Atiku Abubakar Speaks About Himself In Interview

Atiku Abubakar is a prominent political figure in Nigeria. This is a man who has risen from a humble background to become the Vice President of our country. In this interview, Turaki, as he is fondly called, reveals many things about himself, including his relationship with his children, and his almost legendary ‘feud’ with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, among other things. 

Brief story of life of Atiku Abubakar by himself: “My history is well known by most people, but, briefly speaking… I am from Adamawa state. I was born in Jada about sixty-six years ago. I started my primary education in Jada before I proceeded to Yola Province College. From there, I went to the School for Hygiene Kano and then finally to the Ahmadu Bello university Zaria, where I studied law. I then joined the Customs in 1969. 

“I held several positions in the Customs. In fact, at a point I was the youngest Customs Comptroller for the Southwest including Ibadan and Kwara. I gained lot of promotions within a short space of time until I attained the highest rank. I left the customs service on 20 April, 1989. From there I ventured into business where I later on met with General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, and we went into politics and set up a political organisation known as the PFM with a view to getting registration as a political party. 

“But as you all know, no political party or organisation was registered at the time. Instead, two parties, namely, SDP and NRC were registered. Those of us with General Yar’Adua joined the SDP. We struggled very well in the party where I had wanted to become the governor of Gongola state then. I won the election, but the government of Babangida cancelled the elections. Nine of us were eventually banned from participating in the subsequent election. 

“We did not stop politicking up till the time Babangida left power. Our first major political battle with the late Gen. Yar’adua was fighting the military to leave power and restore democracy to Nigeria. That was the reason we were in politics. We did not get into politics to get into positions of power. 

“Honestly, we really suffered in the course of the struggles. Late Yar’Adua once called us together and informed us that ‘What you people are doing is not a minor thing,’ it may take us up to ten, thirty or forty years without success. So any of us that was in hurry was advised to stay aside. Incidentally, we succeeded in sending the military away, but God did not allow him to see democracy take root in the land. 

“After that, came the government of General Abacha. He invited our organisation to join his government, I remember we met with them at Ikoyi in Lagos at the time; we told them we would only join the government if they showed us the plans put in place to return the country to democratic rule. They did not like it. 

Was General Shehu Yar’Adua alive then? 

“Yes, he was alive. That was why no one from our organisation joined the government. He subsequently said there would be a constitutional conference for Nigeria. We also met over that and debated whether to join or stay away. We eventually resolved to participate, because we can use that to force him out of power. About 70% of members of the conference which held here in Abuja, were our people.

“The conference thereafter gave Abacha up to January 1 1996, to leave office. He was so angry with that decision and that was the reason why Yar’adua was arrested and jailed. As for me, they followed me to my house in Kaduna and tried to kill me, but they were unsuccessful. They however killed eight people, six of them policemen, while the other two were security guards. I eventually escaped to the USA.

“I don’t know what happened afterwards, and Abacha suddenly asked me to come back to Nigeria. He was planning to run for election at the time. But I asked him to give me the guarantee that I would not be killed or arrested. When I returned, I went to see him and he asked me to work for him because he said he understood I had acceptance in both the North and Southern part of the country. He therefore wanted me to help him campaign to win election. 

“I told him that I needed to go back to my state and consult with my people. He then asked me what I wanted: minister or governor, but I insisted that I needed to go and consult with my supporters. He told me that he had already discussed with my father-in-law, the Lamido Adamawa, and the Lamido really wanted me to go back and be the governor. But, I told him that there was no way for me to go and become the governor because primaries had already been held and they have even started campaigning.

“They told me not to worry about that; all they needed was for me to go back to my state. Upon my return, I saw that all the party’s executive were sacked, that’s for UNCP, the governorship candidate was also sacked, and an interim chairman of the party was already appointed. I met him at the airport waiting for me, and I told him ‘Yes, I am the candidate’. I then immediately went into consultations. My supporters said, ‘This government attempted to kill you in the past, and it is the same government that is now inviting you to run for office, we, your supporters, have agreed’.

“As God would have it, Abacha died the very day we started our campaigns. Abdulsalami became the head of state and when he announced the time table for return to democratic rule; we set up the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. I was one of the few people from my state who set up the party.

“I again ran for governor and won the primaries, and then the general election followed. Later on, General Obasanjo asked me to come and run with his as his running mate. That was how I became the Vice president and worked with Obasanjo up to the time God said we should go our separate ways.

