After backing his opponents thrice to block him from becoming President, former President Olusegun Obasanjo made a U-turn yesterday. He threw weight behind the presidential ambition of his erstwhile deputy Atiku Abubakar. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the new-found love between the political foes and the implications of the alliance for 2019.
The cold war between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, may be over. Or so it seems.
For 12 years, the Owu-born chief, as Obasanjo is fondly called, stood against the presidential ambition of the WaziriAdamawa. After leaving bowing out of power in 2007, stopping Atiku from taking the driver’s seat became his major priority. But, following a sudden, inexplicable rapport at Obasanjo’s Abeokuta, Ogun State residence yesterday, the General and civil war hero ate his words.
Obasanjo, who described the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate as the “president-to-be,” congratulated him in advance. Having encouraged the formation of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), which cannot fly, the former president, who is bent on stopping President Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s election, saw hope and an alternative in Atiku. The presidential candidate of the ADC, the party believed to enjoy his backing, Obadiah Mailafia, got no consideration.
Yesterday, there was no reason for Obasanjo to write a lengthy letter to anybody again. Reality has also dawned on him that he lacked the structure to either intimidate effectively the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari. Therefore, he looked for a new ally in an unusual quarter. But, will the realignment last?
Obasanjo explained the change of heart, although his reasons, according to observers, may not be convincing. The former leader suddenly recalled the succession plan he dropped in 2007, saying that it was actually designed to herald an Atiku presidency. Although he had branded the former number two citizen as a disloyal deputy then, he said the Adamawa-born politician has now “re-discovered and repositioned” himself.
In Obasanjo’s view, Atiku has shown remorse; he has asked for forgiveness and mended fences. Therefore, in his reckoning, he is more competent to govern than President Buhari. The proofs, as highlighted by Obasanjo, are that Atiku understands the economy; he is a Wazobia man. He believes in appointment based on merit, not blood relationship and friendship. Also, he is more accessible.
Being a former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) deputy governor, ADC presidential candidate Dr. Mailafia, cannot be a novice in the field of economy.
The journey to the Hill Top, Abeokuta was carefully planned. Atiku was accompanied by eminent clerics, who like Obasanjo, are experts in theology, and some notable politicians. They include: Living Faith Ministries (Winners Chapel) Presiding Bishop David Oyedepo; Sokoto Catholic Diocese Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah; Kaduna-based Islamic cleric Sheik Gumi Abubakar; former governors Brig.-Gen. Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun); Otunba Gbenga Daniel (Ogun); Liyel Imoke (Cross River); Otunba Oyewole Fasawe; Senator Ben Murray-Bruce and PDP National Chairman Prince Uche Secondus.
The politicians on the delegation are PDP chieftains or sympathisers. What could not be ascertained was the political leaning of the eminent Muslim and Christian leaders, and their motivation for accompanying the PDP flag bearer? Did they go there as true peacemakers between two politicians, or friends-turned foes? Is there any personal or political motive behind it?
Are the clerics spiritual consultants to PDP and Atiku? Are they silent patrons of the PDP or the Atiku Campaign organisation? How will they convince their congregation that they are “apolitical?” Is the pulpit now another altar for partisanship? What is the implication of lack of neutrality? Will they start asking their congregation to emulate the politics of Atiku? Or the politics of Obasanjo?
The visit, and previous ones made by politicians gazing at 2019, may have inflated the ego, influence and relevance of the former military and civilian president. Although essentially designed for ego massaging, they may have also robed the Ekerin Egba and Balogun Owu as a co-member of the cult of political principals and principalities, who despite their inability to effect power shift on their own, have managed to remain somehow relevant on account of old glory.
General Obasanjo is able to study the national mood. He is capitalising on the expectations of Nigerians that may not have been met. He is playing down the achievements of the Buhari administration and amplifying its shortcomings. The onus is on the government to step up its efforts and meet public expectation.
But, is Obasanjo so critical to Atiku’s ambition? Does it mean that the eminent politician cannot make it without him? What is the electoral worth of the combative Owu chief? Is Atiku’s structure not more formidable than any machinery offered by Obasanjo? Is Obasanjo a better politician than Atiku?
Obasanjo, the self-acclaimed gerontocratic monitor, may be trying to undo the damage he had done to his erstwhile deputy. The old soldier recanted in a hard way. It may be a disservice to strong principles. To analysts, it was doubtful, if Obasanjo was motivated by national interest, which he often professed. He was driven by an uncanny, morbid hate for President Buhari, who has refused to operate from his armpit.
