By Niyi Odebode
The frosty relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, ended on Thursday as Obasanjo declared that he had forgiven the former Vice-President and endorsed him as his candidate in the 2019 presidential election.
He made this declaration while addressing journalists after holding a closed-door meeting with Atiku, which lasted almost two hours.
Atiku is the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, having emerged as the overall winner at the presidential primary of the party last Sunday in Port Harcourt.
Adebanjo, Oyedepo, Kukah and Gumi broker peace
Those who accompanied Atiku to the meeting to broker peace include the founder of the Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo, Islamic preacher, Ahmed Gumi, Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, Afenifere chieftain Chief Ayo Adebanjo and National chairman, PDP, Uche Secondus.
The relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku had become frosty towards the twilight of the Obasanjo’s administration which ran from 1999 till 2007.
It was 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.
However, on Thursday Obasanjo said he had not only forgiven Atiku, he was ready to support him in actualising his dream of becoming the country’s president.
The former president said from what he could deduce from the meeting held earlier at his pent-house boardroom, Atiku had become penitent and had rediscovered and repositioned himself.
Obasanjo noted that the PDP presidential candidate had done much damage to the government then, the party and against the country, than he did to him.
He 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 took the decision he took then in the interest of the nation.
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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.
“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.
“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 – 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.”
Atiku has capacity to perform better than Buhari – OBJ
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.
He further noted that his (Atiku’s) links across the country and internationally should make him shun nepotism.
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 the 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.
“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.
“As you know, along the road to where you are today, many leaders and ordinary people cooperated and overtly and covertly worked hard.
“On your behalf, I thank them all. May their coast continue to be expanded.”
Obasanjo, warned Atiku, to remember what he and Atiku did while in government, by running an all-inclusive administration where merit and performance counted as opposed to blood relationship and kinship.
While he told him to uphold the constitution, Obasanjo also advised Atiku to include the youth and women in governance.
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 grounds, 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 youths and women.”
He charged the political umpires not to be compromised, saying that “the authorities involved with the preparation, all processes and conduct of the election must ensure that the election is free, fair and credible.”
I’ll continue Obasanjo’s presidency if I won – Atiku
Speaking earlier, 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 his happiest days of his life, Atiku promised that if he became the president he would continue from where the Obasanjo presidency stopped in 2007.
He said, “This visit is an historic one for both of us and for this country, because, as I have said last Sunday, I paid tribute to him(Obasanjo) because I couldn’t have been what I am today without his wise counsel, without his picking me as his Vice-President for eight years and without the training I got from his tutelage and his leadership.
“I believe the time has come for all of us to work together, to unite and work together, so that this country can be repositioned on the path of unity, truth and prosperity.
“Mr President sir, today is one of the happiest days of my life. As I said a few moments ago up there, after your presidency, we have had three presidents in this country, the only President you have trained is I, and I said I am going to commit my presidency, if I become one, to the continuation of your own presidency and legacy.”
Others at the meeting were Senator Ben Murray Bruce, former governors of Osun and Cross River states, governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and Liyel Imoke, and Director-General, Atiku Campaign Organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, among others.
OBJ, Atiku, others a confederate of desperate power-mongers –Buhari campaign
But the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation has described the meeting of Obasanjo, 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.”
This was contained in a statement signed by the Director, Strategic Communications of the Buhari Campaign, Festus Keyamo (SAN), in Abuja on Thursday.
He noted that 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.
Keyamo expressed the hope that Obasanjo would one day return Governor Ayo Fayose’s N10m to the building as Fayose had requested.
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.”
Keyamo said, “We are bemused and amused that a character who intends to be President of Nigeria has, for the past 11 years, consistently begged for “forgiveness” from a man who has consistently and unequivocally called him a very corrupt fellow.
“We wonder what type of character would not vigorously confront his accuser with facts to show his innocence, but would rather consistently ask for “forgiveness” from him.
“Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, specifically on the 4th of August, 2018, Chief Obasanjo was widely reported to have said ‘God will NEVER forgive me if I support Atiku for President.’ While we acknowledge the constitutional right of the ex-President to support anyone of his choice, we draw the attention of all God-fearing Nigerians to a character who would use the name of God in vain and in a flip-flop manner in just a matter of weeks. Where is the shame? Where is the honour? Where is the pride?
Obasanjo knows Buhari’s limited capability – PDP
However, the PDP, has commended the reconciliation between Obasanjo and Atiku.
The PDP said that Obasanjo knew what it called “Buhari’s limited capability and incompetence.”
It 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, who spoke with one of our correspondents, asked Nigerians to reject Buhari in 2019.
He said, “There’s no better person that can score President Buhari than (former) President Obasanjo.
“Then, there is also no better person that can compare Atiku and Buhari than Obasanjo. Obasanjo was Buhari’s boss. The former President was also the boss of Atiku. He asked Nigerians to vote Buhari in 2015. Now he has seen the limited ability of the President and he’s is now asking Nigerians to follow Atiku Abubakar in 2019.
“This is because he has sat down, analysed them and has seen that Atiku and his party are better by far than the Buhari Presidency and his party. With this, a blind man need not be told that it is raining. The facts and reality are everywhere.”
Obasanjo, Atiku will lose together –Presidency
However, the Presidency on Thursday 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.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, made the Presidency’s position known in a statement made available to journalists.
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 read, “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.
“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.”
Nigerians will still vote Buhari in 2019 –APC
But 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 Olusegun 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.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has a date with history in 2019, Nigerians support the President and they will prove to the world once again that they will still choose a man with integrity who is committed to improving the lives of ordinary Nigerians over another who we all know is no match.”