Atiku Abubakar is man of courage and conviction, writes Anjorin Oludolapo

In the grand tapestry of Nigerian politics, one name stands out as a symbol of unwavering courage and deep-rooted conviction. Atiku Abubakar a man whose political journey mirrors the profound words of Theodore Roosevelt in his famous “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, has weathered storms, faced adversity, and remained unyielding in his commitment to democratic principles and the betterment of Nigeria.

Theodore Roosevelt, in his memorable speech, spoke of those who dare greatly and strive valiantly, acknowledging that, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.” Atiku Abubakar’s journey embodies this spirit, where the path chosen is fraught with challenges and where the outcome is uncertain.

As I reflect on the path that Atiku Abubakar has traversed, I am reminded of the sacrifices and challenges he has encountered, often at a great personal cost. From the early days of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua experiment, Atiku set forth on a perilous journey to build a Pan-Nigeria based on democratic ideals. This undertaking witnessed the loss of lives and resources, but it also brought together a generation of young Nigerians who shared a vision of a more inclusive and democratic future.

Theodore Roosevelt’s words resonate with Atiku Abubakar’s journey: “Who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Atiku Abubakar’s political journey began against a backdrop of social and political change in Nigeria. Born on November 25, 1946, in Jada, a small town in what is now Adamawa State, he grew up in a Nigeria still navigating its post- independence identity. His formative years coincided with a period of hope and turmoil as the country experienced the transition from British colonial rule to self-governance.

Nigeria’s early post-independence years were characterized by political experimentation, with numerous coups and transitions. It was within this complex landscape that Atiku found his calling. He was part of a generation that yearned for democratic governance, equality, and unity.

The 1990’s brought hope for a democratic Nigeria. The Shehu Musa Yar’Adua experiment was a significant milestone, reflecting a shared vision of the democratic principles that Atiku embraced. Yar’Adua, a former military officer and politician, shared Atiku’s commitment to building a united Nigeria based on democratic values. Atiku’s involvement in this experiment marked the genesis of his political odyssey.

Nigeria’s political landscape took a defining turn with the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. The election, widely regarded as one of the freest and fairest in the country’s history, saw Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola as the winner. However, the election was annulled by the military government, leading to widespread protests and unrest.

Atiku’s role during this period was pivotal. His actions aligned with Theodore Roosevelt’s concept of the “man in the arena.” He was not a passive observer but an active participant, making choices that would affect the course of history.

In those turbulent days, Atiku Abubakar was a key figure in the actualization of June 12. He was on the side of democracy, on the side of the people’s choice. He knew that the path he chose was filled with risks and uncertainty, but he dared greatly. His unwavering commitment to democratic principles earned him the respect of his peers and solidified his position as a champion of democracy.

As Nigeria inched closer to the return of democracy in 1999, Atiku Abubakar’s journey took another dramatic turn. He faced threats to his life and was forced into exile in the build-up to the elections. This was a period of personal sacrifice, highlighting his decision to principles over personal safety.

The Theodore Roosevelt quote, ”Who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,” aptly describes the phase of Atiku’s journey. He understood the high stakes, the potential for failure and the personal risks involved in upholding democratic values. Yet, he chose to be the man in the arena, taking a stand for a democratic Nigeria.

The year 1999 marked a momentous chapter in Atiku Abubakar’s journey. He emerged as the Vice President of Nigeria, a role that carried great responsibility and the weight of public expectations. His ascent to this position was a moment of triumph, but it also brought immense scrutiny and criticism.

The challenges he faced were significant, and his tenure as Vice President was marked by both achievements and controversies. Yet, throughout this period, he remained true to his commitment to democratic principles, even when it meant making difficult choices.

Atiku’s vision for Nigeria extended beyond personal ambitions. He believed in the strength of diversity and the potential of a united nation. One of the defining moments of his political career was in 1998 when he became the first democratically-elected Governor of Adamawa State. He appointed a Christian Deputy, acknowledging the unique configuration of the state and the substantial Christian population.

The Theodore Roosevelt quote, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive s valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming,” reflects the challenges Atiku Abubakar faced during this period. He made a principled choice that went against the expectations of political elites, and it was a decision that came with its share of critics and adversaries.

The year 1999 brought both triumph and trials for Atiku Abubakar. His ascent to the Vice Presidency was a moment of great personal achievement, yet it also exposed him to a barrage of unwarranted criticism and attempts to tarnish his reputation. This episode can be considered an undisputed “man in the arena” moment, with scars that would remain as a testament to his unwavering commitment.

The landmark cases championed by Atiku Abubakar have left an indelible mark on Nigeria’s democratic landscape. His victories in the face of adversity have set democratic norms that many now take for granted.

One of the defining moments in Atiku’s legal battles occurred towards the 2007 Presidential election when former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided that he could no longer work with vice president Atiku Abubakar and internally declared his office vacant. Obasanjo’s actions were seen as an attempt to remove Atiku Abubakar from office without due process.

