By Eric Elezuo
The relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar has not always been like this. How do I mean? It has not always been the cat and rat game it is today. There were days when their relationship was cordial, or so it appears.
How did they start? Politics and political. Those could not be ruled out as both are not known to be golf players or bukateria visitors.
In Atiku’s book, Atiku Abubakar, The Story of My Life, the former Customs’ boss related that his appointment to the running mate position to Obasanjo was not just a flash in the pan, citing that it was obviously a payback time for act of kindness earlier rendered to the military tactician
As exclusively reported by Vanguard in the near past, Atiku supposedly played a big part prior to the arrest of Obasanjo by the Abacha-led junta in 1995. However, today, both relate to each other with so much hatred and disdain, prompting each to engage in endless struggle to plot the downfall of the other. Little wonder Obasanjo wrote of Atiku Abubakar in his book, My Watch (2), explaining why he never, and would never support Atiku becoming the President of Nigeria thus:
“His propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgement, his belief and reliance on marabouts, his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out on all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety, truth and national interest for self and selfish interest.”
“I also stumbled upon a damning report of inquiry carried out on Atiku’ – I asked one of my predecessors why he did not inform me of how bad the report was and he said that he thought I knew. He said ‘this was a man I wanted to dismiss and jail but for the intervention of Shagaya and Shehu Yar’Adua.’……And knowing all that I discovered about him, what would have been an unpardonable mistake and sin against God would have been to foist him on Nigeria.”
But reports have it that Atiku had actually in 1995 attempted to prevent the arrest of Obasanjo by the Abacha junta, a move that watchers would believe failed considering that Obasanjo was still arrested.
However, one Oyewole Fasawe, an ally of both of them, has confirmed how bitter Atiku was when in his presence, men of the Police Force stormed Obasanjo’s home to arrest him while Atiku was visiting. Earlier reports had it that Atiku and Fasawe were there to forewarn Obasanjo about the impending arrest, but supporters of the General have claimed that there was a possibility that the former Customs’ officer actually led the onslaught. They alleged that his visit was to ensure that Obasanjo was and remained at home for the officers to swoop on.
Historians also revealed that Atiku’s visit in 1995 was the second in two years having visited earlier in 1993 on consultation basis prior to the ill-fated June 12 election to ask Obasanjo to prevail on Shehu Musa Yar’dua to support the candidacy of Chief MKO Abiola. Though no one could tell whether Obasanjo did as told, but later happenings have to prove that he did not. Is it therefore, a coincidence that both Yar’dua and Obasanjo were principal suspects in the alleged botched coup of 1995?
Fate saved Obasanjo from the hangman as he got life sentence, which was later commuted to 15 years following international uproar, even as his bosom friend, Shehu Yar’dua died in detention in mysterious circumstances. Book makers also believed that Obasanjo’s emergence from prison alive was Atiku’s making. Atiku has reportedly advised him to resist any attempt to be injected or have his blood drawn. But it is obvious that one cannot resist anything in detention; under the fiat attitude of military guards. Obasanjo himself knew that such advice was vain. Even Major Adeyemi, with all his stubbornness received a dose of the lethal injunction which was to kill him much later. Obasanjo and his advisers saw Atiku’s advice as purely surveillance, and played along.
Then in 1999, the unexpected happened; Obasanjo chose Atiku as his presidential running mate, even as the later had already won the governorship seat of Adamawa State, and so the marriage of two strange bed fellows started. It did not take Atiku too long to prove that he wanted to be in charge, thanks to the extreme timidity of Obasanjo, who believed he owe some people an amount of gratitude for setting him free from jail and hoisting the presidency upon his unmerited shoulders. So Atiku went berserk, first by unilaterally imposing Evans Enwerem as Senate president as against the popular choice of Pius Okadigbo.
These attitudes, Obasanjo was to keep close to his chest, and when an opportunity presented itself at the 4th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit, organized by the University of Ibadan Centre for Sustainable Development, the former President lambasted leaders under 50 years citing Bola Tinubu and Salisu Buhari for their certificate saga, and not to for Atiku Abubakar, who he picked as deputy but later showed his ‘true colour’
Using Atiku as a case study, Obasanjo took the younger generation of politicians to the cleaners, saying they lacked integrity, character and credibility.
