By Ehichioya Ezomon
Owing to the indeterminate zoning of the presidency barely 12 months to the 2023 general election, politicians from the North and South of Nigeria are posturing, positioning and simultaneously strategising for the positions of president and vice president.
Mostly involved in this game of juggling of offices are aspirants of the dominant platforms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The aspirants engage in the scheming to avoid being caught napping when the zoning pendulum finally rests either in the North or South. So, in the arena is a kind of split-personality switching of positions by already publicised or potential aspirants.
For instance, a Mr A, a Southerner, postures for the president on the assumption that the office will be zoned to the South. Alternately, he’s positioning himself for the post of vice president on the condition that the presidential seat goes to the North. Ditto for the Northerner, who’s angling for either of the positions!
Politicians that ushered in the new democratic administration in Nigeria in 1999 foresighted this scenario, and hashed out a rule-of-the-thumb arrangement that, going forward, the presidency should rotate between the North and South every eight years.
In particular, the previously acclaimed leading political party, the PDP, places emphasis on zoning of elective positions, and has tried to respect the formula in picking its presidential candidate.
Thus, beginning from 1999, Southern Nigeria took the first shot at the presidency, with the post micro-zoned to the South-West, which fielded retired General and former Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae of the All Peoples Party (APP).
The micro-zoning of the presidency to the South-West was to placate the region for the denial of the office that’s convincingly and comprehensively won in the June 12, 1993, election by a South-westerner and billionaire business magnate, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
The military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, which ordered the election, annulled it when Chief Abiola was coasting home to victory, as evident from the partially-declared results.
Let’s have a flashback to that election, described as a watershed, and considered by local and international observers as the freest, fairest and most credible in Nigeria’s electoral history till date.
An article by the influential New York Times of June 24, 1993, a day after the poll annulment, stated that, “… although voter turnout was light by past standards, there was no evidence of the violence and vote-rigging that marred the last round of balloting (in 1983), nearly a decade ago. Foreign observers generally described the elections as free and fair.”
Broken only by the four-year government of President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983), the military had had a spell of 23-year rule (1966-1979 and 1983-1993) since the first coup of January 1966.
So, prior to ordering the 1993 poll for two government-established political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC), the regime of self-styled ‘Military President’ Babangida had embarked on a convoluted electoral process to return Nigeria to a democratic system.
The Babangida government had allowed the Prof. Henry Nwosu-headed National Electoral Commission (NEC) the full rein to organise and conduct the election for Chief Abiola of the SDP and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC.
But in fishing for excuses to annul the franchise, the military not only heaped blames on the NEC for tolerating electoral malpractice, allegation that poll observers dismissed, but also said that on account of the plethora of lawsuits that attended the electoral process, the government had to take steps “to save our judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised locally and internationally.”
In truth, it’s the military clique that engineered series of subterfuges, including sponsoring the notorious Association for a Better Nigeria (ABN), led by maverick billionaire, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, at which behest one Ambibola Davies obtained court injunctions in Abuja, first on June 10, 1993, to stop the election from holding; on June 14, 1993, to stop further announcement of the results, which the NEC obeyed on June 16, 1993, and halted declaration of the results; on June 17, 1993, pro-democracy activists obtained two Lagos high courts’ orders for the NEC to declare the full results; and on June 23, 1993, the Abuja high court, in reaffirming its June 10, 1993, ruling prohibiting the NEC from conducting the election, declared the poll “null and void.”
Taking advantage of the Abuja court pronouncement, the Babangida government cancelled the election on June 23, 1993, and suspended the NEC, whose June 14, 1993, “interim results showed Abiola (and the SDP) leading with an overwhelming majority in 19 states, while Tofa (and the NRC) had a clear majority in 11 states.”
