Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
The Case Against Atiku
...and how the Vice-President begged Obasanjo for forgiveness
When President Olusegun Obasanjo declared on national television that there had been proven cases of disloyalty against his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, some observers described the revelation as unpresidential. But for those who think the present face-off between both men will go away, all they need to do is read this report which catalogues exclusive details of the cat and mouse game between Nigeria’s men in power. It is a report which details the frosty relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku in a manner never before revealed. The details are as sordid as they are very real.
THE VP INVITES A MAN OF GOD TO INTERVENE
It was a difficult mix: The sight of Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the General Overseer
of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, in the company of Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Both men - the former a renowned strong man of God, the other a renowned strong politician of the Nigerian hue - walked in together to see President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo. The president was not particularly surprised at the coming of Adeboye whose church had enjoyed the pleasure of the esteemed company of Obasanjo at some of her crusades or revivals. Adeboye was always a phone call away from Obasanjo. Atiku, as number two man, requires no formalities in having audience with his boss. But sometime in July this year, Atiku and Adeboye had business to conduct with Obasanjo. And it was right inside there in the office of the president. The vice president was said to have called on Adeboye to assist in persuading Obasanjo to forgive him for "whatever I have done to offend Mr. President". But politicians in the camp of the vice president insist that the meeting in Obasanjo’s office was a chanced one and that nothing could have been wrong in seeking the help of a renowned man of God, since "Baba is not known to fear men, may be a man of God could be of help". On entering the office, Obasanjo’s demeanour switched to one of palpable rage because he was quick to sense that Adeboye had been brought in by the vice president to plead his cause.
The man of God, according to information made available to Sunday Vanguard by Aso Rock sources, had not finished making what could amount to a substantial case for the Vice President when Obasanjo flew into heightened rage. He did not hide his feelings. He let it be known to the man of God that the voyage he had embarked upon was no more than a fool’s errand because there was no way he, Obasanjo, would let it pass. The case being pleaded was about how to overlook whatever his deputy had done, with a view to allowing him realise his ambition to take over power in 2007. The talk was that open and it was that frank. Obasanjo’s frankness, Sunday Vanguard was informed, stemmed from the fact that he did not want to hide behind any disguise before the man of God.
He laid it bare.
After pointing out some specific instances of what was to him clear cases of manifest disloyalty to the pastor, Obasanjo apologised but still insisted that Nigeria was too important a nation to both present and future good to be handed over to his deputy. It was that blunt; and it was that bad, very bad. Obasanjo was also said to have asked rhetorically that most of what his deputy had done in his capacity as second in command would have taken another complexion, if given the chance to be commander-in-chief
Atiku, who was seated while Obasanjo railed, did not utter a word in deference to the man of God who had come to plead his cause. All said and done, Adeboye was not in doubt as to the result of the errand which he had gone on behalf of and in the company of the vice president.
Information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that it was after this that Atiku stepped up his activities in the media, taking the battle to the next level. The interview he granted, as well as other public statements, one of which was on how elections are rigged, are just a few of what continues to make a bad relationship worse. But the vice president also has a life to live, strategies to adopt and a battle to fight. It would have been unfair to expect him to sit idly by.
This represented one of the instances when the Abubakar had attempted to appeal to Obasanjo to forgive him for whatever he may have done.
A PRESIDENT AS STORY TELLER
The group was dubbed the Gang of Four. This was the name watchers of goings-on in Aso Rock Presidential Villa dubbed the group comprising two former military presidents, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar; General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the National Security Adviser, NSA, and Atiku.
Whereas the impeachment saga of 2002 which Speaker Umar Ghali Na’Abba spearheaded on grounds of constitutional breaches against Obasanjo was seen in some quarters as desirable if only to checkmate the growing excesses of a president operating like a locomotive engine whose breaks have gone kaput, the reality of fresh facts made available to Sunday Vanguard points in another direction. By his own admission to a core of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leaders, Obasanjo was to open a can of worms.
Obasanjo, who is the current Balogun of Owu and also doubles as Ekerin Egba, invited the following PDP leaders, including the vice president to his office in Aso Rock Presidential Villa: Founding Chairman, Chief Solomon Lar; Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Anthony Anenih; another Board of Trustee member, Alhaji Lawal Kaita and former PDP Chairman, Audu Innocent Ogbeh.
Obasanjo decided to call the meeting because of "what he perceived as misrepresentation in the media of how the 2003 presidential primaries of the PDP went and the roles played by certain individuals." This was immediately after there had been media reports quoting Atiku of his heroic acts at the PDP primaries and how he rescued Obasanjo, his boss, from utter defeat and disgrace.
Obasanjo did not look a happy man on this day. It was in the early days of his second term in 2003.
