Leadership is not a pleasure but a deep and heavy responsibility – George Orwell
From the get-go, he set his eyes on the horizon, visualizing the big portrait that would later show him to the world as a leader, mentor, politician, businessman, and fulfilled family man. The journey was often punctuated by bumps, some of which were big enough to fetch him instant frustration but for Waziri Atiku Abubakar; it was a journey fated to bear fruit for him, his nuclear and extended families and the society at large.
Born on the 25th of November 1946 in rural Ganye, present-day Adamawa state, Atiku witnessed first grade poverty, deprivation, and lack that dominated the lives of the less privileged of his days. Rather than giving in to despondency, he resolved to make it big in life as he inclined his mind to Western education, a practice not too common in Northern Nigeria in his formative years. Today, he has a Masters degree in international relations from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge to cap it all.
After a successful stewardship as an officer of the Nigerian Customs Service, Atiku joined partisan politics and combined the same with business where he was already a household name across the country. He would go on to participate in many political movements alongside many Nigerian patriots aimed at chasing the military back to barracks.
Following the successful end of military interregnum in the nation’s polity, Atiku was elected governor of Adamawa state only to be picked as the running mate to General Olusegun Obasanjo, and the two emerged victorious at the presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Fifth columnists, beer parlour analysts and their collaborators had in the past decades, tried albeit unsuccessfully to drag Atiku’s hard-earned reputation in the mud. While some question his source of wealth, others, given to a bare-knuckle variant of political campaigns, attributed his fortune to corruption. Times and again, particularly in the build up to the 2019 presidential poll, Atiku had called on anyone with a shred of evidence against him to waste no time in presenting the same before anti-graft bodies for possible arrest and commencement of prosecution. But to date, they have yet to find their way to either the EFCC or ICPC. Perhaps Google Maps will help!
Having run out of smart arguments in the past election cycle, power drunk political merchants whose skills are for hire to the highest bidder, challenged the Nigerianess of Atiku, much to the consternation of well-meaning Nigerians and the international community. Not surprisingly, the prayer was dismissed in the court for sheer absurdity.
And with nothing to hold against him, these merchants of mischief have kept repeating the old lies, featuring their fixation on Atiku’s source of material wealth. So, how did the former Vice President come about his success in the world of business?
According to his official biographer, Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba (of blessed memory), young Atiku exhibited traits early in his life that left no one in doubt that he was destined for the big stage. In his biography entitled “Atiku: The Story of Atiku Abubakar,” Onukaba wrote: “Whenever Atiku felt his parents had annoyed him, he would go inside the bush, climb a tree, sit there and refuse to come down. His mother would go begging him with food and drinks, but he would ignore her until he was sufficiently convinced that he had made his point. One day, he slept off on a tree top and came crashing down. Luckily, he escaped unscathed, but the experience taught him to explore other less dramatic ways of expressing his feelings.”
Atiku’s grass to grace story is a study in discipline, focus and determination for the young ones, who given the prevailing economic cum social upheavals in the land today may be tempted to laugh off the popular refrain that children are the leaders of tomorrow. As told by Onukaba, Atiku as a student of Adamawa Provincial Secondary School, Yola, spent his earlier vacations as a “Bring Up” clerk to the late Mallam Adamu Ciroma, then a District Officer in Ganye. Hear the veteran journalist: “As a “Bring Up” clerk, it was Atiku’s duty to bring up pending matters to the attention of the District Officer. He was paid Three Pounds Sterling. From his holiday job earnings, Atiku, then a 15 years old high school student, bought a home for his mother in Ganye. It cost about Nine Pounds Sterling. (Hajiya Aisha) Kande (Atiku’s mother of blessed memory) became homeless after it was discovered that her older brother, Kawu Ali, had secretly sold the family house in Jada.”
Shortly after graduating from secondary school, Atiku had a stint in the home of one Abdullahi Dan Buram Jada, a former member of the Northern Regional Assembly and Minister of Animal Health. It was a home many Northern kids lived at the time, but for young Atiku, Jada’s residence provided him an opportunity to think of ways of realizing his dreams. When he’s not quite busy, he would walk across the road into a tailoring shop owned by Babangida Mohammed, where he helped sew bottoms on clothes in exchange for pocket money.
This little beginning gave the young man a nose for business early in life for as early as 1974 as Customs officer Atiku applied for a Federal Staff Housing Loan, and he was given. As told by Onukaba in his brilliant account, “The money was Thirty One Thousand Naira (N31,000), the equivalent of his salary for five years. He applied to the Gongola State Government for a plot of land at Yola Government Reserved Area (GRA), and he was given. He hired a foreman and began building his first house. With close personal supervision, the bungalow was completed on time and to his taste. He rented it out immediately.
“The upfront rent he collected was substantial enough to purchase a second plot and begin work on a second house in the same area. He completed it and rented it out again. He kept ploughing the rent back into new building projects, and within a few years, Atiku had built eight houses in choice areas of Yola. He became a powerful landlord in Yola, making a lot of money annually from rent.”
Following his posting to Kaduna, Atiku, as the story goes, “bought six more plots from people and built residential houses on them for rent to individuals and institutions. The cost of land even in good locations in Kaduna was low then and Atiku took maximum advantage of it.”
While this historical account is by no means an attempt to join issues with “leaders” bent on pulling the Wazirin Adamawa down at every election cycle; it is imperative to point out that Atiku is not a player in the low leagues featuring politicians with embarrassingly thin resumes. As such, he won’t jump in the ship of hostility to throw punches but would welcome debate on sub-national, national, and global economies and strategies to keep them healthy.
In the world of business, Atiku has huge investments in logistics, banking, media, real estate, agriculture, construction, and education, to mention a few. A young man who knew a thing or two about making money while his peer group were looking up to their parents for the next meal, won’t certainly be in politics to enrich himself. No, the former Vice President and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has always offered Nigeria and Nigerians his talents, experiences, and energy to make Nigeria the beautiful country of our collective dreams. Many politicians who have gone through the bruising experience of his with the mandate bandits in the 2023 presidential election would have been retired into irrelevance. But not Atiku, who appears to come back better notwithstanding the odds. “I am not going away…For as long as I breathe, I will continue to struggle, with other Nigerians, to deepen our democracy and rule of law and for the kind of political and economic restructuring the country needs to reach its true potential,” he told a world press conference recently while also making constitutional and electoral reforms proposals that could take Nigeria out of the woods.
This is the essential Atiku, an endangered species that is undoubtedly focused on fixing Nigeria (whether in government or as a private citizen) and making it work again for the greater good.
On this auspicious occasion of your 77th birthday anniversary, I wish to remind you that the seeds of goodness you’ve sown in every nook and cranny of Nigeria will count for you in the many years ahead, in good health and vitality.
Ibe is Media Adviser and Spokesman to Atiku Abubakar.