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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

Buhari Unveils APC’s Roadmap ‘The Next Level’ Ahead Of 2019 Elections [READ HERE]

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Campaign for the 2019 presidential election formally opened, yesterday, with the two leading candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP unveiling their plans and at the same time, hitting at each other’s policies.

Buhari at the unveiling of his campaign at a well-attended launch in the presidential villa vowed to take the country to the next level against the background of what was claimed as 16 years of waste under the PDP.

He was immediately countered by Atiku who declared Buhari’s Next Level theme as a new level of propaganda, saying that the administration had failed in its three key promises to enhance security, employment, and anti-corruption.

Speaking on his mandate and quest for another four years in office, Buhari said: “The next four years will be quite significant for our country. Nigeria is faced with a choice to keep building a new Nigeria — making a break from its tainted past which favoured an opportunistic few.

“Our choices will shape us, our economic security and our future prosperity. Nigeria, more than ever before, needs a stable and people-focussed government to move the agenda for our country forward. Join us on this journey to the Next Level of a prosperous, strong and stable Nigeria!

See below full text of the APC Roadmap below:

Four years ago, we promised Nigerians real change – in what we do and how we do it. Nigerians sent a clear message in the last election, and our platform offered a new, ambitious plan for a secure, prosperous and corruption-free country.

We have worked hard to fulfil our promises – and while the road may have been difficult, over the last three and a half years, we have laid the foundations for a strong, stable and prosperous country for the majority of our people.

Foundational work is not often visible, neither is it glamorous – but it is vital to achieving the kind of country we desire. Judging by the prior depth of decay, deterioration and disrepair that Nigeria had sunken into, we are certain that these past few years have put us in good stead to trudge on the Next Level of building an even stronger nation for our people.

First things had to come first. We were a nation at war – but we delivered on our commitment to secure the territorial integrity of our nation in the face of a raging insurgency that devastated many parts of the North East.

We liberated 17 Local Government Areas from the grip of insurgency. Brokering and sustaining peace in the Niger Delta has also been crucial to stabilising the polity.
Despite the difficult circumstances presented by weak oil prices and reduced oil production, we delivered on our commitment to make public investments to spur economic growth, job creation, and broad-based prosperity.

Agriculture continues to expand our economic base, as do our investments in deficient infrastructure across the length and breadth of this nation. We implemented a responsible and transparent fiscal plan for the challenging economic times that saw us doing more even with lesser oil revenues.

Grand scale corruption perpetrated at the highest level of government is now a thing of the past, just as the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has made it more difficult for ministries, departments and agencies to exercise the unrestrained liberties that helped foster a climate conducive to corruption.

The nation’s wealth is now being invested in capital projects to expand infrastructure and connect people, goods and opportunities by rail, road and air. Also, the Federal Government supported state governments with bailouts that enabled them to pay workers on their payroll. We took an unprecedented step towards creating a fairer and more equitable society by implementing Africa’s biggest social investment programme.

Through the National Social Investment Programme, we are providing direct support to over 13 million Nigerians who need it by giving relief and assistance to unemployed youth, our children, the weak and vulnerable as well as small and medium businesses.
But even as we lay the foundation for a stable and prosperous nation, we acknowledge there is still much to do.

The Next Levelof effort focuses on job creation across various sectors. From an enlargement of the N-Power programme to investing in technology and creative sector jobs to agriculture and revolutionising access to credit for entrepreneurs and artisans, there is scope for over 15 million new jobs.

The march away from a mono-economy must continue with our industrialisation plan coming to fore. With specific plans underway to exploit the comparative advantage of the geopolitical zones and different states by developing 6 Industrial Parks and 109 Special Production and Processing Centres (SPPCs) across each senatorial district, our incremental move away from oil dependence is assured.

In addition, our development of the Special Economic Zones will quickly concretise our Made in Nigeria for Export (MINE) plan. To sustain food production and value addition, our mechanisation policy for agriculture will make tractors and processors easily accessible and available for farmers across Nigeria.

We will continue a wide scale training policy, prioritising technology to reach the demography of young people within the productive sector on a massive scale even as we create jobs and growth within our economy.

We believe that our people who are still in poverty have a direct way out and up through our expanded National Social Investment Programme.

We believe we can implement the painstaking and comprehensive policy and work we have done to bring an end to the perennial conflict between farmers and herders – a conflict which is heightened by a struggle for land, water and pasture and the effects of climate change and every now and then, opportunistic and cynical manipulation by political actors.

We are implementing a blend of measures that ensures that justice, order, modernisation and new economic paradigms emerge. Perhaps our biggest ambition yet is the overhaul of our education sector.

Every child counts – and simply, whatever it takes to prepare our teachers, curriculum and classrooms to attain the right educational goals that grow our country, will be done.

We will remodel 10,000 schools every year and retrain our teachers to impart science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics using coding, animation, robotics to re-interpret our curriculum. We know that to succeed, moral integrity and conscience must continue to form the dominant character of our nation and its leadership.
Corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria. Despite the gains we have made in closing the gates, we know that there is still much ground to cover to stop systemic corruption.

