12 October 2018
Sometimes you get a system upgrade on your phone or laptop and you wonder what good it was, where is the improvement, what was the fuss about, and so on. The emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last weekend and the candidate with the best chance of replacing President Muhammadu Buhari, is another example of what has been sold and packaged as an upgrade that will soon leave Nigerians feeling that they have been sold a dud.
But self-deception is something many Nigerians are quite good at. Atiku is already being seen as an improvement on Buhari, despite evidence to the contrary. It’s a case of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. Many Nigerians right now feel that they prefer “anyone but Buhari”.
However, this is exactly how things were when a coalition of chancers and ten-percenters congregated in the All Progressives Congress (APC) about four years ago and presented Buhari as an alternative to the PDP. Many Nigerians also felt then that anything was better than the PDP and the regime of Goodluck Jonathan – even when many that were in the APC presenting themselves as agents of “change” also played significant roles in the 16 years of PDP misrule.
Now that the reality of Buhari and his bogus “change” agenda has dawned on most Nigerians, following over three years of unmitigated failure, Atiku is remixing the same song that worked for Buhari and many are dancing to his tune.
But Atiku is only different from Buhari in name and whatever alphabets represent the party he is currently fronting. He touts his experience as a former vice president. Buhari, before his current reincarnation, was a military dictator, a general, a federal commissioner for petroleum, a military governor of North-central State and so on. Atiku, before politics rose to the number two position in the corruption-infested Nigerian Custom Service. So both had significant experience on paper, but like journalist Hugh McIlvanney once wrote: “No one respects experience more than I do, but experience is relevant only in relation to the intelligence exposed to the experience. If you send a turnip around the world it still comes back a turnip – not an expert in geography.”
You only have to listen to both men speak to see that there is little knowledge to support their experience. Apart from being a former Head of State, Buhari ran for president three times before finally succeeding in 2015. In all interviews before becoming president, Buhari consistently showed he didn’t have the knowledge to begin to address many of Nigeria’s problems. This was clearly demonstrated in the presidential debate he participated in in 2011.
Yet Nigerians entrusted their country and lives to this intellectually-challenged person. Constitutional expert Ben Nwabueze would claim after Buhari became president that he lacked the intellectual capacity to govern Nigeria. But this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.
Atiku has continually displayed similar shortcomings in intellect. In April, he spoke at Chatham House, another move deployed by Buhari as a presidential candidate in February 2015, and the Q&A session showed that Atiku is just as vacuous as the man he is seeking to replace. All he had to offer was: “look at my experience in government and in business”. There was nothing like a plan or even ideas on what steps should be taken to improve life for Nigerians beyond soundbites and slogans.
Once again, like they did with Buhari, Nigerians are warming towards a man that demonstrably shows little understanding of the country’s problems and has little to offer in terms of solutions.
Atiku also seems to have borrowed from the Buhari campaign tactic of paying off many social media “activists”. The election may be a few months away but the pro-Atiku tweets are already reaching fever pitch. Their online “battle” with the Buhari Media Centre would probably make Joseph Goebbels proud. The Nazi propagandists said: “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”. Buhari came to power with the help of lies, telling people what he thought they wanted to hear and making promises he had no idea how to keep. And his government is probably the one that invested most in propaganda in the history of Nigeria. Atiku’s campaign is on the same propaganda path, with his brain-dead promises about empty words like “restructuring”.
Sadly, the similarities between both men do not end there. Both were perennial presidential candidates willing to join any group that would further their ambition to reach the top, without a plan on what to do when they get there. Atiku first ran for president in 1992, losing to Moshood Abiola in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries. He ran again in 2006 after leaving the PDP for the Action Congress, losing in the election to Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP. He returned to the PDP and ran again in 2010, losing in the primaries to President Jonathan. He left the PDP for the APC and his fourth attempt for the presidency failed in the APC primaries in 2014, losing to Buhari. He returned to the PDP again in December 2017 and this month secured their presidential ticket.
These are clearly the actions of a man without principles or scruples, prepared to go anywhere to fulfil his ambition. No different from the man he is seeking to replace. Buhari first ran for president under the banner of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007. He then left them for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and was their presidential candidate in 2011. By 2015 the CPC merged with others to form the APC, with Buhari as their presidential candidate. Buhari ran on an anti-corruption platform condemning the corruption of the PDP, while being happy to be funded by the likes of Atiku, who was a PDP vice president and made his pile from the Nigerian Customs and brazen looting while in government. Both men, with their misplaced sense of entitlement, believe ruling Nigeria is their birthright, despite not knowing the first thing about governance.
