Buhari didn’t reward me for helping him become president – Atiku’s ex-aide

The former Special Adviser on Research and Strategy to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Dr Umar Ardo, speaks to ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU on the poor handling of the disagreement between Atiku and the G-5 governors, among other issues

Considering recent happenings, do you think the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, still has a grip on his structure in the Peoples Democratic Party?

I don’t think the majority of the party organs are still with Atiku. Don’t forget that Atiku came back to the PDP after his sojourn in the All Progressives Congress only in 2017, by which time Nyesom Wike as the governor of Rivers State was exercising effective control of the PDP. It was Wike that brought Ali Madu Sheriff as party chairman, and it was him that removed him at the party convention in Port Harcourt where he (Wike) brought in the Ahmed Makarfi National Caretaker Committee.

The Makarfi Committee then produced the Uche Secondus-led national leadership of the party. And if you know how the leadership of the PDP is formed, you will know that governors effectively control the process. All these happened while Atiku was outside the party, and in fact, outside the country. It was afterwards that he came back and joined the party, courting favours from the governors.

One of the conditions given to him was accepting the preferred candidates of the governors for the 2019 general elections. For example, in Adamawa State, the governorship candidate of the party in 2019 was Amadu Fintiri. Fintiri was Wike’s candidate for Adamawa State given to Atiku as a precondition for Atiku to get their support in rejoining the party. Atiku had no choice but to accept him even though he wasn’t his preferred candidate. And it is the same process that was used to get the Dr Iyochia Ayu-led National Working Committee.

You saw the role Wike played in the removal of Secondus, illegal as it were, and the installation of Ayu. That Atiku managed to emerge as the party’s presidential candidate in 2019 and 2023 was just as a result of certain national dynamics within and outside the party politics. This explains why Wike is still in the party and getting away with it without sanctions. So, dealing with Wike in the party needs tact and sophistication, which the Atiku’s group seems to either lack or be unable to implement.

You once said the PDP might suspend Atiku if the former vice president does not suspend his ambition. Why did you say so?

I want you to know that as Vice President, I was Atiku’s adviser on Research and Strategy, but when he stopped listening to my advice, I pulled back and watched him. He made so many errors that denied him the presidency; he so much believed that it was his to pick on a silver platter.

But to answer your question, I didn’t say the PDP will suspend Atiku. I only made what I see as an objective analysis of the political situation of the party on the ground. It is reasonable to assume that the press conference Atiku held after the Supreme Court judgment on his appeal was significant enough for the key members of the party, of which the governors are central, to attend.

Many of them were in Abuja, but none attended his press conference; only for them to meet and congratulate Wike, Atiku’s key opponent in the party, in less than 24 hours on his appointment. They also pacified him (Wike) on the crisis he was having with his governor. They immediately moved straight to hold a press conference and endorse the judgment of the Supreme Court, which Atiku vehemently disagreed with.

After that, the Chairman PDP Governors Forum, Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, visited the Presidential Villa and addressed the press there, extolling the leadership virtues of the President (Bola Tinubu) for intervening in a purely PDP affair. What are all these supposed to tell you? It is an indication that the PDP governors are simply not with Atiku; which means his days are numbered in the party unless he drops his presidential ambition. If he does that, then the governors will all rally around him and pour all sorts of encomiums on him as the best statesman in the country just to gain his support for their various ambitions.

You contested the governorship election several times on the platform of the PDP and lost. What will you say led to your loss, especially because you are a longstanding member of the party?

I lost because the party never followed the constitution, guidelines, and rules. It has always been impositions, also in the congresses to form its executives and primaries to nominate its candidates; and I have never been the favored candidate of the oligarchs because of my principled stand against their lawlessness and exploitative tendencies. The PDP has always been a lawless party, dancing to the tunes of its oligarchs. That’s why I took the party to court several times. And when the courts themselves failed to yield, l left for the Social Democratic Party where I am now.

What can the PDP stakeholders do to reposition the party?

The only thing the PDP stakeholders, who are the main beneficiaries of its failed system, can do to reposition the PDP is to abide by the party’s constitution and guidelines and make positive changes possible. But as it is, the PDP is a dead party, come 2027. When it becomes increasingly difficult and seemingly impossible to democratically change for the better a poor and failing system, look at its endearing beneficiaries to find out the reasons why.

You were very critical of former President Buhari, even when he is a northerner and Fulani like you. Why is it so?

Well, I don’t know about being Fulani like me. In any case, I don’t support or oppose a leadership based on such sentiments. I do things based on key values. Besides, I believe on a personal ground that anyone in my shoes will oppose former President Buhari because of the kind of person he is. You see, I conceived former President Muhammadu Buhari’s fourth contest and advised him on it after vowing publicly that he wouldn’t ever contest again in April 2011. Upon his acceptance, I wrote the blueprint, organised it, raised the funds for it, and drove it till the registration of the All Progressives Congress on July 31, 2013, and then, President Bola Tinubu and the rest took over to win the election.

I advised Buhari to go meet President Tinubu in March 2012 in the first place to offer him the vice presidency in a merger of Congress for Progressives Change and Action Congress of Nigeria for which he was to deliver the South-West at the polls in 2015, which resulted today in Tinubu himself being the President. Unknown to most people, it was former President Buhari who approached Tinubu, who is now the President, on the APC merger and not the other way around. And it was at my behest.

If I hadn’t done what I did, the national politics would have been dramatically different from what it is today. Immediately after he was declared winner, Buhari turned his back on me; he never saw me and never rewarded me. Politics is an affair that you must reward those who are critical to your success. I was not involved in his first, second, and third unsuccessful attempts, but I conceived his fourth contest.

