By Yinka Odumakin
IN the peculiar political lunacy season in Nigeria, a lot of uninformed commentaries have taken the open space. One of the issues the mostly spiteful commentators, ranging intellect-damaged professor to yahooligans and internet thugs, have lapped on has been my relationships with General Muhammadu Buhari, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Most of their sickening reasoning has largely been borne out of sheer ignorance of my beliefs and where I am coming from. I have, therefore, decided to put in perspective the context in which I have had to relate with these men and to show clearly that whatever political association I had with any of them was never personal but forged within group dynamics..
Of the three, Atiku is the only person I met personally when I had a one-on-one with him in his office as Vice-President of Nigeria in 2005. But the first time I would be supporting him politically was in the just concluded elections within the ambience of group decision. Both Buhari and Jonathan, I met for the first time and also worked with within group decisions.
Let’s start with Buhari. If it were left to my person we would never have had a political relationship. I disliked his draconian reign as a military ruler and was particularly pained by the way he raided the home of my eternal political Leader, Oloye Obafemi Awolowo and his treatment of his successor ,Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Oputa Panel in 1999, I authored the Afenifere petition to the body, and the pages on Buhari’s military rule and the experience of the Yoruba under it were so damming .
How did I then become his spokesman in 2011? It all started in 2010 when the then President Umaru Yar’Adua was ill and the cabal around him held the country to ransom. On a fateful morning, Pastor Tunde Bakare invited three of us to his house and said efforts being put together against the cabal were not far-reaching enough. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed I should call a meeting of the leaders of civil society organisations to discuss how to break the political logjam.
That meeting birthed the Save Nigeria Group, SNG, that led series of street protests against the cabal. It was the day we had our third street protest in Abuja that the back of the cabal was broken as the National Assembly through the “Doctrine of Necessity “ empowered Jonathan as President .The SNG met Jonathan for the first time that day and that happened to be my first time of coming close to him.
We related with him from time-to-time and would most probably have backed him in 2011 but for his proclamation that there was no need to have a National Conference.
That led us to begin to look elsewhere. The first action we took was to have a meeting of “arrowheads” in the house of Pastor Bakare. The meeting was attended by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela, Mr Donald Duke, Mr Nuhu Ribadu, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, Mr Fola Adeola, Mr Jimi Agbaje and Dr Oby Ezekwesili.
Pastor Bakare opened the meeting by telling those gathered that a country could not boast of their calibre and be in want of good leadership and there was the urgent need for them to agree on who can step forward and the rest would back him to lead the country.
Signatories to the memorandum
Ribadu got up and said he was already in talks with ACN and would love to be given some time to conclude. Some other comments followed which suggested clearly there wasn’t going to be a consensus,
At the review meeting we had after that, one of the leaders of the group said he believed there was a man standing that we should speak with: Buhari. This led to a meeting being fixed with him.
We had a meeting with him in Kaduna at the end of which he indicated his willingness to work with our group. A follow-up meeting was later held in Abuja where The Buhari Organisation, TBO, and our group(ICRD); and we agreed on an MOU. I was one of the signatories to the memorandum from our side. And the first item on it was an agreement to restructure Nigeria.
This process was going on when Pastor Bakare called me one afternoon that I should come to his house and get Mr Jimi Agbaje. I called Jay-kay and he told me he was coming from Abeokuta. By the time we got to his place, he told us General Buhari called him an hour earlier and said that he wanted him to be his running mate. He added that though he told Buhari why he(Bakare) couldn’t do it but that he(Buhari) said he didn’t want an immediate answer. He said they ended on the note that he would call back. He recalled how he had announced everywhere we went that he was not interested in running for any office and was at a loss how he would explain a change of mind.
We embarked on series of consultations after that. Eventually it was a group decision that he should step forward. It was after he accepted that word came that General Buhari wanted me to be his spokesman. I objected and gave my reasons for not wanting to take the offer. Pastor Bakare then asked me if I thought he was the only one we could push forward .Upon the insistence of the group, I agreed. My appointment was the first to be announced .This is why I laughed my head off when one excitable Rotimi Fashakin wrote shortly before the last election that Pastor Bakare took me to Buhari as if I was of the same stock like him who came to see Pastor to help him beg to be publicity secretary of CPC.
When I resumed in Abuja to work with Buhari, Sule Hamman asked me to go and see Mr Sam Ndah-Isaiah the Publisher of Leadership Newspaper. We met, and in the course of our discussion, he told me he had been asked to arrange a car for me and some allowances. I never went back to him on that discussion. Thank God he is alive. I took my car from Lagos to Abuja. I didn’t collect any allowance throughout the period except the sum of money Gen Buhari handed me when I was travelling abroad.
I lived in the same house with General Buhari throughout the campaign and I found him to be a nice man and very interesting to be around with. But I was worried that work with a man going to govern Nigeria, there was not one day we sat around the table to look at one issue of governance. We were just eating and chatting!
Another sore point was that a team of intellectuals was put together to prepare Oga for presidential debate. He would not give an appointment until the day of the debate. The team sat for over three hours when he came down and said we should proceed for the debate without seeing them. I covered my face with my hand when my boss answered the first question at the debate.
Perhaps, the greatest let-down for me was the realisation that the agreement we signed on restructuring was a scam. We produced a manifesto that had federalism as the first item. But our presidential candidate refused to lift the manifesto once or speak on the content.
All these plus other things I saw which I am not ready to discuss yet made me to conclude I was done with him when the election cycle was over.
So, it was when the merger process to form APC started and I was listed on the CPC Committee alongside El-Rufai, Hadiza Bala-Usman and others I told Pastor Bakare I was done with that tendency and was not going to serve. He advised I should go and explain to the rest of the committee.
I attended their meeting at the 3Gs office in Abuja and excused myself. I became El-Rufai’s enemy from that day. I.met him at the Abuja Airport one day and greeted him but he refused to answer.
We entered the BA flight and we sat next to each other without exchanging a word from Abuja to London. At some stage he told Pastor Bakare whom I introduced him to that he would move away from him if he continued to relate with ‘little mind in a little body’!
I must say that the most difficult period of my political life was the months I served as Buhari’s spokesman. The name was almost an anathema in most of the South then. I risked all my political reputation to market him to the best of my knowledge. As a honourable person, I had to give it my best shot and the evidence is all over the place since I was accepted within the group. A lot of my friends became enemies on account of my decision to work with Buhari. Many of them are Buharideens today. They were then in the boat of El-Rufai who was then throwing stones at Buhari when we were marketing him, calling him “corrupt”and “unelectable”.