When in a dramatic maverick political move in the eighties, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady declared “there are no personal sympathies in politics”, the matriarch of English political philosophy was actually adding to the body of global human knowledge.
Ever before Thatcher’s famous words, an iconoclastic US Congressman, and author of a bestseller political book, William L. Clay, had consciously and concisely captured the essence of politics as a craft and game of interests rather than a bundle of emotion or accumulated sentiments.
Thus in his description of politics, which is far from scientific exactitude, Clay claimed that “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”
Politics, from the above wise counsels therefore is tantamount to a dynamic and versatile human relations activity of man, by man and for man. And a wheel that rolls on the track of time and space. Thus, it is widely accepted that politics should never be an exercise in rigidity or a mind’s construction sculptured in steel. And by inference, politics is neither religious belief nor superstitious norm; but a keen game of permutations and assertions gauged by current happenings and pervading interplay of contending hegemonic forces at a given period of time.
The pre-second term implosion between a once-sitting president Olusegun Obasanjo and his joint-ticket-holder, Atiku Abubakar, remains an epic case study in contemporary Nigerian history. It is one that draws the attention of this piece, as the two gladiators still dominate the political firmament of a nation inching towards presidential election in February 2019.
Since time is registered, philosophically, as the “healer of all wounds”, the poser on all lips now is: has the ice really thawed between Obasanjo and Atiku? Your guess is as good as mine.
Let’s burrow into hindsight and take a glimpse of the true story of these Titans of our time. According to impeccable sources, when the going was good between both leaders, Atiku always had Obasanjo’s ears. Atiku, with the support of Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, a bosom friend of both men, twice had audience with Obasanjo in his Otta Temperance Farms between 1991 and 1993, to discuss the state of the nation, first to seek support for late MKO Abiola’s presidential bid and second to warn OBJ of an impending then imminent plot by late Abacha to arrest and jail him in a trumped up treasonable charge of planning a coup. Coincidentally, both Atiku and Fasawe were still with OBJ when the then Police Commissioner in Ogun State sauntered in with his men and forcefully removed Obasanjo to their station. Atiku was said to have lost his temper, highly livid with anger but restrained by other witnesses to the odd arrest. That was the beginning of OBJ’s travails and long stay in prison!
Never known as man who abandons his own, Atiku characteristically engaged the system and convinced some influencers within the Abacha junta to move detained Obasanjo from Kirikiri prison in Lagos to the one in Yola, Atiku’s homeland. Once there, Atiku in concert with others, catered to the welfare and medical needs of Obasanjo. There is a story of how Atiku introduced his medical doctor, Dr. Olusegun Ajuwon, to attend to OBJ’s medical needs. Same Dr. Ajuwon was later compensated by President Obasanjo in 1999 as Chief Medical Director of the government-owned National Hospital Abuja.
Meanwhile, since one good turn deserves another, Atiku was not left out of Obasanjo’s sight. Little wonder that he recognized the Wazirri’s unsolicited assistance over the years, plus the fact that same compatriot had played tremendous role in the struggle and defense of democracy in Nigeria. No wonder, OBJ picked Atiku as his Vice Presidential candidate for the 1999 elections, even though Atiku had already won the governorship election in his Adamawa homestead. And in fairness to Obasanjo, his first term was left in the hands of Atiku, whose business acumen and rich political sagacity manifested in the assemblage of a dream economic team.
However, like the saying goes: “twenty children cannot play for 20 years.” Things began to fall apart between Atiku and his boss, no thanks to the subterfuge of political mercenaries and crass opportunistic politicians. Thus, Atiku, the erstwhile darling of all, became tainted and tarred by his boss as one of “the corrupt young politicians to whom power cannot be entrusted.” The bee stung Atiku. And its long lasting pain remains till today. Hence, the former Vice President’s brave and celebrated constitutional 14 Court victories against Obasanjo’s administration, are mementos and legacies for generations of yet to be born students of politics and political engineering in Africa.
Candidly, matters peaked negatively. As things actually reached a crescendo in 2006 when Obasanjo had declared total war on Atiku; sacking the latter’s key media aides. Their exclusion from Aso Presidential Villa led Atiku to pioneer the first independent media office owned by any politician in the country. The Atiku Media Office was created in 2006 to fire up the burner of press freedom till date.
By 2007, things have finally fallen apart. The drums of war were in high tempo. And the battle lines were boldly demarcated. For Obasanjo’s alleged intent to go for a third term, contrary to the provisions of the country’s constitution, became an object of public uproar and a political monster that needed to be tamed. Atiku was receptive to the huge challenge, and picked the gauntlet.
