Atiku vs Buhari (2) -Opeyemi Agbaje

In the first part of this column, I characterized the 2015 election of Muhammadu Buhari as a historical error not supported by his antecedents in policy, administration, economic management, democratic norms and human rights or national ethos, but could only be understood or permitted against the context of then Goodluck Jonathan’s administrations weakness and naivety. I also described the Atiku Abubakar candidacy as complicated on account of his branding (particularly by former President Olusegun Obasanjo) as corrupt and his perception as a typical Nigerian politician.

There are two dimensions of the matter that I reserved for this second part-beyond the “irresponsibility” inherent in asking Buhari to continue his destruction of the Nigerian economy and polity beyond 2019, are there any benefits associated with an Atiku presidency on its own merits? And secondly, what of the ostensible alternatives to Buhari and Atiku? Could Nigerians vote for these others on offer?

It seems to me, and I think most objective observers of Nigerian politics that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is the only viable alternative to Buhari in the 2019 presidential elections. There are four major strengths of the Atiku candidacy and potentially presidency, to the Nigerian nation in contradistinction to his opponent-unlike Buhari, Atiku has played the role of uniter and consensus builder since his entry into Nigerian politics. Atiku came into Nigerian politics on the platform of his mentor, late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua’s Peoples Front (PF) which later became Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM). PF/PDM sought allies all over Nigeria and acquired the character of a pan-Nigerian movement with strong membership and support in the South-West, South-East, South-South, North-Central and all across the Northern States. No one could credibly accuse Atiku of playing an ethnic, religious (not to mention sectarian!) or regional card in his political practice since the early 1990s when he came into national reckoning as a presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the Babangida transition. It was Atiku by stepping down for the late M. K. O Abiola who made Abiola’s presidential candidacy of the SDP possible and in effect his victory in the aborted June 12 1993 elections. He has since then cemented his image as a national and cosmopolitan politician with friends and allies all over the country.

Atiku is also very competent in policy, economy and administration. He is a well-known and successful businessman and employer who understands markets and economic management, as he proved as Vice President under Obasanjo. It was not co-incidence that the arrow-heads of the economic team of that era (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir El-Rufai, Chukwuma Soludo, Fola Adeola, Nuhu Ribadu etc.) were either recruited by or gravitated towards Abubakar who also facilitated the mostly successful privatisation and liberalisation agenda of the Obasanjo government. As a student of economic policy in Nigeria, I have observed that Atiku is one of the few politicians of that generation who can identify with free enterprise, investment, deregulation and liberalisation, and markets as core elements of economic policy and management.

Atiku has also become the only national contestant for the presidency who has anchored his aspiration on a firm undertaking to restructure Nigeria’s constitution along the lines of federalism. He has clearly thought through the issue and understands why federalism is imperative for economic growth, national unity and cohesion, and sustainable development in Nigeria. Another benefit of an Atiku candidacy or presidency is that it offers a much-need transitional figure who can be a bridge across Nigeria’s generational, regional, religious and ethnic divides. You can easily picture Nigerians of all ages, sexes, religions, regions and ethnic groups around Atiku, unlike his main opponent who has not been able to transcend his provincial and sectarian inclinations. As much as we need a transition of national leadership to a younger, more educated, less ethnically-focused and more urbane generation, Atiku strikes one as a figure who can bridge that transition and hopefully help identify and nurture that future leadership class. It does not hurt that Atiku Abubakar has the material resources and network of relationships to mount a strong, determined and effective challenge to the APC’s looming political hegemony! As I wrote in the previous part, he has already transformed a race that may have been written-off in favour of Buhari into a balanced and competitive contest. The point of all these is that there is some substantive merit in an AtikuAbubakar Presidency beyond “anyone but Buhari!”

Finally we must consider the case for considering the so-called alternatives-Omoyele Sowore, Fela Durotoye, Donald Duke, Oby Ezekwesili, Eunice Atuejide, Kingsley Muoghalu et al. I have thought long and hard on this issue…and I would have to conclude that there is no reasonable pathway to the presidency for any candidate other than Atiku or Buhari. None other has the platform, network, resources or organisation to mount a credible challenge against Buhari. In effect their strategic positioning would amount to a de facto undermining of the Atiku candidacy as well as implicit support for Buhari! In any event, many of the alternatives either bear some moral responsibility for the Buhari error of 2015, or lack the moral credibility to attack the PDP, which they either served happily under or benefitted tremendously from! In some notorious cases, both disqualifications apply!