Pointing to his deputy in a rather dismissive manner, Obasanjo was quoted as telling his audience that "if you people know the extent of damage this man has done to me and this administration, you will appreciate the gravity of what we are talking about".
Continuing, Obasanjo was quoted as saying "may be just one of you here know the details of what I am about to tell you and which will shock you". On hearing this, virtually everyone in the gathering (except, of course, the Vice President who was being accused) re-adjusted himself on the seat to hear what "will shock them".At this point, Obasanjo became a story teller. Everyone wanted to hear his story.
ATIKU ABUBAKAR’S BURDEN
Two months ago, July specifically, Atiku began a leg of what could be termed as a soul cleansing exercise. He was having in audience some media executives and the reason for this was to clarify some issues for them. This would not be the first time the vice president would be doing this.
In fact, for whatever anybody would say, it was this type of sessions with media executives and senior editors which formed the fulcrum of the media strategy employed by those who wanted to sell Obasanjo in those dicey and uncertain days of 1998/1999 when some members of the public were not receptive to an Obasanjo candidacy.
So, at this session in July, the Atiku narrated how on, at least, three occasions he went to his boss to plead that whatever he had done which had caused Baba, as Obasanjo is referred to, pain, he should be forgiven.
The first time Sunday Vanguard was informed, was when the issue of the sacking of some of his media aides started. Another occasion was when it appeared as though there were strong suggestions that the president was not pleased with him. There was also a third time.
On each occasion, Atiku was quoted as saying that the president did not give him any meaningful response. The vice president said at some point, the issue of forgiveness almost became a joke, a laughing matter, between himself and Obasanjo. This, Atiku reportedly construed as an act of indifference on the part of his boss; but he still kept faith.
To those who expected the relationship between both men to have thawed since they worked together at the primaries, the attempts by the vice president are seen as legitimate and enough to warrant the president moving on and forgiving his deputy. And each attempt Atiku reportedly made was with a view to being forgiven for whatever he was accused of having done wrong.
A PRESIDENT GETS AN ULTIMATUM
But if the vice president was expecting forgiveness from a president who was put through hell in his bid to secure a second term ticket, that expectation was grossly misplaced - not the least from a son of Owu, and definitely, not from an Obasanjo, a successful war commander. And there are two clear cases of total humiliation which buttresses this assertion.
On Wednesday, May 1, just moments after the Workers’ Day celebrations of 2002, Obasanjo received a letter from a group of politicians. The politicians formed the bulwark of supporters of Atiku.
In the letter presented to Obasanjo, they wanted the President to act within a particular time-frame. What they wanted was a categorical statement from him on who would be his running mate. But if the question had simply been asked, it may not have mattered much.
The content of the letter attempted to specifically force the hands of the President. The authors insisted that in the event that Obasanjo did not declare their man as his running mate on or before Sunday, May 5, 2002, the Vice President would be left with no alternative than to declare his intention to contest the presidency with him. This was weeks after the pilgrimage to Obasanjo’s Ota farm and just a few days after his declaration to run for a second term.
And whereas the letter to the president on that Wednesday, with all its intent of braggadocio, was to serve the vice president’s interest, as well as his supporters’ - at least with Obasanjo’s announcement that he is stuck with his vice at that time - the incongruity in the message and Abubakar’s earlier declaration that he is a humble and loyal deputy lies in the fact that the letter only brought day light into the otherwise dark political scheming which many had insinuated the vice president into, rightly or wrongly, regarding a hidden agenda to contest the presidency in 2003.
Obasanjo was to declare that his deputy remained his deputy and he was not and would not be seeking a new running mate for the 2003 elections.
In retrospect, had the camp of the Vice President not moved fast, the hawks on Obasanjo’s side would have found it more convenient to shove the Vice President aside in this high stake game. So, since all’s fair in political war, the Vice President was simply responding, playing politics in a manner as to ensure his own relevance and survival did not suffer a discount.
However, Obasanjo took the letter to mean an open confrontation from politicians doing the bidding of their boss, his own deputy.
OBASANJO SUFFERS HUMILIATION
Just before the presidential primaries of the PDP in 2003, despite the many declarations of Obasanjo that his deputy would continue his role in the administration as Vice President, there were signs that all was still not well and the joint ticket which Obasanjo had promised his deputy was not seen as being in the bag yet by the latter. The vice president still wanted assurances and, therefore, sent out hordes of foot soldiers to make waves in the polity as well as let it be known that the capacity to throw spanner in the works was still very potent. At least that was what the security reports submitted to the president pointed at. And even if there were some self-serving operatives intent on extracting maximum commitment from Obasanjo, the intention was to ensure that their principal had a strong display in the emerging configuration.
And the president, knowing an obstructive element when he senses or sees one did what was proper - do all things imaginable and possible to remove the obstacle.
