2019: Obasanjo under Pressure to Back Atiku

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  •  As former president meets S’west leaders again, reconciles with George   
  • Bakare: meeting would put Nigeria on right path

By Olawale Olaleye,  Shola Oyeyipo and Segun Jame

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is under pressure from close friends and political allies to support his erstwhile deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in his presidential bid, THISDAY has learnt. Those urging Obasanjo to back Atiku believe the former president has genuine intentions for Nigeria. But they are desirous of seeing the end of what they consider President Muhammadu Buhari’s inane government in 2019. To achieve Buhari’s ouster, Obasanjo’s allies believe there is need for him to reconsider his opposition to Atiku’s ambition. According to them, Atiku remains one of the most qualified and ready candidates for the office of president ahead of 2019, and one who can give Buhari a run for his money.

THISDAY learnt last night that the high level consultations that started at various platforms since the formation of Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), otherwise known as the “third force”, and which has already metamorphosed into African Democratic Congress (ADC), had been intensified. In this regard, Obasanjo met with some leaders of his native South-west yesterday, in discussions that even involved some of his known political enemies.  

CNM and ADC, both of which have prominent Nigerians as members, are also said to have gone into more serious talks with equally critical socio-political and cultural groups in the country. Majority of them are believed to have bought into the idea of “changing the change” in 2019.

One of such organisations said to be ready to work with Obasanjo on the understanding that it is purely a Nigerian project is Afenifere, which has never hidden its reservation about Buhari. Afenifere is said to be discussing with Obasanjo the imperative of not closing the space on anyone on account of personal animosity, citing specifically the case of Atiku. The reason Afenifere is believed to be making a case for Atiku, not as an automatic candidate of the alliance but one of the many aspirants to come together in collective interest, inside sources say, is his position on the issue of restructuring, which a majority of Afenifere members consider crucial to the future of a united Nigeria.

Some Afenifere sources that confided in THISDAY at the weekend maintained that although they were sure Atiku would implement full restructuring, as this has since formed the core of his campaign, they were certain he would implement it in a manner that would be fair to all parts the country.

Obasanjo met with some South-west leaders yesterday, at a parley chaired by one of Afenifere’s leaders, Chief Ayo Adebanjo to further explore the possibility of collaboration.

The former president also seized the opportunity to visit his estranged ally, Chief Olabode George, first to commiserate with him on the passing of his son, Dipo, and to also reconcile with him by drafting him into the battle to take back the country.

But sources said while Obasanjo had yet to give any positive response to the request to give Atiku a chance, he did not however maintain his familiar hard stance on the former vice president, a situation many interpreted to mean he might have begun to soft-pedal.

This is against the backdrop of the speculations that Obasanjo had sworn at different fora that never would Atiku rule Nigeria in his lifetime. Such dispositions clearly establish where Obasanjo is believed to stand on Atiku’s long-nursed presidential project. The former president is believed to be the one de-marketing his former deputy on the allegations that he was a corrupt politician, who should not be found anywhere close to power again.

But recent developments are set to give fillip to the saying that in politics anything is possible.

A source that had been in the know about the moves said, “After all, the same Obasanjo once described a former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi’s ambition as one with a K-leg, but later went to commission projects in Rivers, where he poured accolades on the former governor. Whatever made that happen can make it possible in the case of Atiku and that is where we stand.

“Don’t get it wrong, we are not saying Atiku is already our choice for the presidency in 2019. We have many capable hands already in our midst and we are going to have more by the time the alliance with other groups of similar dispositions is sealed. But it would be unfair to close the door on someone as important as Atiku in a presidential contest. Let it be a fair run. That’s all we crave and he seems to see the sense in our position.

“The truth is that at the stage we are now, even President Obasanjo has realised we must not make the mistake of not putting our best foot forward in the race to realising the Nigerian project. I’m not saying he (Atiku) is our best foot, but if he turns out to be our best foot, we must not hesitate to put him forward for as long as Nigeria wins.”

 Obasanjo Meets South-west Leaders

 On the meeting with South-west leaders, Obasanjo, who arrived at the Lekki Phase I residence of Adebanjo at 10: 40am to iron out some of the pending issues with the Yoruba leadership, was accompanied by Chief Abraham Akanle, Mr. Joju Fadairo, Dr. Femi Majekodunmi, Dr. Gbolade Oshinowo, Kenny Martins, Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, and his media aide, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi. The former president immediately entered into a closed-door meeting with Mrs. Awolowo Dosumu, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Dr. Amos Akingba, Mr. Supo Shonibare, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Professor Akin Mabogunje, Professor Banji Akintoye, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, former governor of Ogun State governor and Director-General, Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and former Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko, among others.

Although Obasanjo declined comments on the purpose of the meeting, his host, Adebanjo hinted that it was aimed at fostering peace and unity among the Yoruba leaders. According to him, the meeting is “nothing more than the fact that Nigeria must move forward. All attempts to establish dictatorial tendencies in the country must be opposed. There must be unity to destroy mediocrity and dictatorship.”

The Afenifere leader also said, “What is important is that we have our common goal. We don’t have a candidate yet. Not yet. We must agree first. Any differences among us must be settled. If you are not united, you can’t fight the battle. The Yoruba man must put on their thinking cap.”

Asked why he opted to hold the meeting with Obasanjo whose critic he had consistently been, Bakare said, “Being a critic is not an enemy of the state or the nation. The thinker is the enemy of the mob. If you say I have been a critic of Chief Obasanjo, look at him now being a critic of Muhammadu Buhari too, yet he facilitated his coming in. Critic is not the same thing as criticism – it is let us reason together, things are not going the right way. That is all.”

According to Bakare, the hope and prayer of the concerned leaders is that the meeting would eventually put Nigeria on the right path.

There were, however, indications that the meeting had a fruitful outcome. One of the participants told THISDAY, “It was positive.” This was as Mabogunje sang in the Yoruba dialect: “Why shouldn’t we be happy? It has gone exactly the way we want it to go.”

Meanwhile, at the Ikoyi residence of George, the meeting with Obasanjo was described as an end to their long standing political rift.

Obasanjo, who also led top aides and loyalists to George’s residence, urged him to take solace in God over the demise of his son.

“We cannot query God, but to only take solace in what He has done to you. If this did not happen, who knows what next that will happen? I have not been around but it was in my mind to come over and commiserate with you and the family. May God grant the reposed eternal rest,” Obasanjo told the family.

Expectedly, the visit elicited emotions, when George’s sister, Alhaja Majolagbe, in her vote of thanks, declared that the rift between the two was over with the visit.

“We were all shocked when this started. But, today, the devil has been put to shame. The evil this morning has been condemned outside this house. It will never come to these two great Nigerians anymore. Time has come back again, when my brother will find Ota his home. It is over, Allah takes all thanks,” Majolagbe said.