Atiku Abubakar: The good, the bad

abubakar_atiku5FORMER vice president Atiku Abubakar  recently moved a step ahead in his presidential aspiration when   the Adamu Ciroma-led screening committee of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) declared him as its consensus candidate among the Northern presidential aspirants in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

With his announcement, Atiku is condemned to challenge incumbent President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for the party’s presidential ticket.

Atiku, who can practically be said to have been in the presidential race since 1992, when he last plot in the politics of the SDP convention in Jos has not hidden his desire to occupy the highest office in the land. On several occasions he had attempted to get elected as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in all of  these attempts, he was shot down by superior forces.

Despite these failed attempts, Atiku has committed to actualising his age long dream of ruling Nigeria as a democratically elected president.

His aspiration to succeed his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2007 on the platform of the PDP was also thwarted by forces within his party and he was forced to defect to the Action Congress (AC) to secure for himself a platform to contest the 2007 election.

At the end of that presidential contest, the Adamawa-born politician came a distant third behind PDP’s Umaru Yar’Adua and General Mohamadu Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). This is the political credential Atiku and his supporters would be flaunting before Nigerians as the march towards 2011 election hots up.

Atiku’s opponents, both within and outside the party, may not have seen anything good in the man who has been made the choice of the nine-man Ciroma committee but political analysts are in unison that despite all the misgivings concerning the former vice president, his political credentials cannot just be wished away.

The good
Those who have been following Atiku’s political sojourn since 1992 point to the fact that the retired custom officer is a dogged political fighter, who will not easily give up on a cause he believes in. This quality of his came to the fore when attempts were made by former president Obasanjo and the leadership of the PDP to muzzle his 2007 presidential bid  through the series of investigative panels.  He was made to face a Senate probe over the management of the funds of the Petroleum Technology Development Funds (PTDF) where he was accused of orchestrating the mismanagement of the funds ahead of the 2003 general election.

At the end of the investigation, Atiku was found culpable. The white paper on the outcome of the report was gazetted and Atiku by that decision was announced disqualified from contesting in any election. But the democrat in him took over. The former vice president challenged his indictment and disqualification in the law court. At the end of the legal tussle, the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, ruled that it was only a competent court that could disqualify any aspirant from contesting election. The step taken by Atiku in fighting for his right was seen as a huge plus to the democratic credentials of the recently selected consensus presidential aspirant of the NPLF. Turaki’s decision to challenge his indictment at the court of law further deepened the nation’s democracy.

When it was glaring to Atiku that the PDP platform will not be available for him to contest the 2007 election presidential election, he decided to jet out of the party for the AC.

His decision to join the AC made former President Obasanjo to declare the former vice president’s office vacant. The Supreme Court judgement was indeed novel in the annals of the nation’s political history and it became a reference point in political and judicial interpretations.

Undoubtedly, Atiku’s emergence as the consensus candidate of the NPLF ahead of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida is a demonstration that Atiku is a better political strategist than the former military president. His ability to sway the votes of the majority members of the committee which gave him an edge over Babangida is a pointer to the fact that he knows when to strike. It is even being argued in some quarters that Atiku was the brain behind the formation of the screening committee and he also ensured that the committee was peopled by most of his loyalists. At a point, it was said that out of the 17 members of the committee, nine of them were his loyalists. If this is true, it further proves his deftness politically.

Sunday Tribune gathered that  Atiku mooted the consensus idea as a short cut to his picking the PDP ticket.

He is a dogged fighter with chains of associates and political supporters across the six geo-political zones. It is also believed that a part of the political machinery of the late Musa Yar’Adua, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), which was a nucleus of the PDP during its formative years–is still under his control and that machinery can be resuscitated to prosecute his presidential war. Atiku, despite his shortcomings, has paid his dues and this appears his last chance if his age long dream of sitting on the driver’s seat of Nigeria is anything to go by.

The bad
Despite what his supporters would call a highly intimidating political credential capable of sending shivers down the spines of his opponents, Atiku is not without some liabilities. In his private and public life, a number of issues have come up against him.

The ‘sins’ believed to have been committed by Atiku include but are not limited to alleged corruption, insubordination, disloyalty and championing of ethnic politics.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling that Atiku could not be stopped from contesting the presidential election based on the indictment by an administrative panel set up under Obasanjo, the former number two man is yet to get any legal pronouncement that the allegation of corruption leveled against him on his handling of the finances of the PDTF were not true. Because of this, the pages of newspapers have since his declaration to contest the highest office in the land, been awash with one corruption allegation or the other against him. There are indications that Atiku was being linked with the Siemens and Halliburton scandals. These and many other allegations of  financial impropriety while in office are albatrosses on the political neck of the Turaki Adamawa.

