Excerpts from a new book titled "Atiku Media Office: The Wars, The Victories" by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar's men
"It was clear that the President did not want a strong Vice President or one with a mind of his own. It was also clear by his decision to build a structure of his own that he had a hidden agenda, which was then unknown to Atiku. If indeed they were working as a team, as Obasanjo often claimed, why would he need his own platform outside the PDP? Even as Obasanjo frequently declared publicly that the bond between him and his deputy was so strong that not even their wives could break it, Atiku realised that it was not going to be easy working with his boss. For reasons best known to him, Obasanjo felt insecure. He was also petty, impulsive and dictatorial. He believed a lot in gossips and rumours, and as the Nigerian Nobel-laureate Wole Soyinka once put it, Obasanjo would always believe and act on the evidence presented by the first tale-bearer. Atiku was often mindful of outshining his boss and instructed his staff, especially his media team, to ensure that it never happened. To the President’s credit, Atiku had a lot to do during their first term. He was given many responsibilities and he carried them out to the best of his ability and to the satisfaction of his boss. He worked hard to earn the confidence of his boss. Sometimes, he went over board to do the President’s bidding and to prove his loyalty to him. His critics even began to unfairly ridicule him as a man who had no mind of his own and as a leader who was ready to sacrifice the interest of his immediate constituency and those of his friends and political associates to please his boss.
"For a while, everything looked fine until 2002 when the President began to prepare seriously for re-election. The anti- Atiku forces within the President’s hangers-on and others who felt that Atiku had become too powerful and was a serious threat to their own presidential ambitions, began to advise the President against seeking re-election on the same ticket with Atiku. The Vice President initially dismissed the stories as mere rumours. But when Obasanjo formally declared his intention to run for a second four-year term in April 2002, he was mischievously silent on the fate of his deputy on the re-election ticket.
"Although they later patched things up with the President directing that a formal statement be released to the public that Atiku would run for re-election with him, Atiku felt he could no longer trust his boss. He realised that he had to fight for his own political survival rather than wait for Obasanjo to humiliate him. Of course, by this time, some of the same ambitious people who had succeeded in creating a rift between the President and his deputy had begun urging Atiku to ditch Obasanjo and pursue his own presidential ambition. Atiku immediately realised their agenda, i.e. to set the President against his Vice President in the hope that they would emerge the ultimate beneficiaries, if the two leaders ended up destroying each other. Atiku played along, but always made sure that he kept the President abreast of their discussions each time both of them met.
"Just before the PDP presidential primaries in Abuja, in January 2003, Atiku came under serious pressure from some state governors to contest the party’s presidential ticket. The governors were unhappy with Obasanjo’s brusque, crude and dictatorial style and wanted the more approachable, suave and liberal Atiku to challenge the President. Atiku mulled over their offer. Finally, he decided that it would not be in the best interest of the country for the presidency to return to the North after being in the South for only four years. The South had often accused the North of monopolising power on account of a revolving door of mostly military officers from the region who ruled the country for nearly four decades. The Vice President was fully conscious of such sentiments in the South and he did not want to precipitate another round of political crisis in the country as a result of his own personal ambition. Therefore, he decided to throw his considerable weight behind Obasanjo’s re-election to the disappointment of the governors who were urging him to run.
"At the outset of their second term in office, a cold war ensued between the President and his deputy. Atiku had returned to office after the elections full of hope and optimism about the administration and the country. His relationship with the President, he had thought, would improve with time and as the two men had promised each other, they were determined never to allow a third party to come in between them again. Unknown to him, Obasanjo had not forgotten or forgiven that his deputy and his governor-friends had considered challenging him in the party’s presidential primaries. Never one to let go a slight, Obasanjo began to act like a wounded lion towards Atiku. He raised the matter over a dozen times and Atiku explained what happened and asked for forgiveness if the President felt offended in any way. But Obasanjo remained implacable. He began to undermine the Office of the Vice President, stripping it steadily of all powers, privileges and functions. The President made himself the Supreme Commander with powers to hire and fire any staff of the Vice President. All travels by the Vice President and his staff had to be approved by him or his designated authority.
"The President also wanted to control such petty things as allocation of staff vehicles, office and residential accommodation or determine who should be entitled to lunch at the State House. Even visitors to the Office of the Vice President had to be screened by the Chief Security Officer to the President. Things would get even more ludicrous in the times ahead as Obasanjo took on the micro management of the State House. Less than two months into the second term, the President told his deputy that he wanted Adeolu Akande, a Ph.D holder in Political Science and member of Atiku’s Media Team, fired immediately. Atiku wanted to know what Akande, a hardworking and respectful former university teacher and journalist, had done wrong.
