What could be the root of the fresh romance between Vice President Abubakar Atiku and former dicator Ibrahim Babangida? They both have ambitions that are in direct opposition, yet Atiku sudddenly claims they are best of friends. They both face serious political, economic and personal threats that other presidential candidates do not suffer.
A strange romance that started just a few months ago between strange bed fellows has turned into a for-better-for-worse relationship. The seriousness of the association between Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former dictator General Ibrahim Babangida was highlighted by the recent publicized comments by the Vice President that President Olusegun Obasanjo was after him and his friends, with an unmistakable mention of Babangida's name.
It is slightly surprising that with the kind of problems facing Atiku, he would want to associate himself with a deeply divisive figure like Babangida. However, the truth is that their friendship has waxed so strong in the past months that one wonders what could lie at the end of the tunnel of their friendship.
When Atiku's offsprings married in Abuja a few months ago, the Babangida's were played prominent roles, with Maryam Babangida directing the cutting of the cake and other details of the ceremony. The wedding came only a few weeks after the the brewing association was become public knowledge.
There is no doubt that the third term bid of President Obasanjo created a natural bond between the Evil Genius and Atiku Abubakar. Atiku, a heavyweight in his own right, was not strong enough alone to face the fiery onslaught of the third termers, and need a buffer to withstand the political tsunami that confronted him. Towards the end of 2005, all kinds of strange political alliances were formed, particularly among the most determined presidential aspirants. Babangida and another former military dicatator, Mohammadu Buhari, also became friends, even publicly after years of mutual disaffection caused by Babangida's ouster of Buhari from power. Among other moves, Abia State Governor, Orji Kalu, Buhari and Babangida held meetings directed at thwarting the third term. But soon after the third term fragmented, so did the alliances among foes.
Not so for the Atiku-Babangida friendship. But Atiku Abubakar and Babangida's relationship is difficult to fathom.
They both have presidential aspirations that are directly in opposition. The victory of one is the loss of the other. They both belong to the ruling PDP of which there can only emerge one candidate. They both come from the same political region, of which there will be only one candidate. And they both know it's one or the other.
It is safe to say that it will be impossible for Babangida to vie as a Vice Presidential candidate to anybody, not even Atiku. Having served as Vice President for eight years, it equally inconceivable that Atiku would want to be Babangida's lackey for another four years, and possible eight years, making a total of possible 16 years in the lower saddle.
Both men want the ultimate power, and neither would give in. So, what's behind the friendship?
The only plausible explanation is the one given by Atiku himself - that they are both vulnerable for past misdeeds, even more than the other candidates such as Buhari or Kalu.
Atiku's fate is hanging in the balance as a result of investigations into his financial activities. There is a the continuing investigation in the United States about his involvement in a bribery scandal, in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation now claims Atiku asked for at least half of the profits of a technology company controlled by US congressman William Jefferson.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Maryland home of the vice president of Nigeria last summer in search of bribe money that the bureau believed had been paid to him by Representative William Jefferson. The documents included an affidavit signed by an F.B.I. agent who said that the Nigerian Vice President asked for at least half of the profits of a technology company controlled by Mr. Jefferson that was seeking to do business in Nigeria.
The investigation is the noose with which his boss, Obasanjo, may eventually hang him to nail his lifeless political body in a coffin. The EFCC is believed to be gathering materials with which to prosecute Atiku, on the basis of which Atiku made a loud noise he was about to be crucified along with Babangida.
Evidence gathered for the case are reportedly stolen from the EFCC office during a burglary, the like of which has rarely been seen in Nigeria. Not to worry, the EFCC announced the original documents were safe, meaning Atiku is still in a lot of trouble.
His friend, Babangida is believed to be an untouchable, and the fact that Atiku would say the former dicator is under the searchlight of financial crimes investigators is a major development. If it were not true, Atiku would hardly have mentioned it. And if it were true, then it becomes easy to see the yoke between these rivals.
Babangida, in spite of his public face, is in Obasanjo's bad book. It may be too much to credit Babangida with the fall of the third term bid, but he played a role in it. In fact, he spoke openly against it. And now that Obasanjo has accepted his fate, he lies like a wounded snake waiting for any of his adversaries to cross the line. That line, Babangida has hesitate to cross so far. His presidential ambition has been all over the news for months, but the much-awaited declaration has never matured. Is Babangida scared? Perhaps so. Afterall, the bigger you are, the harder the fall.
These are delicate times for Atiku and Babangida. It seems their binding together is borne out of a need to raise a strong opposition to an impending public disgrace through prosecution for financial crimes. Birds of a feather flock together.