In the weeks to the PDP presidential primaries of 2003, Atiku held some trump cards which could be used. Obasanjo knew, based on calculations that whereas it may have been possible for him to clinch the party’s ticket even if his deputy was indifferent, the president reckoned that it was not impossible for him to lose should his deputy decide to support another candidate. Being an Owu man that he is, he did all and everything possible to get Atiku on his side.
One of the things Obasanjo did and which some people may not believe is that on a particular day, just days before the PDP primaries of January 2003, he actually made himself a guest of his deputy. He was not there to discuss matters of state. It was about personal survival. It was a very sober Obasanjo who went to appeal to his deputy to see reason and not upset the apple cart. He pleaded with his number two man to cast his mind back and remember how he was appointed his running mate in 1999, even when the party was pushing for other candidates, and how Atiku’s mentor, the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, had betrothed the vice president, in a political sense, to him.
Atiku, according to Obasanjo’s account of the encounter, lapped up the esteem of having a president practically begging his deputy to support him. It must have felt good because that was one of the ways the vice president could actually secure his foot-hold in a government where the hawks were baying for his blood.
It was bad enough that Obasanjo had gone to beg his deputy.
But Sunday Vanguard has since learnt that the president became very angry soon after when the report of what transpired between him and his deputy in private became a market place talk and how he was said to have prostrated before his deputy, with some newspapers and magazines feasting on it. The twist to the story and which Aso Rock insiders insist made Obasanjo livid was that he was portrayed as having prostrated to Atiku, an incident which, if it happened, would have been known to his deputy alone. That it became a matter of public knowledge, in the estimation of Obasanjo, simply meant his deputy chose to humiliate him.
However, in a rare display of emotional concealment and the fact that his goal was the second term ticket, Obasanjo did not betray his anger. He played along right till the end when he got his second term ticket.
BETWEEN PDP SUPERIORITY AND THE PDM POWER
The Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, is treating the PDP as if the party was the Hobbesian equivalent of a pre-political state in which all claims were arbitrary and all rights only powers. It is this thinking of an all powerful faction within the PDP that has incrementally ingrained the feeling of conquest in the minds of those who belong to the PDM.
With last week’s statement of the ruling party that the vice president should present himself as (and, in deed) loyal to his boss, or resign, that the all-powerful front always presented by the PDM may now be atrophying.
But mind you, the PDM is very powerful and imaginative. The way it fights back even when it is stone-walled remains a classic lesson in political resilience. With a combination of brinkmanship, oiled by strategic positioning, bare-faced braggadocio and propaganda, the PDM has been able to brace the odds in an environment of conflicting, nay self-seeking politico-economic interests, made worse by a political culture long on promises and compromises and short on delivery.
One of the strategies of the PDM is to propagate the idea of a break away from the PDP. Each time a crisis erupts in the party - usually over the issue of control between the president’s men and the people in PDM - the latter group is always quick to popularise the possibility of the creation of a new political party, with claims that over two-dozen governors are ready to dump the PDP. This has always been the story in the last three years - it was a card played up just before the PDP primaries; it was a card played up again at the height of the crisis over the Audu Ogbeh ouster as chairman of the PDP, and it is again being played up now in the face-off between Obasanjo and Atiku.
But the question to ask is: Why has this all powerful new political party not taken off?
The answer may very well be located in the fact that most of the politicians with a very high decibel level today are no more than jobbers who are merely contented to hang in where profits can be made. These are politicians who abide by the code of a table manner which is that when you are chopping, you do not talk. But not talking is all about making the right noises within this context.
However, many a time when political observers had left the party for dead, fixed a requiem mass for it, only for the party to engage a grand resurgence and wax stronger.
YAR’ADUA, PDM AND AN IDEA ENDANGERED
When Yar’Adua, a man of humble disposition, began his bridge-building endeavour which gave birth to the PDM, it was with a view to expanding the frontiers of nationalism via the game of politics with a phenomenon meant to network an alliance embracing the coalition of political forces from the north, east and west. And even where some people may not give Yar’Adua the credit of nationalism, the fact that he was able to build a political empire which sought to bring together otherwise far-flung political cultures, blending them into one whole and presenting signs that whereas things may not be normal within the Nigerian polity, the abnormality itself could become organised once the contending groups in the country made up of the northern establishment, the young Turks from the same region, the Yoruba speaking south west and the largely Igbo east, as well as the ever disparate people of the south-south, have a rallying point in the same political grouping. This move largely succeeded because Yar’Adua was as good as running away with the presidential ticket of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in 1992, and onward to the real thing before he was disqualified along with sixteen others by the Babangida administration.
