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Why And How I Organised Obasanjo, Atiku Reconciliatory Meeting —- Bishop Kukah

Peter Okunoren

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The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, has disclosed how he convinced former President, Olusegun Obasanjo to forgive his ex-Deputy and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar.

The Catholic Bishop in a lengthy statement said he had been working on both leaders reconciling for years.

Stating that he wanted the meeting to be between him, Obasanjo and Abubakar, the clergyman expressed delight that the parley took place.

Read his full statement below:

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 per cent 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 Sheikh 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 honour 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 Atiku.

My last discussion with him this year was either in 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 went 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 Atiku. 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 21. I accepted happily and told him that I would try and reach Alhaji Atiku 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 10, 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.
Getting nervous

Earlier that morning, President Obasanjo had called me a second time and told me that he wanted Alhaji Atiku to come with the Chairman of the PDP, and two or three others. He also told me he had also invited both Sheikh Gumi and Bishop Oyedepo. This was welcome news – Bishop Oyedepo is a kinsman of his, and the presence of Sheikh 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 at Abeokuta about 12.15pm ahead of both President Obasanjo and Alhaji and his team. Alhaji Atiku 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 a 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 Atiku 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 Bishop 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 Church 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, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I perfectly understand the feelings of many of my friends and members of the opposition who believe that I travelled with Alhaji Atiku 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 Church 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 generals 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 Gen 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 Gen. 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 cannot 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 publicize what we have achieved.

I am the Convener of the National Peace Committee (NPC). 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 Atiku were on the verge of making peace, I alerted the Chairman of the NPC, Gen Abdusalami. 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 Atiku, 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.
. Rt. Rev. Kukah is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.

BIG STORY

Shame On Media Trial! Nigerians React As FG Closes Asset Declaration Against Justice Onnoghen

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The prosecution counsel has closed the case against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

The case against the CJN was closed after calling three witnesses to the stand, although the Federal Government had listed six witnesses, its counsel, Aliyu Umar announced that the government has closed its case.

Two witnesses a former Director at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the banker to Justice Onnoghen testified before the tribunal in favour of the Federal Government in addition to the first prosecution witness who testified on Monday, bringing the witnesses to three.

The lead prosecution counsel said though they initially listed six witnesses for the trial, however, it would not be calling on the remaining three, adding that he is offering them to the defence for cross-examination if they so wished.

However, counsel to the CJN, Mr Adegboyega Awomolo, said the defence does not need the witnesses and the prosecution can go ahead to close its case if it is done.

Awomolo also informed the tribunal of its intention to invoke section 303 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, 2015 to enter a no-case submission.

He pleaded with the tribunal to allow him prepare a written address and urged the chairman to order the registry to make a record of proceedings available to him to guide him in the written address.

The prosecution did not object to the application, prompting the tribunal chairman, Mr Danladi Umar to make an order on the registry to avail parties in the matter with the record of proceedings.

He also ordered that the record must be made available to the parties on Monday and adjourned hearing in the no case submission to March 29.

Earlier on the CJN’s account officer in her evidence told the tribunal that justice Onnoghen maintains 5 different accounts with her bank in Abuja.

According to her, two of the accounts are naira accounts, one saving and the other current, while the remaining three in pounds, dollars and euro.

The witness said she met the defendant once in 2015 as a relationship manager and would not know if the accounts had been active since they were opened in 2009.

Under cross-examination by the CJN Onnoghen’s lawyer, Miss Okagbue said that Onnoghen never made any foreign transfer from the accounts.

The witness, however, admitted that Onnoghen had a facility of $500,000 as at January 2019 with the bank secured by his investment in bonds and other investment.

She further admitted that Justice Onnoghen as a disciplined account holder was encouraged by the bank to invest in profit yielding investment and that interest in the investment are regularly credited to his account, adding that the bank made an investment on his behalf from his account.

Earlier, the second prosecution witness, Awal Yakassai, under cross-examination admitted that two assets declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, by Onnoghen, three years ago have till date not been verified.

He also told the tribunal that contrary to the allegations that the CJN owned fifty-five houses, he has only five houses one of which was sold to him by the Federal Government.

Justice Onnoghen is being prosecuted by the Federal Government on a six-count charge bordering on alleged failure to disclose some of his assets in his asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Here are some comments gathered as seen on Twitter:

@Chxta “The Onnoghen case (FG has rested its case), lays bare the dangers, and madness, of media trials. But then, these people don’t care. Their (short term) goal has been achieved. We’ll be left to pick the pieces up of the desecration of our third arm of government eventually.”

@YoungOtutu “With Justice #Onnoghen victory over the federal government and his sure reinstatement any moment from now. I want to use this medium to congratulate the incoming president of Nigeria Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.We are sure to coast to victory at the tribunals.”

@SamEba_ “For all those who labelled Onnoghen a criminal, may disgrace never depart from them.”

@Kcnaija “They just wanted the man out to manipulate election tribunal. Rogues claiming integrity!

