Meet the standard flag bearer of the opposition party PDP
Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 to a Fulani trader and farmer Garba Abubakar, and his second wife, Aisha Kande, in Jada village of Adamawa State. Atiku Abubakar became the only child of his parents when his only sister died at infancy. Atiku’s father and mother divorced before his father died in 1957 and his mother remarried.
Eventually, his mother died in 1984 of heart attack. Atiku Abubakar could not start school when he ought to because his father was opposed to him obtaining western education. When his not going to school was noticed, his father was arrested and jailed until he paid a fine. Consequently, Atiku Abubakar got registered into Jada Primary School at the age of eight. After his primary school, Atiku was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School Yola in the year 1960. He later finished his Secondary school in 1965 after he made Grade Three in West African School Certificate Examination. Atiku Abubakar then proceeded to Nigerian Police College, Kaduna. He left the college for a work as Tax Officer in the Regional Ministry of Finance.
Later he got admission to study at the School of Hygiene Kano in 1966. In 1967, he graduated with a Diploma. That same year, Atiku Abubakar was admitted for a Law Diploma at Ahmadu Bello University on a scholarship. He graduated in 1969 and got employed in the Nigerian Custom Service that same year.
● Marriages and family
While at Idi-Iroko, Abubakar met nineteen-year-old Titilayo Albert, who he secretly married in December 1971, in Lagos, because her family was initially opposed to the union. On 26 October 1972, Titilayo delivered a baby girl they named Fatima. She later gave birth to Adamu, Halima and Aminu.
In January 1979 he married Ladi Yakubu as his second wife. “I wanted to expand the Abubakar family. I felt extremely lonely as a child. I had no brother and no sister. I did not want my children to be as lonely as I was. This is why I married more than one wife. My wives are my sisters, my friends, and my advisers and they complement one another,” Abubakar has said. He has six children with Ladi: Abba, Atiku, Zainab, Ummi-Hauwa, Maryam and Rukayatu.
In 1983 he married his third wife, Princess Rukaiyatu, daughter of the late Lamido of Adamawa. She gave birth to AIsha, Hadiza, Aliyu (named after her late father), Asmau, Mustafa, Laila and Abdulsalam. His fourth wife, Fatima Shettima, followed in 1986. Fatima gave birth to her first child Amina (Meena), Mohammed and two sets of twins Ahmed and Shehu, Zainab and Aisha then her last daughter Hafsat.
Abubakar later divorced Ladi, allowing him to marry, as his fourth wife (the maximum permitted him as a Muslim), Jennifer.
Abubakar 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 Abubakar. Conflict of interest accusations have since trailed him on account of his involvement in business while a civil servant, who exercised supervisory authority.
On his part, Abubakar has defended the decision, saying his involvement was limited to the ownership of shares (which government rules permitted), and that he was not involved in day-to-day running of the business. NICOTES would later be rebranded INTELS, and go on to feature prominently in accusations of money laundering levelled against Abubakar by the U.S. government during his Vice Presidency.
Abubakar’s business empire also includes a beverage manufacturing plant in Yola, as well as an animal feed factory.
Abubakar’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. Abubakar was drawn by Yar’Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yar’Adua’s Lagos home. In 1989 Abubakar 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.
Abubakar 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.
■■ First governorship run (1990)
On 1 September 1990, Abubakar announced his Gongola State gubernatorial bid. A year later, before the elections could hold, Gongola State was broken up into two – Adamawa and Taraba States – by the Federal Government. Abubakar fell into the new Adamawa State. After the contest he won the SDP Primaries in November 1991, but was soon disqualified by government from contesting the elections.
■■ First presidential run (1992)
A similar fate – disqualification by the military – would befall Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abubakar’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 Abubakar forward as the focal point of SDP’s ambitions. Abubakar came third in the convention primary. But because MKO Abiola, the winner, had won by only about 400 votes a run-off was due. Abubakar stepped down for Abiola, asking his supporters to cast their votes for him, with an unwritten agreement that Abiola would announce Abubakar as his running mate. Abiola won the SDP ticket, and announced Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up, as his running mate.