But due to widespread protests against the annulment, the military junta, in the infamous “stepping aside” of Gen. Babangida on August 27, 1993 – the date the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), empanelled by Babangida on January 5, 1993, to replace the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), had promised to hand over to a democratic government – installed an Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
The ING lasted only 83 days before Gen. Sani Abacha, left behind as Chief Army Staff/Secretary of Defence by the retreating Gen. Babangida, leveraged on a November 10, 1993, Lagos high court judgment by Justice Dolapo Funlola Akinsanya, voiding the ING as illegal, to oust Shonekan, and declare himself as Head of State.
Besides refusing to honour the June 12 poll, and install Abiola as President of Nigeria, Gen. Abacha, terrorised the country through sponsored assassinations and disappearances of opposition figures, and instituted fresh electoral processes that critics said were primed to enable him transmute into a civilian president.
But Abacha died suddenly on June 8, 1998, and was succeeded by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, then Chief of Defence Staff, on June 9, 1998. Coincidently on July 7, 1998, a month after Abacha’s death, Abiola, who’d audaciously declared himself President in 1994, also died in a mysterious circumstance.
After a further stay in power for six years (1993-1999), the military, under Gen. Abubakar, returned Nigeria to democracy in 1999, handing over power to President-elect, Chief Obasanjo, who kicked off rotation of the presidency between the North and South.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
By Tunde Olusunle
She was a breath of fresh air when she joined the political fray in Kogi State. She’s an attorney who is reputed for her efforts in advocacy. She is also a multitasking entrepreneur and dedicated philanthropist. She certainly was not the first woman to aspire to elective office in the “confluence state,” an alias which derives from the convergence of Nigeria’s largest two rivers in the capital of her state. She came, however, with distinctive flair, style, guts, grit and elocution. The trademark veil over her head re-echoes memories of the iconic former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazair Bhutto. Like Bhutto, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan is cerebral, self-confident, articulate, charismatic and strong-willed. Recall she outrightly rejected the congratulatory message of Yahaya Bello, outgoing governor of Kogi State, after she floored Sadiku Ohere, the former’s candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial seat at the appellate court weeks ago. Akpoti-Uduaghan alluded to attempts on her life by Bello’s henchmen in the run-up to the February 25, 2023 general elections. On that occasion, she ran for the Senate on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), against Bello’s candidate, Ohere, who contested on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, (APC).
Akpoti-Uduaghan started out years ago as a member of the APC in Kogi State. She aspired for the governorship ticket of the party in the lead up to the 2019 poll to no avail. Frozen out of the APC scheme, she moved over to the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), and made serious waves on her campaign outings. As she prepared to launch out on her second political advent and participation in the 2023 polls, Bello, according to Akpoti-Uduaghan, offered her the sum of N50million to jettison her ambition. She turned it down without batting an eyelid. She was similarly unimpressed with Bello’s increment of his offer to N70million. She told him she was not in politics for primitive fiscal acquisition, but was driven by a genuine conviction to serve her people. Bello, she confirmed, was furious at her unbending resolve.
And so she was back again on the campaign dais like the proverbial phoenix ahead of the 2023 political cycle. The proverbial ram in Yoruba folklore which took a few steps backwards in a contest with its challenger did not back out of the duel out of cowardice. No. It retreated to gather more steam and velocity to fight more pointedly and more determinedly. Akpoti-Uduaghan undertook due diligence about the most appropriate political vehicle to help the actualization of her quest. Despite efforts to annihilate the PDP at all levels by the incumbent APC, she was convinced that that party would serve her purposes. And so, she was on the road again, repeatedly touring the five local government areas in her senatorial district and spreading the gospel of the kind of impact she would bring to bear on her people if voted into office. She severally toured Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okehi, Okene and Ogori-Magongo council areas within her senatorial catchment sensitising her people and requesting their support for her bid.
The APC was paranoid on the eve of the February election on account of Akpoti-Uduaghan’s ever rising political profile. Totally bereft of ideas about how to stop the rampaging amazon, agents of the APC excavated all three accesses to the PDP senatorial candidate’s home. The idea was to prevent electoral officials from reaching her community and its environs, with the aim of disenfranchising that critical constituency in the poll. Akpoti-Uduaghan also noted that that orchestrated action could compromise her personal security and the safety of her people in the event that they had emergencies. Bello would thereafter concur to the act, saying the action was taken in the PDP senatorial candidate’s best interests, to prevent intending terrorists from attacking her on the eve of the election, a most unintelligent alibi.
