Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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I have never hidden my admiration for the former Vice President, Waziri Atiku Abubakar.
It all started in 1982 when Abba Dabo my Editor at the New Nigerian who liked giving me tough assignments again picked on me to cover an investiture ceremony in Yola, then capital of Gongola State. Alhaji Ali Bababa, the Minister of State for Internal Affairs was to be installed the Dan Madami of Adamawa while Atiku Abubakar an Assistant Controller of Customs was to be made the Turaki of Adamawa.
As a Minister, even a junior one, Ali Baba was a big name nationwide. But Atiku Abubakar hardly had name recognition even for me who had left Yola that same 1982 as a reporter of the News Agency of Nigeria to join the New Nigerian.
I bought my ticket for a scheduled Nigeria Airways flight from Kaduna to Yola. On getting to the airport, I discovered the flight was overbooked and I could not secure a seat. I returned to the office dejected but my Editor was determined that I must travel to Yola for the event which was to hold on the morning of the next day. He arranged an official vehicle and I hit the road. Nigeria was a safe country in those days so I travelled all night with my driver and arrived early enough for the event.
I was happy and have always been happy that I covered that event. The whole of Yola was turned into one huge carnival, a type I had never seen before. They came by air. Yola airport, the oldest airport in Nigeria was flooded with Nigeria Airways aircraft and private jets. They came by road, in cars, buses, horses, donkeys; they came trekking to witness the event. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, the invited and the uninvited were all in Yola.
It was understandable that a Minister’s investiture would attract such a crowd. Even then, not all who trooped there did so for him. Atiku Abubakar, the underdog, also had his own share of the crowd. I took mental note of that – promising to watch this man in the years to come.
I was recalled on two different occasions from my newspaper jobs to come home to Gongola and help out in government. By the end of the 80’s while I was still with the Gongola State government, Atiku’s career in the Customs was cut short. Just when he expected an elevation to the pinnacle office of the Customs Service, he was made to step aside. It was typical Gongola style politics and as an operative of the Military Governor’s Office, I had a fair knowledge of what happened in his case and the dynamics of my states local politics since I was also a victim some times.
When the road closed for Atiku at the Customs, another one opened in politics. He became General Yar’ Adua’s point man in Gongola as the tactful politician schemed his way to the presidency under Babangida’s transition program. Atiku himself was plotting his way to become the Governor of Gongola. The duo invented the political machine known as the Peoples Front. But Babangida’s transition was a laborious project with twists, turns and hiccups always at the next corner. When Babangida banned all political associations and legislated the SDP and NRC into existence, the two political collaborators found home in the SDP.
General Yar’adua took the country by the storm, politically. He was set to win the presidential primaries in the SDP, defeating all other big names and old timers. In Gongola, my eyes were on Atiku Abubakar who engaged Bala Takaya in a gruesome match. Then came the Maradona – General Yar’adua, Atiku Abubakar and Bala Takaya were all banned (among many others) from taking part in the transition. That decision threw the SDP in Gongola into political convulsion. Boss Mustapha, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation picked the challenge and contested on the ticket of the party. He narrowly lost to Saleh Michika of the NRC.
My eyes were still on Atiku. With the creation of Taraba out of Gongola, he picked one of his campaign workers, the little known Reverend Jolly Nyame and funded him to contest for the gubernatorial seat in Taraba. Nyame coasted home to victory and became a serial governor of Taraba. I felt touched.
Atiku is a Fulani and a Muslim. There were Fulani’s and Muslims from Taraba on his campaign entourage. His choice was a minority, a Christian and an ordained priest at that. In a region of Nigeria that is very sensitive to tribe and religion, Atiku came as something of a surprise.
The Babangida transition came to grief with June 12 and the sacking of the Sonekan government. My eyes were still on Atiku as he kept faith with General Yar’adua who was hunted down by Genral Abacha, thrown into jail and died there.
But the Abacha tyranny did not last forever. His government came to a ghastly end and Atiku returned to his old turf, trying to emerge as governor of Adamawa. This time he succeeded, almost. But just before he was sworn in, Olusegun Obasanjo, the presidential flag bearer of the PDP picked him as his Vice Presidential running mate. They went on to win the presidency.
Meanwhile, Boni Haruna who was Atiku’s running mate in the gubernatorial race had to face a challenge to his stepping into the gubernatorial chair. It was a tough fight with Atiku supporting his erstwhile deputy all the way to the apex court where he won. I took note of that too. Boni Haruna was a minority man and a Christian. Atiku stood by him in a state awash with Muslims and Fulani ambitious politicians.
Are you still asking why I should admire Atiku?
Midway into his presidency with Obasanjo, the old wily Uncle Sege alias Baba Iyabo started scheming to amend the Constitution and make himself a perpetual president. Atiku Abubakar led the assault against that scheme at the risk of his career and life. His performance in that fight was stellar. He looked like the boxing legend Mohammed Ali – flying like a butterfly and stinging like a bee; his boss Obasanjo was panting and grunting like a Japanese sumo wrestler. Atiku did not only win in the court of public opinion, he deepened democratic practice in Nigeria by the various pronouncements he secured at the Supreme Court.
Preparatory to this year’s election, I reflected on his political future and in an article captioned, “Atiku Abubakar, a man of the future” published by this newspaper on 28th August 2017, I endorsed him as my preferred candidate. He was still in the APC then.
After wandering from one political party to another, I thought Atiku would finally find home in the APC. When there was rumour that he intended to jump ship from the APC, I led a delegation of Arewa Media Forum to plead with him not to move. It was evident from his body language that he did not like our suggestion. He eventually left regardless.
Today, he has contested the presidency under the PDP ticket and lost.
Having spent my most productive years in Yola, I can claim to know Atiku Abubakar. He is a man of modest background. His rise to fame, power and wealth is almost a miracle. I visit the educational institutions he has established from the nursery, primary, secondary and the American University anytime I am in Yola. He is a great man. But this presidency thing – e get as e be.
My candid advice to a man I admire very much is “do not go to court”. Just let it be