Atiku Abubakar, A Misunderstood Patriot? -By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu

Filed under: Life And People |

It was the German philosopher, Georg Hegel, who theorised the concept of patriotism, such that he noted patriotism as helping to specify an account of the just alliance of collective identity and state power. According to scholars who are fascinated by the Hegelian approach, the concept of patriotism can even be categorised into three main concepts. First, it can be limited by Hegel’s understanding of modernity and its connections to freedom in its subjective sense. Second, patriotism forges an important link between critical thought and habitual practice. While the first dimension can be seen as a distinctly modern virtue, and the second can be explained by comparing Hegel’s thoughts on ethical learning with Aristotelian practical philosophy, the third concept can be illuminated on the basis of the first two dimensions accompanied by a resolve grounded in the acceptance of the irreducibly collective dimension of freedom, to the extent that a citizen wills to fight for her own country.

Due to the teething troubles of our country today, not all Nigerians may believe that the country has done for them a lot more than they are willing to give it credit for. But in fact, we can argue that for most of us, our entire existence is based on what the country has given us. If perfection is what we wait for, then Nigeria may not be a perfect country, but then, nothing ever is. Nonetheless, the enormous provisions that the country avails us, in many ways we take for granted, should be enough reason for us to be patriotic towards Nigeria. Unfortunately, for most citizens, ethnicity and religion have affected our sense of patriotism. Ethnic patronage networks, it seems, competes for control of the resources of state; thus, dominating the political class and corrupting national symbols and institutions. In the face of these occurrences, coupled with several years of neoliberal reforms, there has been an increasing weakening of the state and an upsurge in economic inequality, especially the horizontal cleavages that form the material foundations of ethnic conflict — causing growing poverty and decay in society.

As these issues linger, and as Nigeria is set for the general elections, it is not in doubt that the two leading contenders for the office of the president are President Muhammadu Buhari — who vies for a second tenure in office — and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. Having ruled the country both as a military leader and civilian president, the records on the performance of Buhari in power is non-arguably unimpressive. Within this backdrop, Atiku, who for all intents and purposes, is the leading opposition candidate, is also arguably the best of all contenders for the race to the presidency. He comes with a rare pedigree: as an experienced democratically elected vice president under the Obasanjo administration; a retired officer in the Nigeria Customs Service; one possessing an acumen for business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy; and equally holding a crowning belief in a multi-ethnic but cohesive yet workable Nigerian society.

Interestingly, Atiku is perhaps the most misunderstood patriot in modern Nigeria. For several years now, whenever he comes up to the political realm as a contestant to beat, his opponents try to persuade the voting public to a supposed predisposition toward the abuse of public trust. But given the facts on ground, to declare that Atiku cannot be trusted with public office on the basis of a propensity towards corruption suggests an apathy toward the subject’s historical trajectory.

Atiku worked in the Customs Service for twenty years, during which he rose to the position of deputy director — the second highest position in the Service. Upon retirement, he ventured into fulltime business and politics. His business interests began in the real estate market in the 1970s, when he secured a loan to build his first house in Yola and gave it out for rent. From the proceeds of the rent, he built another property; leading to a sizeable portfolio of properties in Yola. But Atiku did not stop there. In the early 1980s, he acquired a considerable parcel of land on which he started maize and cotton farming, however the business closed in 1986. His most successful business move came when he met an Italian businessman in Nigeria named Gabrielle Volpi, who invited him (Atiku) to set up a logistics company operating within the Ports together. As the company provided immense wealth to Atiku, sceptics believed that there was a conflict of interest because of his involvement in a business, while still being a government official. But Atiku has always defended the legitimacy of his business interests, given that his involvement at the time was limited to the possession of shares only, which was not in conflict with government rules. Presently, Atiku’s business interests transcend the logistics company he helped to set up; as he equally runs a beverage company, and an animal feed factory.

As a politician, Atiku developed political interests in the early 1980s when he supported the governorship ambition of Bamanga Tukur. Towards his retirement in the Customs Service, Atiku met the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who drew him to political meetings in the his (Yar’Adua’s) Lagos residence. In 1989, he was elected national chairman of the People’s Front of Nigeria — a political group led by Yar’Adua with the intention of participating in then President Ibrahim Babangida’s transition to civil rule programme. Atiku ran for the office of governor of the defunct Gongola State in 1991, and later for the president of Nigeria in 1993, both without success. In 1998, Atiku launched another bid for the governorship of Adamawa State and won the election. Before he could be sworn in as governor, Atiku was nominated as vice president under the Obasanjo administration, which lasted between 1999 and 2007. As vice president, Atiku, was largely contributory to the success of the Obasanjo administration, especially on the many reforms that the government initiated. While still serving as vice president, a U.S. Senate report accused Atiku of laundering over US$40 million in suspect funds into the U.S. But such funds were part of transfers meant to pay for consulting services related to the development of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) — the first American-style institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa.

With regards to philanthropy, Atiku’s decision to establish the AUN was driven by his desire to give back to the society in which he earned success. He often noted that AUN was established because public institutions do not provide quality learning, and because U.S.-style instruction in education emphasises critical thinking, team work, active students participation, problem-solving, etc., of which Atiku himself was once a beneficiary as a student. In addition, the AUN is not being run for profit, as its running costs are greatly subsidised — currently by more than US$1 million every year. For community service, the AUN harnesses opportunities to alleviate the educational decadence in the North-East region such as by issuing scholarships to indigent students — an example of which were the full scholarships offered to fifteen escapees of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping by Boko Haram. Atiku has also been supportive of many associations, including making the largest ever cash donation to the National Peace Corps Association in the U.S., to fund a new initiative featuring global leaders who will discuss the Peace Corps’ impact. More importantly, Atiku continues to offer a constant and critical voice of advocacy on Nigeria’s educational system in a bid to find innovative ways to bridge the literacy and skills gap.

Mohammed Dahiru Aminu writes from Abuja.

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