Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are at loggerheads again ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
Obasanjo, in a scathing remark yesterday, said he made a mistake picking Atiku as his running mate for the 1999 election.
He said it was one of the many genuine mistakes he has made in the course of his public life.
“One of the mistakes I made was picking my Number Two when I wanted to become the president,” Obasanjo told students from select secondary school students that participated in the final of the National Exhibition and Awards organised by Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
He added: “But because it was a genuine mistake, God saved me.”
Although the former president did not mention his former right-hand man by name in the statement, Atiku was his running mate in that election and that of 2003 before their relationship went sour.
Another costly mistake Obasanjo said he made, was not taking seriously a warning he got from an American ambassador that the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha, was planning to arrest him.
His words: “When Abacha wanted to arrest me, I was told by the American ambassador that they would arrest me and that America had asked that I should be given an asylum.
“I said no. It could have been a mistake because I could have lost my life.
“I will say there are many things that could have been a mistake but God saved me from them all.”
He wondered how Nigerian youths could assume leadership positions in various cadres of governance when those contesting elective offices in the forthcoming 2023 general elections are largely septuagenarians.
“Another thing inhibiting the youth from running is the amount of money involved in going into politics. I hope that things should not continue like this.
“I was 39 years old when I became the military head of state.
“Twenty years later, I came back as civilian president, but those there now do not want to allow the youths.
“If things continue like this, I do not know how you can come in,” he said.
On religious tolerance, he advised the youth not to see their own religion as superior to that of another person.
Obasanjo said: “I have no right to say what another man believes in is inferior to mine.
“If God had wanted all of us to be of the same religion, he would have made it so. And since He did not make it so, no person should attempt to make it so.
“Young people should learn at a very early age in life that if there are five religions in the world, that is how God wants it to be. If there are 10, that is how God wants it. All religions originated from the same source.
“If you are a Muslim and you do not live the way God wants you to live, you cannot enter Aljannah (Paradise). If you are a Christian and you do not live the way God wants you to live, the same thing, you will not enter Paradise.
“If the basis of religion is doing the right thing for the benefits of mankind, you don’t have to condemn any person because of what he believed.
“I do not believe that any religion is superior to mine, and I don’t believe that mine is superior to another person’s belief.
“I will not allow any person to cast aspersions on my religion and will not do same to another person. Practice your religion the way God wants you to do it and don’t condemn another person.”
Obasanjo had in an earlier brutal assessment of Atiku, said he would not have had any second thought making Atiku his successor if he had “been a loyal, faithful, dutiful and committed second-in-command.”
Recalling how he settled for Atiku as his running mate in the 1999 election, the former president said: ”I considered all candidates that were available and what I knew about them. I had earlier collected information about some to beef up my knowledge of them.
“That night, I settled for Atiku Abubakar. Some of the reasons were: he worked hard for the project; he never indicated interest in the job to me; he had worked closely with Shehu Yar’Adua and Shehu never passed any adverse comment on him; he had been elected as a governor, which already put him on the pedestal to move up politically, but he had been short-changed in the election that would have put M.K.O. Abiola in power, and he seemed to have some national outreach.”
Still on his assessment of Atiku, Obasanjo in his memoirs, My Watch, said: “For instance, until later, when a distinguished chief from Bauchi pointed out to me the value of pedigree queried Atiku’s pedigree and blamed me for making a wrong choice.
“I did not pay attention to Atiku’s parental background. Furthermore, until all efforts to help Atiku change had failed – having stumbled upon a report of inquiry carried out on him – I asked one of my predecessors why he did not inform me of how bad the report was and he said that he thought I knew.”
He added: “This was a man I wanted to dismiss and jail but for the intervention of Shagaya and Shehu Yar’Adua. I took him at face value.
“However, if his appointment was an error, I fully accepted responsibility for the genuine mistake.
“And knowing all that I discovered about him, what would have been an unpardonable mistake and sin against God would have been to foist him on Nigeria.
“My mistake was containable and it was contained…
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“As I moved on with my programmes for the second term, I had no clear indication about who would succeed me.
“If Atiku had been a loyal, faithful, dutiful and committed second-in-command, I would not have doubted. After all, I picked him purposely for that in mind.
“What informed my position was the question my Chaplain, Rev. (Dr.) William Okoye, asked in the beginning of May 2006 about who I had anointed to succeed me, since we were almost one year away to the election. I told him no one yet. He was curious but he believed me.
“We moved on as all sorts of clouds started to gather around Atiku if not at home, surely in the US, with his newly acquired wife to complete his total Nigerian husband outlook. – Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani and Igbo wives. Here, he achieved Federal character.
“In addition, he acquired indiscriminately chieftaincy titles all over the country.
“By 30 May, I told Revd. Okoye at a morning devotion session in my residence that I wanted to embark on one month fasting and praying in June for God to show us (PDP) how to proceed in getting a successor candidate. He joined me in the fasting and prayer with some other members of the Red Carpet Prayer Group.
“Within three weeks of our fasting and praying, we received a letter dated 22 June, 2006 written by the US Department of Criminal Justice Office of International Affairs, which was brought to me by Nuhu Ribadu, the Head of EFCC, requesting us to investigate a number of Nigerians for suspicion of criminal activities in the US.