This is the story of how former President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice President, Turaki Atiku Abubakar, first met, and how their relationship blossomed before nose-diving over political ambition. In his soon-to-be released auto-biography, ATIKU ABUBAKAR, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, Sunday Vanguard discovered that whereas Obasanjo appointed Atiku as his running mate in 1999, there are pieces of information before that fact to suggest that the former may indeed be indebted to the latter. This is an exclusive report.
He was arrested on March 13, 1995. But before Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo was picked up that day, he had been forewarned. It was the second meeting between one Atiku Abubakar, then known as a politician who made massive waves during the Social Democratic Party, SDP, presidential primaries held in Jos, the Plateau State capital – the SDP primaries took place in March, 1993, some two years earlier.
That day, Atiku (who is one of the few Nigerians identified by their first name) visited Obasanjo at his Temperence Farm, Otta, Ogun State, in the company of Oyewole Fasawe, a mutual friend and business partner of both men. They were there to forewarn Obasanjo about a possible impending arrest in connection with a coup plot.
In a rare snippet by Sunday Vanguard into the soon-to-be-released autobiography of Atiku, it was found that, contrary to the generally held belief that prior to the politicking of 1998/1999 which produced the presidency of Obasanjo/Atiku, both men had never been close; it came to light that their relationship dated back to 1993. In the book, ATIKU ABUBAKAR, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, Sunday Vanguard discovered that Atiku had, indeed, gone to the same Otta for avuncular consultation with Obj,as Obasanjo is fondly called.
Just some weeks before the landmark June 12, 1993, presidential election, Atiku, who withdrew at the last minute in the run-off primaries to allow for Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola gather some gravitas against Babagana Kingibe, visited Obasanjo. His request was simple: “Please prevail on my boss, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to support the presidential bid of Abiola at the general election”.
Although Sunday Vanguard could not confirm whether Obasanjo indeed prevailed on the elder Yar’Adua to support Abiola, Obasanjo’s statement during the crisis that trailed the disputation over the election, to the effect that “Abiola is not the messiah” betrayed the workings of the mind of the former President.
The second meeting between both men, according to the book on pages 247 – 248, is reproduced, verbatim, here: “The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, picked up the information on Obasanjo’s impending arrest. He immediately alerted the former Head of State who was attending the UN social summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Obasanjo returned to the country, confident that he had not committed any crime.
Atiku had also been tipped off about Obasanjo’s impending arrest. “He went to the retired General’s farm in Otta, Ogun State, to alert him. He had hardly finished speaking to Obasanjo when the divisional police officer in Ota arrived with some plain-clothes security officers to arrest Obasanjo. “What has he done? What is his offence? Is this the way to pay him back for the services to the country?”
Oyewole Fasawe, who was with him at Otta, emembered Atiku asking the security agents as they led Obasanjo away. “I had never seen Atiku so angry as he was that day. He was ready to fight them if we had not restrained him”, Fasawe recounted. Atiku and Fasawe left Otta to break the news of Obasanjo’s arrest to many prominent Nigerians. “Obasanjo’s arrest and detention brought closer international attention to the reign of terror in Nigeria”.
Obasanjo was tried for being part of the coup plot against the maximum dictator of the time, General Sani Abacha; he was sentenced to life in prison. Owing to international pressure, this was later commuted to 15 years – the pressure came from friends abroad, including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, former US President, Jimmy Carter, and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
After his sentencing, Obasanjo was taken to the SSS (now Department of State Services, DSS) Interrogation Centre in Ikoyi. From there, he was moved to KIRIKIRI Maximum Security Prison alongside Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
But something happened there as you would discover later. Mind you, the recent controversy over character, leadership and integrity was ignited by Obasanjo at the 4th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit organised by the Centre for Sustainable Development of the University of Ibadan, an engagement in collaboration with the African Sustainable Development Network.
The former President, characteristically, waxed pontifical when he declared that the younger generation of leaders under 50years has betrayed the nation because they lacked integrity. He mentioned the likes of Atiku, whom he said he picked as his deputy but was soon to “show his true colour”.
Obasanjo also took on Bola Ahmed Tinubu, referring to his controversial scholarship and academic qualification, insisting that it was not different from the scandal which led to the removal of Speaker Imam Salisu Buari in 1999. However, what Obasanjo did not mention was the fact that he fought tooth and nail to retain Buari as Speaker of the House of Representatives, even in the face of Buari’s glaring folly of claiming what he was not. Back to Atiku! Obasanjo launched a sweeping diatribe against Nigeria’s younger generation of politicians whom he accused of lacking the integrity, character and credibility to lead Nigeria to progress and development.
