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The Answers Atiku Gave

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OPINION

By Sam Akpe

Sunday night, I wasn’t quite interested in watching the television; until I received a compelling message from a politically-minded friend. It came as a directive: Atiku is on Channels television. Watch and give me your opinion.

Reluctantly, I grabbed the television remote control, tuned away from the sports channel and moved to Channels TV. I simply needed to fulfil all righteousness. I had a beautiful book I needed to read that night.

There sat Atiku Abubakar, the Waziri Adamawa and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. On his left was Ifeanyi Okowa, a former senator and serving governor of Delta State; and of course, Atiku’s running mate.

I sat down, hoping to walk away soon. But after a few minutes, it looked as though I was getting interested in the conversation. Good penetrating questions flowed from the audience followed by what sounded like frank answers from Atiku and Okowa.

Atiku looked tired. Intermittently, what looked like a smile walked across his lips. At other times, he became too serious, perhaps in anticipation of another tough question.

I could excuse him. The heat in Abuja is unbearable. The city is undergoing intense rehearsal for a competition with hell. That alone is enough to melt any political rock in the mould of Atiku.

One of the comments I kept hearing from Atiku was: as captured in my Covenant with Nigerians. Another question and the answer were: we have already dealt with that in my Covenant with Nigerians. I kept thinking: what is this Covenant with Nigerians about?

From my observation, throughout the session, Atiku did not mention any of his political opponents in the race to the Villa. He concentrated on the questions asked. No abuse directed at anyone. He kept his answers short, and did not outsource any question.

One interesting aspect of that interview was when he answered a question on Wike. The man who sent the question was straight to the point: why have you not engaged Nyesom Wike one-on-one on this issue that is affecting your chances in 2023?

Atiku’s response was short and quite presidential. Recall that since Wike, the Rivers State governor, lost the bid for presidency to Atiku at the party primary, he has dissociated himself from the winner.

Beyond that, he has campaigned and gathered loyalists across four other states to fight Atiku’s candidature on the excuse that the party’s chairman, Senator Iyorcha Ayu, must resign because the party cannot have both the candidate and the chairman from the north.

His argument makes a lot of sense, except for two reasons. First, he has become so personal and seemingly arrogant about the issue that he wants Nigerians to know that without him, Atiku can’t be president. He is already dangling Rivers State’s two million votes as a personal property.

Of course, Wike looks like a bad loser who must be compensated. His eyes were on the vice-presidential ticket, as of right. That did not happen. For unknown reasons, those who screened candidates for that office disqualified him.

These two reasons have made Wike’s otherwise good case look like a personal mission for personal benefits. Under normal circumstances, he should have been applauded for fighting for the rule of law and moral equity, but this has not happened.

One aggressive politician mentioned to me the other day that if not for Wike’s grandstanding, PDP’s victory at the polls would have been an easy ride. As he put it, by now, Atiku should have picked his cabinet-in-waiting and made his swearing-in attire.

So, when the Wike question came up during the Channels’ Television Town Hall engagement of presidential candidates, Atiku gave a short answer which I expect Wike to respond to soon, after celebrating his birthday.

Atiku noted that he had engaged Wike twice in Rivers State, twice in Abuja and once in the United Kingdom. He did not disclose whether he bought Wike’s flight ticket to the UK or they flew in his private jet.

What Atiku said in effect was that as a person, he has initiated five peace-making moves, Wike has remained stubborn, unyielding, almost playing god. But all the same, he is still waiting for Wike to get back to him with a response. Will he?

I was interested when questions on economy were asked because that’s the bedrock of development. When the economy works, everything other aspect of national development falls into line.

This was what he said about the dead refineries across the country: “for the four refineries that do not work, please let’s give them to the private sector. I mean in every great country in this (world), you find that private sector is the driver of the economy.”

He continued: “They provide the jobs, they provide the prosperity, and they do everything. Why should we be different.” Atiku’s belief is that these refineries would function optimally if managed by private investors. I think it makes a little sense.

Can Atiku ensure one exchange rate for naira if elected as president? He said he would. I am not an economist. I don’t know how that sector works. But the man made it look so simple when the question was put to him on how he would stop shortage of foreign exchange.

His answer, “I will direct the Central Bank to stop multiple exchanges so that we close the gap.” Just like that?

Then came another controversial issue which the present government has been playing politics with: the removal of subsidy on petroleum product. Atiku said he would get it done by negotiating with relevant stakeholders on the palliatives. I don’t ever like that word.

He declared that by the Petroleum Industry Act, whether government removes subsidy or not, by June 2023, subsidy will remove itself based on the law which has been passed by the National Assembly.

As a north easterner, it is believed that Atiku should be worried by the deadly menace posed by` Boko Haram. So, when the question came up, I became more attentive. His response did not disclose practically how he would deal with the situation beyond providing good governance.

Atiku, just like other Nigerians expressed shock that with all the human and material resources committed into fighting Boko Haram, the bloody, religiously-motivated rebel group is yet to be defeated. “I am puzzled,” he noted, as could be seen from his face.

He continued: “So maybe when I get there, I will understand. But honestly, I cannot understand the Boko Haram phenomenon.” He said it was not a mere terror act. A lot of politics and business could be traced to it, but that with the right leadership, it could be handled.

By this time in 2014, Candidate Buhari had promised to end Boko Haram within three months on assumption of office. Atiku is saying: let me get there first, study the dynamics before making a commitment. Should we trust him?

Two sectors of the nation’s development which have suffered in the hands of successive government also received serious interrogation during the Town Hall. These were education and health. As always, analysis followed by promises were made.

Well, the Town Hall engagement turned out to be quite rewarding as I listened to Atiku’s responses to questions on various issues. Okowa was quite articulate on the issues of militancy, health and education.

One question Atiku did not give a satisfactory answer to, in my subjective opinion, was on the public assassination of Deborah by a gang of religious fundamentalists.

Yes, he condemned the act in a public statement, but why did he delete his initial tweets which condemned that killing? His answer was that the tweet did not have his approval though the content was acceptable to him. That’s not cool.

As the engagement came to an end, my mind went back to the publication called Covenant with Nigerians. At daybreak, I was able to get a copy; plus, another one called Restructuring as A pathway to Unity and Development. I’m still studying them.

The Covenant deals with what Atiku calls: Five Point Development Agenda, comprising: unity, security, economic prosperity, education and restructuring. A review of these document is quite necessary and will be done soon.

Sam is a Journalist, lives in Abuja

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