This is the story of how former President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice President, Turaki Atiku Abubakar, first met, and how their relationship blossomed before nose-diving over political ambition.
It was discovered that whereas Obasanjo appointed Atiku as his running mate in 1999, there are pieces of information before that fact to suggest that the former may indeed be indebted to the latter. This is an exclusive report.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
He was arrested on March 13, 1995. But before Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo was picked up that day, he had been forewarned. It was the second meeting between one Atiku Abubakar, then known as a politician who made massive waves during the Social Democratic Party, SDP, presidential primaries held in Jos, the Plateau State capital â€“ the SDP primaries took place in March, 1993, some two years earlier.
That day, Atiku (who is one of the few Nigerians identified by their first name) visited Obasanjo at his Temperence Farm, Otta, Ogun State, in the company of Oyewole Fasawe, a mutual friend and business partner of both men. They were there to forewarn Obasanjo about a possible impending arrest in connection with a coup plot.
It was also found out that, contrary to the generally held belief that prior to the politicking of 1998/1999 which produced the presidency of Obasanjo/Atiku, both men had never been close; it came to light that their relationship dated back to 1993. In the book, ATIKU ABUBAKAR, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, Sunday Vanguard discovered that Atiku had, indeed, gone to the same Otta for avuncular consultation with Obj, as Obasanjo is fondly called.
Just some weeks before the landmark June 12, 1993, presidential election, Atiku, who withdrew at the last minute in the run-off primaries to allow for Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola gather some gravitas against Babagana Kingibe, visited Obasanjo. His request was simple: â€œPlease prevail on my boss, Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua, to support the presidential bid of Abiola at the general electionâ€.
Although it could not confirm whether Obasanjo indeed prevailed on the elder Yarâ€™Adua to support Abiola, Obasanjoâ€™s statement during the crisis that trailed the disputation over the election, to the effect that â€œAbiola is not the Messiah’s betrayed the workings of the mind of the former President.
The second meeting between both men, according to the book on pages 247â€“248, is reproduced, verbatim, here: â€œThe United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, picked up the information on Obasanjoâ€™s impending arrest. He immediately alerted the former Head of State who was attending the UN Social Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Obasanjo returned to the country, confident that he had not committed any crime.
Atiku had also been tipped off about Obasanjoâ€™s impending arrest. â€œHe went to the retired Generalâ€™s farm in Otta, Ogun State, to alert him. He had hardly finished speaking to Obasanjo when the divisional police officer in Ota arrived with some plain-clothes security officers to arrest Obasanjo. â€œWhat has he done? What is his offence? Is this the way to pay him back for the services to the country?â€
Oyewole Fasawe, who was with him at Otta, remembered Atiku asking the security agents as they led Obasanjo away. â€œI had never seen Atiku so angry as he was that day. He was ready to fight them if we had not restrained himâ€, Fasawe recounted. Atiku and Fasawe left Otta to break the news of Obasanjoâ€™s arrest to many prominent Nigerians. â€œObasanjoâ€™s arrest and detention brought closer international attention to the reign of terror in Nigeriaâ€.
Obasanjo was tried for being part of the coup plot against the maximum dictator of the time, General Sani Abacha; he was sentenced to life in prisonment. Owing to international pressure, this was later commuted to 15 years â€“ the pressure came from friends abroad, including South Africaâ€™s Nelson Mandela, former US President, Jimmy Carter, and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
After his sentence, Obasanjo was taken to the SSS (now Department of State Services, DSS) Interrogation Centre in Ikoyi. From there, he was moved to KIRIKIRI Maximum Security Prison alongside Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua.
But something happened there as you would discover later. Mind you, the recent controversy over character, leadership and integrity was ignited by Obasanjo at the 4th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit organised by the Centre for Sustainable Development of the University of Ibadan, an engagement in collaboration with the African Sustainable Development Network.
The former President, characteristically, waxed pontifical when he declared that the younger generation of leaders under 50years has betrayed the nation because they lacked integrity. He mentioned the likes of Atiku, whom he said he picked as his vice but was soon to â€œshow his true colourâ€.
Obasanjo also took on Bola Ahmed Tinubu, referring to his controversial scholarship and academic qualification, insisting that it was not different from the scandal which led to the removal of Speaker Imam Salisu Buhari in 1999.
However, what Obasanjo did not mention was the fact that he fought tooth and nail to retain Buhari as Speaker of the House of Representatives, even in the face of Buhariâ€™s glaring folly of claiming what he was not.
Back to Atiku! Obasanjo launched a sweeping diatribe against Nigeriaâ€™s younger generation of politicians whom he accused of lacking the integrity, character and credibility to lead Nigeria to progress and development.
According to Obasanjo, he didnâ€™t know Atiku well enough and that the former Vice President had not met his expectation as a credible successor. Now, at the risk of holding brief for the former Vice President, the questions are:
Is this claim altogether correct?
Was Obasanjo trying to be economical with the truth?
What degree of familiarity was Obasanjo talking about?
At what point did he realize his knowledge of Atiku was not comfortable enough?
Did he complain to Atiku at any point that this lack of familiarity could disqualify the former Vice President from succeeding him?
What degree of personal familiarity could qualify a politician to be nominated to become a running mate to a presidential candidate of a political party?
What is the length of time needed by one politician to trust another?
Did Obasanjo not invite former governor of Rivers State, Sir Peter Odili, to Aso Rock Presidential Villa for morning prayers after which the former broke the news to the latter that he should drop out of the presidential contest?
Could all those Obasanjo bullied out of the presidential contest be described as lacking integrity too?
As earlier stated, contrary to Obasanjoâ€™s claim, he and Atiku had met twice closely before 1999.
In any case, pray, could an enemy have visited an adversary to warn him about the imminent risks to his life or freedom?
Could an enemy also have extended such goodwill fraternal visit?
How many years would an individual need to know a man who had wanted to put him out of harmâ€™s way?
Yet again, destiny played a fast one, very fast one on both men.
Under this condition, it is very important for Atiku Abubakar to note that politics is turn by turn and he should wait for his turn instead of running around from one party to another.
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