Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Friday that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar should not count on him for support in his latest bid to actualise his life-long ambition of being elected the president of Nigeria.
The former president, one of the most influential of his living peers, hinged his blistering position on the unsavoury corruption perception of Mr Atiku while speaking with PREMIUM TIMES shortly after his arrival from Kigali on Friday afternoon.
“How can I be on the same side with Atiku?” Mr Obasanjo asked. “To do what?”
“If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support,” he added.
Mr Obasanjo rejected all notions that his remarks could be deemed too personal, coming as 2019 presidential campaign gathers steam with Mr Abubakar amongst the front-runners.
The pronouncement comes barely two weeks after Mr Abubakar declared his intention to run for president, touting his pro-business credentials and lambasting President Muhammadu Buhari for his handling of the country’s security situation.
Before then, the former vice president, who has unsuccessfully run for the top office multiple times, spent the past few months criss-crossing the country as part of a strategy aimed at broadening his appeal amongst politicians and the electorate.
It also comes a little over a month after the two met at an event in Abuja and shook each other’s hands before photographers, days after reports said Mr Obasanjo was under pressure to back Mr Abubakar.
“I do not have personal grudges with anyone,” Mr Obasanjo said. “If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us.”
“It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual,” he said. “If you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria it does not matter who you are I am not working with you.”
In making his position clear on Mr Abubakar ahead of the presidential primaries in October, Mr Obasanjo has put to rest several months of speculation about whether he would soften his borderline disposition to his former vice president of eight years.
The disclosure also exposed a fundamental fracture between Mr Obasanjo, who seems hell-bent at ensuring that the alleged transgressions of the past were not forgotten, and Mr Abubakar, who now appears in high spirit for reconciliation.
The former vice president is locked in a fierce contest for the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential ticket with several political bigwigs on the platform of the major opposition party.
The ever-broadening field already includes Rabiu Kwankwaso, Sule Lamido, Ahmed Makarfi and Saminu Turaki. While some of these politicians are already capable of challenging Mr Abubakar for the ticket, the recent addition of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Governor Aminu Tambuwal, both of whom are being rumoured as equally running for president, could further complicate Mr Abubakar’s chances.
Mr Obasanjo did not specifically say whom he would back for the PDP ticket. Already, the African Democratic Party, with which he now publicly identifies, has entered into an alliance that would see it and over 30 other political parties present a joint presidential ticket with the PDP..
After the former president said he would not support President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term, widespread conclusion had been that he would back anyone presented as the major challenger, even if this turned out to be Mr Abubakar.
“Most of you do not understand the way I operate,” Mr Obasanjo said. “And I thought your own paper will understand better.”
“I know Atiku very well. And I have mentioned my position with Atiku. My position has not changed,” he said.
On a personal note, he added, “If my children are getting married, he has sent representatives. If his children are getting married, I have sent representatives. That is social. That is not political.
“But on political ground, my position has not changed. If I support Atiku for a political office other than the one I supported him in the past when I did not know him,” maybe, but not “now that I know him, God will not forgive me.”
A spokesperson for Mr Abubakar did not provide a response to Mr Obasanjo’s statement when reached for comments Friday night, indicating that the the campaign was likely going to ignore the former president rather than engage him openly.
Mr Obasanjo did not offer further remarks on his grouse with Mr Abubakar, but he had repeatedly complained of his former right-hand man’s alleged sharp practices.
Mr Obasanjo, 81, tapped Mr Abubakar as his running mate in 1999, and both went on to rule Nigeria until 2007. The pair started on a good note for Nigeria’s democracy, working together to dismantle the statist political economy imposed by successive military administrations for more liberal economic policies.