The Sun News

Atiku and the other Aisha

By Ethelbert Okere

Ever since he formally declared the restructuring debate open, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has taken the center stage on national discourse. As against expectations in some quarters, the restructuring issue has seized the entire nation with the former vice president playing a role that looks like that of a moderator.

But two different, though related, events last week brought in a fresh vista on the growing Atiku phenomenon. On Wednesday, September 6, 2017, Atiku in an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa service accused the administration of President Muhamadu Buhari of sidelining him.

His words (according to reports of local newspapers that monitored the radio interview – see, for example, the Nation of September 8, 2017, page4): “Honestly speaking, I am still a member of the APC; I was part of all the processes, including campaigns until success was achieved. But sadly, soon after formation of government, I was side-lined. I have no relationship with government. I have not been contacted even once to comment on anything and in turn, I maintain my distance. They used our money and influence to get to where they are but three years down the line, this is where we are”.

The other matter was about a statement credited to a serving minister in the Buhari administration, Hajia Aisha Alhassan, to the effect that she will support the former vice president in his presidential bid but will not back President Buhari in case he elects to run. Not unexpectedly, Alhassan’s statement(s) drew a lot of attention  and though both the presidency and the leadership of her (their) party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is yet to react formally (by the time of writing this article) , her stance has drawn flacks to her. Some of her co-party members say the minister should resign, of course, amid fears that the president will fire her.

Yes, viewed entirely from the angle of bread and butter politics, for which our country is known, Aisha Alhassan committed political hara-kiri. She should be fired and sentenced for disloyalty! How can she, an ordinary woman, look the president, her boss who appointed her minister when her betters have no job, on the face and say such a thing. That is how some Nigerians will look at the matter. Others would even say: “where is Ibrahim Magu. Didn’t you hear what this bloody woman is saying? Go get her, call some press camera men and slam her with some charges”.

It was this type of response that greeted the statements by her namesake, Aisha Buhari, President Buhari’s wife, when she said that not only has her husband and his administration been hijacked but that also she will not mobilize support for the President in 2019 should he run again. But even before the dust settled, Nigerians saw sense in what Aisha, the first lady, was saying. Her hijack story would soon be re-echoed by many who initially did not have the courage to make their feelings open.

I am afraid the same thing is repeating, or will repeat, itself in the case of Aisha, the minister. As far as I am concern, the minister has said something many Nigerians will soon begin to fall on each other to also say. And Senator Shehu Sani, a leading light in the APC, made the matter clearer when he said :”The difference between the woman who made the statement as a minister and others is that she was open and others are still having it in their mind”.

Hajia Alhassan’s statement can be put in a plainer language thus: Should Buhari seek re-election in 2019? If the question is put to vote today, it is most unlikely that the yes will have it. In my view, the minister has chosen to put her job on the line to declare open a debate which, I am certain, Nigerians will be very glad to join in.

To be sure, Nigerians are quite glad that the president came back from  his medical vacation to resume work in earnest, contrary to fears and speculations while he was still abroad. But let’s make no mistake about it, not everybody who wished the president recovery did so out of personal love for him. It was mostly out of the fear of what would be the sheer implication for the country should the worst happen.

Agreed the president looks fine and highly re-invigorated but am afraid if the generality of Nigerians would take that as a clean bill to give them the confidence to hire him again in 2019. If nothing else, majority would, out of sheer sympathy and compassion, wish that he goes home to take care of himself and enjoy his retirement. I think what Aisha did was to, perhaps inadvertently, place the interest of the nation above the ephemeral benefit of a ministerial job.

Again, just as in the Buhari (to run or not to run) debate, the minister has also helped us to bring the Atiku presidential issue closer to the front burner of national discourse. Agreed, the minister has done the unusual in our own context, but what she did or said does not have a negative impact on the collective psyche on Nigerians ; compared with what President Olusegun Obasanjo said about the same Atiku and his presidential ambition.

Chief Obasanjo, Atiku’s boss in the 1999-2007 presidency, was sometime ago reported as saying that even if he were dead and Atiku had won Nigeria’s presidential election, he would beg God to allow him  return to earth to stop Atiku from being sworn in and thereafter return to heaven (hell). Chief Obasanjo made that statement when the “hate speech” refrain had not yet taken hold of our national political lexicon but taken either then or now, such a statement, coming from a person of Obasanjo’s caliber, is a big embarrassment to Nigerians because it depicts us as a people who are too debased to be part of modern civilization.

Now, back to Atiku’s  sidelining claim, the former vice president, again like Alhassan, said something many leaders within the APC find difficult to say publicly. I also watched Senator Sani discuss this matter on television the other day and he was unmistakable in corroborating Atiku. Sani even gave his own personal experience in his home state Kaduna. Of course, Abuja and Kaduna are not alone. Similar complaints are being made in several states were the APC is at the helm of affairs. Two good examples are Imo and Kano states.

If we take Atiku’s revelations and the situation in some of the APC states together, it would be proper to advise both the Buhari presidency and the party itself to adopt the proverbial baby and bad water approach. Whether anybody likes it or not, Atiku has shown a good flair for reading the political barometer. And he does so effortlessly because he is a good mixer; perhaps unlike those at the helm of affairs both at the presidency and the party. A flip through the newspapers any day  would reveal a dozen of articles admonishing the APC not to repeat the “mistakes” of the PDP. But even the least discerning observer knows that the mistakes are already being made. That seems to be the concern of Atiku who, unlike Buhari, has  a   firsthand experience of the internal contradictions that led to PDP’s unexpected fall.

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