At last, the epochal political event had only one victor: Nigerians. But it came at a huge cost to Obasanjo and Atiku. The key opponents of the agenda, Atiku in particular, was singled out for punishment. A huge albatross of imaginary corruption perception was placed on Atiku’s neck. However, a year ago, the mercurial businessman and philanthropist challenged anyone that has any allegation of corruption practices against him to reveal it or desist from the character assassination. As we speak, nobody has countered Atiku. Sadly, perception is not reality. But negative perception constitutes grave danger to people’s brand reputation.
A decade after, tempers seem to have cooled off a bit. But has the ice truly thawed between Obasanjo and Atiku? The hand writing is on the wall. Instances abound when charitable Atiku has been seen extending hands of fellowship to OBJ.
Recently too Atiku, issued a strongly worded published statement warning the Buhari administration against yielding to the lure of tyranny and impunity. It is already public knowledge that Obasanjo no longer has any good reference for the incumbent.
Besides, both OBJ and Atiku are united on the quest to enthrone a government that would truly change the fortunes of Nigerians for good. After all, the adversary of one’s adversary should become a good friend of one. Accordingly, an Atiku that was badly treated and bruised while he was a staunch member of the APC, on whose victory the former Vice President invested time, money and human influence, but was later short-changed once the party attained the saddle of power at the federal level, is now involved in strategic alliances.
At this point, Atiku soon retraced his steps back to the PDP, a party he helped to form and fund in 1998. Hence, his homecoming was welcomed and has reenergized the now rebranded PDP. Atiku, therefore, is at a vantage position to flag the PDP’s presidential banner in 2019. Meanwhile OBJ, to wit, has retired from party politics. He made an open declaration of it by publicly tearing, in a feat of anger, his membership card of the PDP, a party that gave him two terms as president. Notwithstanding, OBJ is still associated with the Coalition for Nigeria, a rescue-mission political pressure group that has now aligned interest with a new political party, the Action Democratic Congress.
On the other hand, an unrelenting Atiku, a frontline presidential aspirant of the PDP, continues to transverse the nooks and crannies of the country on consultation with stakeholders.
Like a Trojan horse, OBJ has been on fence-mending trips to many parts of Nigeria. For instance, after 20 years of estrangement, the former president dramatically prostrated to court Pa Reuben Fasoranti, 92, Chairman of Afenifere, numero uno Yoruba social cultural group. In addition, OBJ also travelled to Lagos to heal another wound. This time around it was destination Olabode George, a chieftain of the PDP, who was ignominiously jailed under Obasanjo’s government for “fraud.” George has buried the hatchet when he reciprocated OBJ’s “condolence call”, and said that: “all that happened in the past belonged to the past and they were the handiwork of the devil.
With all these handwritings on the wall, with many rivers crossed and bridges built, Nigerians are eager to read headline such as: “At Last, Obasanjo backs Atiku for President” or “Obasanjo teams up with Atiku against Buhari”. Both editors and readers alike may not have a long time to wait – as “messengers of peace” are at work on mediation missions to defrost the icy relationship between the two leaders.
As a matter of fact, these conflict controllers who are working hard behind the scene and subtly weaving a basket of peace, are led by General Aliyu Gusau, a retired military officer and former National Security Adviser (NSA) in OBJ-Atiku government; and the ever affable and amiable Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, a common human denominator in that administration with the unofficial label of the occupier of “Office of the Friend of the President.” Alhaji Gusau, a respected silent operator, recently put together a “peace parley” under the guise of national discourse at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, to which he invited and sat both Obasanjo and Atiku together at the table of honour. Another former President was said to have worked behind the scenes to make that “meeting” a reality. That historic meeting was followed by hugs and warm handshakes, plus prompt pleasantries. Somehow the cumulus cloud has gathered, and the expectation of a torrential rainfall of truce may not be misplaced.
Just recently too, the Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee and other party chieftains across the country, took a trip to Obasanjo’s Abeokuta residence, to placate and “apologize to him for all the wrongs done to him by old PDP.” The former President in similar vein has buried the hatchet and reciprocated the homage paid to him by saying: “I have forgiven the PDP.”
Finally, it could safely be said that both statesmen (OBJ and Atiku) do share a common political canvass to paint a new picture for Nigeria, politically. Like Siamese twins with identical destiny, both astute compatriots from the South and North of the country, need to sheath their swords of words and war, embrace each other, for the greater good of the greater majority of generations unborn. As the famous adage goes, “man must end war, lest war will end man.” Nigeria of today is yearning for unity and security, equity and tranquility, justice and fairness, peace and progress.
Will Obasanjo and Atiku rendezvous therefore spell a good omen for a nation in dire need of unification, integration and transformation? Such is the looming expectation of our population.
Alaba Yusuf, a journalist and strategic communicator, wrote from Abuja.
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