Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 presidential election, got his victory at the recent convention of the political organisation. However, there had been various speculations about the outcome of the exercise. Meeting with selected journalists including Eromosele Ebhomele of Legit.ng recently, Gbenga Daniel, a former governor of Ogun state and director general of the Atiku Abubakar campaign organisation, reveals what some may not have known about the ex-vice president’s move ahead of 2019.
Here are excerpts of the interview:
Few weeks to the election, it became clear that Governor Aminu Tambuwal was most favoured. The opposition also had the belief. How did Atiku win? There is none of the aspirants that I did not have a one-on-one meeting within the course of the campaign. Tambuwal, Saraki, Kwankwaso and the others. The theme of my message to them was that the nation beckons. There is absolutely none of them who is not qualified to be the president of Nigeria. As a matter of fact, I do honestly believe that any one of those people who contested would probably be a better president than the current president that we have. Saraki has been an eighth-year governor. Before then, he worked with the presidency. He had been the chairman of the Governors Forum. He is the sitting Senate president and has fought battles. You cannot say that kind of person cannot govern this country. Tambuwal was the speaker meaning he had the opportunity of representing the entire constituency of Nigeria. And everybody believes that he did well. He had a first class public relations and is the governor of Sokoto. You cannot say that kind of a person is not a good material. Makarfi, don’t forget, was a governor for eight years and he governed Kaduna state, the hotbed of the northern politics; this kind of volatile challenges that we have in Kaduna state were not there under his tenure. From there, he went to the Senate. I can tell you for sure that in 2007, he was on the list of those considered as president of Nigeria. He led the party at a point of turmoil, but you saw how he handled it. You can see that a person like that has what it takes to run the presidency.
Sule Lamido was a minister of external affairs and everybody understands his kind of politics. He more than qualifies. What Atiku has is that he has been vice president for all of eight years. He fought many battles, he was maligned and till now, nobody has been able to say this is beyond speculation. If you also look at it, he appears to be very experienced and cosmopolitan. He understands Nigeria. One of the challenges we are facing as Nigerians is the need to reunite the country. In the last one year, I have travelled the length and breadth of this country. First, when I wanted to be the chairman of our party, I toured all the states of this federation including FCT. As the DG of the Atiku campaign, I have also toured the states, some I went twice. So I know what is going on beyond speculations. I had interactions, town hall meetings with delegates. Don’t forget that I had meetings with the delegates when I contested for PDP chairmanship. So in my second coming, it was like OGD again? The relationship had been cultivated and I did not stop the relationship. I already had the credibility among them. So all the things we are hearing are just assumptions, presumptions. You have said on various occasions that the presidency and the vice presidency cannot be aspired to without being brought out by people. Can you expatiate sir? I was just saying this within the contest of the number of people who thought they could negotiate vice presidency. If you look at the evolution of this country from the first republic, it appears there is a pattern that we must watch carefully. And this is that all the people who fought like no man’s business to get there, never succeeded. Whether it is right or wrong remains an issue. When you look at the first republic, I think the person was Awolowo and he never got it. Before we got to the NPN, a lot of people thought that it would be Zik; from nowhere, it was Tafawa Balewa, an innocent teacher from Balewa village in Bauchi became the first prime minister. Even OBJ (Olusegun Obasanjo) who succeeded Murtala (Mohammed), we are told, was forced to be the head of state at that time. Then, in 1979, everything that happened in the NPN that ruled, suggests that the Maitama Sules of this world, eloquent, strong and intelligent did not succeed. The man who won was somebody that said he wanted to be in the Senate. Now, when you go to who emerged as the vice president, Ekwueme, architect, was not even in the picture. There were so many other names that people were routing like Ozumba Mbadiwe, a man of timber and calibre. From nowhere, Alex Ekwueme was brought in. Then the military interregnum again. Again, in the military, it is not the person who plans the coup that emerged. This is without any exception. Also, during OBJ’s time in 1999, it was from prison to presidency. Then, some people like Abubakar Rimi insisted that he wanted to be his vice. They were running up and down. But from nowhere, Atiku had already contested for the governorship of Adamawa and had won and was just waiting to be sworn in as governor. Then he was picked. Moving forward, as a governor, we were asking baba (Obasanjo) where are we going? He said he we are not sure yet. We were all thinking it was Peter Odili because he was