Obasanjo reconciled with Atiku, He did not endorse Atiku-Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah

I have deliberately made this explanatory note long because I think
it is necessary that people make up their minds based on the facts,
given my central role in the event. I note that Sheikh Gumi has
already told his own side of the story. I feel obliged to state my
own side so that Nigerians can have a clearer picture of my own
involvement. Sadly, I personally did not read President Obasanjo’s
statement until two days later on the Internet since I was not
physically in the hall.
Although trying to reconcile President Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku
Abubakar was something I had been working on intermittently in
the last few years, nothing could have prepared me for the way
things finally shaped up. My focus all along had been with
President Obasanjo and I had never brought Alhaji Abubakar into
what I was doing. Quite fortuitously, a chance meeting changed the
tide in favour of reconciliation.
Understandably, the pictures of the four of us (President Obasanjo,
Alhaji Abubakar, Shaikh Gumi and I) literally lit up the social media
and elicited divergent reactions from the general public. Although
over 99% of the reactions that have come to me have been largely
those of commendation, with people focusing, rightly, on the
reconciliation, there have been others whose focus has been on an
isolated development that had absolutely nothing to do with what I
had in mind all these years, namely, the endorsement.
I must say that I am eternally grateful to God that this
reconciliation finally happened. The focus of attention has been on
the endorsement of Alhaji Abubakar by President Obasanjo, a
development that I can call the third leg of the process which I
initiated. I am not sure of President Obasanjo’s other interlocutors
after we agreed to meet leading to the participation of other actors
and so, I will only clear the air on what I can take full responsibility
for.
Let me state first that I am a priest of the Catholic Church and by
the grace of God, a Bishop. I have more than a passing knowledge
of our discipline and doctrine in matters relating to the role of a
Catholic priest in political engagement. My doctoral thesis was on
Religion and Politics in
Nigeria. So, this is an area that I have written and spoken
extensively about for over thirty years.
I am therefore very clear about the boundaries, the slippery slopes
and the contexts. Unlike Shaikh Gumi and Rev. Oyedepo who were
invited to this event, I am a central actor. So let me explain what
really happened.
On Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 I had the honor of being the Guest
Speaker for the annual Conference of the Four Square Gospel
Church in Alagomeji, Lagos. (The Presidential
Spokesman, Femi Adesina, a member of this Church had first
invited me some years back but I could not honour the invitation).
President Obasanjo was the Chairman of the occasion. At the end
of the lecture, he indicated that he would have to leave because he
had a scheduled meeting.
I told him I needed to see him briefly and he obliged. I brought up
again the issue of what he thought of his reconciliation with Alhaji
Atiku.
My last discussion with him this year was either January or
February. His response was still negative and he told me what he
later told the media. I reminded him that I was not interested in the
politics of reconciliation but the spiritual angle. After all, I said to
him, ‘as a Christian, this is an important thing for you to do’. He
was quiet and then said he would speak with me later that evening
on his final decision. We parted, he to his car and I returned to the
Church to end the event.
At about 9pm the same Tuesday, he called to say that he had
thought over the issues I had raised and finally decided to accept
my suggestion and that yes, he would be happy to reconcile with
Alhaji Abubakar. When did he think we could meet then, I asked
him? He said he would look at his diary and get back to me later.
Then, just before 11pm the same Tuesday, I received another call
from him saying his diary was full, that the earliest date for him
was October 21st. I accepted happily and told him that I would try
and reach Alhaji Abubakar either directly, or through his aides to
convey the news.
My initial intention had been to return to Abuja that same evening
from Lagos, but my hosts at the Four Square Gospel had
suggested that I should get some rest. Next morning, Wednesday
October 10th, after I had finished celebrating the Holy Mass, I
received a call from President Obasanjo: ‘Bishop, listen, I have
changed my mind’. My heart nearly sank, but before I could ask
why, he said: ‘Let us do it tomorrow if you can reach Atiku. I am
going to deliver a lecture in Ife and will be back home before 1pm.
So, tell him to come at 1pm’. I started frantic efforts to reach Alhaji
Atiku without luck. I reached one of his aides, Paul Ibe, and asked
him to please let him know I am trying to reach him. Finally, at
about 1pm, I received a call from him. I told him what had
happened with President Obasanjo. He agreed and said he would
be in Abeokuta for 1pm on Thursday.
I got back to my hosts, the Four Square Gospel Church to tell them
about the change in my travelling plans especially as I had no car
to take me to Abeokuta. I didn’t want to ask President Obasanjo’s
people to send me a vehicle because I believed I needed a leeway
of independence and trust. My hosts were exceedingly gracious in
making a vehicle available, a driver and an aide to take me to
Abeokuta. Earlier that morning, President Obasanjo had called me
a second time and told me that he wanted Alhaji Abubakar to come
with the Chairman of the PDP, and two or three others. He also told
me he had also invited both Shaikh Gumi and Rev. Oyedepo. This
was welcome news- Rev. Oyedepo is a kinsman of his, and the
presence of Shaikh Gumi made sense.
I was a bit nervous, seeing that the circle was getting larger for
something I thought was between three of us.I arrived Abeokuta
about 12.15pm ahead of both President Obasanjo and Alhaji
Abubakar and his team. Alhaji Abubakar and his team arrived, and
then I saw more and more people coming in.
I saw familiar faces of different people who turned out to be the
leaders of Afenifere. All these years, whenever I brought up this
matter of reconciliation, my idea has always been for the three of
us to sit down together. I still believed that the meeting would be
between the two of them and the three religious leaders.
When President Obasanjo appeared, I walked up to him and said I
wanted to know the protocol for the meeting. He suggested that
we would meet in a hall and that I should say a few words about
how we got here. I declined because it seemed again that at this
point, we were in small forest of politics and I had no wish to be
caught in it. I was happy that what I wanted to achieve had been
achieved, namely, getting these two men to put the past behind
