By all accounts, the former Vice President and leader of the splinter New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is a redoubtable political tactician and a strategist in his own right. He might still be far from his ultimate dream of ruling the country as an elected president, but nobody would doubt his political acumen and capacity for surprises. His recent democratic “coup” against the ruling party and the president, which has left President Goodluck Jonathan very embattled, is a case in point.
As the leader of the powerful Peoples Democratic Movement now recently registered as a party ostensibly by Atiku’s associates, his capacity to build political network, leveraging on the tentacles of PDM is not in doubt. In that respect, Atiku is a hero to many of his followers, but who is Atiku’s own hero? How did he cut his teeth as a political tactician? To these questions, Atiku points his fingers at his late political mentor and hero, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. And he explains why below.
A hero is somebody you look up to, admire and want to be like. Most of the time heroes are great men or women in whatever human endeavour. We want to be like them, we want to emulate them, we tend to make them our own examples or heroes.
A world without heroes is like a world without leaders. Heroism and leadership are interchangeable.
In Nigeria, the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua is my hero of the last 100 years. This is somebody I consider one of the most patriotic Nigerians that ever lived. He is a nationalist, a very brilliant person. He fought a civil war to preserve the unity of this country. He believed so much in the unity of this country. He was the greatest strategist I have ever worked with. Whether in the military or in politics.
I met him many years ago, when I was still in the public service.
It was in the early ‘80s and the mid-80s that I began to get very close to him. From what we gathered from his military contemporaries even at the battlefront, he used to be their own strategist. He planned for them on how to move, where to move, what direction to move and so on.
When he eventually moved into politics, he proved that he was really a strategist. In every political strategy he planned for us, we actually got our way. And he was meticulous to a point. I have never seen anyone so meticulous. Again, he was a very, very deeply committed nationalist.
When he began politics, he was the first person that I heard say: “Neither North nor South, East nor West.” When we began our political career together, he said: “Look, we should abandon politics of the First Republic. And we should try to reach out to our fellow brothers and sisters across the Niger. Whether East or West. So that together we can form a very, very formidable movement, a very, very formidable political party cutting across these frontiers.”
Because, he felt that if there was any problem we had, it was the regionalization of our political parties. So, he wanted to establish a national political party, a truly national party that is thoroughly integrated and spreads across the nooks and crannies of this country. Talking about political parties he was associated with, there is the PDM whose origin was PFN—Peoples Front of Nigeria, which started way back around 1989. That was the origin. From PFN to SDP. From SDP again back to PDM. And then PDM to PDP. PDM is one of the longest political associations post-military.
That was what we used to drive the military out of politics. NADECO came afterwards. NADECO came as a result of the annulment of June 12. But for us, there would not have been June 12. But for us, there would not have been MKO Abiola. It was all a PFN affair that gave Abiola the ticket and subsequently the victory at the polls. It is not true that PDM didn’t support Abiola. If you think so, then you don’t know the story. You don’t know even the history. Yes, it was true that Yar’Adua was very angry when Abiola did not pick me as his running mate.
And I knew the damage that would be done to our political party, the SDP. I ran to Yar’Adua’s father who was then still alive and told him to talk to Yar’Adua to support SDP, not to be angry because I was not picked. I ran to Obasanjo whom I knew was his (Yar’Adua’s) boss and he respected. I told Obasanjo: “Please, talk to this your man, so that we can work for SDP to win.” And Obasanjo sent for him. In my presence, three of us were sitting down and Obasanjo said: “Shehu, Abiola may not be the best President but go and support him.” And Shehu said: “Yes, sir.” And we got up.
We came back to Federal Palace, convened a meeting of all our coordinators in the country and directed them on the need to deliver MKO Abiola to win the election. We went out and we won. So, it is not true.
It is not true that PDM did not support and sustain the opposition to the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. PDM did. What happened was that we met in Benin, and both Shehu and myself and the chieftains of SDP from the Southwest, we all met in Benin to draw up a strategy: how we should continue to support MKO Abiola. So, anybody who says that we did not do that is not accurate.
I am a living witness here.
There was no question of PDM pulling the rug from under Abiola’s feet. It was only one single individual. And it was Kingibe. And Kingibe already had fought and fallen out with the PDM family or the PFN family within the SDP. Because he ran with Abiola.
Of course, Abacha emerged under circumstances that can be best be known to those people who manipulated the system. And I was not one of them. The only thing is that I did not like the return of the military again into office. And when eventually Abacha reached out to Shehu for support, we met here in Ikoyi, in Shehu’s house and decided: Should we support Abacha or not support Abacha? We decided that since we were fighting for the return of democracy, we should not support Abacha.
So, we met and dispersed. After we dispersed, then there was another pressure again on Shehu.
And then we came back and met. And then Shehu gave conditions. He said: “The only condition we could support you General Abacha, is if you can give us a handover date.” Abacha was not prepared to give a handover date. So, we left. So, we never supported him. Not until the constitutional conference came. Again, we met. Should we be part of this constitutional conference? The first decision was no.
Then, in the second meeting, we said: “Look, we should go into the constitutional conference and use it to drive Abacha.” Which we did. And by the time we fielded our members across the country, we had controlled 65 per cent of the members of the constitutional conference. And that was why we passed the famous resolution asking Abacha to go by January 1996. It was after that that Abacha went after him and arrested him.
And also went after me to try to kill me. We never supported Abacha.
It is true I played a part in preserving Obasanjo’s life in Yola Prison. When we went to visit the late Shehu in Abakaliki and he told us what was done to him, how he was injected, he even gave it to us in writing. So, when I came back, I immediately alerted Obasanjo and said: “Don’t agree for anybody to come here and inject you. Because they would kill you.” Yes, it’s true that I alerted him. How do I feel about Abacha? Remember he also tried to kill me. He attacked my house in Kaduna. In the process of trying to kill me, he killed eight policemen and two of my security guards. I escaped. So, he really was after Yar’Adua and myself. Don’t ask me about Abacha’s place in history. Go and ask historians.
Back to Shehu Yara’Adua, from him I learnt a lot of virtues and leadership qualities. Things like consultation and courage. And forthrightness. In the face of adversity, he remained calm. He never moved. He was a man of integrity. There was no doubt about that. There are so many excellent qualities you are looking for in a leader that you can get in him.
Between Yar’Adua and his younger brother were too different human beings. I don’t know the younger one. Yes, I know he used to be President of Nigeria. And he used to be Yar’Adua’s younger brother. I took him as such as my younger brother, I supported him, I helped him. Period. I wasn’t close to him, so there is nothing I can tell you about him.
Do I think PDP is beatable? As I said in my interview with you in your paper, The Sunday Express, there is never a time when PDP is more vulnerable than now. You can quote me to high heavens.