By Femi Aribisala
…there are indications that today’s APC government is not averse to employing the “Shugaba playbook” on Atiku. Out of nowhere, the government is now claiming that Atiku, who was Nigeria’s deputy director of Customs and the country’s vice president for eight years, is not a Nigerian after all, but actually a Cameroonian.
These are very interesting times in Nigeria. The All Progressives Congress (APC) government has reportedly won a major election, but it is finding it difficult, if not impossible, to celebrate and enjoy its victory. Before the champagne could be uncorked, Atiku Abubakar had filed a case in court challenging the result, claiming it was fraudulent from start to finish. But this was a challenge unlike any other that Nigeria has seen before. Out of the blue, Atiku produced another set of results different from the one declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showing that he had actually won the election. Except that this other result also came from INEC. As a matter of fact, it was retrieved from the INEC server and it was authenticated by serial numbers unique to INEC.
Since Atiku delivered this bombshell, both the APC government and INEC have been at a loss for words. With every excuse they tried to give, Atiku had an answer. With all the facts apparently at Atiku’s disposal, I daresay if he cannot overturn this presidential election at the courts, then no presidential election can be overturn in Nigeria. In very short order, Atiku has become the worst nightmare of this government. The new government is supposed to be sworn in on May 29. But what is the point of swearing in a new government when it is not clear if it will survive the next few weeks? How can you invite a foreign president to your highfalutin inauguration in May when his ambassador in Abuja tells him you might be kicked out by August?
The question then before the APC is: “How do you get Atiku to go away?” How can you get him to disappear? You cannot write him a big fat cheque in the usual Nigerian way because Atiku is a man of means whose silence cannot be bought. One approach then will be to attack his business interests in Nigeria. In May 2019, the government decided to terminate the contract between the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Atiku’s Intels company in the handling of oil and gas cargoes in the country. The government suddenly discovered that the contract, which had been in operation for 17 years, was “illegal.”
Treasonable Felony and Conspiracy
How do you get rid of Atiku Abubakar? One APC playbook says: “Accuse him of treasonable felony and conspiracy.” Try him in a kangaroo court; lock him up and throw the key away. Lai Mohammed accused Atiku of hiring a U.S. lobby firm to persuade the United States not to recognise Buhari’s re-election. Said Mohammed: “The hiring of U.S. lobbyists has triggered questions about what Alhaji Abubakar is up to.”
What else could Atiku be up to beside trying to retrieve his stolen mandate? Although Atiku vigorously denied hiring such lobbyists, one wonders what law such hiring would have contravened. If the APC government is afraid that the U.S. government can be persuaded that Atiku’s challenge has merit, it must be because APC knows Atiku’s case is persuasive. Mohammed continued: “There is no doubt that the PDP presidential candidate, out of desperation, is thinking of replicating the Venezuelan model right here in Nigeria.”
This was an unfortunate slip of tongue by the honourable minister. The Venezuelan model is one of a rigged election by the government, followed by widespread international recognition of the opposition as the legitimate government. If the APC is afraid this can be replicated in Nigeria, it can only be because it knows the president’s re-election is invalid. Mohammed then came up with the bogus claim that Atiku and the PDP are planning to foment trouble in Nigeria. He said: “Our interventions are based on credible evidence, and no government with the kind of evidence that we have, of plans to subvert the power of the state, attack the nation’s economic life wire, and generally unleash mayhem on the polity, will keep quiet.”
How quickly they forget. The same Lai Mohammed falsely accusing Atiku of treason in 2019 is the same Lai Mohammed that was threatened with treasonable felony in 2014. As the then official spokesman for the APC, he had said: “Let us remind the presidency, in case it has forgotten, that election fraud triggered a civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s…” If this were true, then the government should simply arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. But instead, Mohammed merely cried wolf. He offered not a single shred of evidence to back up his fabricated allegations.
