By Abimbola Akosile.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has launched a major campaign to repair several years of damage done to his image by his erstwhile boss, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, as he traversed the United Kingdom in the last one month, talking to international opinion moulders on his true essence. The international image improvement engagements are preparatory to his declaration for a presidential run in 2019 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which THISDAY sources close to him said might not be later than the end of May.
Since Atiku fell out with Obasanjo in 2003 in the heat of their PDP presidential primaries, the latter has spared no effort in projecting his deputy as a corrupt public official, who, given the opportunity to be in command of the ship of state, would “steal the country blind.” So effective has the Obasanjo stigmatisation of Atiku been that the corruption perception became the former vice president’s albatross in his three previous presidential contests.
“Aware of the implication of tackling this matter head on this time around, we decided Atiku should make deliberate efforts to disabuse the minds of the people, particularly, the international opinion moulders, whose views could affect his chances,” a close associate of Atiku told THISDAY last week.
Although most of the engagements were passed off as business and academic meetings, in the form of lectures on economic issues of national importance to Nigeria, THISDAY sources said the main objective of the Atiku team was to divert attention away from his not too complimentary political reputation and project him as a man of great ideas, who has been wilfully misrepresented.
Consequently, a series of foreign engagements have been lined up for him, including a major economic speech at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) on April 25.
According to a statement by his media office, the keynote speech, entitled “The Importance of Strengthening State Economic Management Systems,” will unveil innovative and tangible solutions that once implemented would help Nigerian states come out from their current economic challenges and help get Nigeria working again. It said during the trip to the UK, Atiku will also give another major keynote speech at the Invest Africa and British Council for Africa “Annual Debate”. He would speak alongside Dr Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, UK Government, on the subject of “Building new trade partnerships in Africa.”
The statement noted that the speaking engagements were a follow-up to Atiku’s meeting in June of 2017 with Liam Fox and Prime Minister Theresa May, where they discussed the UK’s plan to increase trade with Nigeria post Brexit. It added that during the trip the former vice president would also be the guest of honour at a lunch on Nigerian inward investment hosted by Lord Anthony St John (former UK Minister for Africa) and be a guest speaker at Round Table of key UK business leaders interested in investing in Nigeria at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall.
The three-day trip, according to his media office, will be capped off by giving the keynote speech to UK Diaspora in the City of London on the subject of “Maximising the benefit to our economy of all our talents, wherever they may be.”
Expected to return to Nigeria early next month, Atiku, according to his associates, would immediately conclude his consultations with the major stakeholders in the party and thereafter formally launch his bid for the PDP presidential ticket.