"Obasanjo would not say. Atiku would later find out that the President acted on the basis of a fictitious report by a former colleague of Akande at the Nigerian Tribune newspapers who was obviously envious of Akande’s presence and rising profile at the State House. The report had been commissioned by Bode George, a retired navy commodore and a top shot in the ruling PDP who reckoned that his survival as a member of the highly treacherous and dog-eat-dog world of Obasanjo’s hangers-on depended on his ability to unmask and fight Obasanjo’s ‘enemies.’ He never hid his hatred for Atiku as a result of a long-cultivated suspicion of Northerners, which he had carried over from his days in the military. He accused Atiku of trying to undermine Obasanjo and he offered the fictitious reports he had commissioned as proof. In the case of Akande, the George report, written by one journalist reputed to be highly corrupt and unprincipled, said he (Akande) was instigating or sponsoring attacks on the President in the South West media with which he was previously associated.
"It was true that in the more organised and focused Office of the Vice President, Akande had responsibility for coordinating the media in the South West to ensure better coverage of the Vice President’s activities at all times. In doing this, Akande knew, as every other member of the Vice President’s media team, that he also had the responsibility of defending the President and covering up for the inadequacies of the President’s media team. Akande visited the region regularly and had a personal relationship with key figures in the media there. But he never at any time spoke ill of the President or encouraged the media to criticise Obasanjo. Indeed, anyone conversant with the workings of the media in Nigeria would know that the media are not so easily manipulated. It is not an institution that one man would sit in Abuja and dictate editorial policies and content. Clearly, Akande was being blamed for the President’s weak media strategy. Obasanjo never believed in or tried to cultivate a good relationship with the media. He had utter disregard for journalists and he was always insulting and calling them names. Any sensible person ought to know that with such a repulsive attitude towards an important pillar of democracy and society, Obasanjo could not be expected to have a good image. But it had never been in the character of Obasanjo to recognise and accept his own mistakes or weaknesses. Someone else had to be blamed for them. Akande was unmistakably the victim this time around.
"A good leader would have given Akande the opportunity to defend himself against the damaging allegations in the George report; but not Obasanjo. Akande had to go, he decreed. Atiku pleaded with him to investigate the matter thoroughly before taking a decision on the young man. The President refused to listen. The principle of fair hearing was ignored. For a President who claimed to be a born-again Christian, the Christian sense of justice was overlooked. The Yoruba, the tribe to which the president belongs, also have a traditional way of resolving issues that involve younger ones. That is why they say, if we use the right hand to spank a child, you use the left to draw him near. In this matter, the President didn’t act like a father to Akande who is of the same age as some of his offspring. Akande was fired. Atiku gave up when he saw that the President would not reverse himself. Akande was advised to abide; leaving a distraught Atiku with the task of rehabilitating the first victim of a President’s high-handedness and arrogance. Looking back, some would argue that Atiku should not have given up so quickly, that he should have confronted the President and insisted that Obasanjo could not fire his staff. Atiku was slow to understand that Obasanjo had the mentality of a bully and that the President would only back off from the systematic assault on the Office and person of Atiku if he (Atiku) stood up to him. But by running away from a fight over Akande, the Vice President had only postponed that inevitable open clash and encouraged Obasanjo to do worse things. Atiku is a bit too gentle and trusting. He was still full of hope that his relationship with the President could be managed. He was worried about a prolonged fight with his boss and felt neither him nor the government would survive a nasty and long drawn out confrontation. Obasanjo did not care. He was bent on settling scores.
"Barely three months after Akande’s ouster, Obasanjo struck again. This time the victims were Garba Shehu, Atiku’s Special Assistant, Media and PR, and Sam Oyovbaire, Atiku’s adviser on Programme and Policy Monitoring. Shehu, a former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and former managing director of the Kano-based Triumph Group of Newspapers, joined the Media Team in June 2003. Oyovbaire, a university professor, who had once served as Information Minister, was also appointed in June 2003. The President had reluctantly approved of his appointment. He did not seem to trust Oyovbaire perhaps because of the former minister’s links to Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Garba’s problems appeared to have been instigated by some members of the President’s media team who felt threatened by him. He was accused of sponsoring damaging stories against the President in both the Northern media as well as in some foreign broadcast media. Again, no hard evidence was offered and he was neither queried nor asked to defend himself.
