The open endorsement of the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, on Sunday, elicited angry reactions from the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, and that of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of APC described the endorsement of Obi by Obasanjo as useless, alleging that the former president hardly has strong electoral value. The PDP PCC reacted in like manner, saying whether Obasanjo likes it or not, Atiku would be president in his life time.
But LP said other former Nigerian leaders should emulate Obasanjo and endorse Obi.
In the open letter of commendation, Obasanjo declared that after a thorough assessment of all the candidates vying to become Nigeria’s president from May 29 this year, Obi had the best qualities to effectively tackle the current challenges facing the country.
Obasanjo maintained in the letter he personally signed and addressed to all Nigerians that his decision to throw his weight behind the former Anambra State governor was arrived at after interactions with the major contenders.
In a subtle rejection of the other two major candidates he referred to as “Emi Lokan” and “I have paid my dues”, Obasanjo stated that the kind of leader Nigeria needed currently was not one with an entitlement mentality, but someone selfless, courageous, honest, patriotic, one with character and the fear of God. He stressed that the two contenders he made allusion to were one and the same, saying they have the wrong attitude and mentality towards the country’s leadership.
Obasanjo argued that none of them could form the new pedestal for reinventing the new Nigeria based on an “All-Nigeria Government” for the liberation and restoration of the country. According to him, whoever aspires to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari must have a track record of ability and performance as well as a vision that is authentic, honest and realistic.
He stated that such a person must have the character and attributes of a good child of God, possess physical and mental capability, and have a sound mind.
The former president said, in a clear endorsement of the LP presidential candidate, “None of the contestants is a saint, but when one compares their character, antecedents, 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.”
However, he added that other leaders, like the presidential candidates of other parties, could contribute to the new dispensation to liberate, restore and salvage Nigeria collectively.
The former president also took a swipe at the Buhari administration, stating that the last seven and a half years of the present administration have been traumatic for many Nigerians.
He declared, “We have moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley. Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth.”
Obasanjo stated that he was constrained to write the letter to all Nigerians, especially young Nigerians, friends of Nigeria globally, and development partners because of the gravity, responsibility and implications of the collective decision Nigerians, both young and old, will be making within the next two months.
“I believe that we need not be confused nor be gullible. Let us be cautious, not to be fooled again,” he advised.
The former president stressed that the Nigeria of today had been dragged down well below the Nigeria of the beginning of his own presidency in June 1999.
He stressed, “Although at that time, Nigeria was in very bad shape and was tottering on the verge of collapse and breakup. Even then, Nigeria was not faced with the level of pervasive and mind-numbing insecurity, rudderless leadership, buoyed by mismanagement of diversity and pervasive corruption, bad economic policies resulting in extremes of poverty and massive unemployment and galloping inflation.”
Obasanjo argued that one ridiculous point that had been touted to justify unjustifiable appointments and selections in the current administration was “competence”, maintaining that in truth and in reality, genuine competence can be found in any region or section of Nigeria through track record and performance.
He urged the Nigerian youth not to fall prey again, explaining, “We will have ourselves to blame and no one can say how many more knocks Nigeria can take before it tips over.”
In an emotional plea to the young people of Nigeria, Obasanjo noted that they must come together and bring about a truly meaningful change in their lives.
“Your present and future are in your hands to make or to mar. The future of Nigeria is in the same manner in your hands and literally so,” he told the youth.
He also advised young people to forget the malice kept by their fathers and move together as a united front, appealing to them to stop inheriting other people’s prejudices and enemies. “Make your own friends and stop inheriting your father’s enemies,” he cautioned.
Meanwhile, National Chairman of LP, Julius Abure, called on former presidents and heads of government to take a cue from Obasanjo and endorse Obi for president.
Abure made the call in an exclusive chat with THISDAY shortly after Obasanjo had expressed his support for Obi in a letter addressed to Nigerians.
The LP national chairman described Obasanjo as “a patriot who wants the best for the country”, saying he should be supported by well-meaning Nigerians who share the same sentiments.
Abure said, “Obasanjo, obviously, has no choice among all the presidential candidates aside Peter Obi. He has always been a progressive, a patriot and a man that wants the best for the country. I want to say without any fear of contradiction that Obasanjo has by this distinguished himself.
“He is a man that has the country at heart. It is, therefore, not surprising that he has endorsed Obi. We want to implore other leaders, other past presidents, other fathers of the country, like IBB, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Goodluck Jonathan and all past presidents and heads of government in the country.
“I call on them to endorse Obi because as it stands, without sounding immodest, he is the best presidential candidate among other presidential candidates.
“He has age on his side, he is energetic, he has the pedigree, he is competent and is the one that is best suited for the job.”
