2019: Why Atiku is ahead of others - Showunmi
In the last two decades, the name Atiku Abubakar has reverberated within the nation’s political landscape. In quest to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, opinions are divided with some saying he can be trusted with the nations’ top job, while others feel otherwise. As the countdown to the 2019 presidential elections progress and political permutations keep going, Mr. Segun Showunmi, Director, Media, Publicity and spokesperson of the Atiku Campaign, in this interview with journalists including our Associate Editor, JACOB EDI, he said his principal, Atiku Abubakar, the Wazirin Adamawa, is not only prepared for the top job but has all it takes to get Nigeria out of the woods. Excerpts:
Are you already campaigning or still consulting?
The guideline for INEC does not give room for campaigns to start now, so what we are doing at the moment is just consultation. We are consulting the stakeholders, we are consulting the important members of the society, we are consulting the leaders of our party, we are consulting the statutory delegates, we are consulting the potential delegates, we are consulting the traditional institutions, we are consulting the opinion molders, we are consulting the generality of Nigerians, we are consulting with the friends of Nigerians, we are consulting around.
The business of wanting to be the president of Nigerian, especially now, requires that you must consult significantly, to be able to get people to have a buying into that aspiration and that is what we are doing.
How really prepared is Atiku for this race?
His Excellency, Waziri is not just prepared, but what he has been doing is to constantly review where the country is in relative to new ideas that is taking place and taking root in the world. Because human development is not static, your level preparation and the kinds of ideas you need to bring into bear in the nation also cannot be static. So, from about 1992/1993 when he started indicating interest in being president, one of the things Atiku has done that makes him better than any other candidate is that he has constantly subjected himself to new ideas, fresh ideas , more research, more inputs from other academics and people that are equally knowledgeable.
He has also listened to the issues in the country and tried to hear what the stakeholder and the Nigerian average person is saying; go back into the laboratory of social engineering to look at where we can find models that we can copy or we can adapt. So Atiku Abubakar is the most prepared, most prepared. Nobody comes in, if you give him 100% or 90% for level of preparation, I think you would give him a 90%, the closest would be 30%.
What is the new thing he is bringing to the table in specific terms?
I think that nothing, those who say there is nothing new under heaven would not be totally wrong, it is only even under heaven you have to figure out new ways of doing things.
Right now in Nigeria, one of the things that should concern Nigerians now is security. But what kind of security challenges do we have now and how come those security challenges are not yielding to some of the traditional method of that we are putting at it. One thing we have seen is that Nigeria needs to be worried about even youths becoming gainfully employed to reduce the number of people that are available for restiveness. Nigeria also needs to revisit its security architecture. The security architecture that we are using to run Nigeria has been handed down to us maybe since independence or slightly immediately after independence. Now the country has grown so big. We now need to revisit our security.
We are due for a comprehensive security audit which Atiku Abubakar has subscribed to. Nigeria also right now is very divided along all the lines; tribal lines, ethnic lines, religious lines, the rich and the poor, it’s just hopelessly divided and its tilting towards, if we are not careful, a potential implosion. For you to be able to do that- bring the country into unity, you have to know that you are looking at who has earned the confidence of the sections of the society that represents the diversity of Nigeria.
Among all the candidates that are out there, everybody can say what they like, but Atiku can be said to be most connected with everybody. He has very strong relationship even related by blood to the South West and South East. Lots of serious long term investments and business relationship with the SouthSouth, in the North central he is very heavy there, in the core north he is the Prince of Kuze Waziri, in business he is a Fulani. So you can almost see that even for the business community, he is part of the business community, for the academic he is also a proprietor in the full supermarket of educational institution, it has nursery, primary and tertiary. So you can see that this is a man who is almost like his life is a microcosm of Nigeria. Whatever you are looking for in Nigeria and he has built those confidence.
What are your thoughts on issues like free education, state police, the economy and foreign relations?
Well, I think that where the former president tried to go with those ones, we are going with JOBS. The central policy of our government would be the creation of jobs because we understand that we have a major unemployment rate of young population. The main average of that population is about 18 or under 18. That means we can double our population in just about a decade or so. That potentially is dangerous if we cannot figure out how to create jobs, so Atiku would have tha creation of jobs as the central policy in his government.
The O in JOBS means Opportunity. Nations the world over now are trying to reinvent themselves to take a competitive edge, Nigeria should do the same for if we do not do that, the fourth industrial revolution will leave us behind. For you to be a part of it, you need to create new opportunities for private sector, you need to create new opportunities for business people you need to create opportunities for how to expand the Nigerian economy.
