- … unpleasant things that happened in the Villa
- Four reasons Atiku’ll perform better than Buhari
Dr. Gbolade Osinowo is one of the closest associates of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was his Senior Special Adviser (Politics) and also served as Chief of Staff to late President Umaru Yar’Adua. He is currently the Chairman of the African Democratic Congress, in Ogun State. In this no-holds-barred interview, he narrates his experience dealing with the feud between his principal (Obasanjo) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar during their days in government. He also speaks on salient issues relating to the handling of the economy by the current administration and the 2019 general elections, among others. He spoke to GBENGA ODUTOLA.
How would you assess the political atmosphere in Nigeria, ahead of the 2019 Presidential election?
The political atmosphere is agog with high expectations from different quarters. There are a lot of activities presently but the questions bothering everyone are: will the election be free and fair? Will the outcome be pre-determined? Will the All Progressives Congress allow the people’s will to be done or will they rig the elections as they did in Ekiti and Osun states? People are going to vote but are the votes going to be counted and will the counted votes count? Will the wish of the majority be respected? These are the most important things for me.
There were allegations of vote buying in the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states. What is your party doing to curb the menace in the general elections in 2019?
I know that my party is committed to eradicating vote buying but I have very little hope that we can succeed because vote buying is the cardinal programme of the ruling party as the members of the All Progressive Congress are the main beneficiaries. One electoral rule says that candidates should not induce voters and that is being done every day by members of the ruling party.
For instance, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, went to a market place one week before election in Ekiti to share N10,000 to traders. He didn’t do that two months before election but used that to win Ekiti and he repeated the same thing in Osun. Now that the election is general, it has become a norm for the Vice President to distribute Trader Moni to induce voters. That is organised, legitimised vote buying. As long as APC is in control of INEC, Police and other security agencies, there is no much hope that it will end soon.
I was in a very difficult situation. For me as a person, it was difficult because I felt if I could not settle the rift, I should not aggravate it. For me, I performed my duty to the best. I related to each of them at my best without being biased. But because of the poisoned atmosphere in the Villa, we had to tread carefully
What is the update on the Coalition of United Political Parties arrangement?
What I understand is that the group is meeting this weekend to choose a joint presidential candidate. When that happens, we will know exactly where we are.
Having worked with former President Olusegun Obasanjo for years, what are the qualities you have found in him that Nigerians may not know?
One of them is that he is one of the few patriotic Nigerians I know or that I have ever heard of. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is someone that can take a bullet for Nigeria. He actually ‘took a bullet’ for the nation during the civil war when he risked his life to settle for peace. I have seen him doing something like that over and over again. When Gen. Sani Abacha arrested one of his friends (Shehu Yar’ Adua), Obasanjo was abroad but could have stayed back. He decided to come back home, even when he knew the consequences. Instead of seeking assylum in other countries, he came home because he knew his country needed him. He believes Nigeria is a project that is developing and I like that about him.
You have come a very long way with the former President, and you are still one of his closest associates till today. How have you been able to maintain this relationship, especially with critics’ notion that he is a very difficult person?
It depends on the expectations you have. If you are expecting things he won’t be able to give, you are bound to quarrel. I went into a relationship with Obasanjo with my eyes open and not to make money. He could not put me in certain areas because of his patriotism.
Many people had issues with him because they wanted to make money through him since he was in power, and when that did not come, they fell apart. I was not expecting anything because I didn’t go into politics to make money in the first place. People would want to be in a position and they think he must put them there. I understand that coming from the same state with him provided opportunities for me and also provided limitations. For instance, there was a position he wanted to put me but couldn’t because we were from the same state and I was not expecting any miracle. As a matter of fact, my highest political office was under Yar’ Adua and not under Obasanjo. If you manage your expectation from your boss, you are likely going to go
The chances of ADC winning the gubernatorial election in Ogun State seem very bright. How would you manage during the National Assembly/Presidential elections if your presidential flagbearer does not emerge the joint candidate from the CUPP basket?
I know that the chances of the ADC candidate are slim in the CUPP arrangement. But what that means is that we have one President, who is a CUPP member, and we have our own member, who is ADC. Our candidate will be the CUPP candidate in Ogun State, and as we are voting for the CUPP president, we expect the other coalition members to reciprocate. But we are not banking on that to win the state. We are projecting and marketing our candidates to win at all levels. We are going to work hard to achieve that because the key to success is hard work. Work smart, pray and we
If former Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerges as the CUPP Presidential candidate, do you think he is fit for Presidency, having worked closely with him during the OBJ days?
Of course. One thing I share with Atiku is that we went to the same training school and that is Chief Olusegun Obasnajo Political Academy. And, of all the people who want to be the President, Atiku is the only one that was trained by Obasanjo. Atiku has the commitment and competence to win the election, owing to his vast business experience and those are the qualities Nigeria needs in a leader. He has the ‘WAZOBIA’ spirit. He has the strength and ability to assemble a team, comprising of people that are even brighter and more intelligent than him for a common purpose. Obasanjo was very good at doing that, but this is beyond Buhari’s ability. I believe Atiku can assemble the right team that will address Nigeria’s problems the way they should be addressed.
