By Clifford Ndujihe & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — THE spat between President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo over support for candidates in the 2019 polls continued, yesterday, with the President saying the former President could no longer be taken seriously on account of his ‘unstable’ positions on issues.
Obasanjo had on Sunday, faulted media reports that he was undecided on who to vote for in 2019, saying he could not be neutral because only a fool would sit on the fence when his country was burning, insisting that he wanted Buhari out.
Reacting to Obasanjo’s clarification while speaking to journalists in Abuja, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the former President’s utterances were signs of confusion not worthy of attention.
His words: “Whoever Obasanjo chooses to support at the 2019 elections is irrelevant, as the former president had publicly changed his mind on the matter so many times over the past few months alone.
Buhari on Obasanjo
“Former president Obasanjo denounces one person today and supports that same person the next day. When it pleases him, he brings God into the matter and uses that as his excuse for whatever position he has chosen.”
Shehu added that he was not surprised that newspapers reported Obasanjo expressing neutrality at a weekend forum, only for the former President to express a completely different stance after a day or two.
“We have learned not to take his utterances seriously anymore. We know that the slightest wind can make him change his mind again. After all, this is the same man who publicly tore his party registration card barely four years ago, and he now claims to be backing the same party,” he said.
Chief Obasanjo recently withdrew his support for Buhari, who is seeking re-election on the plank of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and threw it behind Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Obasanjo had been at daggers-drawn with Atiku Abubakar, who was his vice for eight years and on many occasions, opposed Abubakar’s presidential ambition. The duo reconciled last October after Atiku emerged as PDP’s presidential flagbearer.
Obasanjo was one of those who opposed the re-election of immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan and backed President Buhari at the polls in 2015.
Obasanjo began his opposition to Jonathan with a December 2, 2013, letter titled: “Before It Is Too Late” where he, among others, asked Jonathan not to seek re-election. When Jonathan insisted on contesting, Obasanjo publicly opposed him and rooted for Buhari.
Following the public letter template, Obasanjo wrote President Buhari an open letter in January 2018, complaining of poor governance, rising insecurity, herdsmen/farmers’ clashes that were claiming many lives, clannishness in the deployment and appointment of security chiefs, among others, and asked Buhari not to seek re-election.
“President Buhari needs a dignified and honourable dismount from the horse. He needs to have time to reflect, refurbish physically and recoup and after appropriate rest, once again, join the stock of Nigerian leaders whose experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the side line for the good of the country.
“His place in history is already assured. Without impaired health and strain of age, running the affairs of Nigeria is a 25/7 affair, not 24/7. I only appeal to brother Buhari to consider a deserved rest at this point in time and at this age.
“I continue to wish him robust health to enjoy his retirement from active public service. President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice. But whether or not he heeds it, Nigeria needs to move on and move forward,” Obasanjo had said.
It took three months for the Presidency to respond to Obasanjo’s letter, which it described as “abusive.” It went on to recall the 16 “locust” years of the PDP and what the Buhari administration had achieved in agriculture, war against graft and insecurity, among others, with the meager resources at its disposal.
Thereafter, Obasanjo at several fora, canvassed reasons Buhari should not be re-elected. The peak of it was during his reconciliation with Atiku Abubakar where he urged Nigerians to forgive his former vice and vote for him because he had learned his lesson.
Since then, there had been brick-bats between the Presidency and Obasanjo on the issue. Last week, the Presidency said regardless of Obasanjo’s support, Buhari would defeat Atiku.
Indeed, the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, said Obasanjo would be disgraced at the 2019 election.
The polity was, therefore, jolted weekend, following reports that Obasanjo was undecided on the candidate to support in 2019.
What Obasanjo said
Reacting to the report, Obasanjo said: “It is disingenuous, if not malicious, for anyone to suggest that Chief Obasanjo was being neutral when he chose not to use the Owu Convention as a platform for political campaign but instead adopt a communal and familial approach in talking to members of his Owu family.
“For the records, and as accurately reported by some media organisations, what the former President said at the convention at Owu was that while he would not impress any candidates on them, Nigerians should vote for credible candidates who will drive growth and development and make their lives better than it is now.
“Only a fool will sit on the fence or be neutral when his or her country is being destroyed with incompetence, corruption, lack of focus, insecurity, nepotism, brazen impunity and denial of the obvious. Chief Obasanjo is no such fool nor is he so unwise.”
The Presidency countered Obasanjo’s position, yesterday, saying it could no longer take the former President seriously.