Fire and Brimstone
How quickly they forget. The same Lai Mohammed falsely accusing Atiku of treason in 2019 is the same Lai Mohammed that was threatened with treasonable felony in 2014. As the then official spokesman for the APC, he had said: “Let us remind the presidency, in case it has forgotten, that election fraud triggered a civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s, led to the killing of over 1,000 people in post-election riots in Kenya in 2007/2008 and fired a near revolution in Iran in 2009/2010.” What then, we should ask the honourable minister, should election fraud in Nigeria in 2019 trigger? This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Atiku’s mandate was blatantly stolen, nevertheless he has not even mobilised any demonstration. Compare that with Buhari’s stance in 2011. As the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buhari told his supporters in Hausa: “First, you must register, come out and vote. You guard, protect, escort to the collation centre and you wait until the result is counted. Anyone who stops you, kill them.” When he lost that election, some one million people were killed in demonstrations in the North. In 2015, Buhari repeated the same threats of violence and mayhem. He said: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”
How do you get rid of Atiku Abubakar? Another playbook says: “Accuse him of trying to instigate a coup d’etat by the military. Going by the coup playbook, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), dissociated itself from a bogus document claimed to have been written by a faceless group calling for the overthrow of the Buhari government and the setting up of an interim government. The Department of State Services (DSS) also came out severely warning those it claimed are determined to truncate Nigerian democracy. But the question needs to be asked: How can any group overthrow a government that has just won an election by a landslide? What happened to the new and improved four million APC majority at the polls? Is that not more than sufficient as a safeguard against an illegal overthrow?
The fact of the matter is that the nervousness of the government about the possibility of a revolutionary overthrow on the eve of a “famous” victory at the polls is eloquent testimony that the so-called victory is infamous and pure fiction. Only fools conduct coups against popular governments. If the Nigerian government is running scared, it is because it lacks popular support. There is one curious example of this in Nigerian history. In 1983, President Shehu Shagari and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) won a so-called landslide victory at the polls. Everyone knew this landslide was fiction. Therefore, nobody complained when, just a few months afterwards, the government was overthrown in a military coup. Paradoxically, the leader of that coup was none other than Nigeria’s current president: General Muhammadu Buhari.
The past has a tendency to haunt our future.
As a result, Atiku’s presentations before the election petitions tribunal took the APC for a loop. They have been having sleepless nights ever since then. Moreover, they are convinced that what they have seen up to now is only the tip of the iceberg. They are now asking themselves: “What will this man come up with next?” “How can we get this man to go away?”
The Shugaba Playbook
How do you get Atiku to go away? There is one other playbook that is original to Nigeria. This is the Shugaba approach. Shugaba Darman was a popular charismatic politician who was a thorn in the flesh of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) during Nigeria’s Third Republic. He attracted large crowds at political rallies, where he criticised the NPN government. The answer of the government was to forcefully deport him to Chad on the bogus allegation that his father was a Chadian.
Although Shugaba fought his deportation in court and won every step of the way to the Supreme Court, nevertheless there are indications that today’s APC government is not averse to employing the “Shugaba playbook” on Atiku. Out of nowhere, the government is now claiming that Atiku, who was Nigeria’s deputy director of Customs and the country’s vice president for eight years, is not a Nigerian after all, but actually a Cameroonian. The next step, therefore, might be to Shugaba him back to Cameroon.
The Shugaba playbook might be combined with the Umaru Dikko playbook popularised by none other than President Buhari in his first coming as head-of-state. Like Dikko, Atiku could be kidnapped, drugged, put in a crate and flown out of the country in the dead of night; only to be dropped off near his “family house” in Yaounde. But the problem with this approach is that Atiku is always one step ahead of the government. If they attempt this gambit, they may discover on getting to Yaounde, that the man in the crate is not Atiku but his double. Then they will get word that the real Atiku is somewhere nicely ensconced in Abuja, eating tuwo shinkafa with his lawyers.
Why is this man Atiku so dangerous? Why is he so toxic to the health and welfare of this government? The reason is simple. Atiku is a consummate political infighter. He won every court battle he fought when he was vice president. He defeated attempts to remove him as vice president, as well as attempts to disqualify him from running for president. Unlike many in the APC, Atiku pays great attention to details. Moreover, he has the resources to fight this government to the ground and come up victorious.
He is not naïve. He knew the election would be rigged. Therefore, apart from extensively campaigning for votes, he equally set up an elaborate apparatus for challenging the expected false results. My guess is that Atiku organised his defence against the APC, even before the election took place.
He must have had people manning every polling booth. He certainly had computers monitoring the INEC websites. He probably had eyes in the skies, even drones, trailing the movement of curious bullion vans. I will not be surprised if he even comes up with voice and video recordings of his opponents’ strategy sessions revealing how and where they switched the votes. No candidate, in the history of Nigeria, has ever mounted as comprehensive a challenge to a presidential election as Atiku has done.
As a result, Atiku’s presentations before the election petitions tribunal took the APC for a loop. They have been having sleepless nights ever since then. Moreover, they are convinced that what they have seen up to now is only the tip of the iceberg. They are now asking themselves: “What will this man come up with next?” “How can we get this man to go away?” No chance of that. In 2017, the presidential election in Kenya was overturned by the courts. In 2019, chances are the same thing will happen in Nigeria.