After the senatorial election of Saturday February 25, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), declared Abubakar Sadiku Ohere of the APC as winner of the contest. INEC’s Returning Officer for Kogi Central, Rotimi Ajayi, a professor at the Federal University Lokoja, (FUL), stated that Ohere garnered 52,132 votes, while Akpoti-Uduaghan secured 51,763 votes. Ohere was thereafter issued a Certificate of Return by INEC and sworn in as a Member of the 10th Senate early June 2023. Undaunted and dogged, Akpoti-Uduaghan promptly sought justice at the Election Petitions Tribunal.
September 6, 2023, the tribunal ruled that the PDP candidate was the rightful and authentic winner of the contest. Akpoti-Uduaghan actually polled 54,074 votes, as against Ohere’s 51,291 votes. The judges observed that results from “nine polling units in Ajaokuta local government area, were inflated, while the votes of Akpoti-Uduaghan were intentionally reduced by INEC ward collation officers.” Dissatisfied and prodded by his principal, Ohere proceeded to the Court of Appeal for further adjudication. Tuesday October 31, the court dismissed Ohere’s appeal as “lacking in merit.” It declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan as the “duly elected candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial election held in February 2023.” She was inaugurated as senator Thursday November 2, 2023, at a ceremony held during plenary, under the supervision of Godswill Akpabio, President of the Senate. She made history as the first female senator from Kogi State. Instructively too, she effectively dilutes the preceding Kogi all APC-cast in the senate of the federal republic.
Natasha Hadiza Akpoti-Uduaghan was born December 9, 1979, in Ilorin, Kwara State, to Jimoh Abdul Akpoti and Ludmila Kravchenko, a Ukrainian. Abdul Akpoti who hailed from Obeiba-Ihima, Okehi LGA in Kogi State, met his wife while training as a medical doctor in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, several decades ago. A “home girl,” she was educated at Christ the King Nursery and Primary School, Okene; Government Girls Unity School, Oboroke, and the Federal Government College, Idoani, Ondo State. She demonstrated leadership potentials even as a young girl, and was the “Head Girl” in her final year in secondary school. She was serially acknowledged as quiet, hardworking, disciplined and diligent, and always posted sterling academic performances. She studied law at the University of Abuja, enduring an intricate balance between her academics and early motherhood having gotten married at the tender age of 19. Her first son, Daniel was born within the period.
She attended the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja beginning from 2004, and was called to the Bar November 2005. She obtained a masters in business administration from the University of Dundee, Scotland, in 2012. She previously served as legal counsel at the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas, (LNG) complex during which she travelled expensively across the world. Akpoti-Uduaghan has acquired pluri-dimensional competencies in management, mediation, leadership and arbitration among others. Her soft, humane side has been influenced considerably by her father’s selflessness and generosity. He was famous for treating many of his patients free in the course of his private medical practice unconcerned about profit-making.
On Saturday March 5, 2022, Natasha Akpoti got wedded to the Itsekiri billionaire, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, the *Alema of Warri.* The event took place in Akpoti-Uduaghan’s primordial homestead in Ebiraland, Kogi State. The chief host was the recently departed *Ohinoyi of Ebiraland,* His Majesty, Ado Ibrahim. It was chaired by a former governor of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, who also previously chaired the APC at the national level. Dignitaries at the high octane event included: Bukola Saraki, former Senate President; the *Olu of Warri,* His Majesty Tsola Emiko; the groom’s cousins and former governors of Delta State, James Ibori and Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Former Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; incumbent Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; former PDP Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, among several dignitaries, honoured the event.
