TRIBUTE: Atiku Abubakar At 74

By Nourah Bamalli

His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, who turns 74 years on November 25, 2020, has remained a household name in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, who is celebrated throughout the nation, both in the political arena and business circles. Atiku isone of the most scrutinized public figures in the country; in fact, hardly a day passes without a news item about him; yet, he has remained resolute and focused in his service to humanity. Nigerians and indeed the international community have spent considerable time and resources discussing and analyzing his political and business life, but have not adequately captured the personal attributes of this great philanthropist. Numerous attempts have been made by writers and public analysts to frame the Atiku legend in a one-size-fits-all definition, but this approach fails to describe the essence of Atiku. To celebrate his birthday, Nigerians should understand how Atiku has demonstrated balanced excellence and mastered the art of pursuing multiple tasks at once – be it family, business, politics, education or philanthropy, while also harmonizing each one smoothly and successfully.

A foreign reporter, in his research, discovered that Atiku is oneNigerian leader who is popularly addressed, even in official capacity, by his first name. This is true, because for Atiku,accessibility wins the day; he views hierarchies as mere rigidity, old-fashioned and perhaps even outdated in the digital age. Already Nigerians have since recognized and always appreciateAtiku for reaching out to the different sections of the country and identifying with the diverse social and cultural groups, where he is recognized to be playing the important role of a stabilizer and supporter of all generations, and collectively they look up to him, as a mentor and a different individual from the other political leaders. In fact, the moment the name “Atiku” is heard, it becomes unmistakable as to who is being mentioned!

As a poor orphan, Atiku worked hard to rear cattle and other menial works to support himself and his extended family, which turned out to be the beginning of a successful take-off in his life. He soon became self-sufficient through prudence and resilience, with the ability to meet his growing needs and also, in turn, support in moderation, his loved ones. His early maturity and financial independence strengthened the ties of kinship, as well as extended the hands of fellowship to the needy and the wayfarers. Anyone who desired assistance from him, both secretly and openly, without the least fear of deprivation, scarcity or lack, was helped. From childhood, Atiku had clearly understood the concept that one is more blessed to give than to receive. This early childhood experience instilled in him the popular saying that “one makes a living, or career, from what one gets”; but more importantly for Atiku, it is “one makes a life, or place in the hearts and minds of others, from what one gives.”

Upon beginning to understand Atiku, one immediately recognizes his standards for excellence and amazing quality in anything he does or gets involved. He has a high level of integrity of purpose, simplicity and broadmindedness, and has infectious optimism and an unwavering strong belief in the goodness of the human spirit. Atiku is cheerful and respectful to all, open-minded and objective on issues, deep in analysis on business ideas and proposals, and is fully equipped to take business decisions and risks, even if the objective is simply to create job opportunities for unemployed. Atiku does not give credence to rumors, always preferring to make decisions on a well-investigated, informed and defended case, which has been established on sound ground and can stand the test of time. Atiku is patient in his relationships, much as he is firm and dynamic in nurturing associations. He is one of the few leaders who always sees the good in people who come in contact or serve him directly or as employees in his establishments.

Despite his extremely busy national and international schedules, Atiku still manages to balance his professional and personal activities. He makes time to pay social, anniversary and condolence visits to his associates and members of his empire and well-wishers, with care and sympathy. He is well known for cultivating, nurturing, cherishing and maintaining relationships for life. Among several examples to draw from, only recently, Atiku was among the last important personalities to pay their respects to late Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, the former CBN Governor and Minister, on his death bed at a hospital in Abuja.It was a relationship Atiku had maintained since his days in Secondary School when the late Adamu Ciroma was the District Officer in Jimeta and Atiku was given an opportunity for temporary holiday work, in the office of the District Officer. Atiku never forgets the past and will never forsake a friend, no matter the circumstances. He has a generous heart that forgives and forgets easily and will not recall past transgressions; instead he focuses on the positive future.

Most of the time when Atiku comes to his home town, in Adamawa, he demonstrates this exceptional quality of spending time to pay respect to his school and classmates, nurturing friendships dating back 60 years or more. Most of them look old enough to be his uncles and many of them have not had a verycomfortable life, yet, the billionaire will meet them at their homes and sit and dine with them. In addition to the visits, Atiku also extends regular welfare packages to them, and for those who are deceased, to their living family members. Although Atiku has kept this action as anonymous, the news of his generosity, in this regard, comes from the beneficiaries, who choose to discuss freely, as their means of appreciation and invitation for public prayers to Atiku and his family.

The media has always portrayed Atiku as fabulously rich and famous, and understandably so. More significantly, he is a natural born giver, who enjoys rendering a helping hand whenever the opportunity calls; his magnanimity knows no bounds. Many people have, however, commented variously that, as much as this unusual virtue of Atiku is enjoyed by the recipients, they have speculated that the beneficiaries have deliberately taken undue advantage of such charitableness and exploited it. The argument further claims that Atiku usesgenerosity to his advantage as a means to win people’s hearts.However, this speculation only confirms the allegation is mere envy from those who are stingy and self-centered, those who find it hard to do what Atiku is doing, unless there is direct benefit or prompting. For Atiku, he has remained unperturbed and has continued to remain grateful to his Creator, for making him the giver, who acts mostly anonymously and with a high sense of altruism.

The story behind Atiku’s support for American-style education dates back to his days as a schoolboy. Coincidently, that was also the first time for him to witness electricity in his life, when they were brought to Jimeta town from the village. He was among the selected students across his region to participate in the activities of the American Peace Corps volunteer program. During the interactive sessions with the Americans, Atiku noted the unusual and peculiar ways and approaches of the American liberal education, both towards knowledge sharing and idea development. From that early experience, which was formative of Atiku, he became an advocate for American-style education, and always had the dream to bring this style of education to Nigeria. In 2004, his wishes were fulfilled – he established the American University of Nigeria, which has already become a national and continental Center of Excellence, attracting the best and brightest students, teachers and staff. The university, variously described as the ‘Smartest and Best University Campus in Nigeria’ has already graduated students in hundreds, both at undergraduate and graduate levels, soon about to graduate its first set of PhD students.

His Excellency Atiku Abubakar GCON is a living example of the quote by C.S. Lewis, “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.” Although he came from a modest background and suffered hardships, it was these experiences that transformed him from an ordinary person to an extraordinary champion of many causes and a celebrated businessman, politician and great philanthropist. Atiku has given many gifts to Nigeria and Nigerians, across business, economics, healthcare, education, philanthropy and employmentgeneration; and the best gift we can give back to Atiku is a sustainable and growing nation.

With the right and experienced leadership in place, supported by the requisite political skills in the likes of Atiku, it is my prayer that this century may see Nigeria take its rightful place in the global arena, in a leadership role in international affairs,alongside other powerful nations, to once again make Nigeria the Giant that it was destined to be.

I conclude by joining his family members, friends and other well-wishers across the globe, in wishing His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar GCON, a joyous celebration and to appreciate him for his selfless service to the nation.


Happy Birthday, and many happy returns!


Bamalli can be reached  on




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