There and then, Obasanjo confessed that Atiku has not met his expectation as a credible successor, a view he still holds till today, and is prepared to do everything within his powers to ensure that the Turaki Adamawa never succeeds anyone.
During the period prior to 2007 when Obasanjo’s bloated ambition became obvious, as he sought to perpetrate himself in power by attempting to smuggle a third term clause in the constitution, Atiku stood solidly against his boss. This was not surprising however. Atiku has earlier in 2003 as the Vice President stood in competition against Obasanjo for the presidential seat. A move that shocked not a few persons. Atiku was to say the list daring and ambitious. And so when the time came to shop for a replacement, Obasanjo may not have known where to go, but he knew exactly where not to go. Atiku was bad news!
Atiku’s effrontery at contesting or attempting to contest against him in 2003 drew the bile of Obasanjo, and with his legendary penchant not to forgive, particularly personal injuries, vengeance was sure to follow. The President actually made Atiku pay for his “indiscretion.” He made him politically irrelevant.
First, in the battle to install the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Usman Bugaje, an Atiku loyalist, was frozen out to pave way for Obasanjo’s loyalist, Aminu Bello Masari.
Next was the plot to chisel off some of Atiku’s powers. Obasanjo had contrived the idea of a single presidency, merging his office with Atiku’s. With this done, the budget of the Vice President got subsumed under the budget of the President. Aides of the Vice President could not travel because funding had to be approved. The strategy succeeded in stifling the VP’s political machinery.
Obasanjo did not stop there, he sacked in quick succession eight aides of Atiku, sometimes without informing the VP. Those sacked were Professor Sam Oyovbaire, General Jafaru Isa, Chris Mammah, late Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, Malam Garba Shehu, Dr. Adeola Akande and Mr. Chima Ayati. For those sacked, their “crimes” were one and the same: loyalty to their boss, who for the most part was left out of decision making. On several occasions, including when he addressed the joint session of the National Assembly, in clear breach of protocol, Obasanjo did not acknowledge Atiku’s presence. Ministers brought into government by Atiku, like Funke Adedoyin and Bala Mande, were sacked.
There were more. In November 2005, Abdul Yari, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) and Aide-de-camp to the VP, was sacked over charges of ‘cumulative implicating security reports’, and following was probe of the activities of INTELS Nigeria Limited, a Ports Management firm which Atiku owns. The firm was suspended from operations at the Onne Lighter Terminal, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
This is an angle Obasanjo, and by extension, the Federal Government, which Obasanjo is frolicking with at the moment, is re-initiating to stifle the presidential ambitions of the Adamawa born high chief. It will be recalled that the Federal Government is fighting a silent war against Atiku following Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan’s outburst that she prefers Atiku over President Mohammadu Buhari even as Obasanjo has highlighted that Buhari has not disappointed him.
According to a report, the decision to break the hold of INTELS over logistics handling in Nigeria’s oil and gas port terminals is the first in a series of plans to clip Atiku’s wings.
Even before news of the ailment of President Muhammadu Buhari emerged, Atiku was believed to have commenced mobilization to run for the 2019 presidential election using either the platform of the APC and where not, using the platform of another political party.
The presidency had, through a letter dated Friday, May 5, issued to the Managing Director of Josepdam Port Services Limited (JPSL) broken the seeming dominance of Intels over logistics handling at Onne.
Atiku’s associates see the move as simply a political witch-hunt by some power brokers to break Atiku’s backbone, stressing that they know where the ‘thing’ was coming from.
Intels, had during the privatization exercise done by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration won the concession to operate the terminal at the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone and through it, took dominion over the sector it turned lucrative.
But an Atiku associate has said that they had fought off more serious challenges during the Obasanjo administration, saying that this is small.
“Even those instigating it would sooner than later be at the receiving end because they would also have their challenges which would soon blow up in their heads.
“It is all politics and we are equal to the task. Even there was nothing Obasanjo did not do to stop Atiku during his administration, but when it comes to litigation, Atiku knows how to go his way.
“We know who is working at it and those behind it have a lot to answer for. Their own case is coming up, and we know that this is part of a project.”
Who else could that be if not the principal already suggested; the principal who had sworn never to foist ‘Atiku’ on Nigerians.