Atiku’s waning political influence

BY BRIGHT JACOB

The waning political influence of former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, has been put on the radar after the Waziri Adamawa put forward a proposal last week for dislodging the ruling All Progressives Congress from power where he mooted the merger of opposition parties but was flatly rebuffed in no uncertain terms.

Atiku made the clarion call in Abuja through a statement issued by his media aide, Paul Ibe, when he played host to the national executive committee of the Inter-Party Advisory Council.

At the moment, however, Atiku’s party and Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, may have subtly refused to be kowtowed to Atiku, with the party keeping a deafening silence to the suggestion of their prized but aging member.

However, from the Labour Party to the New Nigeria People’s Party and even to political featherweight, the Social Democratic Party, it has been the same narrative: Atiku’s input into how unseating of the ruling APC can be accomplished has been received by the opposition at arm’s length.

The opposition parties obviously have their plans for 2027. After the proposal was tabled by Atiku, their respective scribes quickly registered their apathy even as they deflected the “ingenuity” of the former presidential candidate of the PDP.

First off, the National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Obiora Ifoh, said the party just concluded a rigorous general election and needed time to review the same before they could tell Nigerians what the way forward is.

And though Ifoh said the LP would look into Atiku’s proposition, he did not mince words however when he said there were no merger plans currently between LP and the PDP, and that Nigerians should disregard such “sensational” reports.

“We have set our agenda for the people of this nation and any merger with the PDP will set it backwards. We are not novices in this game. We won’t destroy what we have built so far and those waiting for LP to capitulate should have a rethink”

On their own part, the SDP, through the National Secretary of the party, Olu Ogunleye, said it would not be part of the merger and that they were building structures in order to excel in elections going forward, while the National Publicity Secretary of the NNPP, Abdulrazaq Abdulsalam, affirmed the party’s independence and was emphatic that the NNPP refuses to “engage in merging with any party to combat another”.

Thus, as is evidenced by their responses, as much as the opposition parties don’t want to put the cart before the horse in their quest to demystify the APC in 2027, their discordant posture over the idea of a merger may have revealed the state of the opposition in Nigeria, and this is despite the fact that Atiku is the arrowhead championing the merger rhetoric.

A member of the PDP in Lagos State, Ben Njoku, said even though Atiku was losing relevance politically, he was making the right call.

Njoku said if push eventually comes to shove, the other opposition parties would embrace Atiku’s proposal as that would be the only way to “dethrone” the APC.

“Well, Atiku is at it again. The man has simply refused to go away but we still love him for it.

“I believe that Atiku is making the right call. He has foreseen the future and knows that the PDP, LP or any other political party cannot unilaterally beat the APC. And if you ask me, there is no shame in not being able to beat the APC alone.

“I am also not surprised by the actions of the opposition parties. They are playing hard to get and using the opportunity to advertise their almost non-existent popularity.

“So, yes, you should trust me when I say that if push comes to shove, they would all fall in line. Most of them will eventually submit to Atiku because at some point, they would realise that the APC is a force not to be toyed with or can be dethroned by wishing for it.”

On the flip side, some of Atiku’s naysayers have continued to urge him to quit while the ovation is loudest. They say he should have used the momentous occasion provided when the Supreme Court reaffirmed Tinubu’s victory to bow out.

But Atiku had other plans. During a press conference he called after the apex court’s verdict, he said he was not about to bid farewell to partisan politics yet.

“As for me and my party, this phase of our work is done. However, I am not going away.

“For as long as I breathe I will continue to struggle, with other Nigerians, to deepen our democracy and rule of law and for the kind of political and economic restructuring the country needs to reach its true potential,” Atiku said.

At this juncture, public opinion has been divided over Atiku’s sincerity and whether his current stance is not a last-ditch effort to win the presidency, something he failed to do on six occasions.

While some Nigerians have said it remains to be seen whether this latest move is a genuine, patriotic response to what the former Customs officer says is the gradual turning of Nigeria into a “one-party autocracy” others say it is simply shades of desperate times calling for desperate measures.

A CALL TO ARMS

Despite the significant amount of time between now and the next general elections in the country, Atiku had gone ahead to sound the call to arms and some of his supporters have said it became necessary after the Supreme Court of Nigeria, following the legal fireworks at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal which upheld the February 25 election victory of President Bola Tinubu of the APC, affirmed that the former Governor of Lagos State was duly elected by popular mandate.

Some stakeholders have also insisted that had there been a merger between the PDP and the Labour Party who had Peter Obi as their presidential candidate, with Rabiu Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria People’s Party in the mix, the Renewed Hope mandate of the APC would have vapourised with a probable defeat of Tinubu at the polls.

They (stakeholders) buttress their argument with the results of the February 25 presidential election, where the Jagaban got 8,794,726 votes whereas the candidates of the PDP, LP and NNPP scored a combined vote of 14,582,740.