"Obasanjo decreed that Shehu and Oyovbaire had to go. The President was not going to even inform his deputy about his decision to sack two of his staff until someone pleaded with him to grant his deputy that courtesy. Atiku was then on assignment in Jos when Obasanjo called to break the news to him. Atiku again wanted to know what they had done wrong, but the President refused to discuss it. He just wanted them gone. Atiku pleaded for time to look into the matter, Obasanjo refused. Again, Atiku acquiesced. The Vice President was still trying to avoid an open confrontation with the President. They were barely into the seventh month of their second term. He could not risk a long drawn out fight, he thought. Unlike Akande who was quietly eased out, Shehu and Oyovbaire left in the glare of publicity. The President ordered his media office to release a formal statement on the sack. It was a big mistake. The President was pilloried in the media as a tyrant and as a lawless leader. Questions were asked as to whether the President had power to sack aides of the Vice President and some even wondered why Atiku would allow such reckless abuse of power by the President. The 1999 Constitution, which Obasanjo swore to uphold and respect at all times, is silent on this issue but it is clear that the rules of engagement did not give the President powers to sack the Vice President’s aides at will. But the constitution was Obasanjo’s least concern. He had decided to cut Atiku to size and there was no going back.
"Atiku suspected that the real reason behind Obasanjo’s assault on his office was not the claimed bitterness over the 2003 PDP presidential primary. The President had an agenda and the sack of vice presidential aides was part of the strategy to intimidate and whip Atiku into line. Shortly after their re-election in 2003, the President sent emissaries to his deputy to discuss the issue of constitutional amendment, which a committee headed by Information Minister Jerry Gana was working on. Gana, accompanied by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi, had included a controversial clause in their draft report that would give Obasanjo an unprecedented third term in office. Whilst Atiku had been adjudged by his staff to have the patience of a doormat, in this instance, he was forced to bare his teeth in the face of Obasanjo’s shameless excesses. Atiku described the proposed amendment as unconstitutional and that he would not support such an illegality.
"He told the President’s men to take the message back to him. That was the first real confirmation of the rumour that Obasanjo was scheming for a third term. Besides his own personal ambition, Atiku knew such a move would be fiercely opposed by critical segments of the Nigerian society and that it could throw the country into an unnecessary political crisis. The President refused to personally discuss the matter with his deputy. As usual with him, Obasanjo pretended not to be interested in it, making it all seem like the brainwave of some adoring fans in and out of government.
"The ease with which Obasanjo was demolishing his once powerful deputy without any serious challenge either from the latter or any of the power blocs within the polity, had emboldened him to expand the battle to other “rebel” fronts within his party. He had taken over his government – well, so to say – he needed to take over the party, which controls the government and two-thirds of the 36 state governments in the federation as well as a majority of the National Assembly. The PDP National Chairman, Audu Ogbeh, did not seem to Obasanjo like a man who would buy into the third term project. In any case, he had long suspected the chairman of being too close to Atiku. Although Obasanjo had brought Ogbeh into the party’s highest office, he had become too uncomfortable with Ogbeh’s independent mind and his articulate, candid and critical views about the government and the party. Ogbeh once referred to the riotous and motley collection of the people in the PDP as a rally rather than a political party. He was also openly critical of the mounting social problems, such as youth unemployment, despite the fanciful statistics reeled out daily by the members of the government’s economic team. Obasanjo bided his time. After all, he had sacked two of Ogbeh’s predecessors – Solomon Lar and Barnabas Gemade - without protests from the party. The President was used to having his way.
"The opportunity Obasanjo wanted came sooner than expected. Ogbeh, a former Minister of Communications and an accomplished playwright, made the mistake of writing privately to the President, urging him to do something about his lacklustre performance and the pervading malaise in the country. The letter somehow found its way to the press and all hell broke loose. Obasanjo wrote a rambling, un-presidential public response, abusing and cursing Ogbeh. He then demanded Ogbeh’s resignation. Atiku and a majority of the state governors as well as other top officials of the party insisted on due process. They had had enough of the President’s arbitrariness. They wanted the matter handled in accordance with the provisions of the party’s constitution. Obasanjo had no patience for such niceties. He sent Atiku on a hastily arranged errand outside the country and then pounced on Ogbeh. The chairman was dragged from his house early one morning to the presidential lodge, shoved into a room and ordered at gun point to draft his resignation on a piece of paper already provided by the President himself.
