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Atiku, Tinubu: Two political allies challenged by 2023

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, (Abuja)
14 May 2022   |   4:20 am
In 1992, they featured in the transition to civil rule programme of military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. One became a Senator; the other unsuccessfully sought to be President and Vice President. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu...

Atiku and Tinubu

• Echoes Of Conspiracies

In 1992, they featured in the transition to civil rule programme of military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. One became a Senator; the other unsuccessfully sought to be President and Vice President. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu have been around in Nigerian politics. They belonged to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which symbol was a white horse.

    
Surviving the turbulence that followed the failed third republic, they featured prominently in the politics of the fourth republic: One became governor, the other jumped from the governorship seat he never sat on to the Vice Presidency he craved in the aborted third republic.
   
This time around, they parted ways. While Tinubu became a playmaker, first in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress and later Action Congress of Nigeria; Atiku played second fiddle in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Intricate political manouvre brought them together in 2007 on the ACN platform, where Atiku sought unsuccessfully to be President of Nigeria once again.

Now, 15 years after they plotted from the same platform to mount the horse of Nigeria’s Presidency, these two political juggernauts have again been joined by similar ambition in the chase of the ultimate political prize. Although Tinubu, who goes by the sobriquet, Jagaban, said becoming Nigeria’s President had always been his life ambition, Atiku has been reflecting those same words in action.
  
It would be recalled that in 1992, when he ended up as the second runner-up in the SDP Presidential primary, Atiku, who is well known, first as Turakin, and now, Wazirin Adamawa, contested for the party’s ticket on the promise of being the Bridge.
  
On his part, Tinubu secured an easy win to represent Lagos East Senatorial District in the Senate. Although that third Senate did not last long, Tinubu was a central player in the politics of election of floor functionaries.

   
With eyes on the impending Presidential primary, Tinubu worked for the emergence of Prof. Iyorchia Ayu as the President of Senate to pave way for the emergence of Chief Moshood Abiola as the SDP Presidential standard bearer. Tinubu’s strategic vision was said to be anchored on the scheme that in the event that the North produces the President of Senate, it would be odd for the same region to still angle for the party’s Presidential ticket.
  
Ayu’s emergence as Senate President was said to have helped to galvanise support for Chief Abiola at the Jos convention of SDP. Had he wanted, Tinubu was well positioned in the third Senate to clinch the position of Senate President, but by supporting a candidate from Middle Belt, he brightened the chances of Southwest during the SDP Presidential primary at the Jos convention.
   
At the Jos convention of SDP, Atiku played similar pragmatic politics to what Tinubu did during the election of Senate floor functionaries: At the end of the first ballot, a clear winner could not emerge from among the three leading aspirants, namely, Abiola, Babagana Kingibe and Atiku.
   
With his vote tally of 2066, Atiku and his sponsors saw that if he should align with Abiola, who garnered 3,617 delegate votes, that could place him at a vantage position to negotiate for Presidential running mate. A run-off election was planned, because Abiola’s margin of win over Kingibe was less than 400. Ambassador Kingibe scored 3,225 votes to Abiola’s 3,617.
 
However, after a long interplay of intrigues and contacts mobilisation, the repeat contest, which was staged for the three leading aspirants out of the pack of 27, showed what had transpired the night before. Utilising the two minutes allocated to each of the three front row contenders to address the delegates, Atiku declared: “Distinguished national delegates, I very much appreciate your endorsement last night. I will remain ever grateful for that endorsement.”
   
Without raising his head to scan the array of delegates and party faithful or pause to gauge the feelings of his supporters, the 47-year old Presidential aspirant from Adamawa announced that he was stepping down for Chief Abiola.
   
Although, he explained that the decision was “in order to ensure a rancour-free election tonight,” words later filtered in that Atiku was prevailed upon by his political godfather, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to step down and pave way for his selection as Presidential running mate to Abiola.
    