According to Obasanjo, he didn’t know Atiku well enough and that the former Vice President had not met his expectation as a credible successor. Now, at the risk of holding brief for the former Vice President, the questions are:
Is this claim altogether correct? Was Obasanjo trying to be economical with the truth? What degree of familiarity was Obasanjo talking about? At what point did he realize his knowledge of Atiku was not comfortable enough? Did he complain to Atiku at any point that this lack of familiarity could disqualify the former Vice President from succeeding him? What degree of personal familiarity could qualify a politician to be nominated to become a running mate to a presidential candidate of a political party?
What is the length of time needed by one politician to trust another? Did Obasanjo not invite former governor of Rivers State, Sir Peter Odili, to Aso Rock Presidential Villa for morning prayers after which the former broke the news to the latter that he should drop out of the presidential contest?
Could all those Obasanjo bullied out of the presidential contest be described as lacking integrity too? As earlier stated, contrary to Obasanjo’s claim, he and Atiku had met twice closely before 1999.
In any case, pray, Could an enemy have visited an adversary to warn him about the imminent risks to his life or freedom? Could an enemy also have extended such goodwill fraternal visit? How many years would an individual need to know a man who had wanted to put him out of harm’s way? Yet again, destiny played a fast, very fast one on both men.
Sunday Vanguard learnt from very authoritative sources that Atiku it was who arranged for and warned Obasanjo, as an inmate (a prisoner), not to allow himself to be injected or his blood taken. Sunday Vanguard gathered from very impeccable sources that “this warning became necessary following confirmed reports that the late Major Akinyemi and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua were both injected with lethal viruses that eventually led to their untimely deaths”.
In fact, dependable sources close to the family of Major Akinyemi confided in Sunday Vanguard that the sentiments being expressed in favour of those who operated at the very top echelon of the security machinery of the late General Sani Abacha junta is misplaced because the officers devised very sinister ways of eliminating those they considered as troublesome subjects.
In the instance of Akinyemi, the now infamous military medical doctor through whom a series of eliminations was carried out, walked into his cell in the company of another serving military officer and demanded to extract blood from the incarcerated Major. He refused. They pressed him. “But he maintained”, according to a source close to the family, “that he had neither complained of any ailment nor was he afflicted by any. His refusal almost led to a scuffle.
But the serving military officer simply looked outside the cell, nodded to two body guards who were waiting in toe, and gave them instructions to subdue Akinyemi. “Worse still, rather than extract the so-callled blood from the Major, the military doctor brought out a syringe that was almost filled with some form of solution. Having been held down by the bodyguards, the doctor injected the Major”.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that it was later learnt that the solution injected into the body of Major Akinyemi was nothing but the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, otherwise known as HIV. By the time the Major was released from prison, it had developed into almost full-blown Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS. He gave his life to Christ afterwards and began a ministry which ministered to prisoners. Sunday Vanguard was told that during one of his ministrations, Major Akinyemi returned to Kirikiri where he again met with the serving military officer who superintended the administration of the lethal injection on him but was now doing his own time.
The officer saluted Akinyemi in military style and apologized for what had happened about a decade earlier. The Major was said to have laid his hands on the now-jailed officer, prayed for him and told him that he was forgiven of the dastardly act.
It was gathered from multiple sources last week that had Obasanjo “not heeded Atiku’s warning, only God knows how they would have dealt with him too”. At least, if they could do that to Yar’Adua, they could do it to anybody. God used Atiku’s to save Obasanjo’s life”, the source concluded. Beyond that, however, Sunday Vanguard learnt of the details of how Atiku and some associates engaged a strategy that ensured that Obasanjo was moved from Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos to far away Yola Prisons.
The thinking of those in the corridors of power at that time was that Yola, considered distant, would serve a more punitive purpose. However, what Atiku and his people actually schemed was for Obasanjo to be close to the former’s base in Yola, Adamawa State.
Indeed, there were reports that there was a systematic engagement strategy that was perfected by that regime to eliminate known opponents of the military junta.
According to mutual friends of both Atiku and Obasanjo, the claim by the latter that he did not know the former until a year into their tenure of office is equally beyond comprehension, considering the facts as written in at least two earlier unchallenged books that Atiku and others made life easier for the former the President in his stay in prison by arranging his meals and doctor’s visits. Obasanjo’s late wife, Stella, was said to have been privy to these arrangements.
