ATIKU’S MISSED OPPOTUNITY ON THE BIG STAGE – Leadership commentary

by Taye Paul Olubayo

Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and PDP candidate in the February 23 presidential election, should have conceded defeat, pure and simple. Had he done so, he would have uplifted Nigeria on the world stage, and added brownie points to what President Goodluck Jonathan earned for the country in 2015, when he became the first sitting president to concede defeat. By not following in the footsteps of Jonathan, Atiku has diminished our democracy, diminished the country and, sadly, also diminished himself.

To be sure, the PDP candidate did nothing wrong by choosing to go to court. That is still within the purview of democracy and well within his rights. It is far better to go to court than resort to self-help. But because Jonathan raised the bar in 2015, everyone expected something more from the contestants of 2019. President Jonathan raised the ranking of our democracy; the 2019 presidential election was expected to stamp the final seal on that ranking in the global democracy pecking order. Atiku has not done Nigeria any favours at all. And all of us should be sad for it. It was a missed opportunity when the entire world was watching.

There are no perfect elections anywhere in the world. Ask former Vice President Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, both former presidential candidates of the Democratic Party of the United States. In Nigeria, it was in fact under Atiku’s boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that election thievery became a statecraft. The result of the 2007 presidential election was still being collated in many places when the INEC Chairman at the time announced late President Umaru Yar’Adua as president-elect, to the utter embarrassment of even the beneficiary.

The previous election under Obasanjo in 2003 was hardly different. Chuba Okadigbo, the running mate of the opposition presidential candidate at the time, could not leave his house to vote for himself because soldiers had stationed an armoured tank in front of his house with the nozzle directly facing his gate. He was warned of dire consequences if he or any of his family members attempted to leave the house. That was the same election that INEC announced that the then Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, had been defeated by the PDP, Atiku’s party, even before the elections were conducted.

That was the same year that Professor Jibril Aminu lost and conceded defeat as the PDP senatorial candidate in Adamawa State, but this same Atiku got angry at the professor and the result was later changed in favour of Aminu. Professor Aminu served four years in the Senate, but he knew full well that he didn’t win that election. His result was only one of the many that the Obasanjo-Atiku government changed by brute force, against the will of the people.

In the just concluded election, there is enough blame to go round, and forensic scrutiny may well reveal that the PDP is not the saint that it wants the world to believe it is. Instead of embarking on a legal merry-go-round, egged on by lawyers who see nothing other than what will come to their pockets, Atiku should have taken the opportunity offered by the National Peace Committee to mend fences and bury the hatchet. That is statesmanship. It was for the larger national interest that former Vice President AI Gore of the United States conceded defeat in the United States presidential election of 2000.

To this day AI Gore still believes he won that election. It was to avoid a monumental crisis that he conceded. Hillary Clinton would still have been in court now trying to reclaim “her mandate” from Donald Trump for an election, which all the intelligence agencies of the United States have confirmed, the Russians interfered with to make Trump president. As painful as it remains for her, and even though she won the popular vote, she conceded because the interest of the state is larger than her own. Adolf Hitler at least got one thing right when he said, “Anyone can deal with victory.

Only the mighty can bear defeat.” Atiku and the PDP need to come to terms with the fact that they lost the elections of February 23. And they lost for one reason: they failed to make the election a referendum on President Buhari. While seeking re-election, incumbents all over the world always contend with that problem. The PDP did not try hard enough to achieve that.

The president was never under pressure or on the defensive throughout the campaigns. Instead, the PDP believed that if it threw around enough cash, it would win. It was the APC, in spite of the self-inflicted chaos within its ranks, that succeeded with distinction in making the election all about Atiku and the PDP’s past record in government. Atiku then found himself on the defensive throughout the campaigns; he even had to steal a trip to the United States just to prove that he would not be arrested if he stepped into the U.S. Consequently, as the New York Times rightly said, the election became a referendum on honesty. And, for whatever reason, Nigerians do not rate Atiku high in that category.

Atiku also did himself no favours when the most famous statement most Nigerians still believe he made was that he would sell the NNPC to his friends, whatever happened. It was a statement taken out of context obviously, but the PDP did nothing to correct it. The APC understandably feasted on it. And, in politics, perception is stronger than reality. For a presidential candidate who already had integrity challenges, that became the coup de grace that finally nailed the coffin of his 2019 dreams.

The only way Atiku could have extracted some victory for himself was for him to have conceded defeat after firing his best shots and President Buhari was still leading while the counting was going on. That was precisely what President Jonathan did in 2015 and, as a result, became the first sitting president in Nigeria to lose an election and win at the same time.

Yes, Buhari went to court three times before 2015; but it’s doubtful if he would have done the same thing today, after Jonathan’s epic concession four years ago. Atiku has not lived up to the very high standard Nigerians expected of him. It is a shame!

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