By Olusola Sanni
Ajanaku koja mo ri nkan firi; ti a ba ri eerin, ki a’gba wipe a ri eerin – Yoruba proverb
Trust the Africans. Their wealth of rich philosophical proverbs should easily pass for the eighth wonder of the world. And in that category, the Yorubas are simply exceptional. For indeed, the Yoruba believes that there are moments when words are lost; and at such moments, proverbs are the pathfinders for the missing words.
The former vice president of Nigeria and the Turakin Adamawa, Atiku Abubakar is 70 years old. And like the proverbial elephant which has no hiding place in the vast African savannah, Atiku has lived the past seven decades of his lifetime to become a giant in politics, education, business and philanthropy.
His traditional title of Turakin Adamawa simply translates as the custodian of the tradition of the land of Adamawa, and to realize that Atiku bagged this title at the young age of 36 clearly tells a story of character that had been formed for big responsibilities.
I was a visitor to the North-East on a book project sometimes in the middle of 2015 and that was the time that the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Boko Haram terror was at its crescendo. I was stunned to hear about the several interventions made by Atiku to ensure that the people of Adamawa don’t feel the brunt of the humanitarian crisis. I was even told that he personally employed the services of local vigilantes to ensure that Boko Haram’s territorial expansion agenda doesn’t spill into the city of Yola.
No doubt, the name Atiku means different things to different classes of people. For the hundreds of indigent students who receive scholarship to have world-class education at his private educational institutions, to the thousands of people he provides employments for in his businesses spread all over the country, Atiku is a mercy from God.
In Adamawa State where he hails, Atiku has proven to the world that charity indeed must begin at home. Against the lures of Lagos, Kano or Onitsha, Atiku has a bold signature on the business landscape of Yola, the capital of Adamawa State and his tentacles spread across all the states in the North-East.
For him, the simple explanation to that is that if the people of the North-East are the most backward in terms of human capital development indices, then it is trite logic that business investment in the region is also an investment in the minds and manpower development of the people of the North-East.
The notable American University of Nigeria (AUN), Adamawa Beverage Limited, and Rico Gado Animal Nutrition are all blue chip business ventures sited in Yola, providing direct and indirect employments for the people and also adding a major boost to the revenue of the Adamawa State government. The AUN, for example according to research adds $100million to the GDP of Adamawa State! It will therefore not be an exaggerated argument to say that Atiku Abubakar is a classic model of how development can be home grown.
While Atiku has emerged from grass to grace to become a towering influencer in Nigeria, nay West Africa’s business landscape, he, in no mean measure is also a colossal figure in the politics and political development of Nigeria.
In playing his politics, Atiku often gets criticized for his swinging allegiance to political parties, and it is without any fear of contradiction that I dare say such criticism don’t take full appreciation of the nature of politics in a third world country like ours.
It is more politically convenient to remain in one party in a politically developed country than it is in a third world country.
For instance, the anti-democratic Third Term agenda for President Olusegun Obasanjo is a peculiarity to Third World politics.
And even beyond that, Atiku’s credential is second to none in recent history as a class act in Nigeria’s social engineering.
Right from day one of his foray into politics, Atiku didn’t confuse anyone about his stance as a pro-democracy advocate. Unlike many of his traducers who are later day democrats, Atiku didn’t wine and dine with any military dictatorship through the period that military rule lasted in the country – a stance he shares with the late former governor of old Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige.
His advocacy for two party system is age-long and ditto for his advocacy for restructuring.
Today, our democracy is firmly rooted on judicial interpretations because Atiku chose the option of the judiciary when anti-democratic forces plotted to illegally remove him from office as a sitting vice president; and at another time plotted to disenfranchise him on account of phantom corruption allegations.
The forth and back between Atiku and the forces against him during the Obasanjo presidency laid the foundation for the strength our democracy has today; and if that dispensation was to be likened to a football match, Atiku will evidently emerge the star player of the match.
Atiku might have changed membership of political parties at some points, but nobody can accuse him of being irresolute to the principle of politics that he believes in.
As this shining star from the savannah enters the septuagenarian age, the story of his life refreshes the hope that with hard work and a good heart, it is possible to overcome every obstacle.
*Sanni is Deputy Director at Atiku Media Office.