Nigerian Presidential Elections: The Emergence of Atiku and the Reason Behind Obasanjo’s Endorsement

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For those who are following the African political chase game diligently, to stay politically relevant and rich, what matters the most are shrewdness, selfishness and the survival of the fittest. The Nigerian political territory is no exception to this unwritten rule. Definitely, permanent enemies matter less than permanent interests in the Nigerian political zone. One could be forgiven to ask whether these social realities did in any way, influence the decision of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to “forgive” and “endorse” his former vice-President and arch-enemy Abubakar Atiku, who emerged recently as the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate against incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the upcoming 2019 Presidential elections.

If history is anything to go by, it is clear that President Olusegun Obasanjo has enjoyed political power perhaps more than anyone else in Nigeria. Having served both as the military head of the State from 13 February 1976 to 30 September 1979 and as a two-term President from 29 May 1999  to 29 May 2007, Obasanjo knows the Nigerian political game on the tip of his fingers and how to shrewdly, play it. It is, therefore, not a surprise that many people in Nigeria believe that Obasanjo’s politically blessing is tantamount to securing a political achievement one can dream of. But history also shows that former President Olusegun Obasanjo equally went through the political wilderness to be what he is today. The imprisonment of Obasanjo and an alleged attempt by former President Sani Abacha to kill him, based on controversial coup allegations are part of the Nigerian political history and former President Obasanjo’s relevance to it.

But as luck would have it, Obasanjo’s imprisonment indeed became ironically the beginning of his second political journey to success. After Obasanjo’s nemesis President Sani Abacha died mysteriously, Obasanjo did not only regain his freedom, he was presented by some powerful groups to contest for the presidency. The political equation was that with the choice of Obasanjo, from the Yoruba ethnic group, the Yorubas would be placated after they were wrongly denied their political opportunity, following the annulment of the 12 June 1993 election, which was supposedly won by their son of the soil  Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party. However, to contest an election in Africa, the brain, achievements, political experience and honesty of the contestant all matter less than their bank account. Chief Obasanjo did not have the financial resources to win the presidential elections in Nigeria. But he won the election anyway. How Olusegun Obasanjo got the millions of dollars needed to contest and won the elections are another topic at this juncture. The most interesting thing is that Olusegun Obasanjo became the president of Nigeria a poor man.

Today, it is believed that the same former President Obasanjo is one of the richest Nigerians. This is where the Atiku story and connection become interesting. For eight years, Abubakar Atiku, opposition presidential candidate for the upcoming 2019 Presidential elections was Obasanjo’s Vice President. Their political marriage ended and later became acrimonious after Obasanjo sensed that his Vice President had the ambition to succeed him as the President, following Obasanjo’s alleged aborted third term ambition. Tell me who would not have such an ambition to become the President after serving eight years as the Vice President. It is believed that Obasanjo did everything within his power to destroy Atiku politically. It is equally rumoured that both men know much about each other – including all their dirty clothes. Hum! Dirty? And they proclaim themselves holy and want to rule the country? That’s Africa for you. If it is true that both men know each other more than you and I do, could that be the reason behind Obasanjo’s endorsement of Atiku? Perhaps yes, but couldn’t Obasanjo had endorsed any other candidate to protect his interests?

It is on record that after former President Goodluck Jonathan lost to President Mohammadu Buhari, Chief Obasanjo decamped to the ruling APC party, following his criticism of Jonathan’s performance as President. But some critics have accused Obasanjo of a political prostitution because, according to this group, former President Obasanjo was not given a free hand to run the affairs of the party under Jonathan. In other words, the decamp of Obasanjo to the APC had less to do with the performance of the PDP under Jonathan than the attempt by Chief Obasanjo to maintain political relevance and have some political control and protection of his interests, some argued. Being so rigid a leader, it is equally believed that President Buhari did not accommodate Obasanjo’s political tentacles and influence. It is, therefore, not so surprising that Buhari’s administration faces one of its major critics in the person of former President Obasanjo.

The formation of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), which was later integrated into African Democratic Congress (ADC) as an alternative to the two main political parties in the country the APC and PDP, adds more interest to the Nigerian political situation and former President Obasanjo’s role come 2019. The ADC was registered in 2006 and contested in 2007 with economist Dr. Pat Utomi as its presidential candidate. As one of the leading figures in the ADC, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo has accused the APC and PDP of failure to address Socio-economic and political problems facing the country and inability to honour their key promises to the citizenry. However, while demonizing the APC and PDP, critics have accused Obasanjo of systematically distancing himself from taking responsibilities for the failures of the PDP under him. Former President Obasanjo served a record two – terms (8 years in total) as a President under the PDP. Therefore, if after leaving office the former President believes the parties, including his (PDP) did not perform well, logically speaking, he should share the blame, because he was the President for eight years under the PDP, some critics argue. But those who know the former President Obasanjo well would tell you he hardly accepts blame for any wrongdoings. Moreover, it is believed Mr. Obasanjo likes to be seen as a saint. Perhaps that explains why he has accused all former Nigerian leaders of corruption – even those leaders who worked under him and his watch – except himself.

But a very important question is why would former President Olusegun Obasanjo, find it important to endorse his former vice-President and arch-enemy Abubakar Atiku as the PDP Presidential candidate, having in mind Obasanjo openly left the PDP party with his membership card allegedly torn openly in the presence of the press? See the video for more:  Is PDP no more corrupt as Obasanjo earlier alleged? Is Obasanjo returning to the same party he mocked as corrupt and left? What has Atiku done to suddenly make him a saint in the eyes of Obasanjo, who had in the past tried all he could to send him into political oblivion? Some political watchers have argued that the political reality on the ground clearly favours former Vice President Atiku to defeat the incumbent, all things being equal. Is Obasanjo’s endorsement of Atiku a political calculation aimed at protecting Obasanjo’s interests and making him politically relevant again? Could it be that the former President feels he is better off making peace with his long-term nemesis, having in mind that Atiku’s political victory could be a doom for his former boss Obasanjo?

Whatever the case may be, one needs to master the African political water before they dive in to swim, otherwise, they might get drowned. You definitely, need that hard skin, shrewdness, and selfishness to swim far in that African political water. At the end of the day, it is the masses who are left behind in the sea – and indeed, at the receiving end.

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Photo: vanguard