Akpoti-Uduaghan’s first contribution on the floor of the Senate was to request that the recently departed Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Ado Ibrahim be immortalised. She spoke of his disposition as an urbane father and patriarch, and an apostle of peace all through his 25-year reign. Within the period, his sociocultural domain witnessed some physical development. She canvassed the rechristening of the Federal College of Education, (FCE), Okene, after the transited royal. Akpoti-Uduaghan was recently named Senate Committee Chairman on Local Content as replacement for her former sparring partner, Ohere. She was concurrently appointed Vice Chairman of the Committee on Steel. That she is in leadership positions in both very important committees, attests to her qualities and capabilities. Akpoti-Uduaghan’s advocacy for the resuscitation of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Project located in Kogi Central, her primary sphere of representation, will gain desired traction, courtesy of her placements in the upper parliament.
The multibillion dollar complex has been emblematic of abandonment, waste, greed, graft, mismanagement in the past four decades now. Akpoti-Uduaghan grew up in Ebiraland and is fully cognisant of the humongous resources in foreign exchange previously sunk into the project which, nonetheless, has remained dysfunctional. The decrepit, melancholy-eliciting condition of the sprawling steel city is best appreciated via a drive through the gargantuan, multidimensional “steel city” of Ajaokuta. Akpoti-Uduaghan wants to proceed beyond preceding peripherals and platitudes to add breadth to the strident advocacy for the functional resuscitation of the octopoidal complex. It is very close to her heart because of its potential to sustainably impact the economy of her people, her state and Nigeria at large.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)
Bayelsa 2023: Sylva’s undoing partly self-inflicted
By Ehichioya Ezomon
Because of the deck stacked against him – or more aptly, due to the deck he stacked against himself – it’s illusory to project the November 11, 2023, governorship in Bayelsa State as a walkover for former Governor Timipre Sylva.
From the get go, Mr Sylva faced numerous huddles, to reach the Creek Haven Government House in Yenagoa, capital city of Bayelsa, which he left in 2012. Foremost were headwinds from Governor Douye Diri of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and aggrieved members in Bayelsa’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
The odds likely favoured Mr Diri seeking re-election to the seat he got on a platter on February 13, 2020, when the Supreme Court nullified election of Chief David Lyon on the eve of his swearing-in.
Mr Lyon won the November 16, 2019, poll by a landslide, but Diri’s gifted the governorship when the court barred APC’s Deputy Governor-elect Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo over discrepancies in his credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election. Diri therein nicknamed himself as a “Miracle Governor.”
Lyon, who saw the “Promised Land” of Government House on February 13, 2020 – during final rehearsals for his swearing-in the next day – regarded himself as the “candidate-in-waiting” for 2023, and APC’s ticket his for the asking.
Members of the Bayelsa chapter, especially the youths, regarded Lyon as “our next Governor,” and urged the APC leadership to “award” him the ticket without a primary contest, and they hit the streets when the party threw the nomination open for a direct primary by registered members.
Lyon won the September 4, 2019, primaries with 42,138 votes, to defeat five aspirants, including current Minister of Petroleum Resources (Oil), Dr Heineken Lokpobiri, who scored 571 votes, but went to court, to be declared the candidate on the grounds of irregularities at the primaries.
A Supreme Court ruling halted Lokpobiri on February 11, 2020, three days to inauguration of Lyon, whose election was voided two days later when the same court disqualified Mr Degi-Eremienyo.
Though he won the November 2019 poll, Lyon’s supporters had no illusion he’d defeat Sylva – also a former Minister of Petroleum Resources with a large warchest – in the April 14, 2023, primaries, which Lyon boycotted as the APC rejected his “sense of entertainment” to the ticket.
From 58,171 accredited among 142,031 registered APC members for the primaries, Sylva secured 52,061 votes, while Lyon scored 1,582 votes to place third behind ex-agitator Joshua Maciver, who came second with 2,078 votes.
Sylva, acclaimed “sole financier of Bayelsa APC,” reportedly preferred Lyon, and “threw his weight behind him” in the 2019 primaries for the APC ticket for the governorship of that year.