However, the APC presidential campaign described the endorsement of Obi by Obasanjo as worthless.
Director of Media and Publicity of APC PCC, Bayo Onanuga, in a statement, said the ruling party respected Obasanjo’s democratic right to support and endorse any candidate of his choice in any election.
Onanuga stressed that Obasanjo had earlier stated his position at various public events, the last being at the 70th birthday anniversary of Chief John Nwodo, Ndigbo in Enugu.
The APC campaign spokesman said, “We read with amusement the endorsement of Obi, the LP presidential candidate, by 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.”
Onanuga stated that the presidential candidate of APC, Tinubu, would not lose sleep over Obasanjo’s move, insisting that the former president is notorious for always opposing progressive political forces, as he did against Moshood Abiola in 1993.
He stressed in the statement, “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 recalled that in the 2003 and 2007 general elections, when Obasanjo was a sitting president, he used all the coercive instruments of state at his disposal to railroad people into elective offices against the will of Nigerians as expressed at the polls.
He alleged that Obasanjo declared the polls a do or die affair after he failed in his bid to amend the constitution to have a third term.
The APC campaign stated, “From our records, 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.
“We pity Obi as we are confident that Obasanjo cannot win his polling unit and ward in Abeokuta for Obi in the coming presidential election on 25 February, 2023.
“Obasanjo’s endorsement is not a political currency Obi can spend anywhere in Nigeria because he is not a political force, even in his part of the country.”
Equally reacting to the endorsement by the former president, the PDP presidential campaign organisation stated that whether Obasanjo liked it or not, Atiku would be president.in his life time.
In a statement, PDP Presidential Campaign Management Committee’s Director of Public Affairs, Dino Malaye, stated, “Baba is talking of age. America, the most civilised democracy on earth, voted for over 70.
“How old was Obasanjo in 1999? How old was he when he wanted third term as president? Baba should cure himself from the inherent hatred for Atiku.
“Obasanjo will be alive, and Atiku will be president. Peter Obi can only be President of Rotary Club. Nigeria is too big for him. Burger is not food for monkeys. Shoe has sizes.”
In the same vein, the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Organisation said the support for the LP presidential candidate by Obasanjo was his personal wish, which did not reflect the opinion or position of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians across the country. The campaign said while Obasanjo was entitled to his personal opinion, “as remarkable as it may appear, it remains individualistic and cannot redirect Nigerians from their determination to rally with the more experienced, more proficient and more accepted presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, to rescue and rebuild our nation from the APC misrule.”
In a statement, spokesperson, Atiku/Okowa Campaign Organisation, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “What is surprising to majority of Nigerians is that in the face of the 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, the Atiku/Okowa presidential campaign stated that Obasanjo’s opinion could not sway Nigerians who could easily remember how the former presiddnt had endorsed Buhari, whose administration, he now described as “stressful years for many Nigerians,” during which the nation “moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley.”
According to the campaign organisation, it is extremely difficult for Nigerians, particularly the youth, to accept Obasanjo’s opinion as the solution to the myriad of challenges facing the country because the last candidate he introduced, by his own estimation, failed Nigerians.
The organisation stated, “Our campaign holds that none of the presidential candidates has the experience, capacity, tenacity of purpose, presence of mind and readiness to serve like Atiku Abubakar.
“Atiku remains the most widely accepted candidate, whose choice is not predicated by sectional, tribal, ethnic or religious sentiments or the endorsement of any individual, high or low, but by record of ability and performance, authentic vision, honesty and character; physical and mental capacity; the very indices set by the former president.
“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
“Our campaign, therefore, urges Nigerians not to be distracted by subjective opinions but to remain focused on the resolve to salvage our dear nation by electing Atiku Abubakar as the next President of Nigeria, come February 25, 2023.”
Political analyst and former presidential aide to former president Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri said regarding Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi, “President Obasanjo is a good hearted man. He has always wanted a president from the South-east, or one from the South-south, with Igbo roots. He believes that is the best way to heal the wounds of the civil war. He is a man who strongly believes in the unity of Nigeria. In 2007, he wanted Governor Peter Odili, but Governor Yar’Adua insisted on Governor Goodluck Jonathan as his running mate. Peter Odili said as much in his book, which was corroborated by others, including Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El-Rufai.
“What Obasanjo did is understandable, but it will not matter in the election. Therefore, the Peoples Democratic Party would not be wise to attack it, as Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress have done. President Obasanjo has done so much for Nigeria, in peacetime and in wartime. Whether we like his stance on anything, we must respect his status, and place in history, and respectfully agree to disagree.”
Chuks Okocha, Emmanuel Addeh, Adedayo Akinwale, Gabriel Emameh in Abuja and James Sowole in Abeokuta