There is a sad culture in Nigeria which makes it normal for us to despise our leaders, automatically, once they have been in government. We declare all of them corrupt, evil, wicked, lying, and scheming and any other name we can come up with. We sling mud at them and address them disrespectfully. The comments section of many print and online newspapers is right there for anyone who cares to confirm what I mean. While there are indeed people who have done us wrong, this culture is harmful to our future as a country and to the minds of our young people. Sometimes, we should not let them forget that there is some good in our leaders, and that some of the benefits they enjoy today were fought for by men whom they habitually insult and despise.
Atiku Abubakar is one of those leaders who seem to be a favourite punching bag of Nigerian commentators. At the slightest opportunity, people whip out insults to and accusations of him. His “personal ambitions” come under attack. But many of us watched the December 2014 APC Primaries live on TV, lauded the transparency and organisation on display, and hailed the party for such a show – without us having any idea that none of that would have happened if not for the intervention of this same Atiku.
For months prior to the primaries, forces within the APC were set on presenting a consensus candidate. They did not care for any voting. They did not bother about who else might want to contest or which candidate the delegates might favour. They had selected their candidate and they wanted to impose him on everyone else in the APC, whether they liked it or not. Atiku stood against this. He wanted a fair and open process, irrespective of who might win. He did not want the APC to become another PDP, to pick up the bad habits for which the former ruling party was notorious. He believed that choosing a candidate by consensus rather than by election would set a bad precedent for a party that promoted CHANGE.
By insisting on elections, the former vice president of Nigeria ended up offending some powerful people within the party, making a number of enemies in the process.
This was not the first time Atiku earned strong enemies for his insistence on democracy and things being done the proper way. The former vice president was also behind the failed bid by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to subvert the Nigerian Constitution, extend his stay in office and go for a third term. Thus, Nigeria was saved from the demon of third-termism that seems to plague many African countries and eventually plunges some of them into chaos. We continue to enjoy a smooth democracy and term limits that are in accordance with our sacred constitution.
However, Obasanjo never forgave Atiku. He launched a vitriolic attack on his deputy’s reputation, some of the scars of which remain on Atiku’s public reputation today. Obasanjo also has been known to actively work to frustrate the political aspirations of Atiku. He seems to have sworn to spend the rest of his life paying Atiku back for the frustration of his latter day ambition. Atiku was also one of the marked enemies of the Sani Abacha dictatorship back in the 9190s. He was one of those Nigerians who fought to oust the military and establish democratic structures. As a result, his home in Kaduna was attacked in the middle of the night. The assailants overpowered the security guards on duty, gained access to the house, and entered through the bedroom of his first son, Adamu, who was then 20 years old. They beat Adamu up, tied his hands behind his back, and made their way towards the master bedroom. Atiku emerged with his wife, Titi, behind him, and told them: “It’s me you want. Here I am. Leave my son alone.”
One of the men fired a shot that narrowly missed Atiku’s head. Fortunately, one of his guards had jumped over the fence and alerted the police, who arrived shortly after. Unfortunately, six of the policemen lost their lives in the ensuing gun battle. After the attackers left, Atiku and his son picked up the bodies, loaded them in a van and drove to a nearby hospital in the middle of the night. Adamu was so traumatised that he could hardly eat anything for weeks. This story has been reported by various media sources in the past.
Despite this horrific experience and the subsequent murder of his mentor, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, by the Abacha government, and the seizure of some of his property and major businesses by the dictatorship, Atiku continued to speak out against tyranny and dictatorship. He continued to call for the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria. He continued to reach out to well-meaning compatriots and sympathetic members of the international community, working with them to liberate Nigeria from the suffocating grip of Abacha’s reign of terror.
Atiku has played an undeniable role in laying the foundations for the democracy that you and I enjoy today.
Well, the APC presidential primaries held in December 2014 and Atiku lost. Even while the votes were still being counted, he accepted the results gracefully, dispatching a congratulatory message to General Muhammadu Buhari before the results were officially announced. Atiku did not stop there. He vowed to support the retired General in his bid to be president. Atiku was not just blowing hot air. He indeed supported the current president’s bid to be president, in both cash and kind. He channelled his entire media operation to the APC presidential campaign effort, a media team that has become renowned for efficiency in media and publicity. Malam Garba Shehu, the former head of his personal media team, was appointed the media head of the APC Campaign Organisation, a position he held with dignity and carried out the functions therein with expertise, in conjunction with others that included his successor at the Atiku Media Office, Mazi Paul Ibe. Malam Shehu is today President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, a testament to the fact that he was never found wanting at his task and also an obvious sign of Atiku’s continued support for President Buhari.
In a country like Nigeria where tribalism and Balkanisation are the order of the day, Atiku also stands out for his efforts to promote national unity. His marriage and business ties cut across tribe and tongue, as do his philanthropy and social obligations. Sadly, in the deeply-divided Nigeria we have today, few politicians can make such a claim. Atiku is also the leading employer of labour in Rivers State, with the majority of his staff being indigenes from the region. In Adamawa State, the Turaki is only second to the state government in the number of job opportunities he has created, and continues to create. The typical Nigerian politician might have a business in one part of the country, then employ people from his village and export them to work in that part of the country.
Our Nigerian leaders have wronged us in many ways. We feel the effects of their mistakes every day. However, let us not forget the good they have done, no matter how little. Atiku Abubakar has his faults but he has gone through a lot to ensure that you and I enjoy the democracy that we do today.
Cassidy Madueke, a political analyst writes from Abuja.