The age long frosty relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his erstwhile deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, ended with Obasanjo endorsing him as his preferred candidate for the 2019 election. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the implication of this act by the two new lovebirds ahead of the 2019 election
Many Nigerians still see former Vice President Atiku Abubabakar as a corrupt leader, no thanks to the ‘’corruption’’ tag on him by his boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, while the duo was still in government. Obasanjo alleged that he was unaware of Atiku’s activities until law enforcement agencies in the United States of America alerted his government. He added that the allegations by the Americans were justified since Atiku is a fugitive in US. “I don’t know if he can go to America…He travels? Travels to where? To Dubai? Let him go to America and return to Nigeria,” Obasanjo said reacting to his travel ban.
Obasanjo had, on different instances, vowed that he would never support Atiku’s political dreams of becoming Nigeria’s president in the upcoming 2019 election. Without mincing words Obasanjo said: “How can I be on the same side with Atiku?” Obasanjo asked. “To do what? If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support.”
Obasanjo, however, rejected all notions that his remarks could be deemed too personal, coming as 2019 presidential campaign gathers steam with Atiku amongst the front-runners.
Basically, it is no longer news that Obasanjo and Atiku had had estranged relationship over the years despite the fact that Atiku had sought to reconcile with his former boss. Some people even believe Obasanjo is out to kill Atiku politically. The former president, though retired is also believed to be very influential in the political scene in Nigeria. His support is also believed to be critical to anybody contesting for the presidency under Nigeria’s present political configuration. By and large, the relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku became frosty towards the twilight of the Obasanjo’s administration which ran from 1999 till 2007. It was also alleged that Atiku had worked against the third term agenda purportedly muted by his then boss. Obasanjo too had since not supported all Atiku’s earlier efforts at becoming the president. And since then there had been no love lost between the two, according to the popular maxim.
Atiku, few minutes after his emergence as the PDP flag bearer in the Garden City of Port Harcourt being a smart and dogged politician quickly reached out to his former boss, in his acceptance speech.
Atiku said: “On a personal note, I would not have been standing where I am today if my former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, had not made me his vice president.” Atiku’s words were clearly to woo his ex-boss, who had minced no words in saying he would never support him to become President, all in a bid to bolster his arsenal ahead of the battle ahead. Just when Nigerians were made to believe that that the bitter relationship between the Obasanjo and Atiku would never end; the serene precinct of Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta came alive with the visit of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, the general overseer of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, Bishop David Oyedepo, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi, Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and national chairman, (PDP) Uche Secondus, amongst other top political wits who joined him in a meeting with Obasanjo.
During the meeting, Obasanjo buried the hatchet, reiterating that he had not only forgiven Atiku, but he was ready to support him in actualising his dream of becoming the country’s president. Obasanjo said among the presidential aspirants, the former vice-president, had the widest exposure, experience and machinery to match the dirty campaign ahead. He equally said Atiku had the capacity to perform better than President Muhammadu Buhari, because he had business experience and could formulate business-friendly policies and create employment opportunities. He averred that his (Atiku’s) links across the country and internationally should make him shun nepotism. Obasanjo said the PDP presidential candidate had done much damage to the government then, the party and against the country, than he did to him and revealed that Atiku was meant to succeed him in 2007 but that never happened given the frosty relationship.Defending himself, the former president said he had to take the decision he took then in the interest of the nation. He said, “Let me start by congratulating President-to-be, Atiku Abubakar, for his success at the recent PDP Primary and I took note of his gracious remarks in his acceptance speech that it all started here.”
According to him, “Yes, when it started, it was meant for Atiku to succeed Obasanjo. In the presence of these distinguished leaders of goodwill today, let me say it openly that we have reviewed what went wrong on the side of Atiku.“And in all honesty, my former vice-president has rediscovered and repositioned himself. As I have repeatedly said, it is not so much what you did against me that was the issue but what you did against the party, the government and the country. “I took the stand I had taken based on the character and attributes you exhibited in the position you found yourself. I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position.
“From what transpired in the last couple of hours or so, you have shown remorse; you have asked for forgiveness and you have indicated that you have learnt some good lessons and you will mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable. “Whenever or wherever you might have offended me, as a Christian who asks for God’s forgiveness of my sins and inadequacies on a daily basis, I forgive and I sincerely advise you to learn from the past and do what is right and it will be well with you. Obviously, you have mended fences with the party and fully reconciled with the party. That’s why today, you are the Presidential candidate of the party.” Obasanjo, however, advised Atiku to work with other PDP presidential aspirants, making them part of his campaign team. He also told the former vice-president to mend fences, wherever necessary both nationally and internationally, warning him to expect dirt from the opposition. Obasanjo noted that if Atiku continued with his current attitude, getting support both within and outside the country would be very easy, offering to offer assistance where required.