And as is typical of every state in the state described by Hobes - and in this case the political party - even members of the PDM are themselves divided. While Atiku may have expanded the frontiers of the group even beyond the imagination of Yar’Adua, there seems to be a paradigm shift. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in Democracy in America, and the despotism which democracy breeds, had said: "The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them but does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them: He exists only in himself and for himself alone: And if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country."
Now, the sad irony, as expressed before, is that the PDM remains the only major power within the PDP; but what gluts the lives of its members is the pursuit of political control. And it has perfected a very unique approach to recruiting men (and women). In concrete terms, some politicians who know next to nothing about the political scheming in the country lay claim to the membership of the group; just as the group, too, carries such people along, in the sometimes vain but occasionally useful hope that they would come in handy.
In real terms, while it is possible to count and number those who are of the conservative or progressive calling - in whatever shape or mould - the same can not be said of politicians who really belong to the PDM. The only claim and productivity of some of those who claim to carry the label of PDM can be measured by the decibel of their chanting of the PDM mantra.
By the same token, Claude Ake, writing in Democracy and Development in Africa, said: "As the prospects for political independence (civil rule) improved, the solidarity of the movement grew weaker and competition between the members of the coalition who fought against the colonial powers (read military), they worried about the enormous power they were trying to wrestle from it, power they could not entrust to anyone of them or even share in a way that could reduce political anxiety. The normative, institutional, and ideological mechanism that would have made this power subject to constitutional constraint and accountability did not yet exist. So, while agitating to overthrow the colonial regime, the constituent elements of the coalition were also trying to block one another from appropriating it. Increasingly, their attention turned from the colonial regime to one another, and eventually, the competition among these groups came to dominate political life, while the colonial power, now resigned to the demise of colonialism, became a referee, rather than the opponent.
"The political leaders, too, were exposed to new conflicts. The increasing competition and conflicts among nationalities, ethnic groups, and communal and interest groups were reflected in their ranks. They also tended to separate along these lines: Indeed, many of them had sought power by politicising national, ethnic, and communal formations. Now in office, some of them manipulated ethnic and communal loyalties as a way to deradicalise their followers and contain the emerging class divisions of political society, which could isolate and destroy them. So, they began to place emphasis on vertical solidarities across class lines. In particular, they tried to establish mutual identity and common cause by appealing to national, ethnic, communal and even religious loyalties."
With the way things are today, the PDM may be engaging a subconscious slide into the paradigm explained above by Ake because in the group’s case, the membership is beginning to place emphasis on pecuniary considerations of money, power and political office.
AN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th American President, who was accused of everything, including, curiously, knowledge of the unresolved assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, his boss, was a man of patriotic zeal. In fact, his statement, prioritising what should be the standard arrangement in the hierarchy of loyalty had made it clear that "I am a free man, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat in that order."
But after Kennedy’s assassination, and the subsequent chain of events, including, of course, the supposed revenge killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested and who was going to be charged for Kennedy’s murder, threw up some very disturbing probabilities, including the possible culpability of the man who took over from Kennedy in the person of Johnson.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
Whereas blames are traded on the present face-off, the concern in some quarters is that Obasanjo may not have helped matters with his open declaration on national television that there had been proven cases of disloyalty on the part of his deputy to which his deputy could not swear to an oath of loyalty.
For instance, the response of the Federal Government on the raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, in the United States of America, USA, on the residence of Atiku, should have been more measured. When the Federal Government came out to declare that whatever was going on in the USA, regarding the raid on the house of the number two man in this administration, was a personal matter, some Nigerians saw in the statement an overkill which would not do the Nigerian nation too much good. There are those who insist that whatever happened to the vice president in his private capacity, or any other top government official for that matter, especially in a foreign land, would not likely enjoy the benefit of immunity.
There are those who also insist, with equal ferocity, that the many statements of Atiku in some instances do not enjoy the benefit of sobriety, a development considered unwholesome in a situation where there is mutual distrust between the President and his deputy.
Some Nigerians insist that whereas certain individuals close to the Obasanjo camp are scheming for a third term in office for their principal, and that Obasanjo’s refusal to call them to order is suggestive, there are those who see, rightly or wrongly, the publicity of the third term agenda as another attempt to cast Obasanjo in bad light. But the vice president’s camp continue to deny this point at persons like Greg Mbadiwe, an Obasanjo apologist ,as not working for the Atiku camp..
For now, there seem to be no let up in the crisis rocking the relationship between both men. Mind you, some three years ago, it was the issue of impeachment which took over the media. The issue Obasanjo is said to harp on almost always is that "given his deputy’s conduct and attitude", he, Obasanjo is not disposed to handing over to him.
Where this face-off would lead, especially with the position of the party backing Obasanjo, only time will tell. But with the way things stand, somebody is already holding the very short end of the stick.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.