the frontrunner going everywhere and being nice. Yar’Adua was not in the picture. But he became the candidate. We were then thinking if Odili did not get the ticket, he would be the running mate. On that day at the convention ground, before we knew what was happening, Jonathan was announced as the man. I am just talking of history, nothing personal. It did not end there. Jonathan emerged presidential candidate and the likes of Isa Yuguda, Shema, Babangida Aliyu were being lined at for a running mate. Namadi Sambo was not part of them. He was an architect and even the one that designed the cargo airport I planned as a governor of Ogun. It was when the then governor of Kaduna died that he emerged as replacement. He became vice president. Don’t forget the one of Buhari. Yemi Osinbajo was in camp two weeks earlier. But he was announced. I have come to realise that the issue of presidency in the Nigerian history is sometimes the more you look, the less you see. We have read on the social media how a former National Security Adviser, Gusau breezed into the convention venue in Port Harcourt and that he may have influenced the outcome of the primary in favour of Atiku. The way I will situate it is this: everybody who came to the venue of the convention had interest. The personality you mentioned is first and foremost a PDP person. I remember he actually came and sat. He has a right to be there and has a right to make a choice. We learnt he was delivering a message from the emirs and the powers that be… He did not tell me that. I don’t also know where he said that. It was part of the speculations I talked about earlier. Now that the presidential ticket has gone to Atiku, the running mate to the south-east and the national chairman of the PDP to the south south, you definitely need the southwest. What then goes to the region? I know that from my close interaction with the presidential candidate that he has made up his mind that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) will go to the south-west. That I can say as a matter of privileged information. And that is within his control.
For the National Assembly leadership, I think we probably have to wait for who emerges. But I know that once we do some balancing in government, we will also do same in the National Assembly. For the people of the south-west, we must understand that what we bother about is the fundamental issue of restructuring. People come and go. Yes, today, the APC has vice president but that has not assuaged the feelings of our people in the south-west. So the attraction to the Atiku Abubakar candidature is that he is the one who appears to be honest about restructuring. Even outside the south-west, he has consistently maintained this position. What are the major focus, like the manifesto of Atiku? The manifesto is ready and is being touched. Just before the campaign kicks off, the manifesto will be properly launched and publicly presented. You will then be able to see the action point. Let me also say that we have been able to speak with other a number groups talking about restructuring. What I heard from Atiku is that there are a lot of things that have to happen. I was scared one day when he told me that by the time he finishes, the presidency will no longer be attractive to people. If you look at it, we have a centre that is too strong, that determines how we breathe in and breathe out. That is unacceptable. Part of what we have always said is that we would look at the exclusive and concurrent lists such that some powers would now devolve to the states. That is what restructuring is about. But the details are being put together. Do you think Atiku can take Nigeria to the Promise land? I am persuaded that without any doubt, when you look at the challenge we have, the way Nigeria is today, there is a lot of confidence. I went to places like Benue, southern Kaduna, Zamfara where people had lived together for centuries, but all of a sudden, becoming apprehensive and unsure of themselves with people being killed. The people do not even understand what has suddenly happened. So, within that context, you need a unifying factor. The current president, regrettably, I am not sure even in perception and indeed, has done well. He is a Fulani and Atiku is a Fulani. But when you put them side by side, what people are saying is that this one might be a better Fulani in terms of being cosmopolitan. When you look at the country today, everywhere we went, I am appalled. In every location that I have been in all the 36 states, we have met with hordes of unemployed youths. I have tried to look at where Atiku is coming from I went to Yola and I saw many things. Employment is the key to our success.
When I was governor in Ogun state (you can now judge since the next person will soon finish), I ran an administration with completely different agenda. They just opened the biggest brewery in Sagamu interchange. That place was where you had to be scared when you drive through the place by 7pm. We wanted to take it out of robbers, so we built a water fountain and put light. We later gave the place to Nestle. I see Ogun state saying it has grown its IGR. The IGR grew because of the land concessions we gave. It was like a trap for the industries. It is only someone who understands something about the economy that can run a state. Those archaic theories are all gone. That is what qualifies Atiku more than the man who is there now.