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Atiku Abubakar

Posted by Webby on 10/10/2001 9:32:19 PM

Atiku Abubakar

Atiku Abubakar, the nation's vice president and Turaki Adamawa, is a genial person. Almost cherubic, he could easily pass for a dove in the general hurly-burly of Nigerian politics. But those who are close to the ex-customs boss say he could be decisive, if not ruthless. Was that not the essential trait of late General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a famed organiser, strategist and political mentor of Atiku Abubakar? If information from those who claim to know the VP is any guide, then he has, also, come a long way — far from being the political dilettante that he appears to be in the opinion of some. While his admirers say he is a skilful political player, one to watch very closely, his critics, clearly uncomfortable with his moves, see him as a plain diabolical schemer, though an upstart politician. Perhaps, it is for these reasons and many more that Abubakar's name gets mentioned in some political happenings, especially as they affect the geo-political North and the rest of the nation.

One constant talk about the Vice President is that he is targeting, just at the right time, the nation's number one position, the Presidency. At the height of the discussions, after a rally tagged "Reception 2000" organised in his honour in Kaduna late last year, Abubakar was constrained to deny having any presidential ambition. That was in November. Two months earlier, precisely in September, he had said in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, that "I take instructions from the President." During this interview, the editors told him that watchers of his political manoeuvres were of the view that he is playing skilful, if not high-wire, politics and that with the way he gets things done, he had an eye on the ultimate office. Hear his reply: "I don't know what you mean. You see, as Vice President, I don't have a job. It is what the President gives me to do that I do." But before the encounter, a senior minister had described Abubakar as an `Executive Vice President.' Still, he would not agree that he is one. He did not even address it during the interview.

So, why does he manage to get mired in this kind of controversy, that he is perhaps the most powerful second-in-command that the nation has had in recent times? After all, Alex Ekwueme was vice president to Shehu Shagari, the nation's first elected executive president, and the former, a prominent architect, did not have to do this kind of explanations that Abubakar is having to do.

The VP's style may have a lot to do with it. By one account, Abubakar sponsored seven of the 10 new ministers that joined the Obasanjo Federal Executive Council in the cabinet shake-up of late last year. That is not all. A prominent politician from the Middle Belt said the Vice President, whom the President has also reportedly left to appoint people to some parastatals and boards, has been cleverly deploying his cronies and loyalists to these positions in readiness for the final push for the plum job. Some governors are said to be among those already pledging loyalty and support for him, especially because the candidates of some of these governors have been adopted by the VP and given juicy appointments at the federal level. Today, a group of equally young, ambitious northerners, especially from Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Taraba states, are said to constitute the core of the followers of Atiku Abubakar in the North. Believed to be led by Dr. Usman Bugaje, they want to realise their political ambition through closeness to the Vice President. But he is not having it too easy, according to some sources, getting the entire North to see him as the symbol of their hopes and aspirations.

His style and moves are suspect in some sections of the North, especially the North-west. Atiku Abubakar is from the North-east and what may be compounding the matter for Obasanjo's second-in-command is the agelong but subtle rivalry between the North-west and the North-east. For the first time in the history of the entire Northern Region, as it used to be known, a player from the east has emerged as the foremost public office holder at a time that a southern president is in charge. When Obasanjo was a military head of state, his deputy, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, was from Katsina, in the North-west. The North-west challenge is posing a peculiar problem to the Turaki of Adamawa, even though he would not admit it. He would only say, to a question along that line, that "I am not out to lead the North, anyway." Rhetorically, he had also asked, "is it really possible to have one leader in the North?"

Up till now, there are those who say because he was not selected or nominated by the North-west for Obasanjo, he could not possibly be representing the interest of the North, a clear euphemism for the narrow Hausa-Fulani interest, since Abubakar is a Fulani but from the `wrong' part of the region, in the view of the northern supremacists.

But that is not all about Vice President Abubakar that irks some of his critics and keen observers of his political moves. As far as acquisition of chieftaincy titles go, even an aide of the VP could not remember how many he has garnered all across the country these last two years. "In fact, the pressure has been such that if we had not been cleverly avoiding going to some areas, the titles would have been more," said the aide. Not a few have interpreted this as part of the scheme to become president some day. His foray into the heart of Egbaland, Abeokuta, Ogun State, early this year, said one chief of the ancient town, is believed to be toward the presidential race. It is believed to have been put together by Chief Titi Ajanaku, an adviser to President Obasanjo, and a member of the People's Democratic Movement, PDM, an amorphous but influential organisation now led by Abubakar within the ruling People's Democratic Party, PDP.