■■ Second governorship run (1998)
In 1998 Abubakar launched a bid for the governorship of Adamawa State on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party. He won the December 1998 elections, but before he could be sworn in he was tapped by the PDP’s presidential candidate, former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo, as his vice-presidential candidate. The Obasanjo-Abubakar ticket won the 27 February 1999 presidential election with 62.78 percent of the vote.
■■Vice Presidency (1999–2007)
Abubakar was sworn in as Vice-President of Nigeria on 29 May 1999. He presided over the National Council on Privatization, overseeing the sale of hundreds of loss-making and poorly managed public enterprises.
In 1999 he, alongside South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, launched the South Africa Nigeria Binational Commission.
In 2006, Abubakar was involved in a bitter public battle with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, ostensibly arising from the latter’s bid to amend certain provisions of the constitution to take another shot at the presidency (for the third consecutive time).
In a November 2013 interview Abubakar is quoted as saying, regarding Obasanjo’s alleged attempts to justify his third term bid: “He informed me that ‘I left power twenty years ago, I left Mubarak in office, I left Mugabe in office, I left Eyadema in office, I left Umar Bongo, and even Paul Biya and I came back and they are still in power; and I just did eight years and you are asking me to go; why?’ And I responded to him by telling him that Nigeria is not Libya, not Egypt, not Cameroun, and not Togo; I said you must leave; even if it means both of us lose out, but you cannot stay.”
The debate and acrimony generated by the failed constitutional amendment momentarily caused a rift in the People’s Democratic Party. The Nigerian National Assembly eventually voted against any amendments allowing Obasanjo to run for another term.
The Abubakar-Obasanjo face-off damaged the personal relationship between both men.
■■ Second presidential run (2006–2007)
On 25 November 2006 Abubakar announced that he would run for president. On 20 December 2006, he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC).
On 14 March 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the final list of 24 aspirants for 21 April presidential election. Abubakar’s name was missing from the ballot. INEC issued a statement stating that Abubakar’s name was missing because he was on a list of persons indicted for corruption by a panel set up by the government. Abubakar headed to the courts on 16 March to have his disqualification overturned. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on 16 April that INEC had no power to disqualify candidates.
The ruling allowed Abubakar to contest the election, although there were concerns that it might not be possible to provide ballots with Abubakar’s name by 21 April, the date of the election. On 17 April, a spokesman for INEC said that Abubakar would be on the ballot.
According to official results, Abubakar took third place, behind PDP candidate Umaru Yar’Adua and ANPP candidate Muhammadu Buhari, with approximately 7% of the vote (2.6 million votes). Abubakar rejected the election results and called for its cancellation, describing it as Nigeria’s “worst election ever.”
He stated that he would not attend Umaru Yar’Adua’s inauguration on 29 May due to his view that the election was not credible, saying that he did not want to “dignify such a hollow ritual with my presence.”
■■ Third presidential run (2018)
Atiku declared his candidacy under the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria and won the presidential ticket on October 7, 2018. He won the ticket with 1, 532 delegate votes
● Honours and awards
In 1982 Abubakar was awarded the chieftaincy of the Turaki of Adamawa by Adamawa’s traditional ruler, Alhaji Aliyu Mustafa. The title had previously been reserved for the monarch’s favourite prince in the palace, as the holder is in charge of the monarch’s domestic affairs.
In 2011, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the US Peace Corps in 2011, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) – an independent nonprofit organisation, separate from the Peace Corps, that serves as an alumni association for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers – honoured Abubakar with the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
At the presentation of the award, the National Peace Corps Association described Abubakar as one individual who contributed to the development of higher education on the continent of Africa. “No private businessman in Africa has worked harder for democracy or contributed more to the progress of higher education than Atiku Abubakar,” the NPCA said.
In June 2017, Abubakar was awarded the chieftaincy title of the Waziri of Adamawa, and his previous title of Turaki was transferred to his son, Aliyu.
● Social media
Abubakar has been active on Twitter since the 2011 elections, but stepped up his engagement in May 2013. In August 2013, he became the only second Nigerian politician to be verified, after Lagos State Governor Tunde Fashola. As at November 2015, he had more than 390,000 followers. He currently has 450,000 Facebook fans. Also in 2013, he launched a blog.
In an August 2013 post, he shared his views on the role and relevance of social media to governance and democracy in Nigeria.