Knocks for Obasanjo on Obi’s endorsement

Olusegun Obasanjo, DRC

…as PDP, APC campaign, Imolehin, Olaosebikan react

On Sunday January 1, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, unarguably one of the most respected Nigerian past leaders in a letter endorsed the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi as his preferred candidate for 2023 and advanced reasons for his choice of Obi.

Reactions expectedly greeted this endorsement as the country is just about eight weeks away from the election. Politics Editor, TUNDE OPALANA, in this piece examines shades of reactions withing 48 hours of releasing the political bombshell. Excerpts.

Chief. Mathew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo, former military Head of State and civilian President of Nigeria (1999-2007), in his 2023 New Year message “”titled “My appeal to all Nigerians particularly young Nigerians”personally signed and made available to press men by his spokesman, Kehinde Akinyemi addressed to all Nigerians especially young Nigerians, friends of Nigeria globally as well as development partners, raised concerns about the gravity, responsibility and implications of the collective decision Nigerians, both young and old, will be making at the polls during the coming election, which is two months.

He pitied Nigerians for what they have passed through in the past seven and half years saying “the last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians. We have moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley
For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth.”

He therefore wished for an immediate better future – “future of liberation, restoration and great hope and expectation.”

The elder stateman assessed the current presidential candidates traversing the length and breadth of the country canvassing for votes “feeding us with what they mean and what they do not mean, what they understand and what they do not fully understand, what is possible and what is not possible, what is realistic and what is unrealistic, what is true and what is untrue.”

Warning Nigerians, he said ” I believe that we need not be confused nor be gullible. Let us be cautious, not to be fooled again.”

On his choice to back Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Obasanjo said “none of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge.

“Others like all of us have what they can contribute to the new dispensation to liberation, restoration and salvaging of Nigeria collectively.

“One other important point to make about Peter is that he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not get lost. In other words, he has people who can pull his ears, if and when necessary. Needless to say that he has a young and able running mate with clean track record of achievement both in public and private life.”

This endorsement sparked reactions largely from the campaign bodies of the other leading candidates.

The Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Organization described Obasanjo’s endorsement as subjective support and personal wish which does not reflect the opinion or position of overwhelming majority of Nigerians across the country.

The body said while former President Obasanjo is entitled to his personal opinion; as remarkable as it may appear, it remains individualistic and cannot redirect Nigerians from their determination to rally with Atiku Abubakar, because he is “more experienced, more proficient and more accepted”.

Campaign spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan in his reaction wondered that at a time when there are alarming challenges facing the nation, which requires a tried and tested hand, former President Obasanjo is suggesting a candidate that has not had any experience in governance at the national level.

“In any case, Chief Obasanjo’s opinion cannot sway Nigerians who can easily remember how he endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari, whose administration, he (Obasanjo) now describes as “stressful years for many Nigerians,” during which our nation “moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley.”

“It is therefore be extremely difficult for Nigerians, particularly the youth demography, to accept Chief Obasanjo’s opinion as the solution to the myriad of challenges facing the nation today because the last candidate he introduced, by his own estimation, failed Nigerians.

“It is instructive to state that every claim by former President Obasanjo on the success of his administration is a reflection of the performance of Atiku Abubakar as his Vice President and Chairman of the National Economic Council during which our nation achieved unprecedented economic growth to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

“It therefore amounts to a disservice for the former President to make subjective suggestion even when it is clear that if a hand like Atiku Abubakar with their shared experience is brought to the forefront of governance, our nation will be rescued from this current sullen state,” he said.

The Campaign organization therefore urged Nigerians not to be distracted by subjective opinions but to remain focused on the resolve to salvage the nation by electing Atiku Abubakar as the next President of Nigeria, come February 25, 2023.

Also, the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) described the endorsement as worthless as it claimed that Obasanjo is always notorious for opposing progressive political forces, citing his critique of the late Chief MKO Abiola’s presidential victory in 1993.

Reacting on Sunday in a statement, Bayo Onanuga, Director, Media & Publicity,

APC Presidential Campaign Council said: “we read with amusement the endorsement of Peter Obi, the Labour Party Presidential Candidate by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his New Year message on Sunday.

