Atiku Abubakar, the political bridge builder

Tunde Opalana, Abuja

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is by every standard a consummate politician, a successful businessman and a philanthropist of note.

Today, he remains a political enigma who has occupied the Nigerian political landscape like a colossus. Atiku remains the topic for discussions in political circle.

He undoubtedly has one of the largest political followers in the country; he is called “the political bridge builder”.

He controls political followership that cut across ethno- religious and socio- political strata. This was evident during the build up to and the eventual Presidential election of February 23, 2019 in which he contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and came second.

Atiku Abubakar and his party are currently at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to contest the election of President Muhammadu Buhari with the hope of reclaiming his acclaimed stolen mandate.

His Politics

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 second-in-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, General 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.

He won the governorship primaries of the then Social Democratic Party in November 1991, but was soon disqualified by government from contesting the election.

A similar fate – disqualification by the military – would befall Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku’s friend and political mentor, in his 1992 bid for the presidential primary of the SDP.

With no chance of contesting for the presidency, Yar’Adua decided to push Atiku forward as the focal point of SDP’s ambitions.

Atiku came third in the convention primary. But because MKO Abiola, the winner, had won by only about 400 votes, a run-off was due. Atiku stepped down for Abiola, asking his supporters to cast their votes for him, with an unwritten agreement that Abiola would announce Atiku as his running mate.

Abiola won the SDP ticket, and announced Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up, as his running mate.

In 1998, Atiku launched a bid for the governorship of Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. He won the December 1998 election, but before he could be sworn-in, he was tapped by the PDP’s presidential candidate, former Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as his vice-presidential candidate.

The Obasanjo-Atiku ticket won the February 27, 1999 presidential election with 62.78 percent of the vote.

His businesses, wealth

In 2014, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said that he believes he is the largest private employer of labour in Nigeria. He currently employs about 50,000 people in his companies in Nigeria.

“As an individual, I believe my record in employing young Nigerians is unrivalled by any single private investor in Nigeria”, he said.

He has investments in media, shipping, education, and other sectors, although there have been various speculations as to the exact companies he owns or how much he worth.

According to some sources like and others, Atiku Abubakar is worth whopping $1.6 billion.

A philanthropist per excellence

His philanthropy knows no bound as he frequently donates large sums to various charities, organisations and causes. One of his most generous donations was to the National Peace Corps Association, United States.

He donated $750,000 to the Association, which, unsurprisingly, was the biggest donation from one individual in its history.

Abubakar is very passionate about the state of Nigerian education which prompted him in 2005 to establish the American University of Nigeria in the capital of Adamawa State, Yola.

The university uses American style to teach, has small classes and places emphasis on critical thinking and student participation. Atiku was the sponsor of an essay contest for students, the goal of which was to gain a new perspective on resolving the challenges of Nigerian education.

He also issued scholarships to 15 victims of the Chibok kidnapping to help them receive the education they deserve and improve the situation with education in Northeastern Nigeria.

Brief profile

Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946, in Jada. Back then, it was a village in the Northern Region of British Nigeria. It is now a part of Adamawa State.

He is named after his grandfather on his father’s side, Atiku Abdulkadir. It was customary among Fulani people that Atiku grew up among to name their first sons after paternal grandfathers.

He is an only child in his family. Atiku’s father did not want his son to be ‘corrupted’ by Western education, so he did not let him go to school for a while.

When this was discovered, Atiku’s father had to spend several days in jail. His lonely childhood was one of the reasons why he went on to have four wives.

As a matter of fact, he was married five times, but he divorced one of his wives, Ladi. He has 26 children from all five women.

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.

Before seriously going into politics and business, Abubakar worked for the Nigeria Customs Service. He spent 20 years on the job and achieved the second highest rank in the Service’s hierarchy.

Atiku Abubakar was the vice president of Nigeria in 1999-2007, during the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo. In fact, Atiku has expressed his desire to become the President of Nigeria.

He ran for presidency in 1992, 2006-2007, and 2011, and he also planned to run in 2015. In addition to that, Abubakar ran for president in 2019.

During his political career, Atiku Abubakar has jumped a lot between different parties. He was a member of the PDP, the ACN and the APC, the latter of which he helped create.

About the author

Dailytimes Staff