Tinubu vs Atiku: Two desperadoes running against Nigeria

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For a long time, Nigeria has bandied around what has amounted to a myth that whoever seeks the presidency hardly gets it. Historical observers have variously posited that what we have almost always had are “accidental” presidents—men reluctant to step out for leadership roles but who somehow, through whimsical engineering of fate, find the presidency thrust on them. A run through the list of our past leaders, civilian and military, attests to this. It was a myth that held up until Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) showed up and ran until he eventually became president in 2015. Well, Nigeria’s luck also seems to have changed because the age of the accidental president seems over. In 2023, two of the candidates who will run on the platform of the major parties are the most desperate politicians Nigeria ever saw. And these are men that have been running longer than Buhari.

You know it already, but I will state it anyway: both Abubakar Atiku and Bola Tinubu—similar in almost every respect—are running against the country. One of them will likely become the president, but it will be to Nigeria’s loss.

Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party, who has been on the march since 1993, and Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress have several things in common. One, their stated life ambitions have always been about becoming the president. Political ambitions are not necessarily bad but these are men for whom the presidency is an end. Two, both must be acutely aware that time is no longer on their side. If they lose in 2023, the next four years will be more complex while the next eight years are too far off to guarantee anything. This time might well be their last chance to fulfil their respective personal ambition. While 2023 is one more try for Atiku, it is Tinubu’s first emergence as a presidential candidate. Their respective ages (and hence biological realities) are enough to drive them to mad desperation. Their time is now or never.

The third factor that unites these men is that Nigeria ranks low on the scale of their priorities. They want the presidency for its sake; Nigeria comes only later.

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Atiku especially has run in almost every presidential election since 2007. Each electoral venture must have bled him financially but he never seems to tire. He still shows up for another election. Knowing how close he is to his life goal now, one can bet that the impending money rain will be akin to God opening the windows of heaven. Luckily, our society takes it for granted that the money that funds elections in Nigeria cannot but be dirty. We have even given a euphemism for such shady money: a “war chest.” That way, we at least mute the pangs of conscience before it reminds us of the money source.

Tinubu on the other hand has a founded reputation of winning elections using every means possible. His recent outburst in Abeokuta when he thought he would be denied the party ticket is enough to tell you how badly he itches to be gifted the presidency. It is hard to get over that asukungbade act. An old man crying, bring this thing (the presidency); it is my turn aptly illustrates the degree of his desperation. For him to be aching so badly to be made president, he will stop short at nothing during electioneering. In the coming months, he will surely bring out his putative “war chest” and match Atiku dollar for dollar (the naira does not count in this game), ego for ego and desperation for desperation.

It is somehow tempting to lament how our presidential choices have been largely bracketed between these two lacklustre candidates but that was in the offing all along. The poor choices of Atiku and Tinubu did not creep in on us; we zombie-walked into their emergence over time. The PDP’s fate was already tied to Atiku and I do not think anyone who knew Nigeria enough expected that the APC convention that ended on Wednesday would be any redeeming either. In fact, one of the realities that emerged through the whole event at Eagle Square was how much further the leadership pool in Nigeria has thinned out. We had a few bright spots at some point but some of the characters turned out to be just mere props that had been sponsored to come and spread a patina of legitimacy over the worst of all the aspirants.

It was irritating that some of the candidates who had supposedly paid N100m to signify their interests chose to “step down” at the last minute. When youthful candidates do not see any prospects in themselves beyond “stepping down” for a debilitating old man, you must know such an environment is too toxic for anything to grow. In any case, all the “eleyis” who chose to step down in the heat of the moment because it was expedient must know they did us a huge favour. With their actions, they showed us that they could not have stepped up for Nigeria even if ever given a chance. One would have imagined that having come that far, they would at least have stood their ground and demonstrated a conviction to serve. They might not win eventually, but they could have used the opportunity to assert an alternative vision for the country. But no, they had to sell themselves short. Anyway, we too can do without their unrelenting subservience to paternalism, their small-mindedness coupled with their blinding myopia, and even their time-wasting antics. Good riddance to all their bad rubbish.

It is interesting that come 2023, Nigeria will be saddled with two bland choices, both of whom are similar in several respects. With vice president Yemi Osinbajo defeated, Tinubu’s supporters will rest the propelling narrative of “betrayal” that has animated them all these months. The conspiracy theories of a looming RCCG-fication agenda too are as good as dead (at least for the moment). They will soon need other metaphors of sowing disaffection to trigger primal instincts. Unlike 2015, both Atiku and Tinubu are Muslims; raising the spectre of another purported Islamisation agenda is unlikely to have a motivational impact on the polity. Unless they pitch the quality of their Islamic faith against one another, religion is not a differentiating quality between them. You might have noticed though, that certain people have started to refer to Tinubu as “Alhaji.” They might start racing to prove who loves the Prophet more.

Ironically, both men have a public reputation for gross corruption and abuse of office. You cannot narrate the history of corruption in Nigeria since 1999 without carving a substantial portion of the account for Atiku and Tinubu. In a sense, that public perception is fortunate for their campaign because neither one will bother to take on the other on issues of corruption. If either one touches on that touchy subject, they will see themselves without the aid of a mirror. The positive side of such mutually assured embarrassment is that Nigerians will be spared the impending fate of being subjection to hypocritical claims of anti-corruption by men who should have long been locked up in Kirikiri Custodian Centre. After Buhari, “integrity” as a prerequisite for public leadership is as good as dead anyway.

The joker they have left is region/ethnicity. The coming months will likely be dedicated to whipping up a North vs. South sentiment. The security situation in the country will give them plenty of material to dispense for that purpose.

When I used to be full of hope for Nigeria, I would have enjoined that people look beyond the politicking and demand a plan from these men. Given how much Nigeria has suffered, nothing else should matter than the candidates’ plans, programs and viable policies. However, watching the same people whose lives have been systematically despoiled and increasingly diminished by the politics of the last eight years mouth “betrayal” has, admittedly, tanked my positivity. People are too cheaply swayed by drama and that is the gimmick that will be used to stroke them in the coming months. They are the ones betrayed by those who promised better in 2015, but they barely saw that. Rather than advocate for their own good, they overlooked the APC betrayal and instead obsessed over the mere contest of ambitions between Tinubu and Osinbajo.

Copyright PUNCH.

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