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The reunion of Obasanjo’s political disciples

•Baba is a bad guy — Okupe

By Emmanuel Aziken Political Editor and Charles Kumolu

IT was the first formal reunion of the alumni of the Olusegun Obasanjo School of Nigerian Politics, as apologists of Nigeria’s longest political leader themed their gathering last Friday. Reflective of the adulation with which they hold the former Nigeria president, a number of the graduates did not mind adding a name of the former president as a suffix to their known names.

If Nuhu Olusegun Ribadu spoke longest that day, it did not mean that he was Obasanjo’s best paddy, that title at least among the graduates was reserved for Chief Olopade who reportedly followed. Among those present were Otunba Gbenga Daniel, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olangusoye Oyinola, former governor of Osun State, Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, Dr. (Mrs.) Dere Awosika, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu,  Mr. Akin Osuntokun, Mallam Ahmed Yayale, Mallam Uba Sani, Dr. Doyin Okupe.

Also present were Mr. Tonye Cole, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, AIG Ogunsakin and Senator Kola Bajumo. Remarkably, besides Okupe who served him as special adviser on media and publicity, holders of the same office to all his successors were also present.

Tone for a hearty gathering

Among them were Segun Adeniyi who served President Umaru Yar`Adua, Reuben Abati who served President Goodluck Jonathan and the spokesman to the incumbent president, Mr. Femi Adesina. If there was any subtle reason for the gathering of the men and women, it was not immediately discernible other than the popular refrain that flowed that day that Obasanjo should be celebrated for who he is and what his presidency meant to them and the country.

It was as such not surprising that once their benefactor and three-time leader of Nigeria arrived night that he urged them to make it a “a reunion, of reminiscences that will make us laugh, laugh and laugh.” Indeed, the tone for a hearty gathering had been set by President Obasanjo once he arrived the venue in the Ikoyi area of Lagos at about 8.00 p.m. in the company of his wife, Chief Mrs. Bola Obasanjo. Once he arrived, the former president went round backslapping his former boys and girls chatting them up. His wife also did a separate round appreciating the men and women who honoured the call.

As Mr. Oshuntokun said that evening, the gathering was to celebrate “our father and a distinguished political leader,” as he went on to describe Obasanjo as a “phenomenon in his right.” The labour of love on President Obasanjo he expressed was from many of his political children who Oshuntokun said have the same kind of relationship that he, Oshuntokun also shared with Obasanjo.

“He is among family and friends, and he needs to know how much we appreciate him and as he now says that he is in the departure hall, we must tell him how much we appreciate his sacrifices and his person before he leaves,” Oshuntokun said. The same tone was to reflect all through that evening.

As the ceremony got formally off with Islamic prayers offered by Uba Sani and Christian prayer by Mr. Cole, Obasanjo never one to stay aloof interrupted the introduction ceremony asking that the seated graduates formally do self-introduction instead of being introduced by the master of ceremonies, Mr. Seye Adetumbi, a property tycoon.

The MC had introduced Governors Oyinlola and Daniel, Obasanjo prompting Obasanjo to jab, “You have introduced governors, what of attempted governors,” the former president said in an apparent jibe at some of his political children, some of whose gubernatorial plans were supposedly derailed by the former president.

In an assertion that would obviously have been labelled as dry humour, President Obasanjo quipped, “how would you introduce someone like Fasawe,” the former president said in an apparent reference to the close relationship between Fasawe who was a mutual friend of Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar and subsequently took collateral hit at the peak of the face-off between Obasanjo and Atiku in 2007.

Following the introductions, some of the dignitaries took turns to pour tribute to President Obasanjo. The first was Otunba Daniel, the former governor of the president’s home state, Ogun State. Daniel who was known to have had a troubled time in the Olusegun Obasanjo School of politics especially after the former president left office and Daniel ‘rusticated’ before his recent recall.

Whereas some of the political children sought to project themselves as foremost among Obasanjo’s political children, one was particularly forthright in expounding the Obasanjo personality. Dr. Okupe who was the first presidential spokesman in 1999 went out of the way to acclaim Obasanjo as a statesman, international figure but proceeded to say what many would not dare to say.

“Baba is a bad guy, is a troublemaker,” Dr. Okupe went on, saying that Obasanjo does not suffer fools gladly and would ensure that anyone who derails or fails a core subject dealing with honesty in the Obasanjo School of Nigerian Politics gets a hard recompense. Mrs. Awosika particularly praised Obasanjo’s reputation in the international community. She said that there was no better way to market a country than through a leader respected by the international community.  “I travelled with Baba several times, and I can tell you that he was well respected and courted everywhere.”

Obasanjo’s successors

Mallam Uba Sani who served as Special Adviser on Public Affairs to Obasanjo in the second term did not mind breaching sensibilities to proclaim Obasanjo as one of the most detribalised Nigerian leaders ever, saying that Obasanjo’s successors surrounded themselves with friends and family noting that that is “why we are here today.” The evidence of that was evident in the different tribes and tongues that gathered in celebration of the former president.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC took his turn with the microphone to debunk what he claimed as several recent misrepresentations allegedly made against Obasanjo by some acting and former political actors concerning his alleged use of the EFCC to hound political foes.

He dismissed claims by a Southwest monarch that Obasanjo influenced the investigation and arrest of Globalcom Chairman, Chief Mike Adenuga. Ribadu said that on the contrary that Obasanjo did not know until the day of the arrest.

Ribadu also debunked claims by Governor Ayo Fayose that Obasanjo masterminded the EFCC swoop on him, saying that Obasanjo rather went out of the way to plead that the EFCC should tread softly on Fayose at the time of the face-off between the commission and Fayose in the period between 2003 and 2005.

Ribadu who said he was restrained from talking much because of the presence of some media men, told the story of how Obasanjo once stopped him from arresting an associate of his (Obasanjo) in the presidential villa whom he had met in the president’s sitting room. “He said that if I arrested the man within the villa, that people would say that he (Obasanjo) betrayed his friend but that I should wait until the man was out of the villa,” Ribadu said.

Ribadu was to end his tribute with a tease that Obasanjo disappointed him by not fulfilling a promise he made in 2007 to give to him a wrist watch. Obasanjo in a reaction removed the watch on his wrist and offered to his beloved son. A further move by Ribadu to wrench N10,000 he said Obasanjo promised, however, did not fetch him any reward!

Following the words, Obasanjo thanked his children as he encouraged that there was still optimism for Nigeria as a country. “We keep lamenting about Nigeria as if we can never get it well, but we got it right before,” President Obasanjo said as he referred to the Universal Basic Education, UBE and Primary Healthcare Programmes as two things that Nigeria got right before they were submerged into a letdown.



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