One thing I share with Atiku is that we went to the same training school and that is Chief Olusegun Obasnajo Political Academy. And, of all the people who want to be the President, Atiku is the only one that was trained by Obasanjo. Atiku has the commitment and competence to win the election, owing to his vast business experience and those are the qualities Nigeria needs in a leader
Which day was the most memorable for you while working with former President Obasanjo?
The most memorable day for me was when he won the primary in Jos. It had been a tough journey, politically. All through the campaign, we drove from Ota to Ikeja and people called us different abusive names. We were confronted with a very hostile crowd along the way because of what some people termed an anti-Abiola move, among others. It was always terrible, as they would be shouting and cursing us as we moved. But after he won the primary and returned to Lagos, I was shocked when the people welcomed us in grandstyle.
After he won the election, we went to Abuja and someone started the ugly rumour that Obasanjo had died, and I was amazed when the same people from the South West, who had been against us, were ready to riot in Lagos. These incidents made me to wonder about human nature as they were things I could not really
Another memorable day was the day Nigeria won debt forgiveness. When the news came, we were so happy because I always told the President then that what we needed to do was infrastructure development, bring the railways back; and he would say, ‘we don’t have the money’. He kept saying, ‘if we can get debt forgiveness, investors will come to look for us’. When we got the news, we gathered ourselves at Aso rock; we went to congratulate him in his office and he appreciated us. While we were still expecting him to ask us to sit down and probably pop champagne, he said, ‘what are you still waiting for? Go back to work.’
It must have been tough for you to cope during the feud between OBJ and Atiku… Can you tell us about your experience?
I was in a very difficult situation. For me as a person, it was difficult because I felt if I could not settle the rift, I should not aggravate it. For me, I performed my duty to the best. I related to each of them at my best without being biased. But because of the poisoned atmosphere in the Villa, we had to tread carefully. There were opportunists and people who would go to the two parties telling them unfounded tales to score points, and asking the duo to doubt the loyalty of some of us.
At different times, I ran foul of the President. I believe some people must have told him that I was loyal to the other party. At another time, I ran foul of the Vice President and he doubted my loyalty too. I think the former president, who was my principal, must have thought that if Atiku also accused me of disloyalty, then he should not have doubted me. That was how I managed to escape.
It didn’t stop there. When I was working with late Yar’Adua as Chief of Staff too, and he had a misunderstanding with Baba, he felt I was disloyal and I became a victim also. He was told not to use Obasanjo’s brother in his administration.
So what happened?
Late President Yar’Adua just woke up one morning and decided to shut down the office of the Chief of Staff. I saw that coming anyway, when I observed the feud between the two leaders.
Some people are clamouring for the incumbent President not to come back after 2019. Where do you see Nigeria after the elections?
I know Buhari is not Goodluck Jonathan because I know the people around him. The country owes Jonathan a debt of gratitude for the peaceful transition. I also know that the APC that rigged in Ekiti and Osun is likely going to do the same in 2019. One can project that the future is bleak. But as a man of faith, I have experienced what happened to leaders who did not want to hand over power. Remember the case of Abacha and others. I have seen how God intervened in the situation for Nigeria. I have learnt in politics that it is God’s will that will be done in Nigeria. Some times, it is the candidates that we do not expect to win that win.
Knowing your principal well, do you think he has truly forgiven Atiku?
Knowing his disappointment in Buhari that Buhari is a threat to Nigeria, I think he does not have a choice. If he loves Nigeria like I know he does, he has to go with Atiku.
What are the key features of the Obasanjo administration you would want Atiku to borrow?
It depends on who is looking at Obasanjo’s government. For me, it’s hardwork, hardwork and hardwork. First, there was a lot of planning. During his first term, we used to have Saturday forum, where we would all sit down to do a review and plan ahead, from 10pm, at times, to 6pm. We would bring in resource persons to discuss national issues. This was apart from series of meetings and plans done before May 29,
It is legendary that Obasanjo does not sleep. He can wake you up at 2am if he needs to make a clarification on a certain paper you submitted to him. He drove all of us around him very hard. His love for Nigeria is not comparable. Many people have forgotten where Nigeria was before he came into power in 1999. The economy was in a shambles and was on the brink of collapse. There was a lot of anger, frustration in the society but Obasanjo brought back hope as he reflated the economy. He wanted to pay living wage and he
In a way, Nigeria is back in that (pre-Obasanjo) position but I think Atiku has the will and capacity to restore Nigeria, and restore decency in governance.
Where do you see yourself after the 2019 elections? Are you thinking of saying goodbye to active politics anytime soon?
My life has always been in the hands of God, and I want to leave it