“In addition to appreciating all that the party has done for you, may I advise you to work together with all those who contested the party’s flag with you as a team for your campaign. “There are still areas, nationally and internationally, where you have to mend fences and make amends. You will know how to handle what is already out and what may yet be put out by the opposition. “But I am convinced that if you continue with the attitude that brought you here with these distinguished leaders of goodwill, with remorse and contrite heart, the rest of the coast within and outside the country can be cleared. Speaking during the meeting Atiku, who described the visit as historic for himself, Obasanjo and the country, said he could not have been what he was today without the wise counsel of his former boss and the opportunity he offered him to be the vice-president. He said it was time they worked together so that the country could be repositioned on the path of unity, truth and prosperity. Describing the day as one of the happiest days of his life, Atiku promised that if he becomes the president, he would continue from where the Obasanjo presidency stopped in 2007.
In a swift response to the meeting between Obasanjo and Atiku, an Abia State gubernatorial aspirant under the platform of Action Democratic Party (ADP) Pastor Okey Udo, in an exclusively interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend said Nigerians were now wiser. He alleged that the elder statesmen were regrouping to loot the nation’s commonwealth. According to him, ‘’they are all old folks that are trying to change their garment and come back to power, but Nigerians are fully aware of their antics, ADP will take over power in 2019. ‘’Burying the hatchet and mending fences is good for the nation’s progress, but we all know that they don’t mean well for us. It also does not mean that they have changed their antics. Mending their frosty relationship is just a way to re-loot the nation’s common wealth.’’ He, however, called on Nigerians to vote wisely in the 2019 general election. Reacting to the development, the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation said the PDP presidential candidate and some religious leaders as “a confederate of desperate power mongers and questionable characters who wish to return us to the era of unbridled corruption.” The director, Strategic Communications of the Buhari Campaign, Festus Keyamo (SAN), said it was significant that the meeting was held in a building which had become the symbol of corruption of the Obasanjo years, where a sitting President collected money from known government hangers-on and contractors to build a “Presidential Library” in clear violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
He said the organisation was inclined to dismiss the gathering and “endorsement” as a complete non-event but that it felt it had a responsibility to Nigerians to remind them of the past of these individuals, “lest they take Nigerians for granted and see all of us as fools.” Meanwhile, the national coordinator of Atiku Global Support Group (AGSG), Alhaji Gambo Jagindi, has commended Obasanjo for the elder statesman role played in the reconciliatory efforts between him and Atiku. Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP Weekend, Jagindi, who described the reconciliation between the duo as historic, said it was also timely. He said Obasanjo’s action as an elder statement has proved that he (Obasanjo) wants the country to be purged out of bad governance. He said the reconciliation also proved God supremacy over the will of naysayers who didn’t want the crisis to end. ‘’To many Nigerians the frosty relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku won’t end. But we give thanks to God for this. ‘’Atiku remains the best amongst all aspirants vying for the Presidential candidates slated for the 2019 election. Atiku is a vast and well-travelled democrat who knows how to boost the nation’s economy and woo in investors to the nation. We thank Obasanjo and all statesmen who accompanied Atiku to Abeokuta for the reconciliation.’’
However, the PDP, has commended the reconciliation between Obasanjo and Atiku. The PDP said Obasanjo knew what it called “Buhari’s limited capability and incompetence.”The party said being one of those who installed Buhari, the former president was in the best position to score him based on the performance which it said “is glaring before Nigerians and the international community.” The national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, however, asked Nigerians to reject Buhari in 2019. He said, “There’s no better person that can score President Buhari than (former) President Obasanjo. However, the Presidency again said it was not surprised by Obasanjo’s endorsement of Atiku. It boasted that both Obasanjo and Atiku would lose the 2019 presidential election to President Buhari. A statement by the senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the President was not in any way surprised about what he described as Obasanjo’s predictable “U-turn and somersault” on Atiku.The statement reads in part: “The Presidency has received the news of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s predictable U-turn and somersault on the endorsement of the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, at a meeting on Thursday, and to say that we are the least surprised by the well-rehearsed theatre. “They will lose together. Listening to the prepared statement of the former President after the meeting showed the usual ego trip and ‘I know it all’ character of Chief Obasanjo. “In the first place, we dare to say that a pompous statement from the former President advising Nigerians on a vote against President Buhari is the best recommendation that can come at this time.The APC urged Nigerians to recall what Obasanjo had been saying about Atiku. The acting national publicity secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, said, “It was the same former President Obasanjo who said God would not forgive him if he supported Atiku for anything.
“Well, God is still there. It was Obasanjo who said that not the APC. We hope he (Obasanjo) still remembers.”
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