The Mistake That Might Cost Atiku the 2023 Presidency

Updated: Dec 29, 2022
By Abdullahi Malumfashi
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I felt I should leave Lagos for him. In fact, I could easily have taken over Lagos, but I did not.

Atiku Abubakar, 2018

The year was 2003. 

The duo of Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar were gearing up for their reelection campaign. The two had a falling out, but all that was over (it required some prostration and begging). The aim was to be re-elected, and all other issues will be sorted out later. Except there was one problem. 

Their party, the PDP is not popular in the South West, where Obasanjo hailed from. Even though the party won the Presidential elections with the bulk of the votes coming from the North West in 1999, it lost the South West. 


Heck, Obasanjo even lost his polling booth to the AD candidate, Olu Falae who was seen as the Yoruba candidate. To avoid seeming defeat and further embarrassment, Obasanjo gave his running mate the orders to recapture the West.

And recapture he did. All the South West States fell like a House of cards. 






All except the almighty Lagos. 

As Atiku will later explain in 2018, he had the chance to take the state, but didn’t.

When we came to power in 1999 South-western states were controlled by the AD. And when we were approaching the 2003 elections, I told my boss, give me the chance to take over the South-west. And he gave me that authority, and I took all the states with the exception of Lagos. Why? Because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and I came a long way from the SDP, PDM, and all of that, and I felt I should leave Lagos for him. In fact, I could easily have taken over Lagos, but I did not.

That was in 2018 when Atiku was contesting against Buhari, whom Tinubu helped bring to power.

Atiku has since regretted his decision, but it proves far too late. The single decision not to snatch Lagos in 2003 when their party had the resources, the Federal might, and the manpower to do so comes back to haunt him in 2023.

If anything, that decision made Tinubu what he is today; the Jagaban. The creation of 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) and the later withholding of the state’s allocation, the implementation of the Lagos Blueprint all wouldn’t have been possible if Tinubu had not been reelected.

Most importantly, without being reelected in 2003, Jagaban’s political empire wouldn’t have been formed. 

Since leaving office in 2007, Tinubu has dedicated his resources and might to expanding his empire. From having the whole South West in his purse to spreading his tentacles to the North. Supporting Badaru in Jigawa to Oshiomole in Edo or Faleke in Kogi (nearly), and Mai Mala Buni in Yobe, you name it. The experienced politician has spread his influence to all regions of the country.

While Atiku was busy contesting for elections — including ironically on Tinubu’s AC platform in 2007 when he was denied a ticket by his own party — Tinubu was simply bidding his time and getting his cards right.

And the time is here. 

Apart from the fact that he has a nationwide network of supporters, he is the only one who can match Waziri’s wealth and influence. 

Tinubu might be contesting for the first time, but he has been strategizing long for what he considers a lifelong ambition’. These include amassing massive amounts of wealth and influence, making deals with Presidential candidates — sometimes at the detriment of his own part—and simply waiting for the right time.

The man has succeeded in backing the eventual winners of every Presidential Election since 2011 including dethroning a sitting one.

That alone speaks volumes of the man’s readiness. 

The biggest mistake of Atiku turns out to be the trump card Tinubu needs. Without 2003, the man won’t have become ‘Nigeria’s Machiavelli’. 

A mere look at the list of 1999 Governors who were dethroned in 2003 will convince you.

Is it the Elder statesman Olusegun Osoba of Ogun who is politically relevant, or Tinubu’s ally from Osun, Bisi Akande? The only member of the class of 1999 governors who is still active politically is Niyi Adebayo, Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. 

Guess who influenced his appointment? You guessed right, the Jagaban.

While Atiku has to contend with many other mistakes that might hinder his ambition, including ceding his rights of selecting a running mate to a committee, and many other gaffes and blunders, the choice of not snatching Lagos when he had the chance will forever remain the biggest.

Perhaps it will haunt him forever.

Time will tell.

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