A pained and deeply strained valediction: Is this Atiku’s last stand?, By Chudi Okoye


Reading Time: 10 mins read

instance, “Attacus” – a genus of butterfly-like moths which, though beautiful to behold, is considered a pest because it can damage the plant life as a voracious caterpillar; leave irksome residue when it flaps its wide wings; and even trigger human allergies if allowed to infest a person. On the other hand, there have been historical figures of some renown named “Atticus”, among them a philosopher, a rhetorician and even a Christian martyr. Also, who can forget the fictional “Atticus Finch”, the fierce activist lawyer considered the greatest hero of American cinema and even a model of integrity in legal circles, for his feisty but ultimately failed defence of a black man wrongly accused of rape in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. And yet, in Yoruba language, “a ti kú” means “we are dead”!

Every element of this homophonic pastiche, to some degree, is evinced in the manner by which our own “Atiku” Abubakar has projected himself and prosecuted his case in the 2023 presidential election dispute.

, presenting his studied response four days after the Supreme Court’s ruling on his election petition, offering the nation what could well be (though no one can really say) his last stand.

On that day, Atiku had on a serene, sky-blue kaftan and matching cap; and he wore his typically impassive demeanour,  though his impassioned words revealed a seething, deep-seated anger. His incandescent mood was unmistakable, even as he quietly and dignifiedly laid into the courts, his political bête noire – President Bola Tinubu, and the electoral umpire.

Waziri Atiku Abubakar had much the same mien earlier on 7th September, a day after the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) delivered its own judgment on the petitions brought by several opposition parties and their candidates to challenge the official results of the 25th February presidential election.

Seized as he seemed by a surge of moral indignation, and projecting as he did the image of a determined political crusader, Atiku proclaimed at his post-judgment press parley that he would “continue to struggle” for Nigerian democracy for the rest of his life, even though, as he put it, “for me and my party this phase of our work is done.”

, not the least against a self-entrenching military regime and later against the unconstitutional third term agenda of a wily president and army general under whom he had served, Atiku emerged in the 2023 election legal contests as the fiercest challenger, and has inflicted by far the deepest wound on Tinubu’s presidency. He inveighed publicly and cuttingly against the courts and the electoral umpire, even as a complaisant Peter Obi, the other major protagonist in the post-election palaver, perhaps wisely (given his rabid support base), played a disciplined game of “politics without bitterness” (a la Waziri Ibrahim of blessed memory). Atiku put Tinubu through a crushing wringer, stubbornly pursuing a legal recourse – even beyond our shores – to uncover evidence from Tinubu’s past, which revealed a man with a deeply flawed moral character. It was mainly on account of Atiku’s exertions that I wrote as follows in a recent prose poem, in oblique reference to Tinubu:

“Our hassled leader is lurking in his tasseled chambers, haunted by his tousled past and by opponents with whom he tussled.”

Atiku Abubakar has made sure that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is politically damaged.

But if Atiku laid waste to Tinubu’s political persona in the process of election litigation, what about Atiku himself? How does he come off in the whole election saga?

Not particularly well, I would say, despite the image of a principled political crusader that he sought to project in the 2023 election controversies. A parsing of his statements after the Supreme Court ruling against previous stances shows a measure of incoherence, shape-shifting and perhaps opportunism.

, coming from Atiku. Didn’t the man argue, through his lawyers for the 2023 election litigation, that electronic collation and transmission of results was already mandated by law? His suggestion here seems to confirm the opposing parties’ argument to the contrary, which was upheld by the courts. If Atiku’s reading of the statutes has changed in light of the court’s ruling, he should simply have said so, and then on that basis, propose the mandation of electronic processes as he has done. His proposal here contradicts his earlier legal stance; yet he carried on as if the courts had been wrong in dismissing his argument.  

seems to me rather poorly argued. He said “we must provide that all litigation arising from a disputed election must be concluded before the inauguration of a winner,” noting that “[t]he current time frame between elections and inauguration of winners is inadequate to dispense with election litigations.” This is a suggestion I’ve heard elsewhere, and it sounds quite sensible, until you begin to peel it apart.

an attentive observer, this would seem to be an unwitting admission that the petitioners, arguably constrained by time, had not been able to marshal the evidence they needed to prove their allegations of widespread malpractice and other infringements in the election. It was much the same point (which I cited in a previous article) made by one of Peter Obi’s lead counsels, Professor Awa Kalu (SAN), in which he mentioned the near impossibility of assembling sufficient evidence, within the short window of time allowed by law, to back up the opposition’s case. As a reminder, Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution, as well as Section 132(7) and Paragraphs 4(5) to 4(6) of the 1st Schedule of the 2022 Electoral Act stipulate that parties wishing to file election petitions must do so, along with their list of witnesses and the latter’s depositions, no later than 21 days after the declaration of results. This is, undoubtedly, a tough requirement. But in arguing the point, both Atiku and Kalu appear to affirm the validity of the PEPT’s judgment that the petitioners adduced insufficient evidence to support their claims. This, in turn, questions the pervasive narrative of a compromised bench pushed by Atiku and other figures in the opposition.

Beyond even this important point, one also wonders if Atiku, in proposing a delay to the inauguration of a new administration pending the legal resolution of election disputes, had considered the ramifications. Currently, our laws allow for a maximum of 21 days to file petitions, as noted above; 180 days after that for the appeal court – as court of first instance – to consider the petitions and render judgment ((Section 285(6) of the constitution and Section 132( 8) of the Electoral Act); and 60 days thereafter for the Supreme Court to deliver judgment on any appeal(s) resulting from the appeal court’s ruling (Section 285(7) of the Constitution and Section 132(9) of the Electoral Act). This all adds up, on the outside, to a total of 261 days – nearly nine months after election results should have been declared!

interregnum? Should we formally extend the tenure of the incumbent president whose governing mandate is ending? Or should we perhaps install the Senate president as acting president, being next in line after the elected incumbent and his vice? If the latter should, we then change the laws, since Section 146(2) of the Constitution allows a Senate president to act as national president for no more than three months?

