The frosty political relationship between the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his former vice, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, has once again become a matter for public discourse with Atiku urging his former boss not to embark on the defamation of other people’s character.
Atiku who gave the admonition in Abuja was reacting to a report in which Obasanjo was quoted as saying he would not exact forgiveness from God should he back Atiku’s presidential ambition in 2019.
It would be recalled that Obasanjo, has, in his autobiography ‘My Watch’ said Atiku is overly ambitious and had done many things, including the use of the media to launch a campaign of calumny against him (Obasanjo) when he (Atiku) served as vice president between 1999 and 2007.
“By the Constitution, I had to inaugurate or prorogue the National Assembly on June 4, 1999. The most important officer in the National Assembly is the senate president and that office had been zoned to the South-east. And here was where Atiku Abubakar, my vice-president, first showed his hand and his character.
“Without seeking my view or approval, he started planning the installation of Chuba Okadigbo as the senate president. I did a background check on Chuba including his past as a student and made enquiries about him in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) under (President Shehu) Shagari and no one would recommend him for the post of senate president.
“I left Atiku to go on his chase while I carried out a meticulous and detailed investigation and background check on each senator from the South-east. The one that appeared most appointable was Evan Enwerem. I canvassed the senate across the board for his election and he was elected. Atiku did not expect it and he felt sore.
“He began to strategise for Enwerem to be removed and Chuba Okadigbo to be installed. His strategy worked because I was at Abuja airport to receive a visiting head of state when the news reached me that the Senate had impeached Enwerem and elected Okadigbo. I was not perturbed. I came to understand from some senators including Florence Ita-Giwa, who later became my special adviser/ liaison officer to the national assembly that Atiku distributed US$5,000 each to some senators to carry out the ‘coup’.
“That was the beginning of bribing the legislature to carry out a particular line of action to suit or satisfy the purpose or desire of an individual or a group. The National Assembly had tasted blood and they would continue to want more. From the day I nominated Atiku to be my vice, he set his mind not for any good, benefit or service of the country, but on furiously planning to upstage, supplant or remove me at all cost and to take my place.
“That was what I brought him for, but he was impatient and over-ambitious. He was not ready to learn and to wait. His marabout, who predicted that despite being elected as governor, he would not be sworn in as a governor, which happened, also assured him that he would take over from me in a matter of months rather than years.
“All his plans, appointments of people and his actions were towards the actualisation of his marabout’s prediction. Once I realised his intention and programme, I watched him like a hawk without giving any indication of what I knew and letting down my guard. I could not succumb to the distraction, diversion and malevolence of an ambitious but unwise deputy.
“The work in hand was more important than a confrontational relationship with my deputy, a man over whom I knew I had far more experience and outreach in all matters. To alert him of what I knew he was up to, would only lead to lying, denial, more mischievous plans and more duplicity on his part.
“He was better managed that way. What was important was not allowing myself to be surprised or outmanoeuvred by him. I must always seize the initiative and know what was going on if not in his mind, but at least in his camp. That I did very effectively.
“Sometime in the fourth quarter of 2004, an associate of Atiku came to my residence at the Aso Villa from Atiku’s official residence. He felt uncomfortable and I tried to make him feel at ease. Then, he settled to tell me the story of what had just transpired in Atiku’s residence. I listened with rapt attention.
“He went on to say that Atiku told him that for him to become the President of Nigeria, the 2007 elections were only a formality.
“Atiku was confident and God was laughing. Most of Atiku’s ingredients soon started to fall out of place one by one. The first was the party, PDP.
“He thought I was powerless and had no clue about the execution of his plan with his group; part of his attack on me was for national chairman of the party to give the first salvo, then other things would follow as his grip on the party would be firm and consolidated,” said Obasanjo.
But at the weekend, the no-love-lost relationship between the two men was ignited when the former president, in an interview with Premium Times, said he would support Atiku unknowingly but if he does so with his eyes open, he would not receive God’s forgiveness.
“How can I be on the same side with Atiku? 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. I do not have personal grudges with anyone. If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us.
“It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual; if you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria, it does not matter who you are, I am not working with you. “Most of you do not understand the way I operate. And I thought your own paper will understand better.
“I know Atiku very well. And I have mentioned my position with Atiku. My position has not changed.”
He however said his political differences with the former Atiku do not preclude their personal interactions.
“If my children are getting married, he has sent representatives. If his children are getting married, I have sent representatives. That is social. That is not political. “But on political ground, my position has not changed. If I support Atiku for a political office other than the one I supported him in the past when I did not know him, maybe, but not now that I know him, God will not forgive me,” he added.
In his response, Atiku who is vying for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said he still holds Obasanjo in high esteem having served under him as vice president and worked together on a joint ticket as president and vice president on the platform of the PDP.
However, Atiku enjoined his former boss to “better…use his later years to tidy up relationship between himself and his God” instead of hanging his judgement with God on things that concern both of them.
Besides, he enjoined Obasanjo not to be a permanent traducer of every other person apart from himself stressing that if the former president “has enjoyed the benefits of other people other people must also enjoy his benefits” more so “Obasanjo cannot be an enemy to every person except himself.”
A statement issued by the spokesman for Atiku 2019 Presidential Campaign, Mr. Segun Sowunmi reads: “The first is to say it upfront that his excellency, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar holds former President Olusegun Obasanjo in very high esteem, just as he holds every other leader in Nigeria high esteem.
“The esteem that President Obasanjo enjoys is premised on two things; one, being the former president, Atiku also understands that he cannot and should not desecrate anybody that has sat in the office that he aspires to.
“The second is the fact that they had worked together on a joint ticket as president and vice-president towards the 1999 and 2003 elections, for those two reasons, his excellency the former vice-president does not want to join any issues with him and respects him and understands that as an individual Obasanjo is within his right to have his point of view.
“It is a little bit suspect what Obasanjo means, that God will not forgive him if he supports Atiku. I think that is really a personal relationship between him and his God, and it will be better for him to use his later years to tidy up relationship between himself and his God, instead of hanging his judgement with God on things that concern him and Atiku.
“Having said that, we are completely convinced that the (Atiku’s) decision to run for the presidency is premised on the condition that this country can benefit from the God-given talents and the experience he has garnered.
“There is nothing that has not been thrown in the way of Atiku to cow him, to break him, to harass him, to intimidate him or to just make him uncomfortable. He has demonstrated that he has the tenacity to withstand it and he has the robustness of mind to remain calm.
“We still believe that in the course of this journey, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo may have to reconsider his stand in line with the wish of the majority of Nigerians, which, in my opinion now, is that of all the aspirants for the office of President, that H.E. Atiku Abubakar has the experience, has the democratic credentials, has the vision, has the workable programme and is in sync with what the Nigeria nation needs now and can leapfrog it to higher levels of development.
“All the same, we will continue to wish Chief Olusegun Obasanjo well and we would want to say that nothing can be further from the truth (that) if Obasanjo follows his Christian dictate, he would understand that God that he expects to judge him would not expect him to be a permanent traducer of every other person apart from himself. He has enjoyed the benefits of other people; other people must also enjoy his benefits. Obasanjo cannot be an enemy to every person except himself.”