At the age of 47, Atiku Abubakar stood against more experienced politicians contesting to be Nigeria’s president but lost, as expected.
Fulani by tribe, and now at 75, he is not tired, and despite attempts to dent his image, he won the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket in June 2022. It was the same party on which he served as Nigeria’s vice-president from 1999 to 2007.
Abubakar was the PDP presidential candidate in the just concluded Nigerian election where he came second after Bola Tinubu with about six million votes. The contest was his sixth attempt since 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
He won the gubernatorial election ticket for North East Adamawa State in 1991, but the election was suspended when the then head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the party primaries in several states.
He was elected governor of Adamawa in 1999 when former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo picked him as his vice president.
Quarrel with Obasanjo
Before the end of his second tenure as vice president, he was at loggerheads with Obasanjo who, as president, was also the leader of PDP.
He was against Obasanjo’s attempt to amend the Nigerian constitution to extend his tenure to a third term.
In the heat of the political imbroglio, PDP did not take Abubakar’s actions kindly, and, with Obasanjo’s manipulations, the party thwarted his bid for the presidential ticket.
Lost to Yar’Adua
Abubakar joined the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a party formed by his current rival Tinubu. Despite securing the party’s ticket, he lost the presidential election to the late Umar Yar’Adua who was Obasanjo’s preferred candidate under PDP.
ACN, which in 2013 joined a coalition of two other political parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), also did not favour Abubakar.
In 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari beat Abubakar to clinch the APC presidential ticket and won the election.
He returned to PDP again and secured the ticket to contest the 2019 presidential election which he again lost to President Buhari.
The 2023 presidential election may probably be his last because age is not on his side. This is because by 2027, the year of next election in Nigeria, he will have clocked 79.
Abubakar’s rise to power
“He has not been too lucky as a national politician unlike in his school days when in 1966 he was elected as student union president of Kano School of Hygiene,” Mr Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, an analyst, said.
He graduated with a diploma from the school and later acquired master’s degree in public administration.
Abubakar worked with the Nigeria Customs Service for 20 years, rising through the ranks to become its deputy director.
According to Ibrahim, he retired in April 1989, focused more on his businesses and politics and started a real estate business during his early days as a customs officer.
Ventured into business
“He moved into agriculture, acquiring 2,500 hectares of land to start a maize and cotton farm. The business fell on hard times and was liquidated in 1986,” Ibrahim, who wrote a piece on Abubakar, reported.
Abubakar also wrote in an April 2014 blog that his first foray into agriculture in the 1980s ended in failure. He then ventured into trading in rice, flour and sugar.
Abubakar also set up Nigeria Container Services (Nicotes), a logistics company operating within the country’s ports. Nicotes grew to become Intels Nigeria Limited and provided immense wealth to Abubakar.
“Intels Nigeria Limited is also an oil servicing business with extensive operations in Nigeria and abroad,” Professor Ango Abiodun said.
His political rivals accused him of running businesses as a civil servant, but Abubakar defended himself, saying his involvement was limited to the ownership of shares which Nigeria’s government permitted.
But he has been unable to brush off corruption allegations, mostly orchestrated by Obasanjo. Obasanjo blasted the former vice president in his book My Watch Volume 2.
“What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background, which was somewhat shadowy, propensity through corruption, tendency to disloyalty, inability to stick to the truth, a propensity for poor judgment, belief and reliance on marabouts, lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out and his readiness to sacrifice morality for self-interest,” Obasanjo said in his book.
“The money Atiku Abubakar stole when he was my vice is enough to feed 300 million people for 400 years,” Obasanjo said.
Abubakar dismissed these allegations, saying he has never been arraigned by any of the country’s anti-corruption agencies and never been convicted of corruption.
“Atiku can only make the cake bigger so there will be more for everyone,” his media aide, Paul Ibe, told Nigerians.
Another allegation levelled against him was that he sold national assets to his friends and associates when he was vice president and chairman of the the Nigeria National Privatisation Initiative.
He seemed to affirm the allegation in January 2019 when, as PDP presidential candidate, he vowed at a business summit in Lagos to enrich his friends if elected president.
Abubakar oversaw the privatisation of hundreds of loss-making and underperforming Nigerian public institutions when he was vice president under Obasanjo’s tenure.
At one of his key campaign rallies, Abubakar said he would privatise the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and vowed to carry out the privatisation even if there were threats to his life.
“So, the intention of deregulating the economy and giving the private sector the responsibility of driving the economy, of course is to bring about prosperity to members of the public.” he said.
President Buhari has, however, converted the state-owned NNPC to a limited liability company and not sold to anybody.
In the countdown to the February 25 presidential election, Abubakar explained his strategy to tackle corruption.
At the event themed 'Getting Nigeria’s Economy Working', Abubakar promised to implement an effective monitoring system to checkmate corrupt officials.
He had a policy paper ready, a 117-page manifesto titled ‘A Covenant with Nigerians’ that addressed five key areas of unity of Nigeria: security, economy, education and devolution of more resources to the federal units.
There have also bee allegations that Abubakar is wanted in USA over money laundering. And although he has tried to deny the allegations, even accompanying former Nigerian senate president Olusola Saraki under immunity cover to the USA, his alleged accomplices including his lawyer are locked up in American jails.
Rift with Obi
Peter Obi was Abubakar’s vice presidential candidate in 2019 on the PDP platform. However, they fell apart when Obi defected from PDP in May 2022 to bid for the Labour Party’s (LP) presidential ticket.
The politician, whose followers are referred to as "Atikulated’’, was stripped of his popularity in the wake of 2023 election when Obi emerged as Labour Party's presidential candidate.
Many "Atikulated’’ followers switched camp to LP and were now known as "Obidients’’, which is believed to have contributed to Abubakar’s loss in the 2023 election. He has vowed to challenge the election results in court.