He is a veteran in this game and he is 71—old enough to know what it takes to win a national election. He also possesses deep pockets,a plus for anyone who wants to run for office in poverty stricken Nigeria.
Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has every right to be scared of Atiku ahead of the presidential election of February, 2019.
As Chairman of the convention planning committee, Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, declared him winner of the presidential primary election on Sunday, October 7, 2018, Atiku could barely smile. But you could see he was relieved. This was why he defected from the governing APC in December of 2017. Being Nigeria’s president is what keeps Atiku awake at night. He has been dreaming of being Nigeria’s president since 1992. He’s been dreaming of Aso Rock forever.
Atiku has swapped several political parties to get here. He has given as good as he’s received. He has fallen out with heavyweights like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo—his former boss. He has been called names, he has been labelled corrupt and he has had to prostrate before Obasanjo to make their relationship right. Here is one man who will give everything to become president of his country.
At the PDP presidential convention of 2010, Atiku lost to Goodluck Jonathan and was so heartbroken, he called the election a sham. And then he got on his bike to the godfathers of the Action Congress, Action Congress of Nigeria and then the All Progressives Congress in 2013. He was looking for a platform to relaunch his presidential dream. He was desperate. He still is.
In 2017, when it dawned on him that the APC was going to hand Buhari an automatic ticket, Atiku announced his defection and began calling Buhari and the APC all sorts of names.
"Under the APC, Nigeria is not working, under the APC our people are not working”, Atiku said just hours after his defection.
"The APC promised us unity, under APC Nigeria is more divided and acrimonious since the civil war. The APC promised us restructuring, in office the APC denied restructuring. The APC promised war on corruption but all they have delivered is a war on the opposition”, he added.
And Atiku should know a thing or two about corruption. He has been accused of money laundering by US authorities, he has been accused of receiving bribes as a government official in the Siemens contract and he was accused of enriching himself corruptly while spearheading privatization reforms in the Obasanjo dispensation. Till this day, Obasanjo can’t stand Atiku and can’t back him for a councillorship position.
“If I support Atiku with all that I know about him, God will not forgive me”, Obasanjo once said.
Atiku’s corruption badge will be a major campaign issue in the days ahead, make no mistakes. His reputation for corrupt enrichment has been the Achilles heel of this former vice president.
However, the Buhari administration should be worried about Atiku’s pro-business disposition, his views on restructuring and fiscal federalism, his clout in the Southwest and North, his cosmopolitan nature, the fact that Atiku may pick a running mate from the Southeast, the fact that Atiku could split the votes from the battleground Northwest and Southwest regions and the fact that everyone now knows where Atiku stands on regional autonomy and on growing the economy. Atiku certainly sounds more believable on growing the economy than Buhari would ever be.
He may be a septuagenarian like Buhari, but Atiku appeals to the youth a lot more. He famously announced his defection on Facebook and occasionally uses Twitter to banter, relay policy alternatives and profess his love for Arsenal. Here is a candidate who has been so entrenched in the game, he has shown that he’s learnt from his past presidential races and is ready to make this count for all it’s worth.
The PDP was always going to provide the most formidable candidate who will give Buhari and the APC a run for their money. Recent elections in Osun, Ekiti and elsewhere more than prove that the APC can indeed be beaten by the PDP. Buhari hasn’t been a spectacular president for all it’s worth and there are folks who now consider voting for him in 2015 the biggest mistakes of their lives. These disappointed chaps may well go with Atiku in 2019 to correct that mistake.
Atiku possesses the clout, ground game, instant name recognition and arsenal to make Buhari and the APC quake in their boots and he’s the one man who can outspend a federal government-backed APC at the moment. These are early days yet to say if he'll win or not but you can be certain that Atiku is going to last the distance on this one--probably his last presidential bid.
His emergence as PDP presidential flagbearer should hand Buhari and the APC plenty of sleepless nights before February.