After Lyon’s dramatic ouster by the Supreme Court in 2020, Sylva allegedly pledged to back his second bid in 2023, even as he promised supports for other APC chieftains for the governorship he reportedly excluded himself.
But ahead 2023, Sylva “reneged on the promises,” declared for the governorship, took the primaries by a landslide, and told primarygoers he’d replicate same on November 11 against Diri, who mocked him as “dishonest and insincere” for allegedly deceiving members of the APC over his ambition, and his disqualification by an Abuja Federal High Court.
In a statement, “Bayelsa Doesn’t Deserve Serial Deceiver As Governor,” Diri said: “Bayelsa needs an honest and sincere leader that is focused on its development and not a man widely known for deception.
“Timipre Sylva is a man you cannot trust. He displaced all those he promised that he would give the governorship ticket and turned around to become the candidate himself.”
Diri’s accusingly behind the court cases by APC members, to ensure Sylva didn’t participate in the governorship. Sylva’s lawyers in his disqualification appeal, and even some of the three-member panel of Justices of the Appeal Court, hinted about such a possibility.
An APC member in Bayelsa, Mr Demesuoyefa Kolomo, filed a suit on June 6, asking the high court to determine – given sections 180(2)(a) and 182(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution – whether Sylva was qualified to contest in the poll, having occupied the governorship from May 2007 to April 2008 and May 2008 to January 2012.
Ruling on the night of October 9, trial Justice Donatus Okorowo held that having been inaugurated twice and ruled as governor for five years, allowing Sylva to contest would amount to expansion of the constitution or its scope.
Justice Okorowo directed INEC to remove the names of Sylva and his running mate, Mr Maciver, from the list of candidates for the poll, to prevent Sylva from exceeding the eight-year tenure for governor if he won the November 11 election.
But Sylva argued that he’s elected once as governor – citing an April 2008 Court of Appeal ruling that nullified his 2007 election – and filed a three-ground notice of appeal, through a team of lawyers, led by Dr. Ahmed Raji (SAN).
When the case was called on October 27, Sylva’s lawyer, Akinlolu Kehinde (SAN), and APC’s counsel, K.O. Balogun, urged the appellate court to allow the appeals, set aside the high court judgment and affirm Sylva’s candidacy.
Arguing Sylva’s position of having been sworn-in once as governor, Mr Kehinde described the high court judgment as “a hatchet job just to tie this man (Sylva) not to campaign and participate in the election.”
Also faulting the decision of the high court, Mr Balogun said, “What the 1st respondent (Kolomo) is asking this court to do is to deem the nullified months as four years.”
He accused Kolomo of “fighting a proxy war” (for Sylva’s opponents at the poll), because “he cannot be a member of the APC and be fighting to destroy its candidate and chances at the election.”
Similarly during the proceedings, some members of the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led panel wondered why Kolomo, who claimed to be an APC member, but not an aspirant at the primaries, would want to destroy his party’s chance in an election!
Noting that Kolomo could’ve voted for another party in the November poll “if he assumed Mr Sylva did not deserve his vote,” the panel condemned the attitude of lawyers, who failed to advice their clients appropriately, saying, “it is a moral issue.”
Kolomo’s lawyer, Mr Abiodun Amuda-Kanike (SAN), and INEC’s lawyer, Mr Ahmed Mohamed, prayed the court to dismiss the appeals, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
However, on October 31, the court set aside the high court decision for lack of jurisdiction, and awarded N1 million cost against Kolomo for lack of legal right to seek Sylva’s disqualification from the election.
Again on November 9 – two days to election – the Appeal Court in Abuja came to Sylva’s rescue, dismissing an appeal, seeking to prevent him from the poll, as without merit.
Reading the lead judgment, Justice Binta Zubar held that the subject matter of the appeal by Hon. Isikima Ogbomade Johnson was non-justiceable, adding that “the case was brought in bad faith.”
The court held that having been sacked by the courts in his first election, Sylva couldn’t have taken the oath of office as a governor twice, which informed the conduct of another election that Sylva won in 2008, and governed till 2012.
