Atiku, Obasanjo and the Road Ahead

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The Verdit By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

There are several lessons to learn from the political feud between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his erstwhile deputy, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar that lasted almost one and a half decades and on which so many people built their own political careers. One, it is the height of folly for anybody, most especially journalists, to inherit the enemies of politicians because they can always meet again and reconcile. Two, it is dangerous to speak in absolute terms or put down in print damaging things about another person in moments of anger or political disagreements. Three, and perhaps most important, Nigerians cannot afford to base their judgement on the basis of what politicians say about one another because when the music changes, those character assessments too will change because they are fickle and not always based on facts or principles.

In the course of a July 2005 call-in radio programme, ‘The President Speaks’ (which was usually from his Ota farmhouse), Obasanjo admitted publicly for the first time that he had issues with his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Responding to a question on Atiku’s claim that he (Obasanjo) swore that he would leave office in 2007, the then president said: “The idea of swearing, I think the vice president got it wrong there. For what reason would I swear? Even when I discovered that there were proven cases of disloyalty on his part, I think because I wanted to resolve it between me and him, I brought a Bible and a Quran. And I said, between us, let us swear because we should not have a divided house. He refused to. Why? Because he obviously knew that the cases are proven and they were bad enough.”

A few weeks after that interview session, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents raided the homes of Congressman William Jefferson and Atiku’s Maryland (American) residence where his wife, Jennifer was living at the time. The subsequent investigation and damning report by the U.S. Congress would provide ammunition for the Obasanjo camp to deal with Atiku on the issue of ‘corruption’. Yet, objective followers of political developments in Nigeria at the period were well aware that the ‘Original Sin’ of the then vice president was more of disloyalty than corruption. As an aside, Nigerian politicians have mastered the art of covering up for those with whom they are in the same camp (even if such characters spend all their time in office perfecting how to make bales of dollars ‘disappear’ inside ‘babariga’) while reserving the tag of corruption only for opponents, including those with whom they may have done so many things together in the past.

Whatever may be the allegations swirling around Atiku concerning his integrity, in his fight with Obasanjo, corruption was just a convenient weapon with which to deal him a fatal blow. Meanwhile, Atiku would also want the world to believe his grouse with Obasanjo had to do with Third Term. That is false. The real problem was that Atiku did not even want his former boss to secure a second term and almost upstaged him in the process. I have had the benefit of several interactions with both Atiku and Obasanjo and I recall once telling the former in 2006 (Simon Kolawole was a witness) that what he did to Obasanjo in 2003 was nothing but treachery. Of course, Atiku vehemently disagreed with my characterisation with a long tale about how the relationship between him and his boss soured but that was, and still is, my reading of what transpired at the period.

However, following his recent victory at the PDP presidential primaries in Port Harcourt, Atiku last week went on pilgrimage to Abeokuta where he and Obasanjo were reconciled at an elaborate ceremony involving some respected Christian and Islamic clerics. Quite naturally, there has been a backlash to that effort while the social media is now replete with some of the scathing things Obasanjo had said about Atiku in the past. As Buhari supporters feed on these damaging posts, I have also seen many responses from the Atiku camp where these same allegations were defended by Mallam Garba Shehu, who was for more than a decade Atiku’s media man before he became a spokesman for the president in 2015. That is aside their own counter-response on what President Donald Trump reportedly said about our president.

That some of these messages are playing out in the social media is not a surprise. At election season all over the world, it is very common for those who seek the presidency to be exposed to public scrutiny while character issues like integrity, compassion and stability also come into play. But beyond the virtues and weaknesses of candidates, their capacity to tackle pressing issues that impinge on the lives and livelihoods of citizens is also important. My main concern is that at a period when our nation seems to be at crossroads on several fronts, the campaign about our future has been reduced to ‘he said, they said’ while some young people delude themselves with some meaningless ‘RT for Atiku, Like for Buhari’.

