Atiku will unify Nigeria -Tunde Olusunle

Atiku Abubakar

In this interview, Tunde Olusunle, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar says despite the internal issues in the party, Atiku will attain victory in February and bring good governance, equity and unity to Nigeria.

Compared to the quality of governance and service delivery provided by the outgoing administration, what should Nigerians expect from an Atiku Abubakar regime?

I can assure you that Nigerians can expect, and duly be served a listening, accessible, caring and performing Atiku Abubakar dispensation. That a PDP government under Atiku will be responsive, responsible and proactive, is a given. While the ticket of one of Atiku’s major contenders in this contest has told adherents of a particular faith that their sensitivities and sensibilities don’t count, Atiku has always, and continuously, respected our religious plurality. On every occasion he got the ticket of a party to contest, he ensured immediate and instantaneous regard for Christians. From Ben Obi, who was once his running mate, to Peter Obi, to Ifeanyi Okowa, Atiku has always been spontaneously circumspect and pragmatic. We can expect an Atiku government that will speedily reset, reorder and reorganise our fractured and discombobulated polity.

Tunde Olusunle

One of the popular slogans on the Atiku political trail is that, he will unify Nigeria. All of a sudden, under the APC government, Nigerians began to think of themselves along ethnic and religious lines. This is not how we have always been. But when a president constitutes a federal cabinet of 42 ministers and appropriates 10 topmost portfolios to his own geopolitical zone, nepotism cannot have a better name. Or how do you describe it when the ministers of finance, defence, police affairs, agriculture, justice, water resources, disaster management and humanitarian services, aviation, even petroleum, which has the president as substantive minister, are from one zone? When you run through the list of members of the National Security Council (NSC) and you find 80 percent, if not 90 percent of the constituents from a particular section of the country and of a particular faith, nothing can be more upsetting.

Atiku served in an Obasanjo government where the inauguration of the National Security Council had to be delayed for a few days, to ensure that the Southeast geopolitical zone was duly accommodated in the scheme, in 1999. That is the kind of fairness and equity Atiku will bring to Nigeria.

In what departments or spheres of Nigeria’s socioeconomic life will the impact of an Atiku presidency be swiftly felt?
Atiku Abubakar has always been a multitasking leader. You sometimes wonder how he is able to pack so much into his mind. Atiku has always been ready for governance, ever armed with a blueprint to guide his work. This blueprint has been regularly fine-tuned to reflect emerging sociopolitical realities, locally and globally. The world is not static. The telephone device, which you and I are holding in our hands today, has experienced phenomenal upgrading since the Obasanjo/Atiku government, enabled the GSM technology over 20 years ago. That is the manner of dynamism that underlines Atiku’s mindset. There is almost always a “situation room” situation around him, of dialogues and disputation, and you find in him a man who has tremendous respect for scholarship and intellectualism, but is not shy of robust engagement. And Nigeria has a potential president who reads voraciously. Atiku is not afraid of paperwork. He is a methodical, systems man, who pores through piles and piles of documents, and you will see his comments and markings all over such documents. He is not the kind of president you will present with a fait accompli only for him to nod his head in concurrence. Atiku will rekindle confidence in Nigerians and restore our characteristic bounce and swagger. Don’t forget the popular saying across the world that ‘Nigerians strut around like they actually own their host country!’ That is the kind of confidence that has always propelled Nigerians to break new grounds and move mountains, metaphorically. This is the kind of restoration an Atiku presidency will beget.

What is the way forward for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar after the various failed peace moves to bring back the G5 governors to the PDP fold ahead of the presidential poll, next February?

Engagements and horse-trading are never foreclosed in politics and politicking. There are issues and circumstances, which breed dissent and disaffection. There are also developments and fall-outs, which engender rapprochement. You must have heard it said in places that there are no permanent adversaries in politics. There are usually, mainly permanent interests. You must have heard the comments of the flag-bearer of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, at a recent townhall meeting on Arise Television. He made the point that he has met with the Rivers State governor and leader of the G-5 Nyesom Wike, on five separate occasions. Both gentlemen met twice each in Abuja and Port Harcourt, and once in London. In between, emissaries of Atiku, notably Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, and his Adamawa State counterpart, Umaru Fintiri have met with individual members of the G-5, or the group as a whole. The outcomes of these meetings may not have been wholly successful. But the fact that both sides are able to sit at table and dialogue is progress in itself. That is one of the hallmarks of democracy, the fact of being able to discuss.

The principal crux of the impasse between both sides as you recall, is the insistence on the resignation of Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the PDP. This ostensibly, is to make way for a southern successor, to precipitate a north-south balancing between the presidential candidate (and potential president), and the national chairmanship. Such a disruption in the middle of a critical electioneering season comes with disruptive downstream implications. It’s like changing a commander in the thick of battle.

