*Declares him next President
*How Gummi, Kukah, Oyedepo brokered peace
By Richard Abu and Myke Uzendu
In what might be considered as monumental, former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday made a uturn to endorsed Atiku Abubakar for president for 2019, described him as being better than incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and tipped him to beat Buhari at next year’s presidential election in February.
Obasanjo’s decision took many political observers by surprise and has remained the topic of discussion since the news of the endorsement broke out Atiku was vice president to Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007 but the later years of their presidency was marked by bitter quarrel and since then, Obasanjo had refused to have anything to do with Atiku.
Even recently, Obasanjo was quoted to have said that God would not forgive him if he forgave Atiku his sins against the PDP and the country.
But the two leaders sheathe their sword on Thursday in Abeokuta, Ogun State when Atiku and other eminent Nigerians visited Obasanjo for a truce meeting.
At the end of the parley, Obasanjo endorsed Atiku, who is the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 poll, saying that he is “better than President Muhamnmadu Buhari.”
Obasanjo in 2015 played a prominent role in his Buhari’s election, but turned his back on the President last over what he called the President’s poor performance and ethnic bias in his appointments of key officials of the Federal Government.
But, addressing a press conference at his Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library PentHouse after a closed-door meeting with Atiku on Thursday, the former President said that PDP standard bearer has the capacity to perform better incumbent President Buhari.
The former President said that he had forgiven Atiku because he had showed remorse and was ready to make amends.
Obasanjo said that Atiku has a better understanding of the economy which would boost the economy of the country; has business experience which would translate to massive employment opportunities and a better international outreach which would lead to a better management of foreign affairs.
As against Buhari, the elder statesman said that Atiku is more accessible and less inflexible and more open to all parts of the country, stressing that the quality would allow Atiku to shun nepotism.
Obasanjo who referred to Atiku as President-to-be said that the choice of Atiku as his running mate in 1999 was for the latter to take over power from him, describing the former Vice President as the best amongst all the then aspirants of the PDP.
He said: “For me, relatively and of all the aspirants in the PDP, you have the widest and greatest exposure, experience, outreach and possibly the best machinery and preparation for seeing the tough and likely dirty campaign ahead through.
“From what I personally know of you, you have capacity to perform better than the incumbent. You surely understand the economy better; you have business experience, which can make your administration business-friendly and boost the economy and provide jobs.
“You have better outreach nationally and internationally and that can translate to better management of foreign affairs. You are more accessible and less inflexible and more open to all parts of the country in many ways. As Pastor Bakare, one-time running mate of the incumbent President said, ‘You are a wazobia man.’ And that should help you in confronting the confrontable and shunning nepotism.”
While defending himself, Obasanjo said his earlier stand not to support the former Vice President was based on the character attributes Atiku exhibited when he was the number two man in the country, adding that he was right on his position.
Obasanjo however said that he and Atiku had reviewed what was wrong with Atiku, saying that the presidential candidate has re-discovered and repositioned himself.
“Yes, when it started, it was meant for Atiku to succeed Obasanjo. In the presence of these distinguished leaders of goodwill today, let me say it openly that we have reviewed what went wrong on the side of Atiku.
“And in all honesty, my former Vice President has re-discovered and re-positioned himself. As I have repeatedly said, it is not so much what you did against me that was the issue but what you did against the party, the government and the country.
“I took the stand I had taken based on the character and attributes you exhibited in the position you found your- self. I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position.
“From what transpired in the last couple of hours or so, you have shown remorse; you have asked for forgiveness and you have indicated that you have learnt some good lessons and you will mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable.
“Whenever or wherever you might have offended me, as a Christian who asks for God’s forgiveness of my sins and inadequacies on daily basis, I forgive and I sincerely advise you to learn from the past and do what is right and it will be well with you,” Obasanjo said.
He however hinted that there are areas, national and internationally, which the former vice president would need to amend, saying the rest of the coast would be clearer if Atiku would continue to show remorse.
While offering to assist in mending fences, Obasanjo said that voting for Atiku would mean that Nigerians have forgiven the former Vice President and regain their confidence.
He said: “Obviously, you have mended fences with the party and fully reconciled with the party. That’s why today, you are the presidential candidate of the party. In addition to appreciating all that the party has done for you, may.
I advise you to work together with all those who contested for the party’s flag with you as a team for your campaign.
“There are still areas, nationally and internationally, where you have to mend fences and make amends. You will know how to handle what is already out and what may yet be put out by the opposition.
“But, I am convinced that if you continue with the attitude that brought you here with these distinguished leaders of goodwill, with remorse and contrite heart, the rest of the coast within and outside the country can be cleared. And if there is anything I can do and you want me to do in that respect, I will do.
“I am sure with the right attitude for change where necessary, and by putting lessons learned by you to work, you will get the understanding, cooperation, support and mandate – all at the national level.
“With Nigerians voting for you, it will mean that you secure their forgiveness and regain their confidence. It will be with the hope or assurance of a Paul on the road to Damascus Conversion. After all, change and conversion are of man. I believe that with a contrite heart, change is possible in everybody’s life and situation.”
Obasanjo advised Atiku to run an all-inclusive government where merit where performance would count more that blood relationship, saying Atiku should work on recovering lost grounds that have been lost.
According to him, integrity, principles, morality and fight against corruption, crimes and insurgency should form a key focus of Atiku’s administration adding that the constitution should be defended at all cost.
“As you know, along the road to where you are today, many leaders and ordinary people cooperated and overtly and covertly worked hard. On your behalf, I thank them all. May their coast continue to be expanded.
“And when you become Nigerian President which, insha-Allah, you will be, remember what we did together in government – we ran an administration by Nigerians for all Nigerians where merit and performance count more than blood relationship, friendship or kith and kin. Although some time and ground have been lost, you should endeavour to start from where we stopped and recover some lost ground, if not time.
“Please uphold truth, integrity, principles, morality and fight corruption, crimes and insurgency. The fundamental law of the land, our constitution must be scrupulously defended. I make one demand and one demand on you today, I need you to say before God and man that you will always remain irrevocably committed to upholding ALL the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the whole country will remain your single indivisible constituency,” he said.
Atiku, who also referred to himself as a president described the visit as historic for him and Obasanjo and promised to continue with the policies and programmes of the Obasanjo’s administration.
Atiku said: “This visit is an historic one for both of us and for this country because, as I have said last Sunday, I paid tribute to him, because I couldn’t have been what I am today without his wise council, without his picking me as his Vice President for eight years and without the training I got from his tutelage and his leadership.
“I believe the time has come for all of us to work together, to unite and work together, so that this country can be repositioned on the path of unity, truth and prosperity.
“Mr President Sir, today is one of the happiest days of my life. As I said a few moments ago up there, after your presidency, we have had three presidents in this country, the only President you have trained is myself and I said I am going to commit my presidency, if I become one, to the continuation of your own presidency and legacy,” he said.
It was learnt that the peace truce was brokered by trio of the Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Presiding Bishop of the Living Faith Church (aka Winners’ Chapel International), Bishop David Oyedepo and a Kaduna-based prominent Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi. The clerics, except Oyedepo, arrived at the venue of the meeting with Atiku.
Oyedepo joined them after an hour. Members of the Atiku entourage included the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, Chief Bode George, former Ogun State Governor Gbenga Daniel, former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; Senator Ben Bruce, amongst others.