Over the past few weeks, Atiku Abubakar has become the man whom Nigerians and others around the world recognise as the leading opponent in next year’s presidential elections, the man to beat President Muhammadu Buhari in the polls and rescue Nigeria from the clutches of a heartless cabal.
But, to many of us who have known him over the past years, he is much more than what the campaign media teams or the global newspaper headlines can ever portray effectively, no matter how well meaning they might be. And I speak as someone who has experienced, on a personal basis, the fullness of who Atiku Abubakar is and what he represents, which have nothing to do with whether or not the cameras are rolling or whether a microphone is thrust in his face, or whether there is an election to be won. I’d like to share some of those personal experiences with you and the world as Atiku celebrates his 72nd birthday on November 25, the same day that he is being elevated from the title of Turaki Adamawa to Waziri Adamawa, in a ceremony taking place in his hometown of Yola.
Atiku Abubakar’s rags to riches story has been in the public domain, especially since his days as Nigeria’s vice president. Much has been told and written about his rise from herdsboy to headsman; of the boy who hardly knew his father before his demise; who sold firewood, herded cattle for wealthy neighbours, receiving payment in the form of grains which his family subsisted on. At the age of 15, he had saved enough to buy his mother a mud house. Of course, he went on to acquire an education, occupy senior positions in the civil service, launch groundbreaking businesses, even before he was elected as vice president in 1999. The trajectory of his life shows clearly that hard work pays. But, there is still so much missing from these popular stories.
I was employed in Atiku’s Media Office in 2010. In 2015, I stepped into the daunting role of head of the Office, thus becoming Atiku’s spokesperson and one of his most visible staff. At first, I expected this to be nothing more than a job that came with heavy responsibilities, which I determined to dispatch with excellence and without reproach. But, before long, Atiku began to show me that I was more to him than just someone on his payroll. He showed me what it was like to work for a boss who cared for human beings, who was interested in the rise and comfort of those below him, who considered their issues as his own issues. I didn’t tell Atiku when my parents were ill but he found out and phoned me to find out how they were doing. Each time he saw me, he first asked details about my family’s welfare before he raised any pending or urgent work matters. Whenever I did anything he approved of, he expressed deep gratitude as if I had done him a personal favour, when I was merely doing my job. Anyone who has worked in our country knows how widely this differs from the typical Nigerian boss.
Atiku constantly reminded me to ensure that his media office reflected who he is, meaning that I should accommodate the rainbow colours of our national diversity. In the past few years, the media office’s staff has comprised and still comprises people from the South-East, South-South, South-West, North-Central, North-West, and the North-East. Anybody who doubts this can research the names of past and present staff on the roll of the office. During Atiku’s 70th birthday two years ago, the AMO staff were determined to get him a gift. But then, what do you buy for a man who pays your salary, who buys you rams during Sallah and bags of rice during Christmas, who can afford everything that you can afford? Still, we were determined to seize the opportunity to express our profound gratitude to the best boss that one can ask for. In the end, we settled on a painting of his portrait. He grinned from ear to ear when we presented it to him. A plaque we also presented to him currently occupies pride of place in his living room. He didn’t disdain our humble gift of love.
Long before he declared his intention to contest for the 2019 elections and before he was overwhelmingly elected to represent the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku shared profound thoughts with me about his concern for Nigeria. Despite being from northern Nigeria, he was worried by President Buhari’s lopsided appointments. He was alarmed at the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency, despite the government’s loud proclamations that the group had been defeated. He was embarrassed by the series of gaffes President Buhari made each time he stood on the world stage, especially one that disdained his wife and women in general. He found it incredible that the government appeared more bent on finding a variety of excuses for the farmer-herdsmen clashes than they were about bringing the carnage to an end. When I arrived to attend a meeting with him sometime last year and noticed Atiku looking sad and sorrowful, I asked him if all was well. “In all my life, especially since the civil war, I have never been this worried for our nation,” he replied. The period under reference was the era of quit notices and counter-quit notices.
Being right there in Port Harcourt to watch Atiku receive the resounding support of the PDP brought to me a joy that transcends my position in his team. Knowing that he will have the opportunity to effect his humanity and hardwork on a national scale is evidence to me that God definitely has Nigeria on his mind. My prayer is that Atiku’s elevation as Waziri and the celebration that will attend his official turbaning on Sunday will be a sign of the good things to come when he eventually mounts the saddle as President of Nigeria in 2019. May the celebrations of Sunday, November 25, be a snapshot of the future that millions of Nigerians from the North, South, East and West are currently looking forward to, as they support Atiku Abubakar to Get Nigeria Working Again.
Mazi Paul Ibe is media adviser to His Excellency Atiku Abubakar.