Atiku Abubakar is a Nigerian politician, businessman and philanthropist, who served as the second elected Vice-President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007.
Abubakar worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Director, as the second highest position in the Service was then known. He retired in April 1989 and took up full-time business and politics.
Like many of his generation, Atiku's father was opposed to the idea of Western education, and tried to keep Atiku out of the traditional school system. When the government discovered that Atiku was not attending mandatory schooling his father spent a few days in jail until Aisha Kande's mother paid the fine. At the age of eight Atiku enrolled in the Jada Primary School where he performed well. In 1960, he was admitted to the prestigious Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola where he did well in English Language and Literature, struggled with Physics and Chemistry and Mathematics. He graduated with a Grade Three WASC/GCE Certificate in 1965. Following secondary school, Atiku studied a short while at the Nigeria Police College in Kaduna. He left the College when he was unable to present an O-Level Mathematics result. He worked briefly as a Tax Officer in the regional Ministry of Finance, from where he gained admission to the School of Hygiene in Kano in 1966. He graduated with a Diploma in 1967, having served as Interim Student Union President at the School. In 1967 he enrolled for a Law Diploma at the Ahmadu Bello University Institute of Administration, on a scholarship from regional government. After graduation in 1969, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was employed by the Nigeria Customs Service.
Atiku’s first foray into politics was in the early 1980s, when he worked behind-the-scenes on the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority. He canvassed for votes on behalf of Tukur, and also donated to the campaign. Towards the end of his Customs career, he met Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, who had been second-in-command of the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Atiku was drawn by Yar'Adua into the political meetings that were now happening regularly in Yar'Adua's Lagos home. 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 (none of the groups that applied was registered), and found a place within the Social Democratic Party, one of the two parties decreed into existence by the regime.
On 1 September 1990, Atiku announced his Gongola State gubernatorial bid. A year later, before the elections could hold, Gongola State was broken up into two – Adamawa and Taraba States – by the Federal Government. Atiku fell into the new Adamawa State. After an acrimonious contest he won the SDP Primaries in November 1991, but was soon disqualified by government from contesting the elections.
A similar fate – disqualification by the military – would befall Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Atiku's friend and political mentor, in his 1992 bid for the presidential primary of the SDP. With no chance of contesting for the presidency, Yar'Adua decided to push Atiku forward as the focal point of SDP's ambitions. Atiku came third in the convention primary. But because MKO Abiola, the winner, had won by only about 400 votes a run-off was due. Atiku stepped down for Abiola, asking his supporters to cast their votes for him, with an unwritten agreement that Abiola would announce Atiku as his running mate. Abiola won the SDP ticket, and announced Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up, as his running mate.
Atiku Abubakar was sworn in as Vice-President of Nigeria on 29 May 1999. He presided over the National Council on Privatization, overseeing the sale of hundreds of loss-making and poorly managed public enterprises. In 1999 he, alongside South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma, launched the South Africa Nigeria Binational Commission. In 2006, Atiku was involved in a bitter public battle with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, ostensibly arising from the latter's bid to amend certain provisions of the constitution to take another shot at the presidency (for the third consecutive time). In a November 2013 interview Atiku is quoted as saying, regarding Obasanjo's alleged attempts to justify his third term bid: "[He] informed me that 'I left power twenty years ago, I left Mubarak in office, I left Mugabe in office, I left Eyadema in office, I left Umar Bongo, and even Paul Biya and I came back and they are still in power; and I just did eight years and you are asking me to go; why?' And I responded to him by telling him that Nigeria is not Libya, not Egypt, not Cameroun, and not Togo; I said you must leave; even if it means both of us lose out, but you cannot stay." The debate and acrimony generated by the failed constitutional amendment momentarily caused a rift in the People's Democratic Party. The Nigerian National Assembly eventually voted against any amendments allowing Obasanjo to run for another term. The Atiku-Obasanjo face-off damaged the personal relationship between both men.
On 25 November 2006 Abubakar announced that he would run for president. On 20 December 2006, he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC). On 14 March 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the final list of 24 aspirants for 21 April presidential election. Abubakar's name was missing from the ballot. INEC issued a statement stating that Abubakar's name was missing because he was on a list of persons indicted for corruption by a panel set up by the government. Abubakar headed to the courts on 16 March to have his disqualification overturned. Atiku with Muhammadu Buhari. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on 16 April that INEC had no power to disqualify candidates. The ruling allowed Abubakar to contest the election, although there were concerns that it might not be possible to provide ballots with Abubakar's name by 21 April, the date of the election. On 17 April, a spokesman for INEC said that Abubakar would be on the ballot. According to official results, Abubakar took third place, behind PDP candidate Umaru Yar'Adua and ANPP candidate Muhammadu Buhari, with approximately 7% of the vote (2.6 million votes). Abubakar rejected the election results and called for its cancellation, describing it as Nigeria's "worst election ever." He stated that he would not attend Umaru Yar'Adua's inauguration on 29 May due to his view that the election was not credible, saying that he did not want to "dignify such a hollow ritual with my presence.
Following the 2007 elections, Atiku returned to the People's Democratic Party. In October 2010 he announced his intention to contest for the Presidency. On 22 November, a Committee of Northern Elders selected him as the Northern Consensus Candidate, over former Military President Ibrahim Babangida, former National Security Adviser Aliyu Gusau and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State. In January 2011, Atiku contested for the Presidential ticket of his party alongside President Jonathan and Sarah Jubril, and lost the primary, garnering 805 votes to President Jonathan's 2736.
In 1982 Atiku was awarded the chieftaincy of the Turaki of Adamawa by Adamawa’s traditional ruler, Alhaji Aliyu Mustafa. The title had previously been reserved for the monarch’s favourite prince in the palace, as the holder is in charge of the monarch’s domestic affairs.
While celebrating the 50th anniversary of the US Peace Corps in 2011, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) – an independent 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organisation, separate from the Peace Corps, that serves as an alumni association for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers – honoured Atiku with the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.
In June 2017, Atiku Abubakar was conferred the title of “Waziri” of Adamawa, and his previous title of Turaki was transferred to his son, Aliyu.