If Atiku Abubakar becomes President in 2019, he will owe his good fortune to 59 words he spoke in passing during his acceptance speech.
Abubakar, who served in the first Peoples Democratic Party government between 1999 and 2007, made the statement without notes, uttering the words that shifted Nigeria’s political tectonic plates.
“I wouldn’t have been standing where I am standing today if my former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, had not made me his Vice-President. Under his tutelage, I learnt quite a lot. And I believe the experience I got is going definitely to impart on how eventually we govern this country. I wish to pay my personal tribute to him.”
If Abubakar meant to massage Obasanjo’s ego, he was experienced enough to know that the older man’s temperament could not be predicted. The two men were in an ugly public fight when they were in office, with Obasanjo seeking Abubakar’s impeachment following an EFCC investigation. The fight exposed how both men had abused their office.
By way of recall, the EFCC began that inquiry at the instance of the United States, which was investigating Congressman William Jefferson, who was subsequently jailed. The US request included Abubakar in connection with inflated contracts and illicit payments involving iGate, an American firm. The US was also interested in bank records of the Petroleum Trust Development Fund, which was supervised by the Vice-President.
Obasanjo, seeking to evict Abubakar from Aso Rock, alleged that Abubakar had treated the PDTF account like his own. In return, Abubakar, distributing photocopies of cancelled cheques, swore that “the president, his family, businesses, native community… benefited tremendously from money deposited in the accounts he is now dissociating himself from.”
But this is not to commence a discussion of the seediness of that inception of the Obasanjo-PDP’s 15 years of absolute rot, because a library—not just a book—would be needed for such an exploration.
That administration limped through tumult and mistrust to a close in 2007, after Obasanjo tried hard to remain in office unconstitutionally, and he assuaged his ambitions by handpicking Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan to take over the presidency. To protect his interests, Obasanjo manipulated himself into the position of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party.
It was clear the former helmsmen retained their bitterness towards each other. At the launching of his book, ‘Olusegun Obasanjo: My Watch,’ in Lagos in December 2014, the former president had sharp words for Abubakar, who was seeking the presidency through the APC, calling him “a blatant and shameless liar.”
He said Atiku “was behind the whole episode of turning wholesome constitutional amendment efforts of the National Assembly to a futile exercise and as a means of riding on its ashes to be Nigerian President.”
Those feelings, at least on the part of Obasanjo, stayed publicly sharp until just two months ago when he dismissed the possibility of supporting an Abubakar presidential candidature.
“How can I be on the same side with Atiku?” he asked a reporter. “To do what? If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me.”
That was on August 3. On October 7, Abubakar won the PDP primary. On October 11, Obasanjo—who had previously also denounced Buhari’s leadership and urged him not to seek re-election—endorsed Abubakar’s candidature.
59 sweet words.
And yet, as experienced as Abubakar was about Obasanjo, even he could not have known that those words would so powerfully melt Obasanjo’s heart.
At their Abeokuta meeting on Thursday, Obasanjo praised his former deputy, saying he has “re-discovered and re-positioned himself.”
“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.’’
Note that in the delusion that he is God, Obasanjo did not ask Atiku for forgiveness. He never offends anyone and never owes.
But he was kind enough to explain: “I took the stand I (took) based on the character and attributes you exhibited in the position you found yourself,” he told the man. “I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position.
And then, finding no need to cross-check with God about whether he would be forgiven for now supporting Atiku, he said, “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.”
By offering his support to Abubakar, Obasanjo did two key things. First, he provided considerable substance to his dismissal of President Buhari’s second term aspirations.
Obasanjo, in effect, provided stunning proof of the hollowness of Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption claims. Beginning with Obasanjo himself, Abubakar is one of Nigeria’s most prominent corruption suspects. In fact, if there were a list of 100 such persons in 2015 when Buhari bragged his way into Aso Rock, they are all still standing today, most of them within smiling distance of Buhari’s ipad.
The second thing Obasanjo did on Thursday was to kick his “third force” believers in the teeth. It was just 10 months ago that he wrote an open letter to Nigerians calling for a coalition away from the APC and PDP and to destroy “the lice of poor performance in government.”
He had argued that main political parties were “wobbling,” and that developments had reinforced his conviction.
“We have only one choice left to take us out of Egypt to the Promised Land,” Obasanjo cried. “And that is the coalition of the concerned and the willing “for democracy, good governance, social and economic wellbeing and progress,” although nothing would preclude it from being able to field candidates for elections.
“But if at any stage the Movement wishes to metamorphose into candidate-sponsoring Movement for elections, I will bow out of the Movement because I will continue to maintain my non-partisan position,” he said.
On Thursday, Obasanjo must have been laughing at those who believed he was serious. His pretensions to non-partisanship abandoned, he shamelessly named the next President to be a man he has described in the most grotesque terms for 12 years.
And he was doing it with neither a trace of irony, nor with an apology to the man, and to Nigeria.
Dear Nigerian, the new lesson is the same as the old: save yourself, because the dog in the hunt hunts for the dog, not for its owner. That is 10 times as true of its name is Olusegun Obasanjo.
Save Leah Sharibu
The deadline given by Boko Haram over teenager Leah Sharibu expires tomorrow. Now that it is public knowledge that the government paid a ransom for the other Dapchi girls who were released last March, no excuse by the Buhari government will be good enough should Leah be killed.