"When news of Ogbeh’s forced resignation broke out, the President was roundly condemned for his lawlessness and reckless abuse of power. In Obasanjo, Nigerians were beginning to see an all-too-familiar metamorphosis from “messiah” to menace. The sack of Ogbeh should have been the moment to put an end to the President’s descent to despotism. There were talks about splitting the ruling party and threatening the President with impeachment since his opponents at that time clearly had the numbers in the National Assembly. Despite having no fewer than 15 PDP governors solidly behind him, Atiku again showed reluctance to split the party into factions and to rattle the President with impeachment. He did not want to overheat the polity and give the ever restive military the excuse to prematurely end Nigeria’s fourth attempt at representative government. The governors and other top members of the party, who had lined up behind Atiku, were disappointed. By not challenging the mounting illegalities of the President, a monster was being created that was threatening to devour all of them. It was a fatal mistake.
"With Ogbeh gone unchallenged, Obasanjo took some even bolder steps to purge the party of all Atiku men and women. Obasanjo imposed Ahmadu Ali, a retired army colonel and medical doctor, who had served him as Education Minister during his first stint as a military ruler, as Ogbeh’s replacement. Ali, along with Ojo Maduekwe and Tony Anenih (the two men had played the same infamous roles in the Abacha dictatorship) and other Obasanjo men and women, were foisted on the party without an election. This was clearly a violation of the party’s constitution. Succession in any democratic institution comes through one form of election or another. By now, it was clear that Obasanjo was desecrating all the cherished values of democracy and nobody seemed able to stop him. He intimidated the powerful state governors with threats of prosecution for corruption by the newly established Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Unfortunately, a number of the governors had behaved badly during their first term in office. They treated state treasuries as if they were personal wallets. State funds were regularly being stolen and stashed abroad for keeps or for the purchase of choice property in highbrow locations around the world. Obasanjo had dossiers on all of them and he had also secured the cooperation of the EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, in dealing with whomsoever the President decided to single out for punishment.
"The SSS placed Atiku on its priority list. His movements were monitored round the clock and all his visitors were reported to Obasanjo. The President would personally rebuke and threaten any minister or government official seen around the Vice President’s residence or office or who made the mistake of inviting Atiku to any official function. The President encouraged his ministers and aides to denigrate and ridicule his deputy. At the weekly Executive Council of the Federation meeting, some ministers would see the Vice President without offering a greeting. Atiku took every indignity in his stride and carried himself around as someone who was above the pettiness of his tormentors. Having succeeded in putting his men and women in strategic positions in the party and made himself its de facto leader, Obasanjo fashioned out a membership review policy.
"All PDP members were to be re-registered and given new identity cards. The new cards were printed, shipped to the states and handed over only to Obasanjo’s carefully selected trusted agents known as “Link men” or “Link women” who had briefs on who to or not give the new cards. Indeed, the cards went only to those on a list approved by the Presidency and the PDP headquarters in Abuja, while thousands of prominent members mostly considered loyal to Atiku were refused re-registration. Some state governors fought and dispossessed Obasanjo’s agents of the cards, leaving the party with no other option but to settle with them. Some governors stormed Abuja to protest their exclusion and Obasanjo made sure that they took an oath of loyalty to him before being given the cards.
"In the case of Atiku, the cards for Adamawa, his home State, were handed over to Jibril Aminu, a senator whose election Atiku had sponsored but who, in a classic case of biting the finger that fed one, had turned into Atiku’s number one foe. Atiku showed up in his village ward in Kojoli and was refused registration. By denying the Vice President registration, it was clear to everyone that contrary to the PDP’s claim, the exercise was aimed principally at purging the party of those the President did not like. The entire drama was playing out in the full glare of the Nigerian public.
"There were condemnations from prominent and ordinary Nigerians who accused the President and the PDP of perverting the nation’s democracy. They could not understand how a political party that should permanently be on new membership drive would be de-registering most of its founding members without just cause. The President and his party had cast themselves as villains in this theatre of the absurd. The President’s unprovoked attacks on Atiku had garnered the latter much public sympathy. Atiku bore his travails with quiet dignity, refusing to trade insults with the President. He shunned public comments on his worsening relationship with the President. In the eyes of the Nigerian public, Atiku was looking more presidential than Obasanjo. The Vice President carried out whatever was left of his official assignments without betraying any emotion. His stoicism endeared him to many Nigerians. He, not Obasanjo, was viewed as the statesman.