Perhaps, incensed that their candidate was guided by selfish consideration rather than regional solidarity, some of Atiku’s supporters did not accept his plea “to allow me to discontinue the race.” That disconnect played out when they split their votes between Abiola and Kingibe such that Abiola’s margin of winning votes shrank from 392 to 227.
   
Then, feeling betrayed and having heard how a deal for running mate was sealed, Kingibe decided to play a fast one on Atiku. Shortly after the results were announced, the seasoned diplomat, in his sonorous voice, turned to Abiola and said, “My President, congratulations, I am loyal.”  

It was gathered that Abiola’s decision to pick Kingibe as his running mate was informed by that gesture of support and submission, as well as the fact that IBB advised against picking Atiku in preference to Paschal Bafyau, a Christian, and the then President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
     
Although some commentators blamed the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election partly on Abiola’s repudiation of IBB’s counsel, the Muslim/Muslim ticket and internal barracks’ politics of the military, both Atiku and Tinubu took different political trajectories. While Atiku sulked silently over the choice of Kingibe, Tinubu went into the trenches with other SDP chieftains and rights activists.

    
As it turned out, Tinubu’s activism within the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which was formed to reclaim Abiola’s mandate, paved the way for his eventual return as political generalissimo of Southwest.

Expanding Powerbase
AT the return of Nigeria to presidential democracy, Atiku and Tinubu played in different platforms. Although both men contested and won the 1999 governorship election in their respective states -Adamawa and Lagos- posterity put them in different leagues.
  
Falling back on the Progressive Front (PF) political structure he inherited from General Yar’Adua, Atiku was invited by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to join him on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential ticket, which he won at the Jos convention.
 
It could be said that just as the PF machinery, which prevailed on him to step down in 1992 made a way for Atiku, Tinubu’s contributions to NADECO activities powered him into the governorship of Lagos State on the platform of AD at the expense of Engineer Funsho Williams.
 
Within the period 1999 through 2002, the Lagos State governor and the fourth republic Vice President deployed their talent and energies in expanding their political bases.
     
While Obasanjo literally handed over the running of the PDP Federal Government to his deputy, Tinubu employed the laws of power by dethroning his godfathers, the Yoruba Socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere.
 

   
The warp and woof of those eventful three years culminated in the tempestuous buildup to the 2003 elections. But, while Governor Tinubu successfully entrenched himself as the Alpha and Omega in Lagos State chapter of AD, Vice President Atiku Abubakar faced a crisis of confidence with his boss, President Obasanjo.
   
PDP state governors, who were privy to the cold war between the President and his deputy banded together in solidarity with their former colleague, who though did not take oath as governor of Adamawa State. The 16 governors led by powerful Niger Delta political leaders, Dr. Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieyeseigha and James Onanefe Ibori, was said to have approached Atiku, asking him to contest the 2003 Presidential poll with the second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who lost to Obasanjo at the Jos convention.
 
Sources within the club of 16 governors confirmed to The Guardian that when the plot to deliver an Ekwueme/Atiku joint Presidential ticket for 2003 gathered traction, the Vice President caused it to be leaked to President Obasanjo.
  
But, dismissing the claim that Atiku leaked the plan to Obasanjo, former Abia State governor and current Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, disclosed that the 16 governors met with President Obasanjo and informed him.
  
“We told President Obasanjo that he was not popular with Nigerians and that the best thing to do to sustain the unity and stability of this country is for Ekwueme to run with Atiku to rotate the Presidency among the geopolitical zones,” Kalu stated.
  
Faced with the powerful gang up, President Obasanjo brought his military training to bear. The President had noted that, “when faced with an ambush, you move forward.” He was said to have gone to Atiku and disabused his mind from the speculations that he was to be dropped from their joint ticket.
    
Having jumped the hurdle placed on his path to a second term as Vice President, which he saw as a golden pathway to the Presidency, Atiku used his position to save Tinubu’s second term in the blitzkrieg of the 2003 garrison politics that consumed other AD governors in Southwest geopolitical zone.
   