On the issue of Sylva not duly nominated as candidate, the court held that overwhelming evidence presented by the INEC and APC showed that no legal provision was violated in the primaries.
“From the uncontroverted independent report of INEC, it was clear beyond any doubt that a valid primary election was conducted by APC and monitored by the electoral umpire as required by law,” the court said.
The court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against her.
Noting that the appellant’s case was statute-barred, having been instituted outside the 14 days allowed by law, the court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against the appellant.
The court cases against Sylva definitely put a wrench to the efforts of Dr Abdullahi Ganduje-led National Working Committee (NWC) to return APC to power in Bayelsa.
Yet, besisde court’s barring of Sylva, and INEC’s delisting of his name, prompting the APC to suspend campaigns for weeks, Sylva owns his undoing by incurring enemies in Messrs Lyon and Lokpobiri prior to the primaries, and election, leading to cries of their sellout to, and a deal with Diri for the poll.
As reported by an online portal quoting sources, Diri conceded 50 slots of Senior Special Assistants (SSAs) each to Lokpobiri and Lyon, and also promised them some measure of influence in decision-making if he won re-election.
The APC dismissed the alleged Lokpobiri and Lyon’s alliance with Diri, with the Secretary, Media and Publicity Committee of the National Campaign Council of the APC, Hon. Yekini Nabena, on October 9, releasing pictures of Lokpobiri and Lyon recommitting themselves before the National Chairman, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, to deliver Sylva and APC in Bayelsa.
Nabena’s words in a statement: “Our attention has been drawn to a sponsored propaganda in some quarters suggesting cracks in the solid camp of the Bayelsa APC ahead of the November 11 governorship election in the State.
“We will not be distracted because we are fully aware how desperate the incumbent Governor Douye Diri has become, therefore employing all manner of tactics including propaganda and lies just to cause confusion.
“For the benefit of the doubt, the attached pictures will tell doubters that the Minister of State for Petroleum (Oil), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, and the 2019 governorship candidate, David Lyon, most recently held a strategic meeting with our candidate in the presence of our National Chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, where everyone recommitted himself, and massive mobilization has since begun.
“We, however, sympathize with the restless Governor Diri and his camp for acting too late, bearing in mind that their days are numbered in the Bayelsa state Government House.
“We urge all our party members, supporters and Bayelsans in general to remain calm, expectant of landslide victory and disregard lies suggesting cracks in our camp.”
Lokpobiri, via his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Nneamaka Okafor, denied the allegation same day as baseless, and reaffirmed his commitment to the APC success at the poll.
“We categorically state that these allegations lack credibility and are merely propaganda,” Okafor said, adding, “Senator Lokpobiri’s dedication to the APC’s principles and values is unquestionable, and he remains steadfast in his commitment to the party’s success in Bayelsa State.”
Whichever, Sylva, who allegedly went into the campaigns as his own director-general – either he’d no confidence or trust in others to lead the team or those he approached turned down the offer – was literally a lone ranger, starved of the necessary backing from party chieftains, such as Lyon and Lokpobiri, with his eventual defeat at the poll glaring in the strongholds of APC’s topshots.
So, for Sylva to win the November 11 election would’ve been nothing short of a miracle, which, like that of Mr Diri, could still happen via the instrumentality of the courts. Till then, it’s another four-year wait for the APC to break the 24-year rule of the PDP in Bayelsa State!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
ATIKU @ 77: Glorious homecoming for homeboy
By Tunde Olusunle
His best efforts to observe his birthday quietly as has been his preference over time, differed from the thinking of many others. I had indeed asked him two weeks before the date if he would approve of a public presentation of my handy, newly published compendium of essays on him, as part of the event. He intoned that the President of the American University of Nigeria, (AUN), Dr DeWayne Frazier, indeed created a window for cake cutting on the draft programme of the “Founders Day” scheduled for Saturday November 25, 2023. The event is held in his honour on the 25th day of November every year, to commemorate his birthday. He said he advised Frazier who is fairly new on his schedule, that the Founder’s Day lecture itself sufficient commemoration of a day that is very special to him.