I am indisputably the critical factor in the success of his fourth contest. You see, in playing this game called politics, we must all adhere to the immutable principles of justice and selflessness. These are values that must not be sacrificed for personal gains under any guise. And these are the core values former President Buhari sacrificed in dealing with me. So, how could I not have opposed and criticised him?

Are you now with President Tinubu?

I have no business with him aside that he’s my country’s president. Other than when I was in the Villa serving as an adviser on State and Local Government Affairs and he was the governor of Lagos State, we used to meet and relate purely in an official capacity, I never had anything to do with him. I can say I don’t know him from Adam. But I can also say he is unknowingly presently reaping from the sweat of my efforts in contriving the APC.

But as Nigeria’s President, I pray for him to succeed. I hope for the sake of the country that he does. But for President Tinubu to succeed, he needs to focus on probity and accountability. The previous administration did not do that. They will give responsibility and there will not be any follow-up on that. I also thought he was going to address Nigeria’s problems, corruption.

Are you worried about the President Tinubu administration’s alleged lopsided appointment?

I am not worried at all; if those he appoints will deliver, I don’t care where they are from. What we want is delivery. After all, President Buhari appointed mostly northerners in most sectors of the country, but did they deliver? What benefits was it for the North? I don’t do things based on North-South, Muslim-Christian sentiments. Our country has collapsed, and I can only hope and pray for the success of President Tinubu’s administration.

It is unfortunate that under him, the country is having serious problems, hunger, starvation, and poverty, especially in northern Nigeria. The removal of the fuel subsidy is an appeasement to international monetary organisations as far as I am concerned. But it is not helping the country; we are not subsidising anything. If President Tinubu wants to change the country, he must change the mode of governing the country because the mode of governance is faulty.

Insecurity has remained an issue for years, especially in northern Nigeria. What do you think are the major causes?

The popular saying ‘The poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, and the rich cannot sleep because the poor are awake’ has a menacingly poignant relevance to the current insecurity, insurgency, and separatist tendencies in Nigeria. It’s a fact that Nigeria has had no semblance of peace ever since the return of democracy in 1999. Nigerians today have become so wild against each other that the sanctity of human life has completely lost its essence amongst us.

To kill one another, and to call for more killings of one another, have now become the vogue of our daily way of life. Whether the reasons for these genocidal murders are political, religious, economic, environmental, settler/indigence squabble, etc., we as a people have proven to the whole world that we have not grown beyond the instinct of wild animals. The major causes of this insecurity, especially in northern Nigeria are poverty, unemployment, and lack of government-driven social welfare benefits, chiefly brought about by poor or failed public policies, high levels of corruption and dishonesty on the part of politicians elected to public offices, election and electoral malpractices by practitioners, a compromised and insincere judiciary, among many other vices in public service.

Furthermore, in so short a time, there emerged a glaring disparity in the earnings and living standards amongst citizens never seen before in the history of economic and social mobility anywhere in the world; such that today, a tiny group of Nigerian elites own and control over 95% of the national wealth, while the vast majority of the mass citizens struggle daily to survive on less than five per cent of the country’s resources.

Worse of all, as these policies are seen being facilitated, driven, and implemented by the political class over the years, naturally, there is no love lost between the people and the politicians.

So, how can the Federal Government tackle insecurity?

To resolve these problems, the government must try to understand their fundamental underpinnings, rather than allow unwarranted sentiments of fringe groups of politicians, or even mainstream interest groups, to poison the atmosphere with wild and virulent claims and accusations. As I said, the insecurity in the country is sociologically rooted, and until this is resolved through deliberate public policies, things can only get worse. And this can only be done through bridging the unacceptable gap between the rich and the poor.

As rightly maintained by Ted Gurr; a world-renowned criminologist, ‘When expectations go up and realities go down, men rebel’. All the facts have shown that the insurgencies in the country are basically the results of failed expectations of improved living standards by Nigerians under democratic rule. Therefore, the government must find ways and means of decentralising economic opportunities and national resources in such a way and manner as to bridge this unacceptable wide gap between the rich and the poor amongst our citizens.

Now, in specific terms, what should President Tinubu do to revive the economy?

I think the details of what economic policies to put in place will best be answered by the economists. But whatever policies evolved, they must be driven by good leadership, by action, by sacrifice, and by example. Our leaders must be honest, truthful, and sincere in their leadership. When leaders call on citizens to sacrifice, they must first be seen to be sacrificing. Without imbibing these core values, nothing will ever work.

Recently, some members of the Afenifere urged President Tinubu to make a move to restructure the country. What is your view on restructuring or true federalism?

Our basic problem is not the structure, but the operators of the system. I am not opposed to restructuring, but whatever restructuring we undertake, if the implementers of the system are corrupt and dishonest, nothing will work. Besides, there’s nothing like ‘true federalism’. All the federal countries in the world (America, Brazil, India, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Canada, and Nigeria) have their own varying systems of federating.

Also, people don’t seem to recognise or may be ignorant of one fundamental fact about the federal state; no colonised country, other than settled colonies, where the bottom-up federal system has worked as advocated by those “true federalists”, like Afenifere and others. Not one; not even India! So, let us stop chasing shadows and deal with the substance, which is an attitudinal change in the operators of our public institutions.

Which political solutions or arrangements will help solve some of our problems?

On the political side, the answer is actually simple. The government should freely open the political space, institute credible electoral processes both at the party and general levels, by creating level playing fields in politics where incumbents do not invariably win all elections anyhow, shun winner-takes-all tendency governance, and make government an all-inclusive affair.

In addition, the government should strengthen public authority in all aspects of life by enforcing all laws, rules, and regulations. No person or authority must circumvent any law or regulation, micro or macro, and get away with it; thus, engraining public obedience and enhancing societal orderliness.

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