Even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s most implacable enemies cannot argue successfully against his disarming democratic disposition. He towers above many self-acclaimed latter-day democrats who fight for democracy from a safe distance. His political opponents mouth democratic principles they don’t believe in or practise. His critics only pay lip service to democracy for opportunistic advantages. You can’t legitimize dictatorship and at the same time claim to be a democrat. That makes the difference between Atiku, a core democrat, and other pretenders.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar,Having examined the political antecedents of many politicians in Nigeria, I have come to the conclusion that Atiku is one of the very few credible democrats that we have in Nigeria. You can’t claim to be a democrat and at the same time support the disregard for the rule of law. You can’t claim to love democracy and oppose its core values. These are the major characteristics of Atiku’s political opponents.
When Atiku was in the trenches taking the heat in the struggle for the entrenchment of democracy, his political opponents were playing footsie with dictatorship. When Atiku exposed himself to personal risks for opposing dictatorship, his opponents were snoozing away from a comfort zone, forgetting that indifference to repression could potentially make the political environment too toxic for democracy to thrive.
Atiku should be legitimately proud of his record and democratic antecedents. He lived under constant threats during the General Sani Abacha military regime. In fact, at one point, his personal residence in Kaduna was invaded by unknown assailants. His political mentor General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua paid with his life.
Even as a former Vice President, Atiku didn’t abandon his democratic spirit. He is an advocate for the rule of law and respect for the constitution. His former boss Obasanjo was unable to shed off his military mindset. He wanted to have his way by intimidation, threat and blackmail. On the other hand, Atiku believed that disregarding the constitution and the rule of law was not an option.
The collapse of former President Obasanjo’s third term project was the turning point in their relationship. Atiku was opposed to the amendment of the constitution to remove term limits to enable Obasanjo continue in office. The former Vice President refused to lend his hands to that illegal effort to tamper with the constitution.
Like a bear with a sore head, Obasanjo perceived Atiku’s audacity to oppose the third term project as a declaration of war. He furiously moved against Atiku by declaring his office vacant. He sacked Atiku like an ordinary civil servant, despite the fact that they were voted on a common ticket.
When the battle moved to the courts, Obasanjo was told in no uncertain terms that he had no powers to sack his Vice President like an ordinary appointee or civil servant. Atiku resorted to the courts because he believed in the constitution, and his commitment to these principles had ultimately helped him to survive Obasanjo’s onslaught.
One of the major virtues of a democrat is the commitment to equity, justice and fairness. Throughout his political struggles, Atiku Abubakar has always indentified himself with justice, equity and fairness in the distribution of resources and appointments. During the 1994-1995 constitutional conference, Atiku Abubakar and his late mentor General Shehu Yar’Adua were among the sponsors of the motion to increase the allocation to the Niger Delta oil producing region from 2% to 13% on the basis of derivation principle. Therefore, Atiku’s commitment to restructuring for a fairer political union didn’t start today. Unlike his political opponents who flip-flop on restructuring, Atiku has been constant on making our federal system fairer. The real opportunists are his critics who advocated restructuring yesterday and abandoned it today because they are now in government.
The agitation for restructuring is a reality and no sincere politician can pretend that this reality doesn’t exist. Implementing restructuring demands courage and commitment. Atiku Abubakar has demonstrated that commitment and sincerity. Restructuring requires a leader who is imbued with a sense of justice. Atiku has demonstrated this commitment to justice throughout his political career and public appointments.
As a former Vice President, he appointed Nigerians from all parts of the country to work with him. Nigeria requires a leader who is committed to equity, and only a man with this commitment can be trusted to carry out the restructuring of Nigeria. Creating a sense of belonging will make Nigerians more united and respectful of one another. Separatist tendencies persist because the country’s leaders are not sincere about restructuring.
Atiku Abubakar, unlike other politicians, is more committed to this issue because he believes that it cannot be swept under the carpet. Nigeria’s unity is under strain, people are losing faith in the fairness of our federal system. We can only ignore restructuring at our own peril. We need someone who is ready to pick up the gauntlet and deal with this challenge. Atiku Abubakar is so far the only politician with well-articulated strategy and programme to implement the restructuring agenda. While other politicians are playing politics with the issue, Atiku is committed to it with the deepest sincerity and enthusiasm.
Nigeria is currently at crossroads in terms of its unity. Trust is severely under threat and when people cannot trust one another, it means that equity and justice are missing. Atiku’s unifying mission is to restore trust among Nigerians in order to make our federal system work fairly for the interest of all. Democracy may be a game of numbers, but equity is the life and soul of democracy. Democracy means protecting the interests of the smallest and weakest members of the union. Atiku Abubakar is currently the only politician in whom I see the hope that Nigeria has a great opportunity to restore trust by building a country that thrives on justice and equity.
- Zagga is an Abuja based political analyst.