It is now or never for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as he seeks to become president of Nigeria in 2019. Of all the times Atiku aspired, he was only a presidential candidate once. That was in 2007 under the Action Congress. In 1993, 2011 and 2015, he failed to emerge as presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party, SDP, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC, respectively.
Atiku who clocked 71 last year, will be 72 if he wins and gets sworn in on May 29 2019. If he does not win and decides to contest in 2023, he will be close to 75 years of age then.
Some may argue that if President Muhammadu Buhari at the age of 75 is vying for a second term in office, then Atiku still has age on his side.
However, apart from the age factor which may be a problem for Atiku if he fails to realise his dream in 2019, the dynamics may change ahead of the 2023 general elections. One of them is the clamour for an Igbo presidency. Also, there is the ever increasing yearning for a youthful leader. Atiku does not fit any of these categories.
The former vice president has had his eyes on the ultimate political prize since early 90s. His presidential ambition began 25 years ago when he contested the presidential primaries of the Social Democratic Party, SDP in 1993 and came third after Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kinkigbe.
In 1999, Atiku was elected Vice President to President Olusegun Obasanjo under the PDP. He spent eight years in power.
Atiku fell out with Obasanjo and when he realised that his boss supported Umar Musa Yar’Adua for president, he defected from the PDP to the Action Congress, AC. He lost to Yar’Adua in the 2007 election.
Yar’Adua died after two years in office. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was the vice president was sworn in as president to complete the four-year-term which elapsed in 2011. The northern leaders in the PDP were furious with Jonathan when he decided to run for president in 2011 going against the ‘gentlemen agreement’ regarding zoning of the presidency to the North.
The former Vice President saw this as an opportunity, since he is from the northern part. He contested the presidential primaries and lost woefully to Jonathan at the Eagles Square in Abuja.
He remained in the PDP but not without plotting the downfall of Jonathan. Atiku alongside some other bigwigs of the PDP dumped the party for the All Progressives Congress, APC. He was one of those who formed the new PDP and walked out of the party’s national convention in 2014 due to leadership crisis. Atiku joined the APC to pursue his dream of becoming president in 2015. He contested the presidential primary of the APC in December 2014 and lost to Muhammadu Buhari.
He promised that would be the last time that he would jump ship. Three years later, Atiku has left the APC.
The signs were clear to all that Atiku would eventually leave the party. It was just a question of when. The reasons were not far-fetched. Atiku had complained openly that he was not being carried along in the scheme of things. When Buhari assumed office, he advised his administration to “break special interest cabals in the power and oil sectors to make significant economic progress.” But it seems they never listened.
Many are of the view that his excuse to quit the party was just a guise to further pursue his presidential ambition. Although it is evident that the APC has not lived up to its expectations, it is believed by most political analysts that Atiku’s presidential ambition and not the poor performance of the party was the main factor behind his exit.
What are his chances? Atiku is well on ground in Nigerian politics. He was one of the brains behind the death of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda. He was able to achieve that with his vast resources and contacts across the country.
Political analysts are of the view that Atiku must have consulted widely before taking the bold step of quitting APC and declaring to run as a member of the PDP.
Felix Ugochukwu a political analyst told The Next Edition that, “Atiku is a bridge builder. There is relief that he has left the APC. Now everyone who wants a united Nigeria is praying that Atiku joins PDP and clinches the party’s ticket. He may not be the best candidate, but many Nigerians across the divide feel he is better than Buhari.”
Founder and publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu, is of the view that the APC will be in ‘hot soup’ if the PDP put its house in order.
He said, “It is certain that APC failed to learn any lessons from how it sacked PDP and history is about to repeat itself so soon. This was how PDP allowed some of its golden assets to walk away from the party.
“If PDP manages its affairs better, and more democratically, by eliminating fifth columnists among them, APC would be in hot soup.”
The former Vice President maintains robust political structures across the country and he is believed to have cross-party sympathy. Atiku is thought to have a huge war chest for campaigns and maintenance of his structures.
He is seen as a bridge builder. Till date Atiku has loyalist that cut across ethnic religious and party lines. He has been hailed as a detribalized Nigerian. That may be a factor that may be to his advantage in 2019.
Nigeria as it is today is laden with ethnic and religious tension, fuelled mainly by the herdsmen menace in northern Nigeria. Failure by the current administration to nip it in the bud has given rise to various theories, some absurd, by conspiracy theorists.
Atiku, many say, has the capacity to carry every Nigerian along, thus giving everyone a sense of belonging.
It may also be recalled that he has wives from northern, eastern and western parts of Nigeria. His first wife, Hajia Titi Abubakar is from Osun State and a force to be reckoned with in the South West. That may also work for him in the scheme of things.
With age not being on his side and the precariousness of the current political calculations, it would not be wrong to conclude that this is about the time Atiku needs to make the required impact to realise his ambition. He knows it too. As it is, it is now or never for the former vice president. The question begging for an answer is whether or not he would be lucky this time around.
Would he? Only time will tell. 2019 is around the corner.