ÎFormer Vice President Atiku Abubakar has earned the Daily Times of Nigeria’s Statesman of the Year. The choice of Abubakar will not come as a surprise to most Nigerians considering the enormous influence the Turakin Adamawa wields in the socio-political landscape of the nation. Alhaji Abubakar is loved and respected across political and ethnic divides in the country for his large heart and unmatched philanthropy. A lover of the downtrodden, the Turakin Adamawa cut his teeth in politics after he meritoriously served his fatherland in the Nigerian Customs & Excise. A man of many parts, Alhaji Abubakar is also a dogged fighter who holds tenaciously to whatever he believes in. During his vice presidency, Alhaji Abubakar teamed up with his principal to move Nigeria from the precipice to a bride of the international community.
Being a true lover of democracy, Alhaji Abubakar rose against the idea of a third term presidency in the country, a move many believed was pivotal to the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. In a bid to ensure that democracy further takes root in the country, Alhaji Abbakar teamed up with progressive minds to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) where he is undoubtedly a strong pillar. Born on 25 November 1946, in Jada, Adamawa State, he was named after his paternal grandfather, Atiku Abdulkadir. An older sister died in infancy, making Atiku the only child of his parents. Atiku’s early years were spent in Kojoli, 30 kilometres east of Jada. Atiku Abubakar is a politician, businessman and philanthropist par excellence.
He worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Director, as the second highest position in the Service was then known. He retired in April 1989 and took up full-time business and politics. He ran for the office of Governor in the Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991, and for the Presidency in 1993, placing third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries. In 1998 he was elected Governor of Adamawa State. While still Governor-Elect he was selected by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate Olusegun Obasanjo as his running mate.
The duo went on to win elections in February 1999, and Abubakar was sworn-in as Nigeria’s second democratically elected Vice President on 29 May 1999. Alhaji Abubakar’s second term as Vice President was marked by a stormy relationship with President Obasanjo. His bid to succeed Obasanjo did not receive the latter’s support, and it took a judgment of the Supreme Court to allow Abubakar contest after he was initially disqualified by the Independent National Electoral Commission on the grounds that he had been indicted for financial misconduct by an investigating panel set up at Obasanjo’s behest.
The Supreme Court decision ordered the electoral commission to restore Abubakar’s name onto the presidential ballot. Abubakar ran on the platform of the Action Congress, having quit the PDP on account of his issues with President Obasanjo. Atiku lost the election, placing third after Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Atiku is a co-founder of Intels, an oil servicing business with extensive operations in Nigeria and abroad. He is also the founder of Adama Beverages Limited, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), both in Yola. At the age of eight Atiku enrolled in the Jada Primary School where he performed well. In 1960, he was admitted to the prestigious Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola where he did well in English Language and Literature.
Following secondary school, Atiku studied a short while at the Nigeria Police College in Kaduna. He left the College when he was unable to present an O-Level Mathematics result. He worked briefly as a Tax Officer in the regional Ministry of Finance, from where he gained admission to the School of Hygiene in Kano in 1966. He graduated with a Diploma in 1967, having served as Interim Student Union President at the School. In 1967 he enrolled for a Law Diploma at the Ahmadu Bello University Institute of Administration, on a scholarship from regional government. After graduation in 1969, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was employed by the Nigeria Customs Service. Atiku started out in the real estate business during his early days as a Customs Officer. In 1974 he applied for and received a 31,000 naira loan to build his first house in Yola, which he put up for rent. From proceeds of the rent he purchased another plot, and built a second house. He continued this way, building a sizeable portfolio of property in Yola. In 1981 he moved into agriculture, acquiring 2,500 hectares of land near Yola to start a maize and cotton farm.
The business fell on hard times and closed in 1986. “My first foray into agriculture, in the 1980s, ended in failure,” he wrote in an April 2014 blog. He then ventured into trading, buying and selling truckloads of rice, flour and sugar. His most important business move came while he was a Customs Officer at the Apapa Ports. Gabrielle Volpi, an Italian businessman in Nigeria, invited him to set up Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), a logistics company operating within the Ports. NICOTES would go on to provide immense wealth to Atiku. NICOTES would later be rebranded INTELS. Atiku’s business empire also includes a beverage manufacturing plant in Yola, as well as an animal feed factory. Atiku’s first foray into politics was in the early 1980s, when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority. He canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur, and also donated to the campaign.
Towards the end of his Customs career, he met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been secondin-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yar’Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yar’Adua’s Lagos home. In 1989 Atiku was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, the political association led by Yar’Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by Head of State Ibrahim Babangida. Atiku won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly, set up to decide a new constitution for Nigeria. The People’s Front was eventually denied registration by the government (none of the groups that applied was registered), and found a place within the Social Democratic Party, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.