“Following calls by journalists from various media houses who asked for our reaction we decided to make this preliminary statement, though we didn’t consider the so-called endorsement to be of any value.

“We respect the democratic right of former President Obasanjo to support and endorse any candidate of his choice in any election except that he made it known formally in his new year message.

“Any discerning political watcher in Nigeria knows that Chief Obasanjo’s preference for Peter Obi is expected. He had earlier stated his position at various public events, the last being at the 70th birthday anniversary of Chief John Nwodo, former President of Ohaneze Ndigbo in Enugu.

“We make bold to say that our party and candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu will not lose sleep over Obasanjo’s move, as Obasanjo is notorious for always opposing progressive political forces, as he did against MKO Abiola in 1993.

“The endorsement is actually worthless because the former President does not possess any political goodwill or leverage anywhere in Nigeria to make anyone win a Councillorship election, let alone win a Presidential election. He is a political paperweight.”

Onanuga categorically stated that Obasanjo is not a democrat anyone should be proud to be associated with.

“From our records, President Obasanjo has not successfully made anyone win election in Nigeria since then, not even in Ogun State can anyone rely on his support or endorsement to become a governor or Councillor,” he added.

The PCC admonished pity Peter Obi not not to be swayed by Obasanjo’s endorsement,because “Chief Obasanjo’s endorsement is not a political currency Peter Obi can spend anywhere in Nigeria because he is not a political force, even in his part of the country.

“Chief Obasanjo similarly endorsed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) candidate in 2019 against President Muhammadu Buhari. Atiku was walloped by Buhari with a wide margin in the election.

“History will repeat itself in February as our candidate, Tinubu will equally beat Obi by a large margin.”

Ace journalist, Tunde Imolehin, the Founder of The Vanguard Progressives Forum said Obasanjo’s penchant for petition and letter writing like some other Nigerians is borne out of personal rather than patriotic sentiments.

He considered Chief Obasanjo’s letter as “largely unnecessary, divisive, avoidable and offensive.”

Knocking Obasanjo for lacking the moral competency for giving political direction to Nigerian youths, Imolehin said “first, the youth do not need those who have consistently denied them opportunities to lead this country to advise them on who to vote for in the next elections. The Youths are now very enlightened politically to advance their causes going forward. The opportunity provided by the Buhari Administration in the “Not too Young to Run” bill has galvanised the Nigerian youth to be actively involved more than ever before in the affairs of the nation.

“Second, in his defence and recommendation of Peter Obi, the former President said in his letter: “One other important point to make about Peter is that he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not get lost. In other words, he has people who can pull his ears, if and when necessary”

So, in a nutshell, is OBJ advocating for a President that is vulnerable and easy to manipulate? Is that the kind of President the youth and the Nigerian people deserve? Another Umar Yar A’dua or Goodluck Jonathan?

“Third, on age, fitness and mental capacity, how did OBJ arrive at the conclusion that a 61-year old OBI is fitter, mentally suited to lead Nigerians than his older, more experienced competitors. Our former President should remember that were it not for the botched third term agenda, we probably may still be dealing with the issue of age and performance under his Presidency.”

According to him, what Nigerians need is an enabling environment to vote their choice without fear, favour or undue influence and that “if OBJ must offer advice, it should be about strengthening the institutions that will ensure free and fair elections.

“As a retired army General, he should offer advice on how to address the threatening insecurity in the land. He should use his revered position as a statesman to rein in on the warlords and their sponsors who are hell bent on scuttling the electoral process despite all the efforts being made by the Buhari Administration to ensure free, fair and credible elections come February. “

Another versatile journalist, public analyst and politician, Alhaji Kehinde Olaosebikan dismissed Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi as no threat to the election of the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu come February 25 this year.

Olaosebikan, a former Chairman of Oluyole Local Government area of Oyo State, served as the Chief Press Secretary to the Late former Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina from 1999 to 2003.

According to the APC chieftain, Tinubu’s political sagacity is much greater that those of other presidential candidates put together, including Obasanjo’ s mentee.