Atiku Abubakar approached the Court of Appeal and won. The position of the Court of Appeal was also upheld by the Supreme Court as they both declared that the Vice President or any Deputy could only be removed from office by impeachment. This legal victory was not just a personal triumph but a victory for the sanctity of democratic principles.

Had Atiku Abubakar allowed that illegality to stand, it would have become the norm for the arbitral removal of deputies across Nigeria. His choice to challenge this act of executive overreach was just not a personal act of defiance but a commitment to upholding the rule of law.

Towards the same 2007 election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), acting under the influence of the Presidency, decided to disqualify Atiku Abubakar as a Presidential candidate in the election on the platform of the Action Congress, based on a concocted report.

Atiku Abubakar again approached the Court and secured a legal victory. That judgement today is also a landmark: INEC has no powers to reject any candidate validly nominated by any political party and fulfilling the constitutional requirements only. Atiku’s legal battles were not just about personal vindication but about preserving the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.

It’s almost unthinkable today, but back then, INEC overreached itself until Atiku Abubakar went to court. This legal victory set the precedent for transparent and impartial electoral processes that we now expect in Nigeria.

Another major “Man in the arena” moment for Atiku Abubakar was during the struggle against the political use of Sharia law in Nigeria. This issue, one of the biggest under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, pitted the North against the South, creating a deeply divisive atmosphere.

Whereas some politicians adopted double-speak on the matter, Atiku Abubakar as Vice President, took a principled stance by condemning the political implementation of Sharia law. This position put him in a difficult political position, as he was seen as pro-South in a predominantly Northern political landscape.

Sharia is a way of life for Muslims, but declaring it as the Supreme law in a state was a political move with potential consequences. Atiku Abubakar’s stance on devolution of powers highlighted the importance of respecting state autonomy in a restructured Nigeria.

However, the feudalists were not pleased with his position, and even some from the South criticized him simply for being a Funlani Muslim. In other words, Southern politicians challenged Atiku Abubakar to openly condemn the political Sharia move, while Northern politicians watched waiting for him to make a misstep.

This period of his political career exemplified the challenges of being a principled leader in a deeply polarized country. He had to balance the expectations of different regions while staying true to his convictions.

As the Northern political landscape evolved, Atiku Abubakar’s commitment to democratic principles and the unity of Nigeria remained unwavering. His legal victories and principled stances contributed significantly to the developments of Nigeria’s democracy. He was not just a “Man in the arena” in his quest for power but also in his determination to protect the democratic values that underpin the nation.

Atiku Abubakar’s journey took another significant turn when he played a pivotal role in the creation of All Progressive Congress (APC), a major opposition party in Nigeria. The formation of the APC represented a seismic shift in the political landscape as it brought together various opposition groups with the goal of providing a credible alternative to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

This political experiment was not without its challenges. The merger of different parties with diverse ideologies and interests was a delicate balancing act. It required great effort, patience, and resilience to navigate the complexities of coalition politics. Atiku Abubakar’s role in this process was instrumental as he worked tirelessly to bridge gaps and create a united front against the dominant PDP.

The creation of the APC marked another “Man in the arena” moment for Atiku Abubakar. He ventured into uncharted territory, striving to build a formidable political force that could challenge the status quo. The nerves and pain of disappointments were significant, but he persevered in the pursuit of a more competitive and democratic political landscape.

Throughout his political career, Atiku Abubakar faced the challenge of being perceived as a pro-South Northern politician. His stance on various issues, such as Sharia and devolution of powers, often placed him in the crossfire of regional politics.

One significant moment occurred when Northern politicians were critical of Atiku Abubakar for not openly condemning the political use of Sharia. They questioned his loyalty to Northern interests. This was a delicate situation for Atiku Abubakar as he was expected to protect Northern interests in government.

Atiku Abubakar was literally walking a political tightrope, trying to navigate the expectations of both Northern and Southern constituencies. His refusal to overtly condemn the political use of Sharia was based on a principled belief in the rule of law and the need for religious tolerance in a diverse nation.

Theodore Roosevelt’s words are particularly relevant in the context of Atiku Abubakar’s political career: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better”.

Throughout his journey, Atiku Abubakar faced no shortage of critics and detractors. His actions, whether they involved his principled stances on contentious issues or his legal battles to protect democratic norms, were often met with skepticism and opposition.

However, Atiku Abubakar remained resolute, driven by his conviction that Nigeria deserves a political leader who would uphold democratic values and the unity of the nation. He dared greatly in the face of adversity, and the enduring value of his contributions to Nigeria’s democracy is now evident.

In conclusion, Atiku Abubakar’s journey is a testament to the enduring spirit of a man who has remained resolute in his commitment to democratic principles, regardless of the challenges he has faced. As the nation looks to the future, we must recognize the value of individuals like Atiku Abubakar, who embody the true essence of being the man “Man in the Arena”.

Oludolapo is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and the Digital Media Strategist to Oyo State Health Insurance Agency

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