Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Bishop of Sokoto Diocese of the Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Hassan Kukah, has explained his role in reuniting former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his estranged former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, saying it had no political undertone.
Kukah in a lengthy statement issued yesterday said it has been his desire to reconcile President Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku.
However, Kukah said he was surprised at the manner the epoch-making event was later given political interpretation, and referred to as an endorsement for Atiku.
He said he was compelled to explain his role since another key actor in the reconciliation Sheikh Gumi had already told his own side of the story.
“I feel obliged to state my own side so that Nigerians can have a clearer picture of my own involvement. Although trying to reconcile President Obasanjo and Atiku was something I had been working on intermittently in the last few years, nothing could have prepared me for the way things finally shaped up,” he said.
On the issue of misconstruing the intent of the reunion of the two political leaders, Kukah said it couldn’t have been for the mere issue of political endorsement that made him sacrifice all his tight schedules to broker the reconciliatory meeting.
The cleric said: “I was not in Abeokuta to endorse Atiku, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I perfectly understand the feelings of many of my friends and members of the opposition who believe that I travelled with Atiku and his team to attend his endorsement by President Obasanjo, but I reiterate that this was not the case.”
Kukah said his vocation as a priest of the Catholic Church would not allow him to dabble into politics as to begin to broker political endorsements.
“Let me state first that I am a priest of the Catholic Church and by the grace of God, a Bishop. I have more than a passing knowledge of our discipline and doctrine in matters relating to the role of a Catholic priest in political engagement. My doctoral thesis was on Religion and Politics in
Nigeria. So, this is an area that I have written and spoken extensively about for over 30 years.
“I am therefore very clear about the boundaries, the slippery slopes and the contexts. Unlike Sheikh Gumi and Rev. Oyedepo who were invited to this event, I am a central actor. So let me explain what really happened,” he said.
While recounting his efforts to broker the reconciliation, Kukah said: “On October 9, 2018, I had the honor of being the guest speaker for the annual conference of the Four Square Gospel Church in Alagomeji, Lagos. The presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, a member of this Church, had first invited me some years back but I could not honour the invitation. President Obasanjo was the chairman of the occasion.
“At the end of the lecture, he indicated that he would have to leave because he had a scheduled meeting.
I told him I needed to see him briefly and he obliged. I brought up the issue again of what he thought of his reconciliation with Atiku.
“My last discussion with him this year was either January or February. His response was still negative and he told me what he later told the media. I reminded him that I was not interested in the politics of reconciliation but the spiritual angle.”
Kukah said it was not easy to get Obasanjo to accept to reconcile with Atiku but that through persistent persuasion, he had to yield.
The well-respected and outspoken Catholic priest said he had to deploy all tactics, sometimes appealing to Obasanjo’s religious sensibility in order to get him to accept reconciliation.
Finally he said Obasanjo called him to fix a date for the meeting with Atiku.
“I received a call from President Obasanjo saying: ‘Bishop, listen, I have changed my mind’. My heart nearly sank, but before I could ask why, he said: ‘Let us do it tomorrow if you can reach Atiku. I am going to deliver a lecture in Ife and will be back home before 1p.m. So, tell him to come at 1pm,” he said.
Regarding the presence of other persons, during the peace meeting, Kukah said Obasanjo had told him that he wanted Atiku to come with the Chairman of the PDP, and two or three others. He said former president also invited both Sheikh Gumi and Rev. David Oyedepo.