Atiku Abubakar: Bearing the burden of a dogged fighter

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The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the continued hearing of the petition of the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 polls at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Friday, April 12, served its audience with some comic reliefs. A butt of derisive joke sort of. And a rib-cracking one at that! What the Yoruba people of the Southwest would ordinarily dismiss as Awada kerikeri-comedy unlimited. Others may call it a big laugh.

It was simply a way of reducing a very serious matter to a caricature. Or better still, a grandiose move to get back at a recalcitrant opponent of the president who has become a hard nut to crack. Like the tale of a theatric clone of President Buhari in the guise of Jubril from Sudan, which went virile on the social media upon his return from a medical trip in London, APC roused another fresh rabble, saying that Atiku is not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed in the first place to contest the election. “The party averred that Atiku was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon and was, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth.”

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on February 27, 2019, declared President Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC, the winner of the election with a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who scored 11,262,978 votes.

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But Atiku, dissatisfied with the declaration, gathered an array of eminently Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to form his legal team to challenge the outcome of the election at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. In their 139-page petition, they anchored their objection on five grounds that “from the data in the 1st respondent’s (INEC’s) server…the true, actual and correct results” from “state to state computation” showed that Atiku polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari whom they said scored 16,741,430 votes. In summary, Atiku and PDP claimed to have defeated Buhari by 1,615,302 votes.

In response, APC dismissed the claim by the petitioners that they obtained the authentic results of the February 23, 2019 election from the Independent National Electoral Commission’s server showing that they won the election. In its reply filed through its lead counsel, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), the party said the data and computation of results on state-by-state basis were not legitimate, adding that only the results declared by INEC were authentic. It further maintained that contrary to the assertion of Atiku in his petition, he has no right to be voted for as a candidate in the election to the office of president of Nigeria.

These are matters for the tribunal to decide. But on the flipside, what the APC seems to be saying is that Nigeria is a country where anything can happen. Denying Atiku nationality of a country where he had served as a former number two citizen for eight years at this time amounts to likening Nigeria to a banana republic in a state of anomie. It hurts the integrity not only of the accused person, but also the institutions of governance. It shows how dysfunctional they have become. And it assaults the collective sensibility of the citizenry. By Section 131(a) of the Constitution, a person must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth to be qualified to contest the office of the President of the country. Apart from being a former vice president for two consecutive terms on the platform of the PDP, Atiku has been in the presidential race since 2007 running on the platform of different political parties. While his struggle lasted, no one ever raised any issue about his nationality. If at this time, APC has conducted its research and found a clear evidence that he is from Cameroun, then something fundamental is amiss. In the first place, how did he pass the scrutiny of the security operatives (DSS) and the INEC to vie for the position? What this drama is suggesting is that there may be more foreigners resident in Nigeria than the real Nigerians. And it goes without saying that Nigeria has become a big laugh. A huge joke!

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No wonder that the PDP and its candidate in their quick response fired back and dismissed the submission as idiotic and ridiculous. Atiku, who spoke through his media aide, Paul Ibe, said that it was an insult to Nigerians and the office of Vice President which he occupied for eight years, for the APC to question his nationality. His words: “The claim by the APC is idiotic and it is ridiculous. Atiku Abubakar is a former Vice President of Nigeria. Are they telling us that a former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not a Nigerian?

“That is disrespectful to Nigerians and for the office he has held, which other people will hold and will continue to hold. Everything must not be on the altar of politics.”

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Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 to a Fulani trader and farmer, Garba Abubakar, in Jada village, Adamawa State. Prior to his latest exploit, he had served as the vice-president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007 under the leadership of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 1998, he was elected Governor of Adamawa State. While still Governor-Elect, he was propped up as the running mate to the presidential candidate of the PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo. The duo went on to win elections in February 1999, and Abubakar was sworn-in as Nigeria’s second democratically elected vice president on 29 May, 1999.

However, his bid to succeed Obasanjo did not receive the latter’s support, as a result of which he dumped the PDP and contested on the platform of the AC in 2007. But he lost the election, placing third after Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). In his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest the 2015 election, he slugged it out with Buhari and lost. Still not relenting, on February 23, he participated again in the presidential election, but couldn’t make it. He is now at the election petition tribunal to challenge the victory of the incumbent President Buhari. Perhaps, the latest twist by the APC is part of the burden Atiku may need to bear as a price for being a dogged fighter that he is.

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