@CeoNigeria “This Onnoghen case is highly pathetic. Imagine after the public ridicule, FG suddenly found nothing and closed the case. Thank God I resigned from political Twitter. Discussing Nigerian politics is emotionally draining! What’s for dinner please?

@Musa_BM “As a Buharist, i’m saddened by the Onnoghen’s case which was closed. He was embarrassed and ridiculed on something that was not properly investigated and checked. Clarity of perspective should always be considered when dealing with delicate issues.”

@Ummita71 “Onnoghen should resign as for me, since God has vindicated him, he should protest the ill treatment melted at him. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like that, a highly respected man, I knew there was much to his suspension.”

@beulahland17 “What’s going on here, FG closes case doesn’t mean the case is over or the man is innocent, it simply means it’s time for defense to open its case, these are legal terms.”

@Ogomkpuma “Almighty God, please when you want to punish Nigeria for the humiliation of CJN Onnoghen please remember us that spoke against his media trial but were dismissed and called criminals by APC Hypocrites. Lord have mercy.”

@Jeremiah_James “The case of Onnoghen is really painful because some persons used a sitting CJN to score cheap political points. The guts it took. I just pray he’s cleared and reinstated and to think we have a SAN as VP. Real shame.”

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BIG STORY

Nigeria Worse Than During Civil War — Obasanjo Drops Bombshell

Peter Okunoren

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has lamented over the current state of disunity in Nigeria.

Obasanjo said that Nigeria was not as divided as this during the civil war in comparison to the worst situation of things as they are now.

The former president said this while Speaking at a one-day ‘2019 annual retreat/conference and general meeting’ of members of Association of Chief Audit Executives of Banks in Nigeria (ACAEBIN) held at Park Inn, Abeokuta in Ogun State yesterday

The former president urged Nigerians to partner one another at home, within communities, states, countries, sub-African region and African continent, adding that Nigeria was in danger if “we don’t take partnership seriously.”

“When we look at this country today, even during the civil war, we were not as divided as we are now. Today, we are in danger if we don’t take partnership serious. That partnership should be within our people, Africa and the rest of the world.

“As chief audit, it is defined by virtue of what you are doing as a profession. If the audit is awry, banking business will not be right.

“What I want to emphasise is that it is a must as Nigerians and Africans that we have certain elements that we have to take very seriously which I put as 5Ps.

“The first is politics which is governance. Unless we get governance right, any other thing we are trying to do will not be right.

“The second is population. Our population at independence was estimated to be 45 million, but today we are almost 200 million. By the year 2050, we will be over 400 million. Normally, population should be an asset but looking at the condition we are in now, when in the North-east of Nigeria, the percentage of adult literacy is about 53 percent, and education being the basic of all human development, you can see that we have a problem.

“How do we think of setting education to be useful? Those people who will make our education over 400 million people in many years’ time are already born, and you cannot unborn them. So the problem is here, what do we do?

“We must provide education for them, housing, healthcare and most importantly, employment for them.

“One thing that I believe will help us is to provide employment is agricultural business. And you in the banking business must pay attention to how we build the agriculture sector. I am not talking of horticulture, I am talking of the whole value chain, from land preparation to the end product. And if we are able to get that right, maybe we will be able to get the issue of employment for our teeming youths right as well as rural development right.

“The next one is prosperity. I am not being bothered about Nigeria or Africa’s poverty. We have everything to generate wealth. We have God-given resources under our soil. We also have human resources. If we bring these together, then we will definitely get prosperity

“Another one is security. People must be protected in all aspect. Protection of lives and property is most important.”

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Adeleke vs Oyetola: Osun APC, PDP Members Embark On Three Days Fasting And Prayer Ahead Of Friday’s Court Judgement

Peter Okunoren

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Some members of the All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party have embarked on fasting and prayer to ensure a favorable judgment by the Election Petitions Tribunal on PDP’s Ademola Adeleke’s petition against Adegboyega Oyetola’s election as Osun State governor last year.

The tribunal sitting in Abuja on Tuesday informed both parties to the case that it would give judgement on the Adeleke’s petition against Oyetola of the APC on Friday.

A statement by the Osun State chairman of the PDP, Mr Soji Adagunodo, directed members of the party to fast and pray on Thursday ahead of the ruling.

Sources told our correspondent that a PDP group on Tuesday commenced a three-day fasting and prayer for divine intervention in the judgement.

In a telephone interview with our correspondent, Adagunodo said the party believed in the power of prayer and fasting.

Also, two APC groups –Asiwaju Grassroots Foundation and Giomania – said they would hold a special prayer session on Thursday to seek the face of God for a favourable judgement on the case.

The groups in a statement jointly signed by their coordinators, Sikiru Tijani and Abdul Adegboyega, said, “This prayer became imperative because we cannot afford to take the state which has been experiencing a monumental development in the last eight years back to abject poverty and penury.

“Our prayer will surely be answered because God is not unjust. We believe in the efficacy of prayer. Since we are on the right side of justice, victory is guaranteed.

“We believe so much in our party and we are very optimistic that the judgement will favour us. “The people of Osun have spoken through their votes, they turned out massively during the election to elect Oyetola. So there is no cause for alarm.”

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