Clearly, extending the time allowed for the resolution of election disputes, as Atiku recommends, would create a lot of confusion. To achieve his goal of a longer lead time for disputes, we must have an interregnum between administrations or start the election process much earlier. Either option is a recipe for political instability.

extend the 21-day window for the filing of petitions and submittal of evidence and witnesses, and not necessarily that we should extend the overall timeframe for dispute adjudication. But if that is what he meant, he should have said so, and then we can debate the merits of that suggestion. As it is, he merely said we should allow time for all election litigation to be settled before inauguration takes place. Clearly, in making this perfunctory suggestion, Atiku did not seem to have considered all the implications.

order to ensure a popular mandate and real representation, we must move to require a candidate for President to earn 50 per cent +1 of the valid votes cast, failing which a run-off between the top two candidates will be held.” This is clearly a dig at Tinubu’s supposed victory, secured with only 36.6 per cent of the votes cast in the February election.

majority and plurality voting. It requires, in Section 134(1)(a), that a candidate must win a “majority of votes,” where there are only two contestants, and in Section 134(2)(a) that he or she must secure the “highest number of votes,” if there are more than two contestants. Atiku’s recommendation of a majority vote, whatever the number of candidates, is well-intended I’m sure. But it will constrict political choices and rigidify our two-party dominant system, which we have just begun to shake up with the 2023 election results. Would Peter Obi, for instance, have migrated to the Labour Party, and thus created an unprecedented third-party momentum, if confronted with the calculus of having to win over 50 per cent of the votes? Certainly not! Atiku’s suggestion here is not suited for our complex and politically diverse landscape.

it seems self-implicating – is his proposal that “we… move to a single six-year term for President [which should] be rotated among the six geo-political zones.” Atiku based this proposal on the recommendation of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, in which the former vice-president had participated.

Fancy that! Atiku Abubakar now rooting for zoning and rotational presidency!

I had predicted. Atiku’s primary election machinations and violation of his party’s zoning principle contributed in no small way to PDP’s loss of an election it should have won handily, allowing Tinubu and his party to scrape through with only a plurality. This is the inescapable fact of the 2023 presidential election, whatever else might be said about electoral corruption. 

political goals did not start with the 2023 presidential election. There are many who believe he was deeply involved in efforts that frustrated Dr Alex Ekwueme’s presidential outing in 1998 and 2003; surely a sad history for a man who moved the earth to build the party into a national juggernaut. 

. Atiku has been running for Nigerian presidency since 1993, and on the three occasions when he snagged his party’s nomination, he picked a running mate of Igbo extraction. Yet, in the lead-up to the 2023 election, when his party’s zoning principle should have been leveraged in favour of a southern flag-bearer, preferably someone of Igbo extraction, Atiku and his acolytes orchestrated the process in aid of his own selfish goal.

the top job. However, though that case could be made with merit, we need not dwell on it now. With Atiku now presumably in the twilight of his political career, it should be possible for him to make amends and dispense his remaining political capital in the service of helping to achieve the overarching Igbo presidential aspiration.

80 by that time. Although being an octogenarian has not proved an impediment to presidential ambitions in some countries (see, for instance, Joe Biden in the US), Nigeria, with its myriad governance problems and its weak democratic institutions, does need an energetic president – one who is relatively young and healthy. We saw what the debilitations of age and health did to the Buhari presidency, allowing diverse hidden forces to hijack his agenda and bend this to a privatised and primordial will. It turned the Buhari presidency into an unmitigated disaster. The same appears now to be shaping up with the presidency of Bola Tinubu, who claims to be in his early 70s but clearly betrays the ravages of a more advanced age, noticeable physically but also intimated by occasional signs of cognitive decline.

There should be absolutely no question of Atiku Abubakar running for the Nigerian presidency in 2027. Instead, to prove what he told Arise TV last year about his “desire to unify the country,” Atiku should now work with the Igbo political class to achieve the goal of an Igbo presidency in 2027 – and, in this way, avoid a brutal zoning logic that will put off the prospect to 2031.

can (and should be) defeated if he seeks re-election, what with his so far listless and unbridled presidency and the baggage of ignominy he carries from the controversial 2023 election, resulting in no small measure from the forensic efforts of Atiku Abubakar himself.

In addition to this, Peter Obi acquitted himself very well in 2023, achieving in a very short time what no fringe-party candidate had done since the dawn of the Fourth Republic. In a mere matter of months, he moved a moribund political party into the political map, winning 25.4 per cent of the votes, as officially accounted, securing 25 per cent in 16 states and carrying the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, plus 11 of the states (including a Lagos State once governed by Tinubu). Beyond his native South-East, Obi performed quite well in several other regions, nabbing 42.4 per cent of votes in the South-South, 31.0 per cent in North-Central, and 19.9 per cent in the South-West. It was only in Buhari’s North-West zone and Atiku’s North-East that Obi fell short, two resistant zones he couldn’t penetrate probably for want of time and strong local allies. Even in these two zones, however, there were some breakthroughs, with Obi winning 29.3 per cent in Taraba State (North-East) and 21.7 per cent in Kaduna State (North-West).

An Atiku that’s now advanced in age may not be able to carry off another presidential foray for himself in 2027.  But he can certainly work towards the integrative agenda of producing a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in his lifetime. In this way, he might truly acquire for himself the revered status of a Nigerian statesman, and might even end up in the rarefied company of the esteemed Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as a great president Nigeria never had. 








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