By Hassan Gimba
Had Atiku Abubakar, Wazirin Adamawa, former vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, two-time unlucky in presidential elections on the platform of two different parties, and a veteran of four presidential primary elections, been a pugilist, he would have been one in the mould of the great Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali, who called himself ‘The Greatest’, with the world agreeing, invented the famous rope-a-dope style of combat. He would lay back on the squared ropes, exposing his torso, specifically the abdomen part, for the opponent to keep on punching. Being mostly wham-bam pugilists, they usually got sucked up in that activity, lured by the false hope of a knockdown, believing The Greatest was finished.
Then soon they would run low on gas, panting and huffing like a locomotive train going uphill. It was then that Ali would take charge and with his trademark shuffling of legs, dancing around the ring like a vulture that had sensed death, he would rain blows on the hapless boxer who would be so powerless to do anything about the sucker punch that will send him crashing to the canvas. Game over.
It was something similar that happened on the convention ground of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the 28 of May 2022. While Nyesom Wike and other contestants were perhaps looking for a rofo-rofo, tit-for-tat, dollar-for-dollar, 100-metre dash, Atiku Abubakar, a veteran in the game, had lulled them into a false belief of their invincibility. Not for him the fancy billboards this time around; he went for what was necessary for the time.
In reality, the primaries had long been done with because Atiku started early. He had those in control of delegates on his side. Anyone conversant with Nat Geo Wild documentaries on how animals hunt might have seen lions in action. The lions have those who lay in ambush to disorganise herds and those who shepherd the prey to the trap, akin to wingers in a football derby lobbing the ball to their main striker to score. Atiku’s people, like Adamu Maina Waziri, who is in the thick of the Wazirin Adamawa’s preparations, not only have delegates that can do anything for them but can hunt as well as shepherd others to be banked.
Many people are terrible losers. You find such people everywhere. In sports, in any type of competition, politics inclusive, you must find them. To them, their failure cannot be because of anything but betrayal. Many people, especially Southerners, who think they know the North, say that Waziri Aminu Tambuwal “betrayed” Wike “because Wike stood for him in 2019, even fighting ‘his brother’ Secondus for not supporting the Sokoto State governor.” But is that the reason he spearheaded the removal of Uche Secondus?
While speaking during the flag-off of Oyigbo-Okoloma Road in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State, in December last year, Wike said it was because they wanted “to reposition the party to win the presidency in 2023.” Again, in August last year, speaking on national television in Port Harcourt, Wike said, “…it will be difficult to take over power in 2023 if there are no amendments. Leadership was the problem. The point is this: the current NWC, as it is today, cannot lead the party to victory. Nobody has said they have not done well, one way or the other, but we are talking about the challenges ahead.” Again, a month earlier, that’s in July, at the 60th birthday party of Liyel Imoke, former governor of Cross River State, Wike accused Secondus of poor leadership that bred internal crises in the party, leading to the defections of PDP governors, lawmakers and other bigwigs to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
So, where did they get the “inspiration” of a betrayal by Tambuwal? Some even went further to claim that he did it “for northern interest”. What they cannot explain was why the “northern interest” did not make Tambuwal withdraw for Atiku in the primary election for the 2019 election.
We should rather point the fingers of betrayal at those who collected dollars to vote against the interests of their aspirants, just as Judas collected 30 shillings, equivalent to $197.40 today, to betray his master 2,000 years ago. But even Wike too must have enticed other contestants’ “people” with whatever inducements.
Talking about interests, any reasonable person should know that the interest of the PDP is to win back power and so its minders would do all it takes to see that the one with the capability to lead them and possessing across-board appeal would be what they would work to have. Money aside, 80 of the 95 South-East delegates that cast their votes for non-South-East aspirants were not renouncing their “Igboism” but accepting reality and being Nigerian. They went for who they believed could deliver victory to their party. Peter Obi sensed this and packed his bags and left.
Atiku is a politician’s politician, a veteran in the field, and adept at the art of political pugilism. After months of “hide and seek”, a battle of wits on the zoning of party offices and candidates, now the APC must square it out with a formidable Atiku, who is a political institution in his own right, backed by a re-surging PDP baying for blood. There is no way out, no door to exit the looming fight and a serious existentialist threat to it. He also has the advantage of a massive base in the North.
The APC has many contenders with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the only one with any substantial capability to face Atiku. Even though his challenge would be on getting the appropriate running mate, the game may be over for Amaechi because of the recent Supreme Court verdict giving the go-ahead to Rivers State to investigate him. No serious party desirous of retaining power would have a man under investigation for embezzlement as its presidential candidate. This leaves us Governor Kayode Fayemi and the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
But perhaps there is a way out, an only door for APC: get someone from the same zone as Atiku to square off with him. I recall an interview the late Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu granted after the 1983 election in which Chief C.C. Onoh of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) defeated the incumbent Chief Jim Nwobodo of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to become the governor of old Anambra State.
The reporter asked him how he made it possible for Onoh to defeat an incumbent governor and he said something like, “Nwobodo is a Wawa man and likewise Onoh, so I said, ‘why not use a Wawa man against a Wawa man?'” And so, in the same vein, why not pit a North-Easterner against a North-Easterner?
The APC must bring out Atiku’s counterweight, which the platform of the party can seamlessly deliver. His Excellency Mai Mala Buni, as of today, is the most sagacious politician in the APC from the North that has played politics at the national level. This has allowed him to have a national network, reach, connection and, therefore, name recognition. He also has the advantage of being young but with a very mature approach to issues and has proved he possesses the ability to unite diverse people. It is on record that he whittled down PDP’s strength through poaching its big shots as well as stabilizing the APC that was on the brink of death. He is the best that the party has now – North of the Niger.
Even though the purchase and submission of forms may have been closed, that’s only at the party level. The APC can still bring in its best to carry its flag into battle. By doing so, Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi will be as good as won by APC while with Mala’s candidature and Hajiya Aisha Binani’s onslaught, they may still pull in Adamawa or, at worst, split it down the middle. Taraba will go either way. With the neutralization of the North-East this way, they can easily work on other zones. Any other candidate the APC will present from the North will be a walkover for Atiku, who will make mincemeat of him.
However, if the party prefers to take it South of the Niger, it can still work with Buni as vice president. He will help in further consolidating the gains of the party, giving all a sense of belonging and making it well-rooted all over the country. Being on the ticket will be to APC’s advantage, considering that political parties can be at risk if they mismanaged post-primary election grievances and rancour.
Whichever way the party looked at it, they will need Buni’s political sapience to assuage hard feelings and unite the various tendencies in the party for the crucial battle ahead.