When last week, Atiku Abubakar announced he was leaving APC, few were surprised. It was not whether but when. We anticipated it. As Poet Samuel Coleridge wrote, “anticipation is more potent than surprise.”
Atiku did not stun anyone by walking out of the APC tent because he was a tenant. The landlords branded him a pariah. To be clear, Atiku could not abort it, so he let the pregnancy grow, and accepted the baby. He graced the naming but no one made him godfather. He neither named the child though he contributed a thing or two during the ante natal days of anxiety. He wanted to be a father or uncle in the conception hour. He got neither. He merely feasted as a faraway grandee in the naming ceremony. He, however enjoyed the privilege of holding the baby in the generous hour of delivery.
The baby probably screamed and punched Atiku’s bosom, just as in Charles Dickens’ novel Dombey and Son when Dombey’s son screams and kicks and punches as protest for being brought into the world so suddenly. Atiku was not fazed nor was he grouchy. He is not a gauche politician. He never voices a brutish sentiment nor deploys unpolished diction. He may not be debonair but he does not raise his hands ominously in public nor threatens brimstone from heaven. He keeps himself within himself.
So, in the early days of the Buhari administration, he tried to associate with and hug the baby. He once called President Buhari “the father of the nation.” The baby grew but Atiku never was let in during the rites of childhood: the teething moments, the suckling frenzy as the child slurped and slobbered, the crawls and stumbles before he found his feet, the ta-ta-ta of his tongue in search of the first word.
So, we could understand since early this year when the voice of the Adamawa patriarch grew progressively radiant in rage against the system. He was at his loftiest in the restructuring debate. His potency and mellifluous rendering were less a signature of his conviction as salvos of revenge to Aso Rock and its wheel horses.
Atiku was ambitious. Apart from Buhari, no one in Nigeria has eyed the supreme post as the Adamawa titan. He was naïve to expect Buhari and his clan to clasp him to their bosoms. As Winston Churchill’s friend, Lord Beaverbrook, once said, “a man with a will to power can’t make friends.” He was a vice president and sniffed the majestic aroma of the top chair. He wants it and wants it now. Buhari was in the top chair before, even if by impunity, and he wanted it back even with democratic effluvia. But he flunked three times. Buhari knows how it is to want it badly, and so understands why Atiku is quietly growling. So, both cannot be good friends.
Especially when Atiku in the early days partnered with Oloye Eleyinmi to undermine him for a coup in the Senate. He also wanted to be chair of the board of trustees. He fluffed. He saw the bathwater, not the cot or baby. His rent as tenant expired. No wanting to be an exile at home, he exited the tent.
His power quest reminds one of Awo, who never had the opportunity, and whom Dan Agbese first described before his death as “the best president Nigeria never had.” But Atiku has none of Awo’s charisma, mystique, moral heft, political infrastructure, intellectual might or visionary appeal.
His ambition reminds me of the opening lines of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Atiku has possessed so much wealth he is in want of power; in this case, presidency.
That was the story of Moshood Abiola and his fabulous nest. These guys have so much money they become unhappy without power. But Atiku craves power like Hobson’s choice. His has become a metaphor for the major ailment of Nigerian politics: the lack of ideology or principle. Atiku is now the signpost of the Nigerian whore in politics. He has had his own machine known as the PDM, which he also inherited from his mentor General Musa Yar’adua, who died in search of power in prison.
Yar’adua transferred the gene to Atiku. Yar’adua never wanted to back anyone who was not Yar’adua. He never associated with the power blocs up north, he never associated with progressives, he distanced himself from Abiola, and never joined the battle for June 12. When he was picked up, no one fought for him.
Atiku joined PDP, became vice president, fought the Owu chief, joined ACN, returned to PDP, defected to APC. He is expected to announce his return to PDP. Hence, I once called him the peripatetic harlot of Nigerian politics. He is not alone in this. The APC, for all its self-congratulations, is a hodgepodge of quite a few harlots. That’s why Atiku thought he could fit in so well. He failed there not because APC was a better brothel but because even whoring brothers disagree. Atiku was the wrong whore for the APC.
No politician will judge Atiku for sleeping with the enemy. They will scoff him for his Judas kiss. But he does not need to get any amount of silver from anyone. Even the lashing of his firms cannot upturn his robust nest. His ambition is his life work. It does not matter if he is like Sisyphus of the Greek myth who pushes a rock up hill and, when near the summit, the rock falls down, and he goes up and down again forever without taking the rock to the top. In Homer’s classic The Odyssey, Odysseus visits the land of the dead and sees Sisyphus still at it.
Maybe Atiku is contented simply to pursue the dream without getting there. French philosopher Albert Camus argues in his The Rebel that Sisyphus was happy. Maybe Atiku will find happiness in the toil of ambition even if he does not reach the summit.