Atiku, Gusau and the Auction In Port Harcourt, By Shuaib I. Shuaib
…then there was a sudden change in the voting pattern and his political fortunes. And it was the appearance of General Aliyu Gusau, a former chief of army staff and national security adviser that brought that sudden change. After that, Atiku practically coasted to victory.
Sokoto governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was poised to give former Vice President Atiku Abubakar a run for his money in the recently concluded convention for the presidential ticket of the PDP. The build-up to the event was in so many ways, a show of force by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors.
But they were in for a surprise as a more clandestine political force was about to show its hand. It was clear to everyone that the candidates to watch were Atiku, Tambuwal and Senate President Bukola Saraki. Early in the primary, based on the atmosphere and chitchat between delegates, Tambuwal looked the favourite to clinch the party’s ticket.
But the moment General Ibrahim Babangida’s surrogate appeared at the convention ground, everything changed.
There were about 3,000 delegates at the convention. According to a report in PUNCH delegates were induced with cash, and some of the delegates walked away with as much as $9,000 each. The report described a process that was in appearance free and credible but in actual fact compromised with money.
It was more of an auction for the party’s ticket, with bidding starting at $2,500, moving up to $4,000 and finally settling at $5,000. The aspirants at the convention very easily spent millions of dollars on the delegates alone.
Of course, nobody was left out of the bonanza, including some journalists who monitored the event. That is why there has been no real outrage on the corrupting influence of money in determining who gets to rule us.
This act of monetising the democratic process, making the foot soldiers happy with pay offs goes to the heart of the PDP’s philosophy on what power is for, whether they will run a government for the people or for a few. But it has always been the way of the PDP and the convention was designed to serve the interest of the highest bidder.
The irony in all of this is that the 2010 Electoral Act actually sets a limit of N1 billion on election campaign spending. It givesthe Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) powers to monitor election campaign contributions by individuals and groups, while also giving it powers to punish political parties that are in breach of the law.
There is no doubt that what happened in Port Harcourt was in total disregard of the rules and guidelines protecting the people and electoral process from the influence and manipulation of the rich and powerful. The party itself makes no pretences or attempts to operate within the guidelines of law or that of INEC. If anything, it flaunts the willingness to spend freely.
At the party primary, Tambuwal, a former speaker of the House of Representatives had home advantage in the sense that the convention was being held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. And Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike was on his side. True to expectations, Tambuwal was reported to have started off well in early voting at the convention.
But then there was a sudden change in the voting pattern and his political fortunes. And it was the appearance of General Aliyu Gusau, a former chief of army staff and national security adviser that brought that sudden change. After that, Atiku practically coasted to victory.
Wike did mobilise for Tambuwal. Bukola Saraki was also reported to have spent heavily and even came third in the race. But against the combined forces of the “unhappy generals”, they all didn’t stand a chance. It is no longer secret that these men of power mobilised for Atiku at the convention.
Money has always been their weapon of choice in controlling the lives of lesser men. Olusegun Adeniyi, a columnist with ThisDay newspaper and former presidential spokesman wrote after the convention, how he was with General Babangida at his Minna home while the convention was going on in Port Harcourt.
The former military president, Adeniyi wrote, was getting constant updates of events at the convention ground and had also predicted the outcome of the exercise. This is very instructive, not only in shedding light about IBB’s insight into political events, but also how much he knew about the people and resources at the disposal of each candidate and his own role in the entire process.
Obasanjo has made a show of his reconciliation with Atiku, going as far as bringing known critics of the president, Sheik Ahmad Gumi and Bishop Hassan Kukah to be part of the show. But questions being asked now is whether that wasn’t the only event that was staged for public consumption.
Atiku’s acceptance speech at the convention ground highlighting the role Obasanjo played in his political rise is now rumored to also be the handiwork of the former president. So much has happened between them and in spite of the known enmity between them over the years, there is still a lot they are hiding from Nigerians.
Whether they met and planned the speech to open a window for a public reconciliation will just be one more political plot in the line of many they have hatched against each other and the Nigerian people.
To understand how the PDP has gone full circle to present Atiku Abubakar as its best chance of winning the presidency, it is the beginning we need to go back to. The beginning here is the start of PDP’s journey as an opposition party which takes us to 2015 and the aftermath of it devastating defeat at the ballot box.
At every stage since then, and at every opportunity, PDP’s response to every challenge has been to sell its platform to the highest bidder. First it was Ali Modu Sheriff, who dragged the party through hell and then it was sold to Wike but the crown ultimately has to go Atiku Abubakar who has paid the most for an opportunity to fly the PDP flag at the next presidential election.
And to make sense of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida’s new found love for Atiku, what their interest is, it is the origins of the party we need to return to and what its promoters believe to be the primary purpose of governance and exercising political power.
A lot has been said about the politics of PDP in its 16-year rule. What is hardly talked about is its philosophy and objectives in exercising political power. Since 1999, regardless of who is president, the party has governed first to serve and protect the interest of society’s most powerful. Every major policy of the party while in government has been towards this objective.
There may be four or five of these individuals and through their proxies, they are the biggest shareholders in the banking industry, they own the telecommunications companies, the electricity distribution companies, the oil companies and major construction companies.
Now, why won’t they think they own Nigeria or that democracy is on the market? Yes, the money trickles down to many more people but a larger share of the population remains forever trapped in poverty.
In any other country, they would make up the deep state. It is not that they have lost ownership of these investments. What has happened under President Muhammadu is their ability to protect their asset and political interest is gradually eroding. And that fear of the loss of influence and privileges best describes what the PDP, the Atiku candidacy means to them, and what it means for the rest us.
Shuaib I. Shuaib is a former editor at LEADERSHIP newspaper, Abuja.