Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday made a U-turn over his support for Atiku Abubakar's presidential ambition as he endorsed his former deputy to emerge as Nigeria's president in the 2019 elections. LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that two months ago, in early August, Obasanjo had declared that he would never support his former vice president presidential ambition, saying God would not forgive him if he did so. "How can I be on the same side with Atiku? To do what?" He had asked. "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." But Obasanjo took back his word yesterday by not only backing Atiku's candidacy, but also offering to work for his success and even referring to him as president-in-waiting. He gave his endorsement while hosting Atiku and members of his presidential campaign team who visited him at his Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) residence ins Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. Atiku is the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the forthcoming general election and is expected to give President Muhammadu Buhari the strongest challenge for the country's top job at the poll next year. Obasanjo's endorsement brings to an end about 12 years of frosty relationship between the two top politicians dating back to when they were in their second tenure as president and vice president.
LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that attempts by Atiku to reconcile with Obasanjo during his previous attempts to run for president had met a brick wall, with the latter publicly berating him, but this time around, the two seem to have decided to bury the hatchet in order to fight a common political opponent in Mr President who Obasanjo had been openly critical of his leadership style.
The former president said he had forgiven Atiku his 'sins' because he had shown remorse, adding that his formerly estranged deputy had learnt his lessons well and rebranded himself.
He further promised to assist Atiku in any way he could to help him realise his presidential ambition, even as he explained that Nigeria's presidency under the PDP administration which he headed was designed in such a way that Atiku would have taken over from him in 2007 had he stayed the course. "Let me start by congratulating the 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.
"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 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. "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 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," he said.
In a speech he read out at the meeting , Obasanjo stated that he was supporting Atiku's presidential ambition on the ground that his former deputy had the capacity to perform better in office than the incumbent, in addition to his perfect understanding of the nation's economy better and, as such, would make his "administration business-friendly and boost the economy and provide jobs. He said to Atiku: "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. "As Pastor Bakare, one-time running mate of the incumbent president said, you are a 'wazobia' man, and that should help you in confronting the confrontable and shunning nepotism. "For me, 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."
Led by the director-general of Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the Atiku team had arrived in Abeokuta at about 1: 05pm and entered into a closed-door meeting with the former president. Those in Atiku's campaign team that visited Obasanjo at his Abeokuta residence included the PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus; former governors of Cross River and Osun states, Liyel Imoke and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and Senator Ben Bruce. Others include the General Overseer of the Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo; Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Fr. Mathew Hassan Kukah; former chairman of PDP's Board of Trustees (BoT), Bode George, and stalwarts of the Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, including Elder Fasawe. Addressing journalists at the end of the closed-door meeting which lasted about an hour, Atiku described the meeting with his former boss as a historic one that accorded the two of them the avenue to unite and work together towards rescuing the country from its present state of decline. "Today's meeting is a historic one for both of us and for this country because, like I said last Sunday when I paid tribute to him, I couldn't have been where I am today without his wise counsel, without his picking me as his vice president for eight years and without the training that I got from his tutelage and his leadership.
"I believe the time has come for all of us to unite and work together so that this country can be repositioned on the path of unity, growth and prosperity," Atiku said, adding that he would continue with what he learnt as vice president if he emerges victorious in next year's poll. Addressing Obasanjo, he said: "Today is one of the happiest days of my life. After your presidency, we have had three presidencies in this country. The only president you have trained is myself. And I said, I am going to commit my presidency, if I become one, to the continuation of your own presidency, a legacy". While appreciating the former president for the opportunity of the meeting, Atiku prayed that God grant Obasanjo a "healthy long life to see what he had bequeathed to the country". In his response, Obasanjo said he decided to support his presidential ambition based on his conviction that Atiku will uphold the principles that underpinned their administration in 1999, and that he would mend fences across the country in the spirit of national unity.
He said: "And when you become Nigerian president which, insha-Allah, you will be, remember what we did together in government - we ran an administration by Nigerians for all Nigerians where merit and performance count more than blood relationship, friendship or kith and kin. "Although some time and ground have been lost, you should endeavour to start from where we stopped and recover some lost ground, if not time. "Please uphold truth, integrity, principles, morality and fight corruption, crimes and insurgency. The fundamental law of the land, our constitution , must be scrupulously defended. "I make one demand and one demand on you today: I need you to say before God and man that you will always remain irrevocably committed to upholding ALL the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the whole country will remain your single indivisible constituency. "Constitutionalism, popular participation and inclusiveness are pre-conditions for reversing the deficits of the past three and half years. They will ensure abiding faith in our indivisibility, oneness and faith in the survival of all against none. "The fundamentals for our development, economic growth and progress are hard and soft infrastructure. Remember to always give adequate places in your administration to our youth and women." Obasanjo advised Atiku to carry along his co-contestants for the party's ticket if he wished to be successful in his quest, just as he reminded him that he still had more work to do to enhance his acceptability.
"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. And if there is anything I can do, and you want me to do in that respect, I will do."I am sure with the right attitude for change where necessary and by putting lessons learned by you to work, you will get the understanding, cooperation, support and mandate of all at the national level. "With Nigerians voting for you, it will mean that you secure their forgiveness and regain their confidence. It will be with the hope or assurance of a Paul on the road to Damascus Conversion. After all, change and conversion are of man. I believe that with a contrite heart, change is possible in everybody's life and situation." The former president further urged all the authorities involved with the preparation and conduct of the election to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible.
How I Got Involved In Obasanjo, Atiku Mediation - Sheihk Gumi Kaduna-based pop ular Islamic scholar, Sheik Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has explained how and why he was involved in the mediation process between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and is erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar. Sheikh Gumi was seen alongside another popular cleric and Bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, at the Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, during Obasanjo's parley with Atiku's delegation yesterday. Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday by telephone yesterday from his Kaduna residence shortly after returning from Abeokuta, Gumi said he was invited by Fr. Kukah to the peace parley as a witness. He revealed that Kukah was contacted by well-meaning Nigerians from the political class and beyond to mediate between Obasanjo and Atiku in order to achieve peace between both leaders and among their supporters.
"As a religious leader, it is obligatory for me to be part of peace building in the society and between or among persons. I was invited by Fr. Kukah to be a witness at the peace meeting and obliged him," Gumi said.