Atiku: The President’s Shadow
Atiku: The President’s Shadow
Joseph Dangme Rinyom
Abubakar Atiku, Nigeria’s Vice-President has been a vilified personality from all quarters and manners of people within the last seven years. The first four years, which coincided with his first term in office as Nigeria’s Vice-President was from his kith and kin, the northern political elites who accused him of blind loyalty to President Obasanjo, whom they claimed was trying to undo everything the North had gained over the years. These include appointments into sensitive positions of power, which before then were largely enjoyed by northerners; the on-the-spot retirement of a crop of army officers who had accepted political positions in previous military administrations, the bulk of which were northerners; the perceived marginalization of the north in the distribution of capital projects which they believed was skewed in favor of southern Nigeria; Atiku’s declaration in Lagos that he was not ‘Sharia-compliant’ and that the status quo ante (i.e. the situation in Nigeria before Sharia) would be maintained, etc. In the face of all these, Atiku remained steadfast in his loyalty to President Obasanjo. Ironically, the VP is now being vilified for perceived disloyalty to President Obasanjo. In an interview to a newspaper Atiku alleged that the President had sworn disinterest in any wish to have his tenure elongated. In reply on the National Television Network, the President countered that he, Obasanjo, had surpassed the stage of swearing over anything but that it was the VP, who when presented with the Quran had declined to swear loyalty to him. It may be important to point out that this was not the genesis of the present frosty relationship between the President and his Vice. It was, however, the first open disagreement, at least on record. Depending on whom you talk to, be they an Obasanjo or Atiku disciple, the cause(s) of the disagreement differ.
Atiku fans point to their boss (Atiku) as the President’s godfather, a reference, they claim Obasanjo detests and for which he is ready to humiliate the VP just to prove a point. They claim that but for Atiku, Obasanjo would never have been President. PDM, the main wing of the PDP, they say, installed Obasanjo with its national network of supporters and goodwill. It may be recalled that the PDM was the brainchild of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Atiku succeeded Yar’Adua as its visible head after the latter’s demise. They further claim that Atiku did not only play an important role in the establishment of PDP since he rented and paid for the initial national headquarters office of the party, but was instrumental in setting up the party offices in almost all states of the federation using his PDM connection. However, in 2003 an ambitious Atiku was prevailed upon to pocket his desire for the Presidency in support of Obasanjo for a second term, a move that he reluctantly agreed to but not without conditions. Atiku was to retain his portfolio as Vice President which Obasanjo was to openly declare at the Eagle Square during the PDP primary elections as a signal to Atiku’s supporters to vote for him. This, they say, Obasanjo reluctantly did. In fact he was the only Presidential candidate that named and called his proposed deputy to the podium at the primaries. Atiku’s supporters claim this to be their boss’ cardinal sin, in fact the unforgivable one for which the President felt humiliated and had vowed to checkmate the Vice President’s ambition to succeed him.
Obasanjo’s supporters are quick to sweep aside these allegations of vindictiveness on the part of their boss by Atiku supporters over issues, they say, are non-starters. They base their premise on allegations of corruption against Atiku. Obasanjo, having launched a belated but welcome war against corruption wants to come clean, and Atiku, they allege, is no Mr Clean. Several pointers to his alleged corruption, they assert, include numerous bank accounts in foreign countries like Brazil, Switzerland, etc which the Presidency said have been traced to his name; his purchase of a luxury home in Maryland, USA for one of his wives; monopoly of government contracts by his companies (which have since been ordered closed down by the federal government); and the purchase of government privatized companies by proxies. In fact a more serious allegation was that the VP had instigated the National Assembly to impeach the President in the first dispensation when he thought the President was showing signs of dislike to him. These alleged ‘crimes’ were the reasons why the President, whom they claim, is entirely an anti-corruption crusader gave his VP the cold treatment after accosting him with evidences of his dirty activities. Moreover the President had openly declared that he demands and expects nothing short of total and blind loyalty from his subordinates, the VP inclusive.
Whichever group you choose to believe or at least give the benefit of the doubt to, there is no denying the fact that the honeymoon between the President and Vice-President has been over a long time. Hardly anyone, other than the two of them, knows the full and true story.
The disagreement, however, took a dramatic turn seemingly for the worse in the last few days over the third term agenda. President Obasanjo is being accused of attempting a self-perpetuation in office by tinkering with the Constitution to enable his continuance in office. When the first allegations were voiced, government officials came out in staunched denial. However, hard evidences suggest that something akin to attempts at self-perpetuation is afoot. These include a sprinted rush to review the constitution; the ‘doctoring’ (admitted by a member of the review panel for North-Central) the document to allow a ‘third term’ for which the President would be eligible to contest if he so wishes; the pressure being mounted on National Assembly to pass the reviewed sections into law; the perceived coercion of those opposed to the third term and the recent statements of the President to the effect that the decision to contest or not rests with God. Though the President is yet to give a categorical statement on the wish of his party and supporters, i.e., to accept to contest a third time when (sic) the new Constitution is approved, the Vice President has made a public declaration that he was against a third term measure. To this effect, he attended and lobbied members of the National Assembly to oppose the legislation when it is presented before the Assembly and other political leaders, many already perceived as political, or even mortal, enemies of the President. This latest action and declaration by the Vice-President has drawn praises from those opposed to the third term and vituperations and more vilifications from those in support of it.