"The bad publicity generated by the denial of registration to the Vice President thoroughly embarrassed the PDP. The party promptly dispatched its chairman, Ali, and other top officials to the Vice President’s office for a show registration allegedly to assure him and his supporters that they were not being chased out of the party. Atiku was not fooled. Any registration conducted outside a member’s ward was invalid. The PDP knew it and Atiku knew that he and his supporters had effectively been weeded out of the ruling party. Some founding members of the PDP had also been excluded from the party. They would have to create an alternative platform in order to realise their political ambitions.
"At the peak of Obasanjo’s imperial presidency, the entire state machinery, personnel, resources and the coercive instruments of power were forcefully deployed to deny Atiku Abubakar his fundamental human rights under the constitution with the ultimate aim of frustrating him out of the 21 April 2007 presidential race. One such coercive apparatus was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) headed by Nuhu Ribadu and manipulated by Obasanjo to get at his perceived political opponents. Noble as the intention behind the establishment of the anti-corruption agency was, it unfortunately, turned out to be a veritable weapon in the hands of Obasanjo against his perceived enemies. By using the EFCC for the pursuit of vendetta and petrifying contrivances and inanities, Obasanjo bastardised the very essence of the anti-corruption agency.
"The EFCC was created to deal with the maelstrom of financial crimes such as Advanced Fee Fraud (aka 419) and economic crimes perpetrated against the state by public officials. Without a just cause, the EFCC contrived a case of conspiracy, fraudulent conversion of funds, corrupt practices and money laundering against the Vice President. The agency alleged the mismanagement of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), under the supervision of the Vice-President, for authorising the placement of deposits in interest-yielding bank accounts. By relying on EFCC’s report, the Executive Council of the Federation purportedly found him guilty of fraud and embezzlement after an Administrative Panel, set up by Obasanjo, had indicted him all with a view to preventing him from contesting the Presidency on provisions of section 137 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The section states: “A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if – (a) he has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial commission of inquiry or an administrative panel of inquiry or a tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, a tribunals of inquiry law or any other law by the Federal or state government which indictment has been accepted by the federal or state government, respectively.”
"The Council hastily approved and gazetted the “indictments” by the Administrative Panel of Inquiry headed by the Attorney General of the Federation of Nigeria in its report dated 5th September 2006 in a bid to satisfy that section of the Constitution which stipulates indictment by a competent judicial or Administrative panel as a basis for disqualification from seeking an elective office.
"The EFCC claimed in its report that its investigations were pursuant to a request for assistance that it received from the U.S government (a “request” that came after all the investigations of the EFCC had been carried out). Atiku went to court and on 28 November 2006, Justice Inumidun Akande of the Lagos High Court ruled that the EFCC report and the administrative panel report and the consequent gazette of the purported indictment do not exist in law and in fact. Said Justice Akande, in her landmark decision: “The preparation of and submission of the report in Exhibit 2 by the 2nd respondent to the President, instead of filing a charge or information at the High Court against the applicant and other persons, it erroneously indicted therein, amounting to usurpation by the Executive arm of government of the power of the High Court or the Judiciary which has power to try and convict or indict any person found to have committed any offence under the Act. The report in Exhibit 2, in as much as it is not a charge before the High Count and the President to whom it was submitted was not the High Court as prescribed under the Act is ultra vires and shall be set aside in this ruling.
"She warned that judicial power will be eroded if the Attorney-General or the EFCC and the president “were allowed to get away with this obvious and dangerous infraction.”
This judicial pronouncement, one of many, in favour of Atiku Abubakar, showed how the EFCC was used as a tool for settling political scores by President Obasanjo. It was surmised that a scenario had already been painted for the agency; all that it did was work towards accomplishing the scenario. It is, however, ironic that the same EFCC, whose only allegation against Atiku Abubakar is authorisation of placement of deposits in interest-yielding bank accounts, failed to see anything wrong or even curious in a situation where Obasanjo who in 1999 had less than N20,000 in his bank account managed to acquire several highly mechanised multi-million naira farms in all the six geo-political zones of the country: Obasanjo palm oil farms in Calabar; his farm at Oke Ogun area of Oyo State, the biggest of its kind in Africa; big fish farms in Lanlate and Ota; a big poultry farm in Ibogun and oil palm and estate at Ehuuagie, Rivers State. As if that was not enough, Obasanjo’s investments allegedly stretch across all sectors of the economy with such ventures as the multi-million naira Temperance Hotel, Ota; The Bells Secondary School and University, Transcorp which owns the Abuja Hilton, NITEL, oil blocs; Steel Company, as well as a speculated interest in the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot-Abasi which was allegedly sold to foreign interests allegedly at a price believed to be far below its actual value…