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Now that Atiku has a presidential ticket, how will he rebuild a reformed image and win critics over?

Atiku

Candidates seeking to be president of Nigeria in about 130 days time will find a very motivated former Vice president playing all his cards in one last shot at attaining a life time ambition.

Atiku Abubakar, who turns 72 next month, won the PDP’s convention on Saturday night in Port Harcourt, defeating Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state and Senate president Bukola Saraki in a process that was deemed fair by the party’s aspirants and neutral observers. It was, one could say, a primary of decampees; an election where steadfast and longsuffering party men such as Sule Lamido and Ibrahim Dankwambo were more or less told that popularity is, for the sake of defeating the APC, more liquid than loyalty. To their credit, the aspirants have, after the primary, declared overwhelmingly to support the party’s flag bearer. For Atiku, this is the culmination of a lifelong craving; for the first time since he joined in the founding of the PDP 20 years ago, he gets to be its candidate in a major election – flying the flag for the one position he has coveted for twenty-five years.

And at every election cycle ever since, the former customs officer has sought to be president, coming so close to abandoning the Vice Presidency after the first term with Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. It is notable that Atiku, in his acceptance speech on Sunday morning, sung Obasanjo’s praises, clearly asking for his support as if their rancor of the past decade should be consigned to a recycle bin. Since Obasanjo has openly asked Buhari to not run in the coming election, it is with hope that Atiku seeks to nudge his former boss towards, even if reluctantly, coming around to his cause. It is a big ask though: Obasanjo would have to not assign much weight to the perception that Atiku has effectively become the first PDP candidate to win the party’s presidential primaries without being anointed by an incumbent or a council of elders making reparation to a region for a historical transgression. Feeling threatened, Obasanjo could simply decide that the baggage of accusations which were raised against Atiku back in 2006 have not been sufficiently answered, hence, no endorsement.

That has, predictably, been the line of attack against the Adamawa-born politician’s trials for the presidency. “Atiku cannot go to the US” is a popular line with those who worry about Nigeria’s image on the international market with a ‘President Abubakar’. Festus Keyamo, a leader of Buhari’s campaign, has framed the 2019 choice as between an epitome of integrity and a trail of corruption. When campaigns kick off proper, expect advertisements and speeches describing how the ex-VP left the APC because he was part of “corruption fighting back”.

But don’t count on it being a bother to Atiku who is has already begun tapping into national dissatisfaction as a result insecurity and fragility, a slow recovery from recession and the APC’s inability to fulfill the main features of its 2014 manifesto. On the latter, there is the potential banana skin of having to defend his part in forming the ruling party and abandoning it as a sign of his lack of trustworthy principles. We can anticipate that he will identify one part of that manifesto and promise to make it a key part of his campaign and administration: restructuring.

Trading trust with Nigerians will, however, require more than words and pledges of good behaviour. As with Buhari in 2014, the sway of opinion to view him as reformed (because, whatever he does, people have kind of internalized him as “damaged”) would require a running mate of a moral standing that cannot be easily impugned. Regardless of the number of times he mispronounced his name, Buhari’s reluctant supporters saw in Yemi Osinbajo a reason to buy into the narrative of the ex-authoritarian’s democratic conversion. Atiku is not of the Military class but he is from, to paraphrase another presidential candidate, that decadent class of politicians. He is one of those to have benefitted the most from Nigeria’s fractured structure since Independence and he is not going to get people on his side without shedding some of the stench associated with the era in which he got “self-made”. Will it be from the South East or South West? A woman? A much younger person? Ben Murray-Bruce?

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The choice will matter but will still have weaknesses in need of augmentation by the obscene amounts of money sure to be set aside for the coming months. But Atiku will be told by scholars of the literature on Jonathan’s 2015 exploits that the money will have to be spent right towards persuasion and image-making. Will he be able to get the likes of Garba Shehu back to organize his media team? It’s a long shot but there will be no shortage of persons claiming to be just as good.

They will have eighteen weeks to manufacture sufficient consent to see him sworn in come May 29. For what it is worth, it is advised that expectant mothers at 18 weeks (which is half way through) should “choose meals and snacks that are rich in nutrients instead of empty calories”.

And at every election cycle ever since, the former customs officer has sought to be president, coming so close to abandoning the Vice Presidency after the first term with Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. It is notable that Atiku, in his acceptance speech on Sunday morning, sung Obasanjo’s praises, clearly asking for his support as if their rancor of the past decade should be consigned to a recycle bin. Since Obasanjo has openly asked Buhari to not run in the coming election, it is with hope that Atiku seeks to nudge his former boss towards, even if reluctantly, coming around to his cause. It is a big ask though: Obasanjo would have to not assign much weight to the perception that Atiku has effectively become the first PDP candidate to win the party’s presidential primaries without being anointed by an incumbent or a council of elders making reparation to a region for a historical transgression. Feeling threatened, Obasanjo could simply decide that the baggage of accusations which were raised against Atiku back in 2006 have not been sufficiently answered, hence, no endorsement.

That has, predictably, been the line of attack against the Adamawa-born politician’s trials for the presidency. “Atiku cannot go to the US” is a popular line with those who worry about Nigeria’s image on the international market with a ‘President Abubakar’. Festus Keyamo, a leader of Buhari’s campaign, has framed the 2019 choice as between an epitome of integrity and a trail of corruption. When campaigns kick off proper, expect advertisements and speeches describing how the ex-VP left the APC because he was part of “corruption fighting back”.

But don’t count on it being a bother to Atiku who is has already begun tapping into national dissatisfaction as a result insecurity and fragility, a slow recovery from recession and the APC’s inability to fulfill the main features of its 2014 manifesto. On the latter, there is the potential banana skin of having to defend his part in forming the ruling party and abandoning it as a sign of his lack of trustworthy principles. We can anticipate that he will identify one part of that manifesto and promise to make it a key part of his campaign and administration: restructuring.

RELATED: Four time presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar clinches PDP presidential ticket

Trading trust with Nigerians will, however, require more than words and pledges of good behaviour. As with Buhari in 2014, the sway of opinion to view him as reformed (because, whatever he does, people have kind of internalized him as “damaged”) would require a running mate of a moral standing that cannot be easily impugned. Regardless of the number of times he mispronounced his name, Buhari’s reluctant supporters saw in Yemi Osinbajo a reason to buy into the narrative of the ex-authoritarian’s democratic conversion. Atiku is not of the Military class but he is from, to paraphrase another presidential candidate, that decadent class of politicians. He is one of those to have benefitted the most from Nigeria’s fractured structure since Independence and he is not going to get people on his side without shedding some of the stench associated with the era in which he got “self-made”. Will it be from the South East or South West? A woman? A much younger person? Ben Murray-Bruce?

The choice will matter but will still have weaknesses in need of augmentation by the obscene amounts of money sure to be set aside for the coming months. But Atiku will be told by scholars of the literature on Jonathan’s 2015 exploits that the money will have to be spent right towards persuasion and image-making. Will he be able to get the likes of Garba Shehu back to organize his media team? It’s a long shot but there will be no shortage of persons claiming to be just as good.

They will have eighteen weeks to manufacture sufficient consent to see him sworn in come May 29. For what it is worth, it is advised that expectant mothers at 18 weeks (which is half way through) should “choose meals and snacks that are rich in nutrients instead of empty calories”.

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