I’ve always wondered if there’s a method to political success in Nigeria; if you need a certain amount of native intelligence and/or charm to succeed, or maybe you just need to be at the right place at the right time. I hoped the invitation to dine with Atiku Abubakar could answer some of my questions, but at the end of the day, I left with more questions than answers. Anyway I took some notes during the session, let’s hope they make sense.
1. Richie Rich – Atiku reminded us he was a millionaire in 1993 when he first ran for President. When he was asked how he created wealth, he mentioned a lucky break with an Italian partner that morphed into the company now known as INTELS. Predictably, he didn’t see a conflict of interest that a serving customs officer invested in a port and logistics business. Lesson: We must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.
2. Image is everything – AA was honest about his motives for joining our famous micro-blog, Twitter. He needs to connect with young people and most importantly set the record straight about his time in government. Throughout the session, he only got upset when questions about corruption were asked. According to him, despite not being convicted in and out of Nigeria, it is frustrating to keep dealing with this albatross. All through the evening, he felt like a man trying to repair a damaged reputation. We wish him well as he rewrites history.
3. Baba Iyabo – I loved how he subbed the chicken farmer. AA told a story of two men that went into a shop in London; one of them carried a bag into the store while the other man strolled in empty handed. Both men left the shop with two bags each, just before the shop owner raised an alarm that someone stole a bag from his shop. He then asked us to try to figure out who stole the bag. If you get the correct answer, there’s a prize for you. Hint: Check Point (1) for clues.
4. Militancy – It’s not normal for a former high ranking government official to speak candidly about security issues like AA did. He blamed two former governors for building armies that morphed into militant groups in the Delta: the one that was rewarded with a state pardon and the custodian of perpetual injunctions. Though he doesn’t have a clear solution to the issues in the Delta, especially agitation for resource control, he got a few marks for being candid about the problem.
5. Boko Haram – Full marks to AA here. Basically, he showed how the appointment of a Fulani from the Sokoto Caliphate to solve a problem in an area dominated by Kanuris was a missed opportunity by the Federal Government. If you need more education on this matter, I suggest you read the 3rd chapter of Toyin Falola’s A History of Nigeria. Lesson: If you don’t know where you’re coming from, deciding where to go becomes a lot more difficult.
6. Political Ideology – One troublesome boy suggested that AA had no political ideology, jumping from one party to another in search of a presidential ticket. He reminded us that he never left the PDP; instead he was prevented from being registered. He joined a rival party because he believed that nobody should be prevented from exercising the right to contest for office. After plenty talk, AA cast his vote as a free market lover; but not before he confirmed that our parties are fingers of a leprous hand, God bless Bola Ige.
7. Budget Reforms – When he was asked how to ensure Nigeria’s budget drives development, his answer jolted me. He suggested oil revenues should be devoted to capital expenditure only, while other revenue sources will fund recurring expenditure. For a country that relies on oil for 70% of its revenues, AA’s suggestion will flip the budget completely. What he didn’t say was how this will be achieved, though it is clear that such a plan must involve significant cuts in the structure of government at all levels.
From the polo top, to updates bout Arsenal’s game, it was clear AA was keen to engage the audience. I’ll give him full marks for trying, but overall it was an underwhelming experience. I left the session thinking unconvinced he is the man to lead Nigeria’s transformation. He will only earn my vote because he’s the best of the pretenders to the throne, not because I think he’s capable of transformative leadership. It’s a long time till 2015, so there’s enough time to change my mind.
There, you have it.