He said that Tinubu had as a state governor in the past outsmarted Obasanjo as a sitting president and he is still capable of outsmarting the former president and Obi, his endorsed candidate.

“With the enormous powers of the Presidency, particularly under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo who was touted to have possessed and exercised more powers than the American President at his time, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu crushed Obasanjo in all aspects of governance.

“He challenged Obasanjo on legislative matters and he won; he contested against Obasanjo’s position on judiciary and made mincemeat of him; and in Obasanjo’s desperate bid to conquer Lagos State along with other Yoruba state, Tinubu triumphed over Obasanjo and still beating him till today.

“That the former Governor of Lagos State was able to accomplish all these including standing boldly with the Lagos people on the creation of local councils was as a result of the ability of Governor Tinubu to identify and engage the right people for the jobs. Without knowing the incumbent Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Tinubu head hunted him and made the Ogun State born Osinbajo, the Attorney General of Lagos State. Appointing with precision, Tinubu led Osinbajo to win the legal battle against the all-conquering Olusegun Obasanjo sitting as the President of Nigeria,”he submitted.

Olaosebikan relayed what his former boss, Governor Lam Adesina told him about Tinubu’ about Timubu’s rare ability to “win against all odds”

He said prior to the 2003 general election, the late Lam Adesina, had expressed fear on the chances of the then Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, winning the gubernatorial election.

“Out of genuine concern, Alhaji Adesina, a great lover of Tinubu was bothered that the Lagos Governor might not get a second term because of his repugnance to Obasanjo’s overtures and frolics .

“That was at a time when all the other governors in the South West: Chief Bisi Akande of Osun, Chief Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo , Otunba Niyi Adebayo of Ekiti, Akinrogun Segun Osoba of Ogun and Alhaji Lam Adesina himself were obeying the dictates and dancing to the falsehearted music of the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The governors were not alone in the travesty; they were goaded by the Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere under the leadership of Late Pa Abraham Adesanya.

“Obasanjo had in the most deceitful manner, cajoled the governors and the Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere in believing that he (Obasanjo) would be “soft” on them and make their victories easy insofar as they supported his election for a second term in office. The five governors fell for Obasanjo’s antics and openly worked for his second term in office. In fact, the promotion of Obasanjo’s second term bid took precedence far above campaigns for our governorship and national assembly candidates in the build up to the general elections of 2003.

“Despite the fact that we were in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the opposition party, we campaigned vigorously for the second term of Olusegun Obasanjo and indirectly his Peoples Democratic Party’s candidates who eventually defeated us. I was a victim as the AD candidate for House of Representatives, Oluyole Federal Constituency.

But, in Lagos, Tinubu in his wisdom refused to follow either his fellow governors or Afenifere in supporting Obasanjo, and instead answered his father’s name. He campaigned only for his party, the Alliance for Democracy. He asked voters to concentrate all their votes at the top, the space for AD on the ballot papers in all the elections,” recalled Olaosebikan.

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He said he was not bothered by Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi because of his optimism that Tinubu will be the next president of Nigeria come May 29, 2023.

“Certainly, Tinubu, more than any other Nigerian, is the most suitable for the job. It is not about, I can do it. What Nigeria deserves now is I have done it before and I am ready, more mature, more experienced and obviously more prepared to do it again. It is not about I worked or learnt under Tinubu as it is a well-known fact that no one can do it as the original person especially , If the teacher is still alive, strong and willing. You can’t beat experience.

“He possesses a rare, uncanny ability to win against all odds as he did contrary to the fears, lovingly expressed by the Late Alhaji Lam Adesina on his chances of returning to Lagos Governor’s Office for a second term in 2003,” he said.

Tracing track records, he said ” Tinubu, using all in him: wisdom, knowledge, smartness, boldness, exposure, contacts etcetera turned Lagos around within eight years. Bola Tinubu grew the economy, politics and sociology of Lagos and the stability being enjoyed in Lagos today is as a result of his right leadership. Lagos has become the model for virtually all developmental projects and ideas in Nigeria today.”

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Ihesiulo Grace

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