By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Daud Olatunji, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Chris Ochayi & Omeiza Ajayi
ABEOKUTA — Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday made a volte-face, saying he has reviewed his stance not to back his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, for the Presidency in 2019. In a swift reaction, the Presidency countered the move, saying no amount of gang-up can stop President Muhammadu Buhari from winning next year’s presidential election.
In addition, the Buhari Campaign Organisation described Obasanjo’s endorsement of Atiku as untenable, saying that “the gathering of the politicians and the men of God was a “confederate of desperate power-mongers and questionable characters who wish to return us to the era of unbridled corruption.”
The former president spoke after a closed-door meeting with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; PDP chieftain, Chief Bode George; founder of Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah and popular Islamic preacher, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi.
Atiku, who arrived the venue at about 1:05 pm, was also joined by former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; former governor of Ogun State and DG, Atiku Campaign Organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce; Otunba Oyewole Fasawe and leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, among others.
The former vice president only last weekend emerged the presidential candidate of the PDP at its national convention in Port Harcourt.
Chief Obasanjo had some two months ago vowed not to support Atiku’s presidential ambition, stressing that God would not forgive him, if he did so.
“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,’’ the former President had said.
However, speaking when Atiku and his team visited him yesterday, Obasanjo said he believed Atiku had “re-discovered and re-positioned himself’ and is now good enough to enjoy support in the next election.”
No gang-up can stop Buhari — Presidency
Reacting to Obasanjo’s declaration of support for Atiku yesterday, the Presidency said no amount of gang-up against President Buhari would stop him from winning the presidential election next year.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, on his Twitter handle, said despite the re-grouping of politicians against President Buhari, his victory was assured in next year’s election.
Chief Adesina posted on his Twitter handle, @FemAdesina, stating that the harder the gang-up against the President, the harder the fall.
He tweeted: “The harder they come, the harder they fall. 2019 presidential election on my mind.”
The tweet came barely a few hours after Atiku Abubakar, with some notable religious and political leaders visited Obasanjo in Abeokuta.
Obasanjo congratulates Atiku
Addressing Atiku and his team, Obasanjo 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 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 it. That’s why today, you are the presidential candidate of the party. In addition to appreciating all that the party has done for you, may I advise you to work together with all those who contested for 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.
“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.
‘’As Pastor Bakare, one-time running mate of the incumbent President said, ‘You are a Wazobia man’, and that should help you in confronting any obstacle 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. 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.
“All the authorities involved with the preparation, all processes and conduct of the election must ensure that the election is free, fair and credible.
“Once again, congratulations and I wish you well. My distinguished brothers and leaders of goodwill, thank you for making this happen. I will now count on you to encourage all hands to be on the deck to take Nigeria to the level God has created it to be – autopilot level.”
The Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, had visited Obasanjo earlier this week to plead with him to meet with Atiku and possibly back him for President in the coming election.
Responding, Atiku promised to build on the legacies which he and the former President built between 1999 and 2007.
Atiku said the training and wise counsels he got from Obasanjo contributed to what made him a better man today.
His words: “First of all, I want to express my gratitude to God Almighty, who made this day and this occasion possible. Having said this, I want to again thank my boss and my president, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who gave me opportunity to visit him.
“This visit is a historic one for all of us and for this country because as I said last Sunday, I paid tribute to him because I couldn’t have been what 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.
“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.
“Mr President, today is one of the happiest days in my life. Just as I have 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.”
It’s a confederate of desperate power mongers — Buhari Campaign
The Muhammadu Buhari Campaign last night dismissed Obasanjo’s endorsement of Atiku as untenable, saying that the gathering of the politicians and the men of God was a “confederate of desperate power-mongers and questionable characters who wish to return us to the era of unbridled corruption.”
Noting Obasanjo’s past denunciations of Atiku, the Buhari campaign in a statement signed by Mr. Festus Keyamo, Director of Strategic Communications wondered why Atiku would for more than 10 years seek Obasanjo’s forgiveness if he were not guilty of any offence.
