Daniel Ilu

Daniel Ilu

Atiku Abubakar must be Nigeria's most frustrated politician. Oddly, by all accounts, he must also be considered one of her most successful and accomplished public officials. 

Afterall he was Vice President of the Federal Republic, from 1999 to 2007, when he served as deputy to erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo. Prior to that, Atiku had a successful---and lucrative---stint as a senior official in Nigeria's Customs Service.

As Obasanjo's deputy, Atiku was clearly destined for greatness. Somewhat bucking the tradition of the office he held, he was put in charge of economic affairs in that government, specifically overseeing its controversial and very lucrative (for some) privatization programme, notably in Nigeria's telecommunications and electricity sectors, among others. 

The conventional wisdom was that Atiku was a shoo-in as Obasanjo's eventual successor and it appeared the "Crown Prince" himself believed in that "inevitable" destiny.

Then things went wrong. Horribly wrong. The "Crown Prince" suddenly became the "Hounded Prince", with the sovereign himself, Obasanjo, as the chief persecutor. It was said Atiku was in a "hurry" to inherit the presidential mantle from his boss, and only gave lukewarm support to Obasanjo's bid for a second term in Office, in 2003. Then, Obasanjo, fresh from his victory in the 2003 presidential polls, decided his "over-ambitious" deputy would not even have his own first term as President. Other schools of thought have begged to differ, tracing Atiku's travails to his staunch opposition to Obasanjo's well-known bid to earn an illegal "Third Term" in office, beyond 2007.

Whatever the source, Atiku should be smart enough to locate his present---and very visible---political frustrations in the vicious and persistent (some will argue "persisting") assault Obasanjo launched against his character and integrity while both were in Office, which accelerated during Obasanjo's second term in office, from 2003 to 2007.  Many actually trace the 2003 establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to Obasanjo's larger plan to frustrate (successfully, it turned out)  Atiku's bid to succeed him in Office in 2007.  The first investigations launched by the EFCC after its establishment involved probes of  Atiku's roles in the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and its sale or privatisation of many government concerns, including NITEL and the Abuja Steel Rolling Company, among others. 

Then there is also the US Representative William Jefferson saga, to which Atiku seemed to have been joined at the hips now for close to a decade. 

Not surprisingly, the embattled former Vice President has had a difficult time shaking off the widespread perception that he is an embodiment of corruption in high places in Nigeria. Strange declarations of political fealty to Atiku by serving Minister Aisha Alhassan will also obviously not do the trick. Atiku himself has done a poor job of shaking off such perceptions. A few years ago, he commissioned a book to whitewash the source of his stupendous wealth; the book "revealed" Atiku obtained a loan of 31, 000 naira many, many years ago from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and invested in real estate, in the-then Gongola State!

Maybe he should have made the location of that real estate investment Lagos State, to "justify" the stupendous return on his "shrewd investments"!

Even recently, one of Atiku's wives was embroiled (unwisely, in my opinion, considering the widespread public perception of her husband) in a well-reported civil litigation that revealed she was allegedly swindled of nearly a billion naira (about $3 million) by erstwhile business associates---in a country where a vast majority of the populace have no access to clean, potable water nor afford three square meals a day. 

Atiku's obvious frustrations in shedding his reputation as a Customs Officer--turned-politician boiled over a few days ago, when he reportedly said "lazy people think every rich man is corrupt". Going by the very rich returns on his meager investments in Gongola real estate, no one will obviously be inclined to describe Atiku as "lazy". The only problem is that given the visible disconnect between his present resources and his known exertions, it is quite easy to see why many believe Atiku and others of his ilk in Nigeria are rich principally because they are corrupt. 

Why is it that it is almost always only those who have held public office, been in government in whatever shape or form, had access or close connections to persons in government or worked in choice public concerns (i.e. Customs) are rich in Nigeria? It is not "lazy" to draw a connection between that reality and the poverty of personal resources and adequate public infrastructure that has afflicted a majority of Nigeria's citizens since the country gained political independence more than five decades ago. 

While in most other climes, people wait till they leave government or public service before making any meaningful money, so to speak, it is virtually perceived as a curse (by the same citizenry that accuse such persons of corruption, admittedly), for a high-ranking public official in Nigeria not to "clean house" and acquire a fortune while holding such public office. The Bill Clintons, George Bushes, Tony Blairs, etc. of a much-ordered world take pride in giving speeches or doing similar work for six-figure paydays after they leave office. Most public officials of similar stature in Nigeria help themselves to the public till while they occupy similar offices, such that not only themselves but those descended from them need not perform any work during their lifetimes. 

Talk about "lazy"! 

Every tribe / culture that I am aware of in Nigeria (and outside it), abhor stealing and thieves (the celebrated "billionaire kidnapper, Evans, and others like him will also belong here). Even more, such cultures almost always equate stealing or getting away with similar acts (pen robbery, contract inflation, project-abandonment-after-collecting-hefty-mobilization-fees-from-government-officials-on-the-take-, etc) with laziness. It then stands to reason that every present and former public official in Nigeria sufficiently tainted by corruption, and their acolytes outside government they often use to siphon stolen monies from the Nigerian treasury at any level of governance, are not just thieves but also the laziest specimen of "human beings" that populate the Nigerian space. 

Yes, I am talking about the Diezani Allison-Madukwes, the Kola Alukos, the Sule Lamidos, the Orji Kalus, the Jide Omokores, the James Iboris, the Murtala Nyakos, the...

...Atiku Abubakars?