To those who support the third term Atiku’s action smacks of disloyalty to the President. The ever fiery and intemperate presidential spokesman, Fani-kayode wasted no time in calling for the Vice-President’s resignation for insubordination and disloyalty. One commentator calls it a betrayal while another went a step further to nickname the Vice President the king of vice. But it was not long before the spokesman of the Vice President, Garba, replied Fani-kayode’s statements that his boss (the VP) would not resign but instead the President should resign for trying to undermine Nigerians’ expressed wish against a third term and the attempt to desecrate the Constitution they swore to uphold. This statement has, undoubtedly, upped the ante and stakes.
Certain facts present themselves without debate. The ruling political party’s leadership (PDP) has continuously gored its members to change the constitutional provision of a two term tenure of four years each, to allow the President pursue his ‘laudable reform programs’ to their logical conclusion. The Mantu committee in the National Assembly was set up by the Presidency to amend the Constitution, which eventually includes the third term option which last year had been rejected by the National Conference on Political Reforms convened at the behest of the federal government. According to Mantu, the Chair of the review committee, the third term option has scaled the hurdle and is included in the bill to be put before the house. The onus now rests on the President to either capitulate to the desires of his supporters to accept to run or turn down the offer. No categorical statement to either scenario has yet been heard from him. The Vice President on the other hand has made his declaration public: he is not in support of the amendment to allow for a third term for which he is being accused of disloyalty.
First, the third term is a concept that would allow for the President to run a third time. The President is yet undecided, his Vice is decided. For one, there is no clash of interests, yet. There will only be a clash if and when the President comes out in support of the third term. As long as he keeps silent, then no intersection of interest exists between his awaited and the VP’s declared positions. The President’s supporters tell us they do not know their master’s desire yet but are quick to point out the VP’s declared stand as disloyalty. If the President comes out tomorrow and declares a position similar to the VP’s, I wonder what these conspiracies against the VP shall amount to… Unless, the President’s spokesmen and those who claim betrayal are insinuating that the VP’s position is antithetical to the President’s in which case they know much more than they are willing to admit to Nigerians about the President’s position on third term.
Secondly, there is call by many supporters of the President to the effect that the VP should resign on the strength of the illogical premise above. The decision of the President to run or not for a third term is a personal one that has nothing to do with government policy. No government runs its policy based on anyone’s personal decisions or opinions, no matter his position. For instance, Obasanjo has always expressed his personal preference for a one-party system of government which he claims is the best option for Nigeria and Africa at large. Must the VP therefore express similar sentiments to qualify him as loyal to the President? If the President’s personal opinion translates directly into policy, then the political parties we had before 1999 would have been decertified or deregistered and new ones would never have come on board. Instead, he has pursued a clandestine policy of crippling other parties while at the same time pursuing the open government policy of multi-party governance…unless again we are now being told that the government policy on political parties is a one-party system. At least Obasanjo has expressed his one-party system paradigm several times in the open. He is yet to say anything substantive on third term and yet the latter, not former is government policy for which all government employees and appointees must indicate allegiance to or resign their jobs. What pedestrian logic! The electoral fortunes of any ambitious person cannot be a government policy and the third term affair is only an ambition. Such an assumption reminds one of the fallacious statement of Richard Nixon, the US President of the Watergate fame: “If the President does it, then it is legal.” No, the President is not the law; he is beholden to the law. No one ever accused Abacha of pursuing a government policy with his self-perpetuating agenda and expected total loyalty from all government functionaries. No one should accuse Obasanjo of translating personal decisions, ambitions and opinions into government policies. It is uncharitable.
Third, the Vice-Presidency is a joint ticket. Neither the President nor the VP can be forced to resign by the other. Only the National Assembly reserves the prerogative to impeach either or both, individually or collectively. They (President and VP) both run on the same ticket and are duly elected together. The Nigerian Constitution neither recognizes a presidential aspirant as valid without a Vice-Presidential candidate nor the power of the President without a Vice-President. And there can never be a Vice-President without a President. The Vice-President is effectively the President’s shadow. Consequently, neither has the power to unilaterally dispose of the other without the other’s consent. The only option left for the President, if he wants his VP removed is to present impeachable offences against him before the National Assembly and lobby the members to that end. Outside that, he is as much handicapped as the VP is. If the allegations of corruption being leveled against Atiku are true, then the government has a strong case against him. Even though Atiku is protected by the immunity clause in the Constitution against criminal or civil charges while still in office, he is not immune to impeachment.
The shadow of a man cannot be discarded just for the fun of it. It may change in length, breadth, or even form but it will always be there. Whatever, the drama has only just started- either the President dances in circle to rid himself of it, or accepts it for the rest of their natural political lives together, which mercifully is 2007. If the President is lucky to reincarnate (in a third term) he may have a new shadow. Just as the shadow cannot detach itself on its own accord too, so shall Atiku be there. He should not resign on account of his personal opinion on the third term, which no one has yet told Nigerians is a government policy. The Vice-President swore a separate and personal oath to defend Nigeria and its Constitution. If he resigns on the basis of these needless calls, it would amount to a betrayal of the majority of Nigerians who are opposed to the third term and a betrayal to the Constitution he swore to uphold and defend in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.