Obasanjo-Atiku’s Politics Of Permanent Interest

By Godwin Ijediogor

It is often said that in politics, there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests. That had been proved by the recent rapprochement between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his former vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who came together recent, after a war of attrition is a clear manifestation of that postulation.

In Nigerian politics, anything can happen. And politicians have at several occasions proved that to be true.

But perhaps the recent meeting between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, during the latter’s unusual and unexpected visit to the residence of the latter in Abeokuta strengthens that.

The duo, towards the end of their chequered joint ticket, had engaged in bitter acrimony, culminating in Atiku leading the crusade against Obasanjo’s perceived tenure extension plan and Obasanjo doing everything possible to stop Atiku from contesting the 2007 presidential election and succeeding him in office, without success.

With his own ambition threatened by any extension of the tenure of Obasanjo, Atiku, covertly, mobilised against his former boss’ alleged moves to have a third term. Though he was not very visible, but his body language and open condemnation of any such attempt only strengthened the animosity between the once very friendly join presidential ticket holders.

While his boys went to town to shoot down the motion in the Senate, Atiku remained in the background, directing affairs.

After failing to have his deputy removed by the National Assembly over allegations of fraud, especially in the much-publicised Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) saga, and for mobilizing against his alleged planned tenure elongation, Obasanjo dissipated whatever political energy that was left of him to thwart the ambition of Atiku to succeed him.

Using the instrumentalities of the Prof Maurice Iwu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) then led by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, acting on a kangaroo administrative panel report, Obasanjo had his then embattled vice disqualified by the electoral body, despite being duly presented by his party, the Action Congress (AC).

But for the Supreme Court ruling that INEC had no powers to disqualify party’s candidate, the former President would have had his way, as in other cases.

However, Atiku never succeeded his former boss in the 2007 election, in which case, both of them came out unscathed, politically at least, as Atiku won judicially and Obasanjo politically.

The election did not see an end to their battle of supremacy. While Obasanjo consolidated his grip on the PDP and indeed, the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku, having lost out politically in the 2007 poll and judicially at the Supreme Court, appears to have his eyes already on 2011 and is beginning to building bridges in preparation for that ambition.

If anything, it shows why nobody should allow him/herself to be used as a canon-folder in politicians’ battles, except their dependants.

But some people may want to see it as indicative that they are true leaders and have put whatever happened between them in the past behind in the interest of the country.

The visit is capable of breeding a feeling of betrayal amongst Obasanjo and Atiku supporters, who may have been caught in the crossfire between them.

Already, the Action Congress sees its presidential candidate’s action as a misadventure, even though it acknowledges his right to association. At the end of its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Thursday, the party’s national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed admitted that the visit offended the “sensibility of its members and the generality of Nigerians.”

He stated: “It is a misjudgment and the only reason why the issue became too tactical is because it offended the sensibility of members of the party and also many Nigerians who believe that he ought not to have anything to do with Obasanjo. But if anybody is expecting the party to discipline him, I mean I think it would not be right because what would we say he has done?”

According to him: “The chairman explained the circumstances that led to the visit and he assured members that he has the assurance of the Vice President and he believed him that his visit to Obasanjo in Abeokuta was mostly as a result of pressure from many of his friends, his former political associates, including some traditional rulers.

“The chairman said Atiku sincerely felt that this pressure was getting too much and that is why he made the visit. He said he succinctly told the former Vice President that it was a misjudgment on his part. Because as we said yesterday (Thursday), our party does not restrict the movement of its members neither do we choose who our members associate with.

“But at the same time, we also made it clear that every member must look at the sensibility of party members in the choice of people they associate with.

“In particular, in the face of the visit of the former President Obasanjo, it is on record that Obasanjo did everything to ensure that AC did not emerge victorious in the last election. It is also on record that he pursued and persecuted many of our members largely because of the former President wanted to take vintage position.

“So to that extent and the fact that even though the Vice President had lofty reasons for him to meet the former President, we believe that it was rather a misadventure because he did not take into consideration how members would feel about it.

“The matter was thrown open and members expressed their displeasure. But one thing is clear nobody accused him of any ulterior motive.”

Atiku was absent from that meeting. But his media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu explained that the former vice president was never officially invited and could not have attended such regular meeting, since he is not a member of NEC.

“He did not attend the meeting, because his attendance was not required and was never summoned by the party,” he added.

But Mohammed explained that the NEC meeting was open to everybody, stating that Atiku is an ex-officio member of the executive but was under no obligation to attend the meeting.

On speculations the Atiku may be contemplation a return to PDP, Mohammed said the party was of the consensus that he has no such intention. But he added: “If, however, he decides in his wisdom to go over to the PDP, AC will cross the bridge when it gets there.”

The coming days would put all these speculations and body language to rest, as the race for 2011 has already began, underground.