Atiku Abubakar is a Nigerian politician, businessman and philanthropist, who served as the second elected Vice-President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Early Life and Education
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.
He 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 but eventually dying in 1984 of heart attack.
Atiku’s father did not let him go to school because he opposed western education. When the government discovered this, his father was arrested and jailed.
Atiku then got registered into Jada Primary School at the age of eight. After his primary school, he 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 the West African School Certificate Examination. Atiku Abubakar then proceeded to Nigerian Police College, Kaduna but left because he was unable to present an O-level mathematics result.
He left the college to work as a Tax Officer in the Regional Ministry of Finance and later got admission to study at the School of Hygiene Kano in 1966.
He notably served as Student Union President. 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.
Atiku Abubakar has four wives. He secretly married his first wife, Amina Titilayo Albert, at the young age of 25 in December 1971 at the Ikoyi registry in Lagos because her family was opposed the union.
In 1979, he married Ladi Yakubu as his second wife but later divorced her. He went ahead to take a third wife in 1983. He married the daughter of the late Lamido of Adamawa, Princess Rukaiyatu. In 1986, he married his fourth wife, Fatima Shettima.
Due to his divorce to Ladi, he went ahead to take another wife, Jennifer Iwenjora who later changed her name to Jamila Atiku-Abubakar.
According to reports, Atiku has 26 children from his five wives. The former vice president explained in his book why he opted for polygamy as a young man. He said:
“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 brothers, my sisters, my friends and my advisers and they complement one another”.
Customs Career and Business Ventures
Atiku Abubakar was in charge of the Lagos Airport, Apapa Ports, Ibadan Customs Command. Later, he moved to the North and served in the Kano Command, then to Maiduguri, as Area Comptroller, then to Kaduna and back to Apapa Ports.
In 1987 Atiku was promoted to the post of a Deputy Director in charge of Enforcement and Drugs. In April 1989, aged 43, Atiku voluntarily retired from Customs.
While still a Customs Officer, Atiku engaged in different businesses. From real estate to agriculture and then trading.
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 Atiku.
Atiku’s first involvement in politics was in the early 1980s. He worked on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority.
Towards the end of his Customs career, Atiku met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second-in-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku and Yar’Adua attended political meetings together regularly.
In 1989, Atiku 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.
Atiku 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.
In 1990, Atiku announced his Gongola State gubernatorial bid but before the elections could hold, Gongola State was broken up into two:
Adamawa and Taraba States. Atiku fell into the new Adamawa State and after an acrimonious contest he won the SDP Primaries but was soon disqualified by government from contesting the elections. In 1992, Atiku was to contest in a presidential election, but stepped down for MKO Abiola.
In 1998, Atiku won election as the Governor of Adamawa State, but before his swearing-in, he was called by the PDP’s presidential candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo to be his running-mate. Obasanjo and Atiku eventually won the election on February 27, 1999, and Atiku became the vice president of Nigeria on May 29, 1999.
Atiku Abubakar has since unsuccessfully ran for president 3 times after leaving the office of the Vice President of Nigeria.
Conflict of interest accusations have trailed Atiku because of his involvement in business while a civil servant, who exercised supervisory authority. Atiku 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 leveled against Atiku by the US government during his Vice Presidency.
In 2006, Atiku was involved in a bitter public battle with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, arising from Obasanjo’s back stabbing and power hungry accusations leveled towards Atiku.
Also, Obasanjo’s bid to amend certain provisions of the constitution to take another shot at the presidency was not welcomed by his Vice President.