Observing Tinubu in Atiku’s Mirror – By: Gimba Kakanda
OWhen former Vice President Atiku Abubakar chose the PDP ticket to take on President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, he was presented by the APC as a fearsome opponent to their candidate. He was portrayed as corrupt and untrustworthy, and even his seemingly well-meaning political foresight, such as the outraged promise to privatize the NNPC, was interpreted as the desperate gasp of a crony capitalist. By then appealing to the poor, the ruling party stoked anti-rich sentiments through populist propaganda, particularly in the North, and hired local musicians to announce the coming of the closest and wealthiest rival to their candidate as a reign of thieves.
Exploiting the economic shortcomings of the majority of Nigerians, the pro-Buhari camp has romanticized poverty and criminalized wealth by telling Nigerians that the rich should not be given the seat of power. The “success” of the campaign lay in the refusal to distinguish between legitimate wealth and corruption, lumping the wealthy together as enemies of the state. Episodes of Buhari – who is not poor and ascetic in the sense of a gullible segment of the underclass – flying in the private jets of wealthy politicians and prospering on their donations, have been conveniently left out of the painting. of Nigerian politics as a contest between black and white, devil and saint. It is the hallmark of populism that plays out every election year and is always deployed to thwart objective analyzes of electoral processes and promises.
Those binary conversations that surrounded Atiku when he ran for president some three years ago have resurfaced since former Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu named Aso Rock as his next station. His aspiration sparked quiet infighting within the APC. Arguments against Tinubu’s candidacy are the exact words once linked to oppose Atiku, especially the part that he has unexplained wealth and would favor crony capitalism if elected. Interestingly, defenders of Tinubu’s “corruption”, old age, vague ancestry, academic background and health status are the supporters who like to vilify Atiku for the same political “baggage”. The profiles and obstacles of the two politicians are almost entirely similar. Atiku’s road to flying the PDP flag in 2023 is only as certain as Tinubu’s chances of acquiring the APC ticket, but their capital parameter gives them an advantage over other contenders in their parties, and the two had to wait for vicious gangs of “youths” and “technocrats” to remind them that the ticket to Aso Rock is not for sale or bargain.
If the appearances of political veterans on presidential ballots next year were to become inevitable, the mutual reluctance of their supporters to invoke the opponent’s personal disability would be glaring, because the repetition of past attacks on Atiku by the pro-APC camp, ad hominem and propaganda likely to be repackaged for renewed antagonism if it secures the PDP ticket again, would also cast Tinubu in a similar light of sabotage. Atiku and Tinubu are more alike than they are different.
At 75, Atiku’s age is likely to be underlined to demarket him, and that appears to be a stance already deployed to harm the Tinubu brand. But if the latter ends up triumphing over the other APC primary contenders, many of whom are likely to be his mentors and political beneficiaries, the dreaded ageism would be desensitizing. Both sides, of course, are likely to point to the lackluster performance of young presidential aspirants like Governor Yahaya Bello, as well as the many examples of outstanding leaders in their seventies to centenarians, from Mahathir Mohamad to Joe Biden.
It would also be difficult for APC’s Atiku detractors to criminalize his vast wealth if Tinubu emerges against him. Both politicians have come under fierce scrutiny from the public and authorities, and while neither has ever been convicted, Atiku’s investments, which cut across education, media, food and agriculture, and shipping , have always been demonized for portraying him as a villain in Nigerian history. But it would be a dangerous path for the APC with a Tinubu ticket. Besides also being marked for his vast investments in media, hospitality and finance, the two wannabes oversee business empires with overlapping interests and are longtime allies.
When Atiku fell from a treadmill in the lead up to the 2007 presidential elections, the knee injury suffered and treated overseas was sold to the public by the then ruling party as an obstacle to his performance if elected. The injury featured in opposition party propaganda in subsequent elections, although his reliance on crutches was brief. Tinubu’s appearance with a cane after his recent treatment for an unnamed illness in London invalidates the possibility of fitness being a talking point in a contest between them, at least for rational supporters.
Equally redundant in the contest between Atiku and Tinubu would be the caricature of his ancestry, as the APC did to the point of approaching the court to prove that he is not of Adamawa descent. He was maliciously presented as a Cameroonian by the APC in 2019 to have him disqualified. This will not be tenable with Tinubu as the main rival. The former governor was also a specimen in the laboratory of conspiracy theories, and wild accounts of his life and past have also been in vogue since his ambition began to rock the country. One of these ridiculous theories presented him as an impostor – that he is not part of the Tinubu family tree as identified, but is from Osun State whose real name alleged is Amoda Lamidi Sangodele.
These obsessions with Tinubu’s eligibility for president’s office manifest themselves in the very pattern that Atiku experienced in the last election. The dilemma, perhaps, would be if some of Tinubu’s foot soldiers – who had vilified Atiku for the same history and attributes they glorify in defense of their principal – would eat their words. Both politicians, however, would still have to contend with ageist demographics and the court of public opinion that has long found them guilty of corruption in absentia. But, ultimately, they would be feared by corporations and political establishments looking for a puppet president, as neither is likely to be beholden to some so-called kingmakers.
Atiku and Tinubu are also similar in their electoral disadvantages. The former vice president aspires to take over from a fellow Muslim and northerner, and while his party is not ethically obligated to field a southern or southern Christian candidate based on an APC-style zoning arrangement, Convincing Nigerians to let another northern Fulani politician take responsibility for the chaos of this polarized country next year would be a tough sell. For Tinubu, the electoral calculus convinces Christian demographics to endorse a Muslim-Muslim ticket, and his choice of a Christian from the North as his running mate would repel the Muslim North. If they find themselves at the polls next year, the tough choices will be between electing another Fulani after Buhari or a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
What cannot be opposed to the two candidates is their cosmopolitan profile. Atiku’s marital history crosses southern ethnicities, including a Titi and a Jennifer. Tinubu’s wife was ordained as a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in 2018. It is therefore difficult to classify them as fanatics or to accuse them of nurturing a sectoral agenda, whether religious or ethnic. If stuck with these options, politicians’ managers and supporters would be forced to settle for comparisons and the practicality of their preferred candidate’s manifesto. And, again, the court of public opinion would be reopened for a new political trial.