Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday made a surprising reversal of his stance by endorsing the political ambition of his former vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
Following several allegations he made suggesting the aspirant is corrupt and selfish, Obasanjo struck a climax when he swore: “With what I know about Atiku, if I had put Atiku forward, God will not have forgiven me.”
But he buried the hatchet when the presidential standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) paid him a visit alongside eminent Nigerians and opposition party chieftains.
Thus the former president continued the tradition of anointing yet another seeker of the highest office, a ritual he successfully performed for the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan.
“Let me start by congratulating president-to-be, Atiku Abubakar,” Obasanjo began, before opening the lid on his long-held grievances.
“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 re-discovered and re-positioned 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,” he said.
Obasanjo said he had maintained his vexatious stance “based on the character and attributes” Atiku exhibited, stressing: “I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position.”
He said however that “from what transpired in the last couple of hours”, Atiku had shown “remorse” and “asked for forgiveness”.
He had also indicated that he learned “some good lessons” and would “mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable.”
He therefore said: “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 further expressed why he thought Atiku stands a better chance to defeat the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s general elections.
He said: “For me, relatively and of all the aspirants in the PDP, you have the widest and greatest exposure, experience, outreach and possibly the best machinery and preparation for seeing the tough and likely dirty campaign ahead through. From what I personally know of you, you have capacity to perform better than the incumbent. You surely understand the economy better; you have business experience, which can make your administration business-friendly and boost the economy and provide jobs. You have better outreach nationally and internationally and that can translate to better management of foreign affairs. You are more accessible and less inflexible and more open to all parts of the country in many ways.”
In his response, Atiku told his former boss: “This visit is a historic one for all of us and for this country. I couldn’t have been where I am today without his wise counsel, without him picking me as his vice president for eight years and without the training that I got from his tutelage and his leadership.
“After your presidency, we have had three presidents in this country. The only president you have trained is me and I will commit my presidency, if I become one, to the continuation of your own presidency and legacy.”
At the event were: PDP chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; Senator Ben Bruce; former Cross Rivers State governor, Liyel Imoke; the director general of Atiku’s campaign organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; the Presiding Bishop of Winners Chapel, Dr David Oyedepo; Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo; Sheik Abubakar Gumi; and Rev. Mathew Hassan Kukah.
But reacting, the spokesman for Buhari, Garba Shehu, dismissed the endorsement as inconsequential.
He said: “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.
“It also betrayed a lack of understanding of today’s politics which is about good governance. The country voted for change in 2015 and a leader that ensures good governance, which only President Buhari and the APC can provide. Bent on these laudable goals, we will not allow ourselves to be distracted.
“We are busy on various national issues including the restructuring and the diversification of the economy, fighting corruption, terrorism and other threats to national security; increasing the availability of electric power, improving education, health, and providing long-delayed.”
Meanwhile, in a phone conversation with newsmen the national publicity secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, revealed how the group and others like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum, PANDEF and some northern elders caused Obasanjo to have a change of heart.
“We are all bothered about the way the country is going, especially since 2015 when Buhari came on board. And unless something critical is done, another term of the present government may spell doom for us all. As a matter of fact, we had to plead with the former president not to look at what might have transpired between him and Atiku but place the interest of Nigeria above all,” he said.