The public presentation of the book of essays he advised, should be planned for the first quarter of the new year. By that time according to his wise counsel, subsisting electoral litigations arising from the 2023 polls would have been substantially dispensed with. The national political temperature aggravated by unprecedented ballot thefts, unrivalled judicial indiscretions, and unthinkable disenfranchisement of the electorate in several instances, would have calmed somewhat, especially with the imminent yuletide. If he thought he had wriggled free of plans to celebrate him, however, his eldest son, Adamu Atiku-Abubakar and some of his siblings had other ideas.
Adamu, incumbent commissioner for Works and Energy Development in the administration of Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State is growing into a good student and budding exemplar of his father in politics and public service. He surreptitiously convened a meeting of critical stakeholders from four contiguous local government areas in the southern zone of Adamawa State to discuss and buy-into a suggestion by his peers and good self. Enthusiastic participants came from Toungo, Ganye, Jada and Mayo Belwa local government areas, to articulate a week-long series of events to mark the 77th birthday of the older Atiku Abubakar. These included council chairpersons, commissioners and the Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mohammed Jidjiwa, from the aforementioned four local government areas.
The lineup of activities for the “Atiku week” included: a football tournament tagged the “Atiku Unity Cup;” a day to reach out specifically to the indigent and an “Empowerment Day” for would-be entrepreneurs. Specific days were also set aside for “community service,” “visitations to educational institutions within Atiku’s primordial catchment;” “finals of the Atiku Unity Cup” and a jum’at service to round up the festivities. Each of these activities were scheduled for different days between Friday November 17 and Friday November 24, 2023. Not too many people would wished for a better, richer, activity-packed birthday programme.
Atiku arrived to tumultuous reception at the Yola International Airport on Monday November 20. It was his first visit since his hard-fought judicial battle challenging the declaration of Bola Tinubu as winner of the Saturday February 25, 2023 presidential election in which he contested and felt arguably robbed. Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, the first woman to occupy such a position in Nigeria’s north east, Professor Kaletapwa Farauta, led the reception party on behalf of Governor Fintiri. She was accompanied by members of the Adamawa State executive council and senior state officials. Farauta extolled Atiku’s uncommon grit and zeal in bolstering democracy and popular rule in Nigeria. She noted that the former Vice President had etched his name in the documentation of Nigerian politics as a brave battler for fairness, justice, equity, rule of law and best practices in the nation’s fledgling democracy. Her speech was intermittently interrupted by loud applause by the audience and approving nods as she delivered her homily about the presidential flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), at the last general polls.
Atiku thanked the Adamawa State Government for putting up such a grand reception for him on what was supposed to be an innocuous and routine visit to his home. He applauded the Fintiri-led government for its notable strides in the provision of infrastructure in the state, and for the attention it is paying to education and healthcare development. He assured of his availability at all times, to offer guidance and admonition. He restated the place of Adamawa in his heart, a state he desired to serve as governor, won the applicable election in December 1998, before fate intervened in his political course. Atiku noted he was thankful to God for his modest contributions to the socioeconomic life of the state and expressed the hope that other well-meaning patriots will contribute their tokens by continuing to investment in Adamawa State.
Wednesday November 22, Atiku visited his boyhood school, the Central Primary School, Jada. In his post on his *X* handle, (hitherto twitter), Atiku wrote: “Nostalgic: Today I returned where it all started, my alma mater.” The quality of buildings and facilities in the school suggest it has benefitted from Atiku’s legendary large heart. Not too many public schools in rural Nigeria are anything close to the new storey buildings in the school. The former Vice President toured the premises even as excited school children poured to the balconies of their classrooms and waved happily at him, a gesture he returned. He subsequently presented scholarships and awards to outstanding students in the Ganye chiefdom of the state, a gesture he enthused, brought him tremendous joy and fulfilment.