It is believed in many circles that  Atiku and his camp will do his political aspirations  a lot  of good if he gets himself cleared from these chains of corruption charges before the PDP primaries. They also argued that because there is no court of law that has cleared him of these charges, his opponents may capitalise on that to rubbish him before the delegates and during the general elections if he eventually grab the PDP ticket.

Another dangerous dimension to the series of allegations against Atiku came from the United States of America in February. A report of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which conducted a hearing into four cases of money laundering,  indicted Atiku and his wife, Jemilah, of orchestrating the entrance of illegal funds into the United States running over $40 million.

Even though the former vice president has denied the allegations, calling them muck raking by the Jonathan administration which he said, is trying to turn a simple money transfer into corruption, the report on a title; Keeping Corruption out of the United States: Four Case Histories detailed how Atiku allegedly laundered funds to Jemila between 2000 and 2008.

“This Report examines how politically powerful foreign officials, their relatives, and close associates – referred to in international agreements as “Politically Exposed Persons” or PEPs –have used the services of U.S. professionals and financial institutions to bring large amounts of suspect funds into the United States to advance their interests. Using four case histories, this report shows how some PEPs used U.S. lawyers, real estate agents, lobbyists, bankers, and even university officials to circumvent U.S. anti-money laundering and anti-corruption safeguards. The report also offers recommendations to stop the abuses.

On Atiku the report said: “From 2000 to 2008, Jennifer Douglas, a U.S. citizen and the fourth wife of Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and former candidate for president of Nigeria, helped her husband bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States through wire transfers sent by offshore corporations to U.S. bank accounts. In a 2008 civil complaint, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Ms. Douglas received over $2 million in bribe payments from 2001 and 2002 from Siemens AG, a major German corporation. While Ms. Douglas denies wrongdoing, Siemens has already pled guilty to U.S. criminal charges and settled civil charges related to bribery and told the sub-committee that it sent the payments to one of her U.S. accounts.

“In 2007, Mr. Abubakar was the subject of corruption allegations in Nigeria related to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).

Of the $40 million in suspect funds, $25 million was wire transferred by offshore corporations into more than 30 U.S. bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas, primarily by Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., LetsGo Ltd. Inc., and Sima Holding Ltd. The U.S. banks maintaining those accounts were, at times, unaware of her PEP status, and they allowed multiple, large offshore wire transfers into her accounts. As each bank began to question the offshore wire transfers, Ms. Douglas indicated that all of the funds came from her husband and professed little familiarity with the offshore corporations actually sending her money. When one bank closed her account due to the offshore wire transfers, her lawyer helped convince other banks to provide a new account.

“In addition, two of the offshore corporations wire transferred about $14 million over five years to American University in Washington, D.C. to pay for consulting services related to the development of a Nigerian university founded by Abubakar. American University accepted the wire transfers without asking about the identity of the offshore corporations or the source of their funds because under current law, the university had no legal obligation to inquire.”

More worrisome however is a survey conducted by the NOI Polls Limited on the opinion of Nigerians on the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar and published on The Guardian of Thursday, November… on pages 44 and 45. The poll revealed that of all the aspirants who jostled for the PDP ticket before Atiku emerged the consensus of the NLPF, Atiku’s corruption level towered above all others, even above IBB who had all along been seen as the most corrupt Nigerian leader dead or alive.

In another realm, Atiku has also been accused of planning the ouster of  his former boss, Obasanjo from office ahead of the 2003 election.

Despite all the claims that the said zoning arrangement is meant to retain power in a zone for eight years, Atiku worked hard to stop Obasanjo from contesting a second term in office in 2003 by picking his own form and engineering PDP governors’ gang up against Obasanjo.

It took the intervention of other PDP stalwarts across the country to stop Atiku from his supplanting move. Even at that, he was said to have instructed the then PDP governors to ensure that they forced Obasanjo to pick him as his running mate in 2003. His defence was that his move was borne out of OBJ’s attempt not to pick him as a running mate.

Another side of Atiku that could be highlighted by his opponents during the campaign is his political instability.

Having campaigned against the PDP, on the AC platform and calling the party, its leadership and members unprintable names, Atiku’s return to the PDP, with the sole aim of actualising his presidential ambition, is likened to the proverbial dog which is returning to its vomit.

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