In truth, Atiku got ever closer to Obasanjo in 1999 when his Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, threw its weight behind Obasanjo to become the PDP presidential candidate. Obasanjo invited Atiku to become his running mate immediately after the Jos convention of the PDP.
He sought reassurance from Atiku that he would be loyal if he made him his running mate and the Turaki Adamawa, who was then a governor-elect of Adamawa State, pledged his allegiance. Perhaps, Obasanjo should have told Atiku that loyalty included supporting constitutional breaches. Indeed, Obasanjo, in a self conceited manner, junked an earlier consensual agreement by leaders of the PDP on how to select his running mate, by unilaterally picking Atiku.
The beginning of the distrust between both men started with the botched impeachment attempt on Obasanjo – an attempt which was alleged to have been masterminded by Atiku.
Then came Atiku’s politics of attrition which dragged into the eve of the presidential primaries of the PDP sending jitters down Obsanjo’s spine when he threatened contest for the ticket against his boss – Atiku actually set some state governors against Obasanjo and the agenda to dump the then President almost succeeded. But the third term agenda of Obasanjo in 2006 brought their mutual disdain into full public glare. Atiku openly disagreed with his boss over the attempt to extend his constitutional term limit of eight years.
It remains plausible that any other Vice President could have faced the same hostility from Obasanjo once he had opposed the idea of the third term project. However, Obasanjo had always been a very rambunctious individual who, in the process, does himself in. A sample: Just about six years ago, a summit was held in South Africa where leaders came together to jaw-jaw about global issues.
They were called the ELDERS. Obasanjo was not deemed fit to be invited. Reason: He had taken a tumble from the high pedestal of grace to the abyss of irrelevance on account of that single- most destructive thing which he did to himself – lust for power and more power. He attempted to elongate his tenure as President. It failed.
A Man of Might
As President and Commander-in-Chief, from his early days in office, Obasanjo caused his party and the Senate to pick a wrong choice for the Senate presidency – Evan(s) Enwerem was made Senate president against the party’s position that Dr. Chuba Okadigbo should be the one; Obasanjo launched an onslaught against opposition; he captured the South West geo-political zone states except Lagos; when his Third Term bid failed, he paid the polity back by imposing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the PDP candidate and then made him President; when the Yar’Adua illness saga started, Obasanjo it was who, after obtaining incontrovertible evidence that Yar’Adua would not survive, played on the polity by coming out to admonish Yar’Adua to resign if he knew he could no longer discharge his responsibilities as President and Commander-in-Chief; once Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan became first, Acting President and later President, Obasanjo moved to take charge as godfather. But Obasanjo it was who told Emeka Offor, at the height of the Anambra PDP crisis in 2002, that he was behaving like a man with an elephant on his head but who still wanted to catch a cricket.
The same Obasanjo, during the first term of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, insisted that his choice must be the Olowu of Owu, allegedly tearing to shreds the paper on which votes of the king makers were recorded. He had his way as he always did. Goodness, Once Upon a Time To be fair, Obasanjo is not a totally bad man.
He had (yes, had) his qualities. Here was a man who has accomplished much more than most African leaders. Here was a man who, while the great Nelson Madiba Mandela was in prison, bestrode the African continent and the globe like a colossus.
Here was a man who, as co-chair of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, EPG, a journalist had thought he could embarrass Obasanjo by accusing him of bias in the report of the group sometime in the late 1980s, citing Obasanjo’s nationalisation of British Petroleum, BP, (which became African Petroleum, AP), but got more than what he bargained for. Obasanjo’s response was simply that had he seen and known what he saw and got to know during the tour by the EPG, while he was a military head of state, he would have done more to hurt the British. That was the end of the discussion for the journalist.
Again, here was a man who could have refused to hand over power but did so – even if under duress – to the consternation of his peers in Africa in 1979. The question to then ask is: What happened? And how did a man so accomplished drop so low? He had his own construct of how everything must work.
He allowed himself to fall into that trap which fuels a feeling of omnipotence and omniscience. But talk about staying power, Obasanjo had it. One way or the other, Obasanjo’s selfishness has robbed Nigerians of great deeds. Because Obasanjo was selfish even to himself, he became selfish to the whole of Nigeria. Till date, no Nigerians leader, dead or alive, has had the opportunities Obasanjo has had.
Yet, he continues to conduct himself in a decidedly shambolic manner. Former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, once described Obasanjo as the Ebora Owu – the spirit of Owu – an allusion to his sometimes indecipherable disposition.
Well, it is hoped that the gods would guide and help him guard against outbursts that only ridicule the former President.