Despite this stalemate, the presidential campaign of the PDP is proceeding smoothly. You must have seen very enthusiastic scenes from well-attended rallies across the country, expressing support for the Atiku Abubakar candidature. Atiku has grossed 15 states in a blitzkrieg across the country as we speak. The visit to Katsina State on Tuesday December 19 made it the 16th state. No other presidential candidate comes anywhere close to this score sheet. Atiku has not been hurled off the campaign dais because he almost collapsed; he hasn’t mouthed gibberish and chants in the name of campaign rhetoric. Yes, there may be pending issues, but there is a campaign schedule to be prosecuted ahead of the coming polls. We are optimistic there will still be positive congruence between the dissenting parties. I should also note that the G-5 governors and the enlarged “Integrity Group” have maintained they are in PDP and will remain in PDP. There was this meeting of the “Integrity Group” in Lagos a few weeks ago and a test-run of what to expect. Called at the instance of elder statesman Bode George, the meeting enjoined party supporters to vote the PDP in all elections, except the presidential election. There was a choreographed walkout by the stakeholders who maintained they would support Atiku. This is the scenario. The party is working hard to ensure we go to the polls as one solid family.

There are talks of emergence of a new group –‘PDP for Peter Obi’. How is the Atiku camp dealing with this?
In all honesty, we are unaware of any ‘PDP for Peter Obi’ group. We are in the heat of politicking. Candidates and their supporters will generate all manner of disinformation to unsettle their opponents. If you look around the PDP flag-bearer, you would observe that the critical mass of the party’s stakeholders and supporters are united for the Atiku project. Yes we have unresolved issues with five of our governors, but happily, the other nine governors are 101 percent with us on the project. And they are working with every commitment and dedication. Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Osun, Sokoto, Taraba, are irrevocably with the Atiku presidential project. If you’ve been following the PDP’s outings, you would have noticed untiring leaders like Sule Lamido, Liyel Imoke, Bukola Saraki, Gabriel Suswam, Emeka Ihedioha, Babangida Aliyu, Jide Adeniji, Tunde Ayeni, Ehigie Uzamere, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Boni Haruna, Mukhtar Shagari, Abdul Ningi, a very pan-Nigerian bouquet, with Atiku, everywhere.

Even at that, the party continues to reach out to members desiring to join the campaign train, but who don’t know how best to get in. Don’t forget the logo of the PDP, the ever-elastic umbrella with capacity to shield and accommodate infinite numbers of returnees, new joiners and enthusiasts.

In view of his more solid support base during the 2019 election, when he had Mr. Peter Obi as his running mate and the entire Southeast and part of the Southwest rooting for him, is the Atiku camp not apprehensive about certain developments ahead of the 2023 polls; looking at the Obi/LP factor in the southeast, the Kwankwaso/NNPP factor in the Northwest, Shetima factor in the Northeast and the APC candidate’s emergence from the Southwest?
Your concerns are genuine, Ralph, albeit without the benefit of certain undercurrents and realities. Talking about the Peter Obi factor in the South east, for instance, I don’t know if you followed the recent back-to-back outings of the PDP presidential campaign team to two states in that zone. They toured Anambra and Imo states, which are non-PDP. Anambra is governed by the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA), while Imo is led by the All Progressives Congress (APC). You should have witnessed the warmth, civility and bonhomie with which Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra, welcomed Atiku and Company, to Government House, Awka. Some public commentators want to put that to the role Atiku played in headhunting Soludo who served first as economic adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and subsequently, as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN). While this may be true, many beneficiaries have been known to hunt and hound their benefactors. The rally held in Awka by the PDP on that same occasion, was also very successful. Anambra is home to the Arthur Ezes, ABC Nwosus, Obiora Okonkwos, Dan Ulasis, Ben Obis, Uche Ekwunnifes, Chuma Onyemas, Handel Okolis and so on. Peter Obi was governor of the state for eight years and an impactful one at that. But this does not preclude the fact that the PDP and Atiku are staging very strong claims to the soul of the electorate, despite the presence of their son on the ballot.

The PDP rally in Owerri was tumultuous. It reaffirmed the description of Imo State as the “home of the PDP,” by one time governor of the state, Emeka Ihedioha. Ihedioha himself was governor of Imo for a while, before he was replaced by the incumbent, Hope Uzodinma of APC, who Nyesom Wike of Rivers prefers to call “Supreme Court governor,” because he was installed by a court ruling.

The challenges posed by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in the Northwest; Kashim Shettima, (running mate of the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu) in the Northeast and Tinubu’s own home zone, the Southwest, are very germane. But then we in the PDP are resolute and undeterred.

