Change, they say, is as constant as the northern star. In other words, we are bound to change at one point or the other. It is one thing that is as sure as the rising and setting of the sun. And so, some would say there is nothing wrong with former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 360 degree turnaround in acknowledging that his once estranged deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has acquired the requisite experience and maturity to become Nigeira’s President, some 13 odd years after they both parted ways. I concur, based on the fact that certain principles and dynamics must occur before change happens. Even at that, I guess it would be a bit hasty to generalise that Obasanjo’s new reality about Atiku must be informed by the belief in politics that the meeting point is a belief in permanent interest while enemies are expectedly varied. That is why political ideology has become nothing but a slogan in the lexicon of politicians. What binds most is what slices of the national cake falls into their plates or corners at every negotiating discourse. Scary? No, not really.
Before we dissect the Obasanjo that spoke so glowingly of Atiku’s capacity to captain this sinking ship of state, let’s meet the OBJ that serially took Atiku to the cleaners, both nationally and internationally, some few years back. In an article titled “Now, Obasanjo spits on own grave” published September 14, 2013, I had surmised that: “There are a thousand and one reasons to dislike former President Olusegun Obasanjo. What one can’t help but admire is his infantile garrulousness. After close to 12 years in office at the highest level of governance, many had expected that Baba would gloriously retire to his Ota farms, tending his chickens and enjoying fresh palm wine away from Abuja’s intriguing politics. No one had thought he would still be that active to disturb a nation’s peace with scathing parodies. It turned out that we had placed too much value on a man who worships nothing but his own ego. We may not have a sense of history but we are not that dumb not to understand why an Obasanjo would forever find it convenient to run his mouth riot on his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar or anyone for that matter.
“This man sees himself as some kind of superhuman. And he may deny it till the end of life; Obasanjo knows that there is more to his sour relationship with Atiku than the allegations of corruption. Central to this pathological heckling of Atiku at any given opportunity is the ‘disloyal’ role Atiku played in frustrating the self-perpetuation agenda otherwise known as tenure elongation in the days of the long knives. Second was the humiliation that Obasanjo went through in the hands of Atiku before he was eventually given the green light to contest for a second term in office. Aside these two, all other things seem to exist in Obasanjo’s fantasies.
‘Before I proceed, I hasten to make this clarification. Atiku does not, by any standard, come close to anyone’s definition of a man without blemish. Like Obasanjo, he is part of the Nigerian problem. He may be a dogged fighter for whatever reasons; he is clearly not doing that purely out of a patriotic calling. He may not have won the war against Obasanjo in the struggle to remain in power; Atiku should be given the credit for winning a battle aimed at consigning him to the dustbin of history. It is also to his credit that the sucker punch he delivered on Obasanjo’s jaws some seven years back has turned the retired Army General into something of the proverbial bird with the broken beak. Perhaps, Obasanjo would have looked elsewhere for a toothpick if Atiku had not chickened out when his lieutenants had expected him to pull the trigger. Today, he is the victim of that grave mistake of 2003 when General Obasanjo was seeking a lifeline on bended knees!’
That was when OBJ spat hot phlegm into the air and never care a hoot that the rheum landed on his face, swearing with magisterial infallibility, that Atiku must be arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for what he considered to be Atiku’s unforgivable crimes against his government and the Nigerian state. He had, in the in-house publication of the EFCC, Zero Tolerance, gone on a binge of delirium by not only labeling Atiku an international money launderer ‘frantically being sought by the Government of the United States of America but also accepted that he could not bear the fact that the man still walked on the streets as a free man despite his many sins.
Reminded that Atiku still travelled to other countries, OBJ blurted: “He travels? Travels to where? To Dubai? Let him go to America and return to Nigeria. Well, I don’t know what the EFCC has found out about him, but I don’t know if he can go to America. Do you know? I am asking you, do you know?”
That was then. Today, the narrative has changed. Having won the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party with the potential of realising a life-long ambition to rule this country, Obasanjo, who once said God would never forgive him if he turned his eyes the other way and allowed Atiku to mount the mantle, has started singing a new song. What did the magic? Could it be Atiku’s contrition which had not yielded any positive result in the last 13 years until last Thursday in Abeokuta or the fact that he had sworn to install any other person as President as long as President Muhammadu Buhari is retired to tend his cows in Daura? Well, it could be both. It could even be the fact that these two, in cahoot, with some forces must work together in the battle to defeat a common enemy and retired General, Buhari. Isn’t that what they call permanent interest?
Suddenly, all the anger and deep bitterness had disappeared. Atiku, the butt of OBJ’s rabid attack, is now the poster boy for Nigeria’s glorious past, the present and the future. Though still magisterial in speech with an air of infallibility around him, Obasanjo said he had carried out a thorough psychoanalytical study on Atiku and discovered that the person sitting before him has undergone a personality cleansing that places him in a good stead to become Nigeria’s next President in 2019.
Take a listen: “Yes, when it started, it was meant for Atiku to succeed Obasanjo. In the presence of these distinguished leaders of goodwill today, let me say it openly that we have reviewed what went wrong on the side of Atiku. And in all honesty, my former Vice-President has re-discovered and re-positioned himself. As I have repeatedly said, it is not so much what you did against me that was the issue but what you did against the Party, the Government and the country. I took the stand I had taken based on the character and attributes you exhibited in the position you found yourself. I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position. “From what transpired in the last couple of hours or so, you have shown remorse; you have asked for forgiveness and you have indicated that you have learnt some good lessons and you will mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable.”
Don’t ask me how, in just a couple of hours, the ever gregarious Obasanjo jumped to the conclusion that Atiku has changed. It is a possibility not just because change is permanent but because change is dependent on certain dynamics which, in this case, are known to only Obasanjo. Some four years back, he saw the need to change his hardline opinion about Buhari when he dramatically tore his PDP membership card and endorsed the All Progressives Congress candidate as he then was. Before then, former President Goodluck Jonathan enjoyed that privilege until OBJ started writing his tendentiously lengthy and acerbic letters to disengage the gear of friendship.
He had equally mete out the same treatment on Buhari which explained why he would dine with anyone with the capacity to kick him out of the office. For now, candidate Atiku towers above every other person with the likelihood of repeating a feat Buhari achieved in the 2015 general election—beating an incumbent to the race for Aso Rock. It is Buhari’s turn to feel the heat Jonathan got burnt in some years back.
Will Obasanjo be fourth time lucky? Would Buhari put an end to his serial enthronement and dethronement of presidents from Umaru Yar’Adua to Jonathan and Buhari? No one can tell. But one thing is sure. Atiku should, if he wins, expect the same ‘love’ notes OBJ was fond of writing to the other presidents God granting the old man more years on earth. Should such letters get to his table, let it be seen as the change that happens when permanent interests are no longer permanent. That is a projection of Obasanjo in the future in a democracy that runs in circles and under the firm grip of an old, wily fox who speaks from both sides of the mouth! Shouldn’t Obasanjo be making a call to his publishers to inform of the revise the lies he wrote about his ‘boy’ in that trilogy called My Watch?