The B is for “Being together”, we need to figure out how to quickly get Nigerians united. For you to be able to unite Nigeria, you must be able to accept what they are saying to you. Some of the things they are saying to you are some are saying resource control, some are saying restructuring, bottom line is that there is a need for you to look at Nigeria and be able to agree on the best model of administrative administration, in terms of the interplay between the local government, states and federal and we are very strong on that.
We believe that we must bring people together and the opinions of people must come into play. We also believe that the FG must get a little leaner to become more efficient and effective- that means we would be bringing the discipline of private sector to the running of government. And of course, as for security, we can’t wake up in the country and be hearing this has gone wrong, this is death, the DSS has done this, the police has done that, just too heightened and because of the energetic nature of our country, we need to review that.
We are running on JOBS, job creations as an opportunity to open up the economy with good security.
In regards to free education, the government that Atiku served under had always done free Universal Basic Education (UBE). What it does is that it guarantees the first nine (9) years, up to secondary school and every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to that. That why you see we have things like SUBEB, UBE. What we are going to do in this instance is not just stick to them, but review the curriculum to figure out what us the set of training and curriculum that we need to run in Nigeria to give Nigeria an advantage in the world, since the world now is under the barrage of Information Technology.
Are you not worried by the defections of some politicians including the Senate President?
That’s to say that the political party called PDP is a very healthy party. It is only in a healthy party that you have people aspiring. It is ridiculous to imagine that in a country of about 180 million people, a number of people would not aspire for the presidency. There is a general consensus that we should look in the direction of the North so that we can breach the sustainable and equitable desires to make sure that the balance is maintained. You know, the South west has had the presidency for some time, the south west had eight(8) years and Goodluck Jonathan had about 6years, but in the northern part the two and a half years of Yar’Adua plus three years of Buhari. To maintain a balance, the power needs to be in the north. We must balance out and stabilize our country. So we are looking in the direction of the north. But having said that, it would be ridiculous to imagine that in that north, people that are qualified wont present themselves. You will see that some people, including those that I assumed to have crossed over because of that ticket.
So what is unique about Atiku?
What you will see is that Atiku is the most experienced. He also has proved himself out there a lot more in terms of presidential race and he has also been someone who has, by his conduct, earned the respect of a lot of Nigerians, you can almost say where Atiku stands on an issue. You know where he stood when it was time for him to defend the constitution of Nigeria against ‘TOPTANK’. We know where he stood when it comes to getting the constitution to allow freedom of association of parties and to sustain offices without making it easy for people to just be throwing the advice under the train, which went on to the supreme court ruler. You know where he stands when it comes to our Nigerian party.
Atiku is never a sectional person, and you know where he stands in terms of democratic credentials. Everything Atiku ever does is democratic. You know where he stands when it comes to taking opinions of other people and building consensus. We know where he stand when it comes to the economy and how the private sector efficiency must come to give the economy broadness, and also where he stands when it comes to even extreme view.
Perhaps when it comes to extreme religious views, you will know that he is a very religious man, because as long as that religion is private, that will be left with those that are practicing it and the leaders of the religion. He is not someone who uses religion to play the religious card under no circumstances. Because he understands that this is a secular state and people must feel comfortable within the secularity.
We know where he stands when it comes to national integrity, we know his stance when it comes to restructuring, so there can be a distinguishing difference, something differentiates Atiku from the pack and the Presidency of the Nigerian Republic in 2019, as far as I am concerned is not even an election self, it’s a referendum to decide how do you want our leadership to survive.
But wouldn’t you say Atiku is desperate, having moved round almost all the political parties in search of the presidency?
It is unfortunate that most people in Nigeria do not appreciate what it has taken Nigeria as a nation to even get to national practice. Had Nigerians understood or taken cognizance of the effort it takes to build two national parties. Rather than say why Atiku is moving, they would have thanked Atiku for the energy took to gather people together to start these parties.
Even for the 1999 experiment that produced the PDP, the party didn’t just come into existence, some men did a lot of work to create that party and the party is doing very well right now. When he then got to the point where he had to stand firm, against the constitution being adjusted to allow people to just stay in office almost permanently, that was what he had to do…Atiku did not shiver. He stood firm on the back of the Nigerian people and rescued the Nigerian nation from that imbroglio. The consequence of that was that they pushed him out of the party, literally.
In fact, I think he just woke up one morning and found out that the level of the hells of democracy at that time could accommodate the leadership of his party in Adamawa being manipulated to say that they are deregistering him and that meant that obviously he had to move with his followers, and that journey, since he left PDP had not been an easy one because you have to know that sectional parties don’t serve our needs, we have tried it before.