“After that, sometime in the past, I was forcefully kicked out of the PDP, and we went to set up the AC. After that, I went back to the PDP, before we are now engaged in fresh controversy of the new and old PDP 

On current state of affairs: “You know the PDP is not being run on its initial philosophy. There is no internal democracy in the party at the moment. Secondly, since the time of Obasanjo, the party has been used dictatorially; no rules, no truth, no righteousness. What we have now is just selfishness. That is the situation we are in now. 

Many people view you as someone born with a silver spoon, or did you also face challenges growing up in the village? 

“The truth is, I was an only child. I had no siblings. My father died even before I completed primary school, and I was raised by my mother, and you know women were not engaged in any serious commercial venture at the time. I was therefore responsible for fending for her, at a very young age..

“I was around 9 or 10 years then. We had a very wealthy neighbour. At times, I take his cattle for grazing when I return from school. He then used to pay me with either wheat or something and that was what I would take to my mother and grand mother for them to cook for us. We sometimes eat twice or once a day. This started even before I enrolled into school. At the time, they used to go round and pick children and enroll them by force. When they came for me, my father took me and ran away with me up to Cameroun republic. They hid me in a particular village, but we also met the same situation there: children were being forced to school by the government.

“So he took me back to my grandmother. I was concealed behind a door the day the people came back for me, but my mother’s younger brother brought me out, and took me to the residence of the village head where I was registered. That was how I got enrolled into formal education. After I started schooling, and I was even in class three, I decided to visit my father and see how he was doing. However, immediately I arrived, he told me that I was not going back because he never wanted me to enroll. He said he preferred that I commence Quoranic school and there was cattle rearing and farming to do.

“Our headmaster in Jada then reported my father to the Judge. A police guard was then given a summons for my father. They used to come along with a particular stick, which was serving as the writ of summons at the time. He took it to the ward head that also promptly summoned my father. My father was informed that we were being arrested. The guard took us to Jada; we were taken to the court, and the judge told my father you have broken the law by refusing to allow your son go back to school. He therefore sentenced him to either go to prison or pay a fine of ten shillings. My father said he had no ten shillings, and he was taken to prison. My grandmother eventually hustled and got the ten shillings and paid the fine. My father was eventually released and he went back to the village. Unfortunately, I did not get to see him again until I received the sad news of his death.

“That was how I continued with my studies and completed primary school. At the time, there was only one examination, that’s common entrance exams that was written; those who came first, second or third are taken to either Zaria or Keffi colleges. The rest up to 10 position went to Provincial College. The others are then taken to various vocational schools. After graduating, they were then given a start up capital. Honestly, I prefer this method of education, not what we have now. 

On relationship with his children, the ‘reunion,’ and them inheriting his businesses: “Honestly, there were many reasons why I started the reunion. It is not popular in this part of the world. God has blessed me with wealth and many children; more than twenty, including those I adopted. And as you know, as Islam permits, I have more than one wife, so my children have different mothers. So the essence of the reunion is to entrench unity in the family. Secondly, it affords them to know and understand each other, and, thirdly, to pity each other. Fourthly, not to tarnish the image of the descendants of the family, and fifthly, I am engaged in a lot of commercial activities. So I take the time to explain the details of my business engagements to them. 

“And I always advised them not to look at what I have, but each of them should go and fend for himself. I also advise them to pay attention to their studies.

“I have companies in countries such as Turkey and many others, so I don’t want these companies to fold up after I am dead. I wanted these companies to continue to exist, until their children also take over from them. I also tell them to know that most global companies were started by one person, but those who came after them, such as their wives and children, did not allow them to die. That is why things are still developing. In fact, I even brought in a professor from Europe who specialised in family matters to come in and deliver lecture for us.

“I also let them know that I am a Muslim, so after my death, they will have to share inheritance based on Islamic injunction. However, I advised them that everyone must allow whatever they are given in a company to continue to exist. They should just get whatever is due to them at the end of each year. I don’t want what I build to be destroyed. That is the reason for our meeting, and it is very important. Now we have a family assembly and rules and regulations for my whole family. We set up the Assembly by picking one male and one female from each ‘room’. 

On relationship with Lamido Adamawa, his father-in-law: “Our relationship started a long time ago, I think around 1980. But you know I was made Turaki of Adamawa in 1982, and my marriage to his daughter also took place on the same day. 

Adamawa state has a lot of educated people; but God has elevated you from that state, how did you survive the struggles in the state? 