While noting Obasanjo’s past claim that God would never forgive him if he ever forgave Atiku, the Buhari campaign said Obasanjo was now bringing a curse upon himself by his action. The Buhari campaign thus asked Nigerians to go the other way in order not to bring a curse to themselves.
The Campaign said:
“The desperation to get the endorsement of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo by the PDP and its candidate is a clear sign that they want to return us to our sordid past where a few people decide who should govern us. In 2014/2015, President Muhammadu Buhari and his team, out of respect and convention, paid courtesy calls on prominent individuals and statesmen in the course of their campaigns when they visited cities in which these individuals lived. However, Nigerians should note that President Buhari was NEVER reported to have groveled and “begged” ANYONE for forgiveness, just to be endorsed as a Presidential candidate. Ultimately, he relied on the people of Nigeria to decide his fate. President Buhari would continue to rely on the endorsement of the people of Nigeria to be re-elected.
“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”. Whilst we acknowledge the constitutional right of the ex-president to support anyone of his choice, we draw 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?
“When a person invokes the curse of God upon himself if he does a particular thing, like Obasanjo has done, and then deliberately does that particularly thing and calls on Nigerians to follow him to receive his curse, Nigerians must flee in the opposite direction. We urge Nigerians NOT to follow this character to receive the curse he invoked upon himself.
“We also note with interest the full participation of some “men of God” in the entourage of the Peoples’ Democratic Party for this political re-alignment. We are glad that they have publicly declared their partisan interest and urge all Nigerians to see all their previous, present and future attacks on President Buhari from their pulpits in the context of partisan politics and not in the context of nationalistic or altruistic commitment. We wish them well.
“Finally, we see this gathering as a confederate of desperate power-mongers and questionable characters who wish to return us to the era of unbridled corruption.”
APC knocks PDP
In its reaction, the All Progressives Congress, APC, again knocked the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for attempting to wish away alleged past infractions of its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Spokesman of the APC, Yekini Nabena, in a statement in Abuja, said the issue of integrity would continue to be debated ahead of the 2019 general elections.
He said: “A spokesperson for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan released a statement accusing the senior officials of the All Progressives Congress-led administration of “deliberate efforts to impugn on the character” of the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
“The PDP’s assertion, particularly coming from its spokesperson, is ironic and laughable, given the fact that Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan as an editor with one of the national newspapers in fact unearthed the Special Audit/Forensic Investigation of Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF, which indicted Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, then Vice President for the mismanagement of the Fund.
“The PDP spokesperson in his published report disclosed that from 1999 to 2006, Atiku’s approval for the release of $20 million from the treasury and subsequent placement in Trans International Bank without appropriation and approval by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, was illegal and amounted to abuse of office.
“Alhaji Atiku Abubakar grapples with several other corruption indictments. This is a fact and reality he needs to deal with and come clean about.
“PDP cannot be simplistic and attempt to wish away the issue of the integrity of candidates seeking elections into positions at all levels, particularly as 2019 approaches.
“We reiterate our position that the Nigerian electorate must have that opportunity to choose from candidates that can pass the integrity and anti-corruption test.
“The character of office holders we elect into public offices is important as our very progress and development as a country depends on it.
“When the choice is to be made, the electorate have the option of a proven and decent presidential candidate who is putting the people first and on the other hand, a candidate who will readily mortgage the country’s commonwealth to personal coffers and cronies.”
They ‘ll lose together — Garba Sheu
Garba Shehu, Spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari, also dismissed the endorsement of the former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar by Obasanjo.
He said: “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 Thursday, and to say that we are the least surprised by the well-rehearsed theatre,” Shehu said in a statement.
“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 infrastructure – roads, rail, airports and so forth.
“Many governments have come and gone, but they did not care about some of these projects. We were talking about these things for 16 years under the PDP and nothing was done.
“Nigerians trust President Buhari in this effort because they are convinced he is not in government for personal financial benefits, or for an ego trip. It is just 11 years ago that the former President and Vice President in their ugly fight for power accused each other of corruption. Nigerians are yet to forget all that.”