Unluckily for Nigerians, the similarities still don’t end there. The choice between Buhari and Atiku is not really a choice in the right sense of the word. Neither man is offering anything that hasn’t been tried and failed. Examine their patchy plans for Nigeria’s economy, power supply shortages, poor infrastructure, crumbling public services, and so on. And the cupboard is bare in terms of solutions. Atiku likes to claim his time as vice president was a success, but that is historical revisionism of the worst order. This was a government that sunk $16bn in phantom power supply projects while electricity shortages got worse. The current government is still floundering trying to cope with those problems with nothing but excuses coming from power minister Babatunde Fashola.
Atiku was vice president as Nigeria’s public education system was on life support. All he offered was to build his own school and university with fees out of reach for ordinary Nigerians. As Nigerian hospitals became “mere consulting clinics” (in the words of Buhari’s coup-plotting colleagues), all Atiku had to offer was treatment in London for his swollen knee when he fell off his treadmill in March 2007.
Buhari, as most Nigerians have become painfully aware, is more familiar with the insides of a London hospital than the presidential clinic at Aso Rock, which has a budget of billions of naira. Buhari’s solution for the poor state of public education in Nigeria was to spend £26,000 a year on each of his children studying at the University of Surrey in England, while selling an incorruptible fable to his fanatical followers.
Buhari has failed woefully to address the mass murder and destruction of farmers’ livelihoods committed by Fulani herdsmen across Nigeria. Many Nigerians suspect that his failure to act is related to the fact that he is not impartial in the matter. He is Fulani and also a grand patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association – the pressure group that represents cow owners. Buhari’s insensitivity towards the victims of the attacks was compounded when he appointed the spokesman of Miyetti Allah as the Secretary of the Nigerian Federal Character Commission.
Anyone that thinks Atiku will represent a new approach to the Fulani herdsmen issue should listen to Paul Unongo, a Second Republic politician and Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum who said in a January interview: “I am aware that the most powerful person in Miyetti Allah is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who wants to be the next president. If they are fighting for power and Atiku wants to create problems for Buhari, I don’t know. There are so many possibilities. The most powerful person who finances the Miyetti Allah is Abubakar Atiku and he is a prince of the Tiv Court. The Tiv gave him a traditional title, meaning ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’. This implies that the Tiv people should be able to run to Atiku who will protect them. This is the man who heads Miyetti Allah and is the greatest financier of this organisation. He has more cattle than anybody in Miyetti Allah. It is an establishment of the big people, a very rich group of Nigerians and they pack small boys to take their cattle all over the place and then buy all these arms to give herdsmen to go and kill people, and the government is doing nothing!”
So no one should be surprised if Atiku is president and the “do nothing” approach continues on the herdsmen issue.
Many Nigerians have pointed at the fact that both Atiku and Buhari are in their 70s, suggesting that such a generation, that has been misruling Nigeria for the past few decades, should leave the scene for a younger generation. But the bad news for Nigeria about Atiku and Buhari is not with regards to their ages. It is about the fact that they have nothing to offer apart from more of the same tried and failed. You only have to listen to both men or look at the people that they have surrounded themselves with. Yesterday, Atiku received the endorsement of his former boss Olusegun Obasanjo. The same Obasanjo that claimed Atiku was corrupt and would be president over his dead body. Well, Obasanjo has no plans of dying soon and has proclaimed his support for Atiku. Obasanjo also supported Jonathan before abandoning him for Buhari, and then he said Buhari was incompetent, and supporting Buhari for a second term would be “reinforcing failure”. And now Obasajo is presenting Atiku as a solution. By his own admission, Obasanjo has helped install two failures on Nigeria and he is now presenting another failure. There is also the small matter that Obasanjo was a failure as president too.
It has been reported that some of the retired generals that contributed to impoverishing Nigeria are now backing Atiku. The former vice president recently visited former dictator Ibrahim Babangida ostensibly to receive his backing. Buhari also made the same trip to Babangida’s residence in Minna when he was a candidate about three years ago.
The tactics of Atiku and Buhari are the same. Real ideas for genuine change are non-existent for both men. The dodgy characters around them are the same. They both have the same interests in primitive accumulation via Fulani herdsmen. The same behaviours are clear between both men. So anyone expecting anything to change in Nigeria if a President Atiku Abubakar takes over in May 2019 needs to have a system upgrade on their brain.