Saturday November 25, 2023, Steven Titus, President Emeritus of the Iowa Wesleyan University in the United States, delivered the inaugural address for the Founder’s Day. He described the university as “one of the greatest, boldest and most consequential universities on the entire continent of Africa.” He extolled the AUN as a “vibrant legacy of the founder, Atiku,” who was being honoured at the same event. He celebrated Atiku as “a man of peace and unity, a leader who listens more than he talks, who inspires those around him, who is empathetic and appreciates the dignity of every human being.” Dr Titus saluted Atiku’s abiding faith in his country Nigeria as a land of possibility, and his conviction that education is the fuel and inspiration for the crystallisation of that possibility.
Titus further noted: “The Founder was an 11 year-old orphan who had barely enough to eat. Today, the Founder is a world citizen and tested leader of the largest and most complex country on the continent.” Espousing on Atiku further, Titus submitted: “It was the gift of education, the gift of opportunity and teachers who cared, and the value of hardwork that ensured his pathway to success and service at the highest levels. Through the Founder’s vision becoming reality, AUN is offering you and those who came before you and those who will come after you, the gift of education and opportunity.
Atiku’s paper at the event was titled “AUN in the Age of Socioeconomic Crisis and Emerging Disruptive Technologies.” He thanked Dr Steven Titus and everyone who made out time to be at the event with his beautiful family. He welcomed DeWayne Frazier whom he noted had always been enthusiastic about Africa and heading the AUN. Atiku alluded to his two previous applications to be President, before his triumph at the third attempt. He expressed the hope that Frazier will demonstrate commitment to the ideals of the institution and changes in its overall administration. The era of deviation from the set goals of the university, arbitrariness in decision making and profligate management of resources, Atiku observed, must henceforth be consigned to the past. He expressed optimism in Frazier’s capacity and ability against his demonstrated interest in the university. Atiku enjoined Frazier to constantly remind the world that the AUN is alive and thriving albeit an oasis of excellence in its part of Nigeria.
The AUN, Atiku advised, must be heard in the crowded marketplace of private education in Nigeria, or painfully lose out. The university faculty he admonished, should be responsive to dynamics in the national and global economies so as to be guided in articulating its programmes and offerings needed by intending students. Atiku implored the university to grow its numbers and to buildup its finances in order to be more self-sustaining. He thanked the new AUN President for facilitating a few more programmes in the institution’s bouquet of courses, within his brief stint at the helm. Atiku reminded Frazier of the urgent need to “modify and update inherited practices to keep up with the changing financial situation of the unit and that of prospective parents and students.” According to Atiku, “new technologies are emerging that will completely change the face of education as we know it, and by implications, educational institutions. The direction of those changes is not entirely clear, but will include greater individualised learning.”
DeWayne Preston Frazier who was inducted as the sixth President of the AUN, confirmed his excitement and optimism for the future of the university. He expressed confidence that together, stakeholders in the university will achieve great things and continue to be a beacon of knowledge, enlightenment and progress. Dr Frazier explained: “I am committed to upholding the values and principles that have been the foundation of this university. Values such as excellence, integrity and service that permeate through the entire campus. I will follow and uphold our bylaws like never before as I accept them with great honour. When you do things rightly, God will bless you… this is a promise.” Frazier acknowledged Atiku as a man of big dreams who, 20 years ago, envisioned the very first university in Nigeria to “adopt the American model of higher educational, offering a liberal arts-based education that promotes critical thinking, creativity and experiential learning.”
At the Founder’s Day to honour Atiku were several dignitaries including Governor Fintiri and his Deputy Farauta; Chairman of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, Ben Obi, CON; and Mustafa Barkindo Aliyu, (Kauran Adamawa) who represented the Lamido Adamawa. Former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoaka, SAN, as well as Members of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, among others. The event was a befitting finale to a string of activities and events carefully planned and executed in honour of one of Adamawa State’s and Nigeria’s most prized prodigies. It was a cherished season of reconnection with his roots and origins for the “original homeboy.”
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)
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