“Honestly, these struggles are not good; because many felt why should it be me, who is far younger than them that will overtake them and be elevated. You know relationships among the Fulani is difficult. Honestly, they struggle against almost every prominent person in the state. As for me, I never harbour any ill feeling towards anyone; I believe that is why God protected me and gave me victory; that is why up to now, no one has succeeded against me. 

On how he ventured into business: “When I joined the Customs Service, I spent most of my time in the South, and if you look critically, you will realise that Customs work is just like business. The European that thought us the job did not teach us how to arrest people; they told us that the duty of the Customs is promote economic development of the country. So if one is found to illegally import materials into the country; you are to be fined either once or twice or even three times, but not to confiscate the goods.

“That was why I was getting a lot of revenue for the government wherever I worked. I never regard Customs work as that of confiscating people’s goods or mistreating them. You know whoever pays a heavy fine would not want to import goods illegally again. That was actually how I cut my teeth in business. 

On which companies he likes most, and which benefit him most: “There is a company called Intels, which we set up with a European partner of mine when we realised that oil and gas business is the main economic activity in Nigeria for a long time. We actually started the company from a container, but it is over 25 years old now. We just celebrated our Silver jubilee anniversary. It has expanded very well. We now have branches in Angola and Mozambique, and we will soon get into South Africa. We are also going to build the biggest port in Nigeria, Badagry, Lagos state, very soon. 

On challenges he encounters as a Northerner who set up a university: “Well, as you know, education is the most important thing in the life of any individual. I attended the meeting of former students of Unity Colleges two days ago, and I told them education is the most important sector in our life today. Whoever thinks that he has arrived simply because he has oil or gold and other mineral resources, should realize those resources will finish one day. In fact, even farming, if we are not careful, in twenty or thirty years, one can look for a land to farm and would not get. Nothing will get us out of poverty and the rest other than education.

“I even gave example of many countries that have no farmlands, no oil, and no any form of natural resources, yet they are ahead in terms of development. Look at Japan, look at Singapore; they just concentrated on education. Imagine if my father had succeeded in stopping me from going to school, I would still have been engaged in cattle rearing or still at the village; but look at what education has done for me. 

On how many people work in his companies: “Actually, they are many, because even between Port Harcourt, Warri and Lagos, we have over fifty thousand employees. Not to talk of those in Faro, University and Gotel Communications. In fact we are the only producers of recharge cards in the north. Very soon, we are going to commission a company that will produce animal feeds, the first in the north. We will build three in different parts of the north. 

Why his name is never mentioned in the list of richest Africans: “It is because I am not among the richest people in Africa, and my companies are not quoted on the stock exchange, like the way Aliko’s did. That is why not many people know what I have. 

How much he spends to run the University each month, and whether it is a profitable initiative: “Around four hundred million each month.

“It is not [profitable], maybe after until after ten or fifteen years, then one can sit down and cross check. Yet, people are still criticizing us saying the tuition fee is high. But if you look at the students, there and the vehicles their parents bought for them; you realise that it is ten times higher than the tuition fee. 

Why do you allow them to buy the cars for them? “What can we do to them? It’s a university, most of them are grown-ups, between 18 to 20 years. His father bought a car for him, and we say he cannot drive? You know it is an American School, and they have their own ways of doing things. 

You have earlier explained that you got into politics not necessarily to get into positions of authority, and you said late Shehu Yar’adua drafted you into politics, or did you already have plans to be a politician? “I think both, because, when I was at ABU, I was into student politics. I stood for election and even won. I started work and he saw how I was relating with the people and the rest; that was why he called me one day and said ‘I see that you relate well with people, can we do politics together’? 

How former President Obasanjo asked Atiku to be his running mate: “After the primary in Jos, and I was preparing to go back to Adamawa and run for governor, I was told that he wanted to see me in Abuja. So instead of going back to Yola, I went back to Abuja, and on reaching Abuja, he told me he wanted me to be his running mate, and asked if I was willing to? I thought over it and said ‘I am willing’. He then said we should go back to Jos, and inform Solomon Lar. But I said we should go with some other persons, otherwise Solomon Lar would think that I asked to be nominated. At the time, he wanted late Abubakar Rimi to be the running mate. At the same time, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Ango Abdullahi and Bamanga Tukur and Professor Jibril Aminu, all wanted to be the running mate. Obasanjo then asked some people to follow me to Jos to inform Solomon Lar, and that was what we did. 

 

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