It is good that almost (if not all) our presidential contenders are on social media because there is a way in which this enhances democratic conversation and offer citizens opportunity to connect with them. This kind of engagement also creates a sense of public responsiveness and accountability. But if we must engage those with whom we want to entrust our future, it must be on the basis of what they have to offer us as citizens rather than on some opinions made by other people either out of malice or ignorance. Yes, the stakes are high for the two leading candidates but there is no excuse for the vile smear campaign that we now see on a daily basis. What we expect in a season like this are practical solutions to the country’s problems.

Against the background of high unemployment rate, growing gap between the rich and poor, aging public infrastructure, poor output in education and health etc., it is evident that what we have in our hands today is a situation of national emergency across all sectors. As if it is not bad enough that Nigeria was rated the country with the highest concentration of poor people in the world, the latest “Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI)” index released two weeks ago at the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF/WB) meeting in Bali, Indonesia, revealed that one in 10 Nigerian children does not reach their fifth birthday, and more than 10 million children do not go to school. These of course are problems that have accumulated over years, may be even decades, so it would be unfair to blame the current administration but the question remains as to whether they are applying the right solutions.

With the cold-blooded execution of another International Committee Red Cross (ICRC) abducted midwife, Hauwa Leman and the reported enslavement of Leah Sharibu and others, the Nigerian authorities must now accept that the Boko Haram insurgents once declared ‘technically defeated’ are still very much in business aside other security challenges we grapple with. This no doubt is a critical issue on which we need to task those who want to continue in office as well as those who seek to displace them. Amid all these problems, we cannot discount the serious warnings about our exploding population that is not backed by any productive capacity. This is also an issue that should engage the attention of those who seek to lead Nigeria into the future.

A few years ago, Mr. Dimos Sakellaridis, the then Country Director for DKT International, one of the largest private providers of family planning products, said a major concern about the rapidly growing population in Nigeria is the fact that jobs, national infrastructures, social services, housing, health care facilities are not also growing at the rate at which the population was exploding. And he admonished that those advancing religious arguments for our largely unproductive population should grow wise. “If you compare Nigeria with developed countries like Italy, a Catholic dominated country or even the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a Muslim country, you will understand that these countries have maintained same population for several years and this has caused them to organise their lives better and provide for their people. China has taken care of their own population problems by policies that work for them,” said Sakellaridis.

Unfortunately, what we are witnessing in the name of campaigns are name-calling and rehash of what some people had said in the past or are saying today about certain candidates. While supporters of President Buhari are preoccupied spreading what Obasanjo wrote about Atiku in his books or past letters, supporters of Atiku are also making a feast of an unconfirmed characterisation of Buhari by Trump. Meanwhile, the campaign that Nigerians yearn for is how those who seek to lead will reposition the economy and tackle the myriad of challenges confronting the nation.

Granted that there are many political parties as well as several credible individuals in the presidential race, and I promise to examine some of them and what they represent in the weeks ahead, it is still safe to conclude that the 2019 election will most likely be a straight contest between Buhari and Atiku, for obvious reasons. That is why I endorse one message being circulated widely on WhatsApp credited to a Tunde Alabi-Hundein Dudu. I don’t know who the writer is but the sentiment expressed in the message is one want to leave with readers.

Titled, ‘Special message to both Atiku and Buhari Camps’ the man wrote: “Nigerians are not interested in your tales of who’s corrupt and who is lifeless. The people are hurting. The nation needs a clear direction of how the next four years are going to be. What’s going to happen to the youth, the unemployed, the business owners, our roads, electricity, security of lives and property, education, food on our tables, water, etc. We don’t want to know who can enter America, Aso Rock is not located in Washington; we don’t want to talk about herdsmen, no president will encourage carnage and the killing of his people. We want concrete proposals on what to do about our economy, non-payment of salaries and the welfare of 180 million Nigerians. All these PR gurus, paid bloggers, party spokesmen, media consultants for candidates etc. should just shut up and stop mudslinging. This nonsense going on is nauseating. From now on let’s judge them (presidential candidates) on the clarity of their vision and the rationality of what they intend to do with our tomorrow!”
A round of applause for Mr Dudu!

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