The party card Obasanjo tore four years ago starred him in the face. Is Obasanjo, who claimed that he has retired from active politics, returning to the party he repudiated? Will his new party, ADC, now wind up and team up with the PDP, or Atiku, for the 2019 battle? What is actually responsible for the retracing of steps? What is the worth of an endorsement informed, not by national interest, but personal interest?
In an open letter early this year, the former president had written off the ruling APC and the opposition PDP as parties that can never get Nigerians to the Promised Land. He called for the formation of a “Third Force”, which he promised to midwife. He went further to rally like-minds to form the Coalition for Nigeria (CN)
It is up to Nigerians, especially, those who bought into the “Third Force” and CN ideas, to decide the fate of the platforms with unfolding developments.
During the military rule, Obasanjo was at loggerheads with Gen. Buhari, self-styled military President Ibrahim Babangida and the late Gen. Sani Abacha. Although he imposed his successor, the late Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007, he later disowned him two years later, saying that the Katsina-born politician lacked capacity. Yar’Adua’s successor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, whose re-election he supported in 2011, was brought down by a stroke of his pen.
In his self-imposed duty of looking for national solutions, he aligned with Buhari in 2015. Next year, his plan is to campaign to oust Buhari and install Atiku. What is the assurance that Obasanjo, “the all is wrong and I alone is right statesman,” will not disown Atiku again? How many presidents have lived up to the expectation of a leader who is not nationally acknowledged as a mentor and role model?
In 2003, Obasanjo and Atiku parted ways. Since his hand was heavy on the governors, they resolved to deny him a second term. The symbol of the ‘coup’ was Atiku, who the governors wanted as the PDP candidate. More vociferous were James Ibori (Delta State), Alams Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa) and Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia) in the campaign against Obasanjo. They all paid dearly for the effrontery.
Yet, Atiku was undecided. Desperate for a second term, Obasanjo had to prostrate for his deputy, who later gave his nod at the PDP presidential primary to the consternation of the aggrieved governors. It became Atiku’s undoing.
Hell was let loose. Atiku became a spare tyre that a vice president was in Aso Villa. He was shoved aside. An inter-ministerial panel in the image of the power-loaded president was set up to try him. Atiku was found guilty. It was evident that he was unwanted as a successor. Atiku fought back. He became an anti-third term crusader. Sources said when the third term project was truncated, Obasanjo’s anger against Atiku grew beyond proportion. He swore that Atiku will be president over his dead body.
Obasanjo had outlined his grievances against his deputy, ahead of 2007. He described Atiku as a disloyal deputy, unworthy of the crown. Asked to react to Atiku’s presidential ambition, he said: ‘I dey laugh o.’ It was loaded with meaning. During the 2011 PDP presidential primary, he joined forces with Dr. Jonathan to abort Atiku’s bid. At a lecture in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, he also doubted Atiku’s competence, saying that he was unfit for leadership. Few months ago, Obasanjo said God will never forgive him, if he ever supported Atiku. The former vice president dismissed the tirade, urging Obasanjo to reconcile with his creator.
In his book: “My watch,” Obasanjo explained his grievances against Atiku and why he will not support his presidential ambition. He may need to write a new book to capture his change of mind, in view of how his words on mortal have created credibility crisis for Atiku.
He stated: “I settled for Atiku Abubakar. Some of the reasons were he worked hard for the project, he never indicated interest in the job to me, he had worked closely with Shehu Yar’Adua and Shehu never passed any adverse comment on him, he had been elected as a governor which already put him on the pedestal to move up politically, but he had been short- changed in the election that would have put M.K.O.Abiola in power, and he seemed to have some national outreach.
“What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background which was somewhat shadowy, his propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgment, his belief and reliance on marabouts , his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out on all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety truth and national interest for self and selfish interest.
“May be some of these traits and poor attributes are not easy to see until you work with the person concerned. And those who should tell would keep quite so that they would not be accused of running others down. For instance until later, when a distinguished chief from Bauchi pointed out to me the value of pedigree, queried Atiku’s pedigree and blamed me for making a wrong choice, I did not pay attention to Atiku’s parental background.
“Furthermore until all efforts to help Atiku change had failed – and having stumbled upon a report of inquiry carried out on him – I asked one of my predecessors why he did not inform me of how bad the report was and he said that he thought I knew. He said: “This was a man I wanted to dismiss and jail, but for the intervention of Shagaya and Shehu Yar’Adua.
“I took him at face value. However if his appointment was an error, I fully accepted responsibility for the genuine mistake. And knowing all that I discovered about him, what would have been an unpardonable mistake and sin against God would have been to foist him on Nigeria.”
There are questions begging for answers: what has Obasanjo seen now that he did not see before? What is the justification for the summersault? Will his new alignment herald defeat for President Buhari? Will his endorsement sway the votes? Will it make Atiku win?
Time will tell.