Individually, however, Atiku got 6,984,520 votes compared to Obi’s 6,101,533 votes, while Kwankwaso settled for 1,496,687 votes and the general consensus is that the opposition would have coasted to victory assuming the candidates of the PDP and LP had formed some sort of alliance.

This may have been the truth as their combined vote is 13,086,053 – a figure that would have dwarfed Tinubu’s tally by 4,291,327 votes.

It is also likely Atiku took his cue from the action of opposition parties who came together to form the APC way back in 2013. At the said time, three of the biggest opposition parties, Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigeria Peoples Party had merged to form the APC.

That merger had also been necessitated by the assertion of a former National Chairman of the PDP, the late Vincent Ogbulafor, who said the party would rule Nigeria for a minimum of 60 years, a sentiment used by the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, to remind Atiku of the PDP’s 16 years rule.

“At that time (when PDP was in power), Atiku was willfully blind to the fear of a PDP one-party dictatorship.

“But now he appears to be under the influence of a distorted vision inflicted by the debilitating serial trouncing of his party at the polls,” Morka said in a part of the statement he released addressing Atiku’s merger proposal.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Labour Party who confided in The Point said he did not see how the Labour Party would merge with the PDP.

Giving reasons for this, the source said the LP had “set their agenda for the interest of the Nigerian people and any merger with the PDP would set it backwards.”

The source also said that Obi would not play second fiddle to any other potential presidential aspirant who might be eyeing the presidency in 2027.

“I laugh at those who think that this talk of a possible merger will tickle our fancy. No, not at all. The Labour Party will not align with or merge with the PDP. I see desperation at work here.

“We have set our agenda for the people of this nation and any merger with the PDP will set it backwards. We are not novices in this game. We won’t destroy what we have built so far and those waiting for LP to capitulate should have a rethink.

“Moreover, do you even think that (Peter) Obi will play second fiddle to Atiku or any other potential presidential aspirant? I don’t think so,” the source said.

CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE CHANGED NOW
A political scientist, Moyo Jaji, said it was easier for the opposition to merge back in 2013 compared to the dilly-dallying presently being witnessed because, unlike then, the circumstances had changed.

Jaji said back in the day, the PDP boasted about being the biggest political party in Africa and that they were going to rule Nigeria for the next 60 years.

He said in spite of that, it was apparent to every political observer that the smaller parties would be able to wrest power from the PDP if they came together.

He said it was during this trying time for the opposition that Tinubu, in 2011, did the unthinkable and took back five South West states out of the six former president Olusegun Obasanjo had “seized” from the Alliance for Democracy in 2003.

“Now, with this solid background, we were not surprised when Asiwaju was telling some of our leaders who relayed to us that the best way to unseat the PDP was for the smaller parties to come together,” Jaji said.

“And by the time we reach 2027, Atiku will be nearing 80. He complained that Tinubu is too old, now you are saying you want to lead when you are nearing that kind of age”

The former banker also noted that the opposition today lacks a politician in the mold of former president, Muhammadu Buhari who could single-handedly score over 10 million votes in the previous elections he contested before he won in 2015.

Jaji said the Alliance for Democracy’s victory in the South West and Buhari’s dominance in the North made it logical to think that the opposition could get a sizable number of votes that would unseat the PDP.

He also mentioned that Obi dealt with the fortunes of the PDP in the last general elections and that personal and inordinate ambition were the bane of the opposition.

“So, if the smaller parties had stayed on their own in 2013, they would not have been able to unseat the PDP government. That scenario, however, is not happening now.

“Atiku has been there and has not been scoring sizable votes and he has credibility problems.

“And if you look at what happened before the election took place, you will realize that Obi dealt more with the fortunes of the PDP than any other candidate. If the votes he garnered to come third had been added to that of the PDP, maybe what we are saying today might have been different.

“But personal and inordinate ambition will not let them do that and the chicken has already come home to roost and we are now having president Tinubu,” he said.

Asked who a merger would favour between Atiku, Obi and Kwankwaso, Jaji replied, “no one.”

Starting with Atiku, he said the former Vice President had demonstrated to also be an irredentist northern hegemonist and that age was no longer on his side.

“Atiku has demonstrated that he is also an irredentist northern hegemonist and before you can convince Nigerians to support you, you must be seen as someone who has a pan Nigerian outlook, but they don’t have this now.

“And by the time we reach 2027, Atiku will be nearing 80. He complained that Tinubu is too old, now you are saying you want to lead when you are nearing that kind of age,” he queried.

As for Kwankwaso, Jaji said the former Kano State governor might “port” to the APC and would have no need of a merger.

He said Obi had succeeded in making himself look like a religious and ethnic fanatic because of the way he went about his campaign.

In Jaji’s opinion, a merger would do little to salvage Obi’s reputation.