Buhari’s second term.   
Typical of Atiku’s style of presenting political plans through proxies, the former Vice President, immediately after Alhassan’s disclosures, said Buhari’s government, which he helped into power in 2015, has sidelined him.Atiku’s allegation came almost the same day Alhassan declared support for his presidential ambition. With this, it is obvious that the development was not coincidental, but planned and timed. Alhassan’s posture could be best described as that of a bird dancing in the middle of the road, while its drummer is somewhere in the nearby bush.
Atiku’s age-long presidential ambition is still a serious and dear project to him, despite several failed attempts, including during the last general elections of 2015 but with the situation of things in the APC and the presidency today, Atiku may not be the alternative option for the party, even if Buhari says he is not running again.

The Guardian investigation revealed that the reason why the APC has no Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman till date is because Atiku was favoured to occupy it, but some forces within the party were not comfortable with the idea.So the options open to Atiku to pursue his 2019 presidential ambition is either to return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or defect to his proxy party, Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) which he had used his supporters to hijack its leadership.

Returning to PDP may be a difficult decision, considering that there are too many PDP chieftains from the North like Sule Lamido, Ahmed Makarfi and others, who are suspected to be nursing presidential ambition in 2019 on their party’s platform. Although, the PDP in Adamawa recently disclosed plans to bring Atiku back to the party, it is doubtful if they could secure the party’s presidential ticket for him.

There are fears that the former Vice President could face the same defeat he suffered during the primary election of the PDP in 2011 in the hands of President Goodluck Jonathan who got massive support from the governors. And what is the assurance that Atiku will be given the party’s ticket?
The fact that staunch political allies like his running mate in the 2007 presidential election, Chief Ben Obi and others are in PDP is not a guarantee that the party’s ticket will be offered to him on a platter of gold. This is considering the fact that Atiku is from the Northeast zone, with less number of votes than Northwest zone, where Buhari hails from. Similarly, Atiku’s likely dilemma over the PDM option will be largely due to the party’s lack of spread across the country and its poor performance in elections since its formation.

No matter how Atiku schemes, it is clear that his 2019 presidential ambition is no longer hidden. What seems hidden is how he is going to actualise it in the face of daunting challenges and considering that this may be his last chance. Even though, Atiku has not publicly declared his ambition, he can no longer deny nursing same, because his political ally and goddaughter, Aisha Alhassan has let the cat out of the bag.
Henceforth, Atiku needs to do more grassroots work to actualise the dream. This is because Alhassan’s declaration will reawaken the consciousness of those who are strongly opposed to Atiku’s presidency of any sort.  For this reason, Atiku has more work to do than ever before. His sudden crusade for the country’s restructuring may not be enough for him to get the votes of Nigerians, especially his brothers from the North, who appeared not to be forthcoming on the call for the country’s restructuring.  Again, not even Alhassan’s unalloyed support for him will be enough to do the magic.
Many have asked; who is Alhassan and what gave her the confidence that Atiku is the best option for Nigerians in 2019? Alhassan as Minister of Women Affairs has before now made scathing remarks about Buhari’s government, accusing it of not empowering women enough and not supporting APC in her home state of Taraba.

It would be recalled that after Supreme Court judgment was delivered in favour of Ahmed Makarfi led faction of the PDP, she visited Makarfi in his office to congratulate him, without minding whose ox is gored.Coming from a family of successful politicians and with a history of activism even in her university days, Alhassan is a potent force in the politics of the north especially in her home state of Taraba, whose support for Atiku’s 2019 presidential ambition should not be waved aside. 
Speaking to The Guardian on Alhassan’s support and Atiku’s 2019 presidential ambition, ousted National Chairman of PDM, Alhaji Bashir Yusuf said what happened was an APC issue, stressing that the party has to deal with it as its internal matter.
“I can authoritatively say that for now most politicians making noise about 2019 presidency are pretenders, not contenders. When the time comes, Nigerians will see the real contenders. It is not about declaring for presidency, it is about contesting it in the real sense of it.” On the Minister’s support for Atiku, Yusuf said that everybody knows that Alhassan is Atiku’s loyalist, stressing, “Alhassan is entitled to her opinion, but cannot serve two masters at a time. Now that she has shown her true colour, it is left for the President to decide her fate.”A Chieftain of APC in Abuja, Ugu Mathias said that Atiku’s presidential ambition cannot be realised on the APC platform, because the forces against him are too much.
According to him, “Atiku knows that his presidential ambition will not be feasible in APC with the developments in the party and presidency. Even if Buhari says he is not contesting, Atiku will not be the APC alternative in 2019. It will amount to self-deceit for Atiku to continue to say that he is still an APC member.

“He is not in control of the party structure in Adamawa, his home. The option for him is to forget the ambition or try his luck in PDP. This does not invalidate the fact that he has constitutional right to vie for the election.”But an influential member of the PDP and Atiku’s ally who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that Atiku will defect to PDP, stressing that plans are underway to welcome him back to the party he assisted in forming many years ago.
He said, “Atiku will rejoin PDP. Alhassan and other PDP bigwigs know and they welcome it. Even the PDM, which has Atiku’s support, will merge with PDP before 2019. Atiku is bringing the PDM members who are mainly his loyalists into PDP.”
Another member of the PDP alleged that Atiku has been pleading with the party leadership to allow him to return to the party, knowing that APC leadership may not provide him with a level playing ground in 2019.But whatever game plan the Adamawa politician has, it has to be played early enough to secure a place for him in the race for the 2019 presidency on a credible and viable political platform.

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