We are committed to deepening the work we started this first term such that the nation’s assets and resources continue to be organised and utilised to do good for the common man. The next four years will be quite significant for our country. Nigeria is faced with a choice to keep building a new Nigeria- making a break from its tainted past which favoured an opportunistic few.

Our choices will shape us – our economic security and our future prosperity. Nigeria, more than ever before, needs a stable and people-focused government to move the agenda for our country forward.

Join us on this journey to the Next Level of a prosperous, strong and stable Nigeria! Nigerians, we are all going higher!

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BIG STORY

I Married Atiku For His Integrity, I Know Him — Titi Abubakar

Gbemileke Ajayi

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Hajiya Titi Atiku Abubakar, wife of the Presidential Candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar has said that her husband is a man of integrity, stressing that she married him for his honesty and patriotism.

Mrs Abubakar disclosed while receiving a campaign group, Women for Atiku, that no one knew Atiku better than she does, having been married to him for 47 years.

She stressed that contrary to unverified and vague allegation of corruption by political detractors, Atiku was actually a man whose integrity, honesty and sincerity earned him her love

“I usually got confuse whenever I read the false allegations of corruption being spread by mischief makers against my husband in the media.

“Most times i ask myself if they were referring to my husband whom I have been married to for 47 years or a different person.

“Their descriptions only befits the opposite of Atiku Abubakar, because he is not corrupt as alleged,” Titi Said.

She further stressed that since she married Atiku 47 years ago, she had never found him wanting in honesty, sincerity, integrity and patriotism to his fatherland.

She narrated how they were brought together by Divine Destiny.

“I was on my way back to Nigeria from Benin Republic where I went to visit my aunt at the idioroko boarder and was accosted by ofifcers of the Customs Service.

They had demanded that I pay duty for a pair of brocade material which was a gift from my aunt, an argument ensued between us and i told them to have the brocade material for a keep because i couldn’t comprehend why i should pay duty for a pair of brocade.

“Suddenly an officer by name Atiku Abubakar who heard our argument summoned the officers to come along with me to his office.

“He was the head of the command at the time. After listening to both sides, Atiku demanded for the duty charge, dipped his hand into his pocket and paid the duty and handed me the receipt smiling and saying that ‘I will pay him back’.

“As the head of the command he could have simply commanded them to let me go if he chose to, but his patriotism to fatherland would never allow him do so, and that singular act swept me off my feet and i eventually fell in love,” she said.

The National Coordinator of Women for Atiku Mrs Blessing Egbara thanked Mrs Titi Abubakar for the warm reception accorded to her group.

She pledged that the group would continue to mobilise women across every ward to vote for Atiku Abubakar in 2019.

Egbara said that the National leadership and the 36 state coordinators of the group visited to inform her that with the commencement of the campaign, the group is set to penetrate the nook and crannies of Nigeria to mobilise the desired support toward 2019 Atiku victory.

Egbara said that the group would embark on voters mobilisation and education adding that the group would also mobilise all registered voters to collect their Permanent Voters Cards PVCs

(NAN)

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BIG STORY

Police Tortured Me, Hid Me In A Toilet From Seeing Falana —- Evans

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Alleged billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, alias Evans, has maintained his claim that he was tortured by the Police to make what they term his confessional statement.

He countered the claim by the Police that his statement was obtained under a fair atmosphere, and that the statement could have been taken in the presence of a lawyer if Evans had hired one.

At the Friday proceedings in his trial before Justice Adedayo Akintoye at the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere, Evans said human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), at the time, came to the Police station to see him, but the Police thwarted the meeting by locking him (Evans) up in a toilet.

Evans said immediately after he was arrested by the Police in 2017, his wife, Uchenna, contacted the human rights lawyer, but upon the lawyer’s visit to the Police station, he was told that he (Evans) had been taken out for investigation.

Evans claimed to have heard, from inside the toilet where he was allegedly locked up, how Falana and the Lagos Coordinator of the Inspector-General of Police Response Team, one CSP Phillip, exchanged pleasantries upon the lawyer’s arrival at Phillip’s office.

He said after being told that he had been taken out for investigation, Falana warned the Police not to come back and claim that the suspect had been shot while trying to escape.

Led in evidence by his lawyer, Mr. Olanrewaju Ajanaku, Evans, who was all tears, insisted that he was forced to put his signature to an already prepared confessional statement by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad who had allegedly murdered several suspects in his presence “in Saddam Hussein style.”

He said, “Immediately after my arrest, my wife called Mr. Femi Falana and he came to SARS.

“But CSP Phillip told two armed policemen to hide me inside the office toilet and to tell the lawyer that I was not around.

“I heard Phillip greet him, ‘Good afternoon, sir,’ and Mr. Falana said he wanted to see me. CSP Phillip told Mr. Falana that I had been taken out for investigation.

“Mr. Falana warned him that he did not want to hear that I had been taken for investigation only to be shot dead.

“He said he didn’t want to hear that I was trying to escape and then I was shot dead. He told them that if I had committed any offence, I should be charged to court.”

Under cross-examination by the prosecuting counsel for the state, Mr. Y.G. Oshoala, Evans maintained that his statement was not voluntarily made.

Justice Akintoye adjourned further proceedings in the case till December 10.

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