In the republic before this one we are running now, sectional parties were the reason why that whole thing collapsed, that’s why Atiku was smart enough, and had a lot of historical experience to know that rather than have another sectional party, he had better put himself available as the guinea pig to help the alternative political party create a national party and God helped and they achieved it with the creation of APC. That he did not get the ticket there is not enough to invalidate the contributions that have been made to even create that party now. Whatever it is that you say about the APC now, Nigerians know that we have two national parties, the APC and the PDP and Atiku Abubakar has played a significant role in the nationalization of both parties in the establishment of structures across the length and breathe of Nigeria, not alone but with other people. So rather than seeing him as moving about, you should see that this journey you cannot wish it into existence, some people have to do the hard work that others can benefit from and that’s what Atiku has done.
In terms of his Presidential ambition, I often ask myself, how does he manage to draw himself up after every round, because we must understand that he tried to be President is not the problem, the problem is that he didn’t even succeed and so because he didn’t succeed, many men will never try it again. They will just say that ‘be gone with Nigeria, let me go and enjoy my life with my family.’ But somehow he always finds the courage to pull himself up and try again. You should count it for him for tenacity, every great thing that has happened requires that we try and try and try and that what Atiku has done.
At 71 your principal is still talking about contesting for presidency. Isn’t it a failure of leadership if he hasn’t groomed a younger person fit for that position?
Atiku has groomed more young people than most of the leaders we have in Nigeria. Most of them are clannish and parochial, Atiku is not like that. I can count some names for you but there is no point for that because of the status of those men now. But I will call a few, maybe Nigerians would never have known any super cop called Nuhu Ribadu, if not for the fact that Atiku spotted him, found him and gave him that EFCC, maybe Nigerians wouldn’t know anyone called Nasiru El’Rufai, Atiku heard him speak and look at where he is today, even Okonjo-Iweala among others. Atiku has always been the type of man that once he spots brilliant people in Nigeria, he gives them a platform to rise with.
What Atiku believes in young people is that he accepts that generally the nation has not done enough with mentoring and preparing them in a large number to be able to hold power for the country, and therefore Atiku thinks it’s his duty and responsibility to fast track the mentoring, the experience that would get them to be able to come into government under leadership and understudy how things work from the inside and they’ll be mentored into leadership. That’s why Atiku says that 40% of the people that will be part of his government will have to be young people.
When a man is not prepared for the office of the president, no matter his age, if he doesn’t have experience, what you are going to see is that he’s going to begin to fall back to clownish enclave and that’s when you begin to hear the word cabal this and that. Leadership is a very sacred and delicate responsibility, it must be handed over to anyone that can manage it and it is not just about age, it ia also about preparedness, experience and timing.
What will Atiku do differently about corruption?
In the first instance, the instruments with which you are managing corruption even today, the ones you are even using to manipulate and get power for yourself and coerce your enemy and thus making a mess of everything was created by Atiku. Not just created by him, it was thought into existence by him. It was Atiku who was trying to solve the problem of the certification of banks that brought up EFCC. It was Atiku that thought that we cannot be a nation where the cost of doing or buying every procurement in the country would be the most expensive in the world, that’s how we got Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to give us an institution that would make sure agencies are not just doing whatever they like in terms of procurement.
Is Atiku in good relationship with his former boss, Obasanjo?
The relationship is very cordial. People read a lot of meanings into what Obasanjo says sometimes and sometimes they try to make Atiku make a comment on it, is not necessary. Atiku recognizes that the former president is the former president of the country has to be respected and Atiku respects him. Atiku recognizes that they had a joint ticket, the Presidency is one, its never divided. Atiku recognizes that he is an elder statesman. Have you ever seen Atiku be in the media to make derogatory remarks about anyone? Or the former president at that?
In relationships with people, issues always come up but Atiku is always very guarded, he never likes to join issues with people, rather than that Atiku will prefer that you focus on the issue at hand. What is the issue at hand now? It is about democracy, it is about what is the best interest of Nigeria, and it is about how the Nigerian people will choose their next leader.
Saraki is the leader of PDP right now. How is Atiku taking it?
The concept of national leadership is like a garment you put on peoples neck and you don’t even understand it. What happens with political parties, especially PDP is that we have evolved a culture where the highest ranking person, say the president is the leader of the party and because we haven’t been in opposition before, we really haven’t been able to translate who then becomes the leader of the party when you are not in power. The reason is that, it is sometimes difficult for you to say, if Obasanjo were to return to PDP today, will you say Saraki is Obasanjos leader? You can’t say that, and therefore it is a little bit difficult that a man who is the senate president would now be the leader of Jonathan who is an immediate past president. Those titles and those unwritten accolades we give ourselves are only convenient decorations we give ourselves, just to let ourselves know that this is the highest ranking person in the public office now.. it doesn’t always work like that.