What Happened To Mama Taraba? By Azu Ishiekwene
Last September, the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, fondly called “Mama Taraba”, had led a team of loyalists on a Sallah visit to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
I had to read the story twice to be sure that the minister had not overdosed on the remedial political treatment she received at the hands of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Here was what she said to Atiku during that visit: “Our father and our President by the grace of God come 2019. Before you are your people, your supporters for life, and the people of TarabaState; they are here to pay homage and to greet you on the occasion of Sallah and for all that Allah has done for you because Allah has raised your status.”
She went on to say how she was an Atiku Abubakar born through and through, and how the only way for her to repay Atiku’s kindness was to invest herself in his presidential ambition in 2019.
The video went viral, with expectations of a backlash. But she held her ground and told the BBC Hausa Service: “Since I was in the civil service, His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, has been my mentor and godfather. He has remained so even now that I have joined politics. There is a reason for every political relationship.
“Baba Buhari has not told anybody that he is contesting in 2019. I can assure you that today, if Baba Buhari says he is going to contest, wallahi tallahi (I swear by Allah), I will go and kneel down before him and say, ‘Baba, I am grateful for the opportunity you have given me to serve as a minister in your administration but Baba, like you know, Atiku is my godfather.’
“If Atiku says he is going to contest – but he too has not said he will contest…why I said (Atiku) is ‘our President come 2019’, is that we expect that he will contest. But if he contests, I will go and do what I just told you I will do.”
The NWC of the APC was so embarrassed by Alhassan’s comment it summoned and admonished her behind closed doors. The official word was that she apologised. However, given the depth of her conviction that there was no turning back from Atiku, not a few thought her apology was a backhanded excuse for time to pack her things. Her position was no longer tenable.
It didn’t even seem she would get the courtesy to pack. Ultra-Buhari loyalists, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and his Ogun State counterpart, Ibikunle Amosun, lounged at Mama Taraba, accusing her of betrayal and adding that they knew that it was only a matter of time before her sin would expose her.
All of that now must be in the past. It is not just its being in the past that is surprising; it is the extraordinary capitulation of Mama Taraba. In what must rank as one of the most intriguing political turnarounds of all time, Mama Taraba moved 360 degrees from declaring that there was no turning back from following Atiku, to becoming one of the leading cheerleaders of Buhari and the APC.
The ruling party, she has now said, will not only rule, but will rule forever. What happened? Was there something at her meeting with the NWC that inspired this complete change of heart and audacity of her forecast? Or is there something Atiku has done?
If politicians have taught us anything at all, it is that we shouldn’t take them too seriously. But at what point do we need to tell them enough is enough, that they should not take us for their fool’s ride?
Mama Taraba can change her mind as many times as she wishes. She can go from APC to PDP to ADC to nPDP and back to APC in the same day. That’s fine. But to say that any party will rule forever because she is overdosing on privilege and access to power is ridiculous.
A woman of her standing does not need to run a fool’s errand to remain in reckoning – and I thought that was the point she tried to make in that sober moment when backstabbers went after her.
Of course, voters will be pleased to return a party that is doing well to power for as long as it keeps its promises. Or at least is making an honest effort to do so. But that vote is earned, not appropriated by a party that assumes immortality in the face of shambolic congresses, internal rebellion and a deepening sense of disaffection amongst members of the public.
Surely, Mama Taraba knows a certain Vincent Ogbulafor, one former chairman of the People’s Democratic Party. At the height of his reign, he said PDP was unbeatable and, well, by the standards of political longevity, immortal. He said the party would rule for 60 years and only after that would it begin to consider whether or not to give up power.
At the time he said this, the party was rotting from the inside; its vital organs had been badly infected by the virus of impunity, corruption and a deadly power struggle between a few powerful governors and an isolated president.
But this Ogbulafor, like his party, wasn’t looking. He didn’t care. Or was he in denial? As it turned out, he did not last till the end of his tenure; and his boast about PDP’s immortality was the last notable joke before the party was swept away from power.
If Mama Taraba has decided to stick with the APC, abandoning her godfather Atiku to his fate, that’s OK. I’m not sure that Atiku, himself a serial defector, would feel betrayed at all. But she should just stop at saying she has decided to stay on, and save us the insult of presuming that we’re condemned to any one party for the rest of our lives.
Those who called her a betrayer when she vowed to stick with Atiku will only see her recent extravagant comment as a confirmation that she cannot be trusted. How is anyone to believe that this was not planned with Atiku ahead of another last-minute surprise?
Yet, Atiku partisans, so used to fair weather friends, might on their part see Mama Taraba’s about turn as just another payback in a familiar political currency.
It doesn’t matter in politics, does it? As long as you get what you want. Heads or tails, Mama Taraba is diminished by her inconstancy.