Let me begin from the Tinubu dimension. It was totally wrong and immoral for the APC presidential candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the 2023 election, after the very privileged placements the Southwest has had in the national scheme, beginning from 1999. And I will explain. By May 29, 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari would be handing over to his successor, Nigeria’s fourth republic would have capped 24 unbroken years, the longest in our sociopolitical history. Of these years, the Southwest has produced a president, Obasanjo, for eight years, (1999 to 2007) and a vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, for eight years, 2015 to 2023. I do not want to remind us that within same period, the Southwest has produced speakers of the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s Number Four office, from 2007 to 2011, and from 2019 till date.

Except for the Northwest, which produced an Umaru Yar’Adua, who passed on in active service and the incumbent, Buhari, the Southwest has fared much, much better than every other zone and should be content and thankful.

You asked about the Shettima factor in the Northeast. Unfortunately, Shettima continues to be linked with the activities of insurgents in Borno, his former gubernatorial address and its environs. The Northeast, the global North indeed, Nigeria at large, most earnestly desire a president who will be the nation’s chief executive, and not an appendage. I can tell you for free that there are sections of the north, which are apprehensive about the immediate political future because of Buhari’s mismanagement of the nation’s ethno-religious fault lines. They fear there may be recriminations and retaliation. They will be circumspect in their preferences especially with the same faith, muslim-muslim ticket Tinubu is flying. Many sections of Nigeria feel very bad the way it’s been flung in their faces that their cherished religion doesn’t count. Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s most absolute ruler was circumspect enough to respect the faiths of Nigeria. Oladipo Diya was his deputy. Abacha was not crazy enough to take on a same faith deputy.

A topical national issue that has trailed the current campaign is the North/South rotational presidency, which Atiku’s current bid has allegedly violated, at least in the eyes of his opponents. Can we talk about this?

Atiku’s presidential bid has not in anyway endangered the “north/south rotational presidency,” which we are yet to perfect in our democratic culture. It would seem that some presidential hopefuls entered the race, in response to intra-party templates for the movement of the nation’s topmost political office. Tinubu tells us he had an agreement with Buhari in 2014. He, (Tinubu) will provide the missing piece of the political puzzle, which absence had repeatedly failed him in his (Buhari’s) earlier contests, if Buhari will reciprocate the gesture in 2023. That’s an APC matter.

Atiku Abubakar was not going to run for the ticket he holds today, if the office was specifically zoned to the Southeast. The PDP opted for an open contest in its bid to produce the most sellable candidate capable of winning a national election. Buhari’s supporters always bragged about his having “12 million votes” warehoused in his earlier participations. Atiku grossed as much during the 2015 election, which most Nigerians believe he won. So why not avail his party of his already bagged goodwill in millions of votes, to ensure a healthy head-start for the party in the forthcoming elections? Atiku has also said upfront, that he will be the precursor of power transfer to the Southeast, if voted into office.

In one of your recent columns you described Atiku as a Nigerian leader with a difference, whose tentacles crisscross the length and breadth of Nigeria’s geophysical and sociocultural mass. Giving that supporters of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu also lay claim to the APC presidential candidate being one of Nigeria’s foremost nationalists and builders of men and women; is it to be assumed that Atiku and Tinubu are two of a kind to match in this regard?

There is a pan-Nigerian colouration to the buffet of goodwill available to Atiku, which may be more global than the manifestly provincial span of that of his co-contestants. I mentioned to you the uncommon warmth with which Atiku has been received on his campaign trajectory. You can feel the warmth and affection he continues to savour. He had consummated many of these friendships and interpersonal linkages even before he conceived of a career in politics. Some of Atiku’s friends, unfortunately, are no more, but those longstanding relationships need to be recast at a time like this. Chike Chigbue, SAN, of (blessed memory), one of Nigeria’s brightest attorneys in his time, is a case in point. How about the famous journalist and playwright, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, (also sadly not with us)? Onukaba met Atiku when he covered aviation for The Guardian. Atiku was airport commandant of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), in the 1980s. A friendship developed, which led to Atiku’s absorption of Onukaba on his staff, when he became vice president. How about the Akin Kekere-Ekuns, Peter Okochas, Ben Obis, Yomi Edus, Oyewole Fasawes, Dubem Onyias, Chris Mammahs, and so on? These are substantial Nigerians in their various rights who are neither from Adamawa, nor the Northeast.

Do you think the presidential candidates and their media handlers have violated the peace accord through insults and disparaging statements?

By its essential DNA, political communication and discourse, thrive on robustness. Looking at the field of spokespersons and communicators for the more prominent candidates, this may be the largest assemblage of professionals ever concurrently engaged by the various sides. The APC/Tinubu divide has the Festus Keyamos, Dele Alakes, Bayo Onanugas, Tunji Bellos, Tunde Rahmans, and so on. The PDP/Atiku end has the Dele Momodus, Kola Ologbondiyans, Charles Aniagwus, Dino Melayes, Don Pedro-Obasekis, Paul Ibes, Phrank Shaibus, among others.

*Continue reading from the source: The Guardian