Atiku Abubakar: The Unrelenting Politician
Born on November 25, 1946, Atiku Abubakar is a retired officer of the Nigerian Customs Service, a politician and business tycoon. The only surviving child of his parents, having lost his sister at infancy, he was born in a small village, Jada in Adamawa State. His parents are Garba Abubakar, a Fulani trader and Aisha Kande.
Atiku Abubakar who is Nigeria’s second elected vice-president (1999-2007) did not start his education until he was eight years old because his father strongly opposed western education. When the government discovered that he was not attending mandatory schooling, his father was jailed for a few days until Atiku Abubakar’s mother paid a fine. He was subsequently enrolled in Jada Primary School before proceeding to Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola where he excelled in English Language and Literature.
Upon his graduation in 1965, he studied briefly at the Nigeria Police College in Kaduna but left when he was unable to produce an O-level Mathematics result. In 1966, he gained admission to the school of Hygiene in Kano after working as a Tax Officer in the regional Ministry of Finance. In his new school, he served as an interim Student Union President and graduated with a diploma in 1967. With a regional scholarship, he enrolled for a Law Diploma at the Ahmadu Bello University in the same year and completed the program in 1969. He went on to work for the Nigeria Customs Service during the Nigerian Civil War where he worked for twenty years. He rose to the position of Deputy Director, the second highest position in the Service before his retirement in April 1989. Upon retirement, he took up full time-time business and politics.
An austere businessman, he ventured into business while serving as a Customs Officer. In 1974 he applied for and received a 31,000 naira loan to build his first house in Yola, which he put up for rent. From proceeds of the rent he purchased another plot, and built a second house. He continued this way, building a sizeable portfolio of property in Yola. He veered into agriculture in 1981 by acquiring 2,500 hectares of land near Yola to start a maize and cotton farm. The business eventually packed up in 1986.
“My first foray into agriculture, in the 1980s, ended in failure,” he wrote in an April 2014 blog.
Dogged in his ways, he ventured into trading, buying and selling truckloads of rice, flour and sugar but his most important business venture was when Gabrielle Volpi, an Italian businessman in Nigeria, invited him to set up Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), a logistics company operating within the Ports. NICOTES would go on to provide immense wealth to Abubakar. Conflict of interest accusations has since trailed him on account of his involvement in business while a civil servant, who exercised supervisory authority.
His journey into the world of politics began in the early 1980s when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur. Towards the end of his Customs career, he became acquainted with Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who had been second-in-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. In 1989, Abubakar was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, the political association led by Yar’Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by Head of State Ibrahim Babangida. Abubakar 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 government (none of the groups that applied was registered) and found a place within the Social Democratic Party, SDP, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.
He ran for the office of governor in Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991, and for the Presidency in 1993, placing third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the SDP primaries. In 1998, he was elected Governor of Adamawa State and it was while he was still Governor-Elect that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate Olusegun selected him as his running mate. The duo went on to win elections in February 1999, and Abubakar was sworn in as Nigeria’s second democratically elected vice president on 29 May 1999.
On the 20th of November 2006, Abubakar was involved in a bitter public battle with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, ostensibly arising from the latter’s bid to amend certain provisions of the constitution to take another shot at the presidency (for the third consecutive time). Abubakar’s stormy relationship with Obasanjo and his bid to succeed the latter met with stiff opposition. It took a judgment of the Supreme Court to allow Abubakar contest after the Independent National Electoral Commissions initially disqualified him because he had been indicted for financial misconduct by an investigating panel set up at Obasanjo’s behest. The Supreme Court ordered the electoral commission to restore Abubakar’s name onto the presidential ballot. Abubakar left PDP and ran on the platform of the Action Congress because of his issues with Obasanjo. He lost however when he placed third after Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari.
Not one to quit, he later returned to PDP where he contested for the presidential ticket in 2007 alongside former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ, and Sarah Jubril but lost to GEJ. His bitter political feud with Obasanjo continued all the way into 2014 when a northern forum delegated members to visit Obasanjo in his home at Ota in a quest for reconciliation and forgiveness.
Abubakar who is the PDP’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2019 elections is an active philanthropist whose message as a politician is true federalism. His quest for better and quality education birthed his American University of Nigeria in 2005. In 2011, the National Peace Corps honoured him for his contributions to the development of tertiary education in Africa. While in 2012, he donated about 273 million naira ($750,000) to the National Peace Corps Association in the United States. It was the largest ever-individual donation in the association’s history.
In 2013, he was the sponsor of a student’s essay contest to generate solutions to Nigeria’s most pressing institutional educational challenges. Entrants were asked to write between 2,000 and 5,000 words on the topic ‘More Learning to More People: How can Nigeria be more innovative in bridging its literacy and skills gap?’
He has also awarded scholarships to some Chibok girls who escaped captivity from Boko Haram.
Rumours that Abubakar is banned from travelling to the United States is widespread after his wife Jenifer was allegedly implicated in an international bribery scandal involving US Congressman William Jefferson. It is noteworthy that Abubakar was never indicted for any crime in the US, the US Government never issued a travel ban against him, and he continues to travel to any part of the world. In January 2017, the U.S. government 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.
Due to his lonely childhood as an only child, he has a polygamous with four wives in a bid to expand his lineage. He married his first wife, Amina Abubakar before going on to marry Ladi, Princess Rukayatu and Fatima Abubakar. He and his second wife later divorced but he subsequently married Jennifer Iwenjora now known as Jamila Atiku Abubakar. He has 26 children.