By Emmanuel Aziken
The high point of the emotive interview session between the celebrated broadcast journalist, Kadaria Ahmed and the pair of Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi was perhaps the point when she said she was not an apologist for the APC.
“Anytime I push at you it would seem I want to speak for the APC, but I don’t want to,” the veteran broadcast journalist Ms. Ahmed said just about midway into the feisty interview session with the PDP candidate and his running mate.
The remark came after she cut off Mr. Obi who had in defence of his and Atiku’s aspiration recalled the promises of the present government prior to coming to power.
“They promised to make naira (and dollar) one to one,” Obi said and was immediately cut off by Ahmed. But he was unrelenting as he begged to make his point.
“They promised that they were going to end Boko Haram in six months, they promised that they were going to give Nigeria power, they promised fuel would be N47…they promised to create 3 million jobs, but we have lost 18 million jobs,” bringing the moderator to intervene again as she charged them to focus on what they were doing.
As Ahmed was pressing, so was the pair of Atiku and Obi resilient poohpoohing her claims to rubbish the assertions they sought to portray.
After her respectful, but yet assertive interrogation of the All Progressives Congress, APC candidates, Muhammadu Buhari, and Yemi Osinbajo, few had expected Ms. Ahmed to do any less on the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP candidates, Atiku, and Obi.
The session with President Buhari left many Nigerians including some officials of the Buhari campaign in sore mood. Many of them with the notable exception of the chief of staff, Abba Kyari were seen with worried faces during that interaction.
The president’s responses to many of the questions were often wrong to the extent that Ms. Ahmed severally interjected to redirect him. She inevitably won plaudits when at one time she stepped in to stop Prof. Osinbajo from speaking when she directed a question to Buhari saying, “he can speak for himself.”
The session with Atiku and Obi, however, lacked any period of soothing as from the onset after asking Atiku to define corruption, Ms. Ahmed engaged the pair in a combative interview.
Ahmed started by asking Atiku to define corruption, and the candidate said it was the enrichment of self, friends, and family through crooked means otherwise abuse of office.
Following that, she now asked him whether his decision to set up a logistics company while still serving as a customs officer was not an act of corruption. Atiku’s response was that it was akin to share purchase following the then military government’s Indigenization programme. She was, however, unrelenting as she pressed him on the concession to the same company to run a monopoly at Onne Port while he was vice-president.
Atiku firmly rejected the charge asserting that it was no monopoly saying that other companies were also involved in the same business. His attempt to mention some others were, however, brushed aside as she moved on to Obi who she alleged invested $30 million of Anambra State government funds in a company he had interest in.
Obi also fended off the accusation as he affirmed that though he invited the brewery into the state and was offered 15% equity, but that he turned it down but eventually invested $30 million of the state’s funds into the project. He said that investment had now progressed to $100 million.
Atiku was also challenged on the mentioning of his wife in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI report on William Jefferson. The candidate in his response said yes, his wife was mentioned but was never charged or indicted for impropriety.
“My wife was not indicted, was not charged, so I have no view about it. The company was fined for a number of offences committed, not necessarily for anything to do with my wife. My wife is an American citizen so there is no way that she would not have been charged.”
As Ms. Ahmed charged on, Atiku rebuffed the insinuation of the complicity of his wife saying that if she were culpable that she would have been charged.
He was asked whether his wife had travelled to America since then, the candidate said that she had regularly been traveling to the United States without any challenge.
Undoubtedly one of the most tricky times for Atiku was the question from a member of the audience called by Ms. Ahmed to question the candidates. The man had taken time to quote from a passage in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s book where he described Atiku in scathingly remarks short of calling him a thief. The man then followed by asking Atiku if somebody would such a referral should apply for a job in his company how he would deal with him?
Responding, Atiku said, “If the man has changed his mind and said that I recommend him as the best, then I have nothing to say.” As Ms. Ahmed pressed him to elaborate, Atiku said he was about the most investigated person during the Obasanjo’s administration and that nothing criminal was found against him.
Another sore point in the interview was Ms. Ahmed’s challenge that Atiku’s wealth and experience in government had not translated positively for Adamawa State which she said moved only barely in the poverty ranking among states. She also said that aside government Atiku was the next biggest employer in the state. She argued that if Atiku was successful that would not be so.
Responding, Atiku faulted Ms. Ahmed saying that her stance on Adamawa was wrong even as he said listed some of his acts towards boosting the condition of lives of the people of the state. He said he set up a micro-finance bank which he said had lifted at least 45,000 families out of poverty in Adamawa and besides some other endowments including a fund for the treatment of indigent patients in Yola Hospital.
In Mr. Obi’s perception, Ms. Ahmed’s assertion that Atiku did not create other multi-billionaires like him was not a mark of failure. Obi also said that Atiku being the next biggest employer of labour after state government should be seen as a huge credit for the man who now wants to serve Nigeria as President, meaning that as President he would do more. Obi reminded Ms Ahmed that no other Presidential candidate in Nigeria today could boast of such achievements.
He said that Atiku should be seen as a success! Indeed, many PDP sympathisers who were present at the interview session saw it as a success, especially the fact that none of the candidates broke down under the pressing inquisition of the moderator.
Senator Ben Murray-Bruce who was present in the hall lauded the performance of the PDP candidates in a series of tweets.
“Under pressure, @atiku did not crack. This is kind of leader Nigeria needs. A leader who will never crack under pressure. This is why I will vote for Atiku. #NGCandidates
“The environment was hostile, yet @atiku was friendly and professional. That is Leadership in action. A man who does not react to his environment, but responds with his principle. #NGTheCandidates,” he tweeted.
Former Buhari supporter, newspaper publisher, Dele Momodu who was also present in his tweet said:
“I think whosoever watched the ATIKU ABUBAKAR and PETER OBI performance tonight would have decided who to vote for on February 16, 2019.
“As for me and my house, I think ATIKU ABUBAKAR is far better than MUHAMMADU BUHARI, but YEMI OSINBAJO and PETER OBI can duel.”
The night after the interview, the Buhari Campaign responded as it accused the pair of Atiku and Obi of several lies during the interview session.
The Buhari Campaign in a statement issued by campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo on Thursday said:
“Atiku/Obi made it clear to Nigerians that conflict of interests as a public servant should be the norm as, during their tenures, they found absolutely nothing wrong then and today, with investing public funds in enterprises they own or their families own.
“Their claim on experience in running anything public or private cannot stand any act of scrutiny. The Presidential candidate, who is easily a major contributor to our huge unemployment problem today as a result of his corrupt privatisation programme, counts this failure as a huge experience and wants to repeat same if elected.
He concluded by saying that Nigeria’s commonwealth would be in grave danger if left in the custody of the PDP candidate.