Relishing his survival as the last man standing, Asiwaju recalibrated the AD by grafting his acolytes, mostly from the PRIMROSE (People Resolved Irrevocably to Maximise the Resources of the State of Excellence) group, into the formation of Action Congress.  
   
Supported by the PRIMROSE group, which helped him to prosecute the 1992 governorship challenge in Lagos State chapter of SDP, Tinubu was said to have also incorporated the understanding of some PDP stalwarts in birthing AC in 2006.
   
Prominent PDP leaders involved in the political grafting included, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Ben Ndi Obi, Dr. Chris Ngige, Chief Audu Ogbe among others. When eventually President pushed out Atiku from PDP through the infamous membership revalidation exercise, he found solace in AC on which platform he contested the 2007 Presidential poll with Senator Ben Obi as running mate.
   
Recently, Dr. Ngige described Tinubu as master of formation of political parties, stressing that the former Lagos State is always thinking ahead for solutions to political puzzles. That could explain why in 2011, Tinubu widened the AC circle to accommodate like-minds from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and New Democrats to found Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
   
Tinubu continued to expand the circle of progressives with the likes of Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, culminating in the merger talks with Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) led by General Muhammadu Buhari.
  
It could be recalled that after the unsuccessful Presidential run of 2007, Atiku returned to PDP to prepare for the 2011 election. However, with the birth of All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Goodluck Jonathan’s insistence to contest the 2015 poll, the fourth republic Vice President joined his ally, Tinubu, in the new fold.  
  
Yet, as happened during the buildup to the 2015 poll, Atiku headed back to PDP in 2017 with eyes on the 2019 Presidential election, after it became apparent to him that incumbent President Buhari was headed for a second term.

Shaking The 2023 Table
THE 2023 election presents as the last meeting point of these two political allies. Ambition to lead Nigeria has brought them back together for the same purpose, but on different vessels.
  
As both strong political actors with means and fortune stir the waters, the words of Sylvester Stallone must be running in their heads: The last fight is on the mountain, finish and go! Whether the last fight would be during the PDP and APC Presidential primaries or the main election next February is left to be seen.
    
Last year, a chance meeting of both gladiators at the Minna Airport, where the shared a bear hug, sparked speculations that the two were working behind the scenes to revive and repeat a Muslim/Muslim ticket on SDP.
  
Those who hint at alternative platform for the two big players believe that as far as 2023 is concerned, both men are racing against time, especially given the clamour for paradigm change and pervasive influence of state governors in their political parties.
    
Not that alone, some of their former supporters have raised red flags to their participation in electoral battles. Although most of his political godsons are in the race to the 2023 Presidency, Tinubu said he has no son old enough to contest against him.
    
The former Lagos State governor has, however, continued to move crowd with his catchy sound bites and organisational swag. He said that contesting the Presidency has always been his life ambition. Although that statement was a weak rephrasing of Pa Awo’s remarks that he needed only 24 hours to transform Nigeria, Tinubu has so far not disappointed that he has a gift of the garb.

    
When a rival used the occasion of his declaration for Presidential race to run round a football field, Tinubu, sensing that the joke was directed at him, retorted: “I am not applying for the job of bricklayer.”
    
Reminded of the number of formidable politicians that are running for the 2023 Presidency, the Jagaban delivered his uppercut: “I don’t know where they are running to, I am going to the Villa.”
   
On his part, although Atiku seems to have lost steam, he has been deploying surrogates to work the system to ensure that he remains the centre of the discussion in PDP. But, with Governor Nyesom Wike, Bala Mohammed and former spokesperson, Prince Kassim Afegbua, hammering on his age and that of his ideas, Wazirin Adamawa’s staying power speaks to the function of the strength of his experience and depth of his pocket.    
    
While the zoning narratives favours Tinubu, Atiku has succeeded in dispelling the strong points against his stance on the power rotation argument.           
  
Consequently, no matter how things turn out at the primaries, these two old SDP white horses have shown capacity by shaking the tables in both governing APC and main opposition PDP.