I requested a picture as the chat with Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar came to an end at Eko Hotel on Friday night, December 1st. And he obliged.
I was specifically called and asked to meet with the Vice President by some people close to him and while the meeting with him was a private one with four others present, one of those present told the former Vice-President that ‘Charles Novia would be asking you a few questions; he writes fearlessly on blogs and he is blunt’
‘Oh…yes. Charles Novia’ Atiku nodded and shook my hand.
‘Sir, there are a few things I would like to ask you and those are nagging questions lots of people are asking everywhere about you’ I said.
‘Go ahead’ he said.
‘You seem to know how to reach out to the young people, especially on social media and other interactive fora. I would say the youth are quite divided over your decision to run for President in 2019. Some say they would vote for you if that’s the only alternative to President Buhari in 2019 but there is a groundswell of betrayed opinions by the youth and that school believe you should not run because of your age. Why are you running yet again? Why don’t you empower and support a younger candidate whom the young people can rally around and get their wish for a younger person in power?’
Atiku replied ‘I am running again because I want to serve the Nigerian youth and because I have always interacted with the youth all my life, especially in politics. I am not running to stifle their chances but to help to prepare them for the next political cycle after 2019. I do not feel old. I am 71 and I am strong and quite healthy and very capable and experienced to be the President of this country. Political leadership is all about experience as well. I have promised and still promise to have young people in my cabinet if I become President. The Youth can hold me on to that. My administration will be made up of young and capable people in all areas. My mandate will come more from the youth and I realise that and I will not disappoint them. I don’t think there’s any politician presently in Nigeria who interacts with the young people as I do and it’s not about politics alone. It’s my passion to see the young people succeed. Thousands of young people have received scholarships from my foundation over the years, even before I became Vice President. The University I established have hundreds of promising young men and women studying on scholarship from my foundation and there are many more studying in foreign Universities on scholarship too. I have consistently invested in the youth all through the years, especially in capacity building. Remember that when I was VP, many of the appointments made during our tenure were young and qualified technocrats who brought colour to our policies. So, I’m not stopping the youth from contesting. But if the choice in 2019 is between older and tested politicians at the end of the day, I would solicit their support for me as the better candidate who can give them the representation they want in the cabinet and ensure that the young people take control after my Presidency’
Earlier, Atiku had given one of the reasons he left the APC and one could feel the disappointment as he spoke briefly about it.
‘On many occasions after the President was sworn in, more than ten times, I had sat with President Buhari one on one and I advised him on national issues and what I thought could have been done to arrest the drift. The President did not listen at all. Look at the administration, key appointments were given to his family members. A country is not run that way. A country is run by competence and not cronies. Of course, when he didn’t regard my advice and contributions, I had to leave. I can do better than him and I hope Nigerians will decide wisely in the next election’
Which means Buhari is actually running again in 2019? I mused.
From the way Atiku was talking , it seems it’s a fait accompli.
He further spoke about his family life and pan-Nigerian belief when asked about his wives, one of whom is Yoruba and Igbo by whom he’s had grown children of mixed parentage.
‘I do not see ethnicity when I interact with people. I don’t make friends or build on relationships on the basis of where you come from. No. I see people first. That’s how I see my Nigeria. I’m a bridge builder. Christians, Muslims. ..I carry everyone along.’
Former VP Atiku has now returned to the Peoples Democratic Party. I find it a political irony that the man he helped remove from the Presidency in 2015 when he defected to the APC, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is going to be the biggest Kingmaker for the party as it were, when Atiku slugs it out on the campaign trail. I have never understood how politics work in Nigeria and this is one example of fated decisions I can’t pretend to understand. Perhaps all is really fair in politics and interests after all! Or how else can this situation be explained?
I asked him another question. ‘Former President Jonathan was widely quoted as saying that only Former President Obasanjo can decide your winning the Presidency. This is a widely held notion, even before GEJ said it. Do you think this is correct and do you think you stand a chance without OBJ’s endorsement?’
Atiku replied with a half smile. ‘I am carrying on regardless. I’m not worried about my former boss and the 2019 eĺection won’t be about him but about the incumbent and others running against the incumbent. But let me just say this. I served under OBJ for eight years. I believe I’m the only person who has served that long under him whether as civilian President or military Head of State in his career. I know my former boss quite well and I don’t usually speak against him. My former boss is unpredictable. He is. In 2015, I was with my former boss in his house and as we were talking about something else, he just said out of the blues; ‘Ehen, VP, I have written a new book o. And in the new book, I insulted you well well. Ehen.’
He’s not someone you can predict. But that is not my worry. I am contesting for the 2019 election and it will be Nigerians who will decide who will win the election first and foremost. My relationship with my former boss is fine’
There were a few other probing questions asked which I will write about later. The impression I got at the end of the chat was that the former VP is building a powerful momentum for 2019 and unless something happens to upset the apple cart, the race is looking like a two way contest between President Buhari and Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
There are interesting days ahead.