them. My personal preoccupation was a pastoral one, and not a
political one. I was uncomfortable with this and I decided to make
my position clear. I offered a different proposal to help us sift the
moral grain from the chaff of politics via a three-step process so
as to insulate the three of us from the political fallout.
I proposed that the first step would be for he and Alhaji Abubakar
to sit down behind closed doors, sort out their issues and then the
next step would be for both Sheikh Gumi and I to go in and listen to
the two of them as Rev. Oyedepo had not arrived. After that, I said,
they could continue with the third phase which from what I could
see was high wire politics and I had no wish to be caught in the
web. After they both finished their brief meeting, Sheikh Gumi and I
went in and sat down with the two of them. We had some small
briefing and then both of us spoke briefly on what they had done,
encouraging them to ensure that this reconciliation holds. I even
said jokingly that I am a Catholic priest and our marriage vows are
indissoluble! After that, we prayed and then took what has now
become the famous photograph behind closed doors.
At this point, I felt that my spiritual duties had been achieved and I
was prepared to maintain my independence. Sheikh Gumi and I
shook hands and although I was hungry and food was being laid
out, I skipped lunch. I quietly let myself out by the side door, got
into the Four Square Gospel car and we drove off to Lagos. Despite
the dread of Lagos traffic and the disruption of flights at the
Airport in Lagos, I had declined the offer of a seat in the Aircrafts
which had flown them to Abeokuta. Although flying with them was
the best (and most convenient) assurance I had of getting to Abuja
in time for a speaking engagement at an event with the Sultan and
Cardinal Onaiyekan for 9am the next day, it was necessary to
ensure that I took no favours from any of the two parties.
I was not in Abeokuta to endorse Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the
candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. I perfectly understand
the feelings of many of my friends and members of the opposition
who believe that I travelled with Alhaji Abubakar and his team to
attend his endorsement by President Obasanjo, but I reiterate that
this was not the case. All the bills for my travel were settled by the
Four Square Gospel hosts for the earlier dated programme who
had bought my tickets, booked accommodation for me and took
care to get me to the airport for my flight to Abuja and Sokoto.
I am a strong believer in a peaceful and united Nigeria, ideals for
which I have striven and served my entire adult life as a thinker
and a priest. My instincts for reconciliation and peace were
sharpened during my involvement and experience with the Oputa
Panel. When the Generals refused to respond to the invitation of
Oputa Panel, I personally undertook to visit both General
Babangida and Buhari (he was not at home) at a time that today’s
latter day Buharists were asking the Panel to compel them to come
or risk being blacked out of national life.
Objective-minded people will remember that back in 2001, when
the Christian community and many of President Buhari’s
opponents claimed that General Buhari had said that Muslims
should vote only for Muslims, many people in the Christian
community were disappointed that I wrote a long article to explain
the context of what he had said after speaking with the General.
His party, the ANPP later used part of my article for their 2003
campaigns! My faith and experience have taught me to learn to
suspend judgment till I have heard both sides of a story, no matter
what.
I hope that this clarification helps to allay the concerns of those
who may have seen all of these in a different light. Many minds
will remain set no matter the reasonableness of my comments
here, and this is to be expected- one can not please everyone. This
is why it is often best to seek to please only one’s own conscience,
and here, mine is very clear.
I have been involved in a few behind-the-scene shuttle diplomacy
for years, largely on my own initiative, taking advantage of my
knowledge of those engaged in the conflict or at the invitation of
third parties. Some have succeeded and some have not. As priest,
it is not in my place to publicise what we have achieved.
I am the Convener of the National Peace Committee. This alone is
enough to place a moral boundary which I am bound to respect.
The NPC able to accomplish much because of trust and that is not
what I can treat lightly. When it became clear that both President
Obasanjo and Abubakar were on the verge of making peace, I
alerted the Chairman of the NPC, General Abdusalam. Since I
happen to be in Lagos, I drove to the Ikoyi home of Chief Emeka
Anyaoku and alerted him. I spoke to my Metropolitan, the
Archbishop of Kaduna, Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso. All in all,
everyone believed this was a very good move if we could achieve
it. None of us imagined the third phase of this meeting.
Both theoretically and practically, I have come to know that peace
making is a very risky business and often a thankless job. I recall
listening to the late Kofi Anan speak about his on two different
occasions. Anyone involved in peace making from domestic
quarrels to larger battles, must be ready for the good, the bad and
the ugly. In the end, we must wear the shoes of the long distance
runner, believing and trusting that the truth never ever sinks to the
bottom of the sea. The truth will always have a stubborn way of
defying the hostile elements and popping up at the right time, no
matter how long it takes.
I perfectly understand that with Alhaji Abubakar having just picked
up the Presidential ticket of his Party, without providing this
context, definitely, I can appreciate why many people will have a
lot of anxieties. They will definitely be right to question my
neutrality. However, I have far too many friends across party lines
for me to openly endorse one candidate or party against the other.
It will be against the principles of the Code of Canon Law of the
Catholic Church which regulates our public life in the political
space. The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has
signed a statement to the effect that no altar of the Catholic
Church must ever be open to any politician, something we have all
taken seriously. I therefore hope that this clarification helps those
whose minds are open.
I am thankful to God and quite pleased that this reconciliation took
place and that I was a small instrument in making it happen.
However, I am sorry that it has been given a different colouration
and doubts to many people. Its timing was purely fortuitous and
purely circumstantial not a contrivance. Personally, I will never
relent in the very urgent task of making peace and reconciliation
across the spectrum of our country.

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3 Comments

  1. Old people

  2. Good

  3. Good update.

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