Where does Obasanjo stand in Buhari vs Atiku?


Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is a force to reckon with in the political landscape of the country. His voice speaks volume that many see him as a major force when it comes to who becomes Nigeria’s president.

After his tenure as the president, Obasanjo backed late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to get the PDP ticket in 2007 against former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odilli, who was initially tipped to win the party’s presidential ticket. Yar’Adua’s demise created the space for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s ascendancy to the Presidency. In 2011, when Jonathan contested for the presidency as incumbent, Obasanjo stood behind him to win the PDP presidential ticket against his former vice, Atiku Abubakar.

But in 2015 when Jonathan indicated his interest to run for a second term, this did not augur well with the elder statesman, as he did not give his blessings. Obasanjo openly backed Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan’s opponent while he was still a member of the party.

This action attracted a lot of criticisms from PDP stalwarts, who called for his expulsion from the party. Before he could be expelled letter, Obasanjo publicly ordered that his membership card be torn, saying the country was gradually being destroyed economically under Jonathan’s administration.

The party members, on their part, claimed that the former president was ejected from the party for anti-party activities. The statement of his expulsion said the former president “stands expelled and ex-communicated from the party, thereby loosing all rights, priviledges and respect of our teeming members.”

Obasanjo openly criticised the administration of Jonathan, accusing him of wasting the country’s resources and consequently threw his weight behind Buhari’s presidential ambition, which worked against Jonathan and helped Buhari to win in 2015. At the time, Obasanjo claimed that Buhari was smart, educated and experienced enough to warrant his support.
Buhari’s sins

However, in less than two years of Buhari’s administration, Obasanjo had written two letters expressing his dissatisfaction over his manner of governance. This generated a lot of heat across the country, with some analysts backing Obasanjo and others condemning him. Obasanjo accused Buhari of nepotism, having a poor understanding of politics and engaging in blame games rather than accepting responsibility for his failure. The elder statesman, whenever he had the opportunity at many functions, openly criticised the current administration and its principal.

“Some people believe that those that are in position, whether they are doing well or not, they must continue to be there. But when we say they must not be there, they will want to fight back,” he said at a function in Ibadan.

He charged Nigerians to sit up, saying it would not be an easy task to wrest powers from Buhari, saying, “If you think it will be easy to liberate Nigeria, you are deceiving yourself. But the God that did it yesterday will do it again today. Remember a particular leader who had a desire to transmute from military uniform to elected president.

“We had a situation that we had five political parties and the five parties nominated one person as candidate for presidency. If only his nuclear family had voted for him, he would have won.

“But our God is wonderful. God laughed. Now, God is laughing. When the time came, God revealed that he’s God. He is the omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal, who can do all things and who can make all things possible. But if we are leaving things to God, we have to do our own side. The work has started. Some people may be laughing at you and make jest of you; don’t be bothered with that. Listen, Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) are your instruments. If you have not collected yours, go and collect it.”

Obasanjo’s rift with Atiku
Many see Obasanjo as a major obstacle to former Vice President Atiku’s ambition. Some highly influential Nigerians, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, have advised the ex-VP to close ranks with Obasanjo in order to achieve his aim.

When Atiku newly defected from APC and had not announced his presidential plans or the platform he would use, Jonathan warned him not to ignore Obasanjo, even if he gets the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket.

“If Atiku gets our party ticket, he would compete well,” Jonathan had said. “But he would have to reach out to our boss, Baba OBJ, the boss of all bosses. We’ve all leant at different times that you ignored OBJ at your peril. OBJ has the magic wand; he is respected at home and abroad.”

As if some Atiku’s traducers were waiting for his exit from APC, they immediately rooted out an old video of Obasanjo’s interview where he gave reasons for not supporting his former ally.

The video, which recently went viral soon after picking PDP form, showed the retired General saying he couldn’t have allowed Atiku to succeed him, apparently because of the magnitude of the information at his disposal.

“With what I know about Atiku, if I had put Atiku forward, God would not have forgiven me”, Obasanjo claimed in the video, said to have been recorded in 2015.

Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who spoke on the rift between the duo, said Obasanjo had knelt down for Atiku in his desperate bid to secure the ticket of PDP for the 2003 poll. According to Soyinka, Before the PDP primaries in January 2003, Obasanjo got everyone he knew could reach me on the surface on the earth including Yemi Ogunbiyi and my son, to get me to help him intercede when it was clear that (Abubakar) Atiku was in a position to take his job. He knew Atiku had a lot of regard for me and calls me ‘Uncle’.

“In the now famous BBC interview a few days to PDP’s 2003 primaries, Atiku had declared that he was under tremendous pressure from his supporters to contest the ticket against Obasanjo but was yet to make up his mind in what triggered panic in Obasanjo’s camp.”

“The pressure was intense. Of course, I could not have knelt before Atiku not to embark on a course of action that would lead to his boss’ disgrace. But I can confirm to you that Obasanjo as President knelt down before Atiku so that he would not lose his job.”

Soyinka said he warned Atiku that for making Obasanjo to kneel down for him, he would pay heavily for that. This explained Atiku’s dramatic change of fortune once Obasanjo was sworn in for a second term of office.

In April, Obasanjo, when asked if he would support Atiku’s presidential aspiration, answered: “For what? How can I be on the same side with Atiku? To do what?” he had asked. “If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes, but once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support. I do not have personal grudges with anyone. If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us. It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual. If you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria, it does not matter who you are, I am not working with you.

Who gets Obasanjo’s support?
Atiku has again emerged the presidential candidate of PDP while President Muhammadu Buhari has been affirmed as the standard bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress ticket. With this development, Obasanjo, as a patron, who decides who becomes the president, may have to choose between the two gladiators.

From all indications, Atiku may be the anointed candidate of the elder statesman. When Atiku clinched the presidential ticket of the major opposition party, and in delivering his acceptance speech, thanked Obasanjo for picking him as his vice president in 1999. He said without it, he could never have become the PDP presidential candidate in Port Harcourt.

“Under his tutelage, I learnt quite a lot, and I believe the experience I have got is going to impact on how I eventually govern this country. I wish to pay my personal tribute to him.”

Given Obasanjo’s recent open condemnation of Buhari for lacking initiative in running the affairs of Nigeria, it would seem the natural thing to do is to stay aloof. Both Buhari and Atiku are on bad books. But Obasanjo is not one to stand aloof in deciding Nigeria’s political fortunes.

Therefore, Atiku may benefit from his political favours as the devil he once knew for eight years as Nigeria’s leader.

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