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Our mission in Obasanjo’s house not to endorse Atiku — Kukah

Our mission in Obasanjo’s house not to endorse Atiku — Kukah

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BISHOP of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, has said he was not in Abeokuta, Ogun State, with former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to endorse Atiku, but to reconcile the former vice president with his former boss.

The clarification came following the noise that trailed his presence at what had been termed the endorsement of presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku, by Obasanjo.
Also at the meeting were the outspoken Islamic scholar and Grand Khadi of the Northern Region of Nigeria, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi; Presiding Bishop of Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo, among other political leaders.

In a four-page statement he released on Monday morning, Kukah said he had to make the long explanatory note so that people could make up their minds based on facts.
“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,” he stated in the statement.

Kukah added that unlike Sheikh Gumi and Bishop Oyedepo who were invited to the event, he was a central actor, adding that as a priest of the Catholic Church and a Bishop, he had more than a passing knowledge of discipline and doctrine in matters relating to the role of a 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 30 years. I am, therefore, very clear about the boundaries, the slippery slopes and the contexts.

“Unlike Sheikh Gumi and Reverend Oyedepo who were invited to this event, I am a central actor. So let me explain what really happened.

“On Tuesday, October 9, 2018 I had the honour of being the guest speaker for the annual conference of the Foursquare 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 9.00 p.m. 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 11.00 p.m. 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 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 Foursquare 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 1.00 p.m. So, tell him to come at 1.00 p.m.’.

“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 1.00 p.m., 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 1.00 p.m. on Thursday.

I got back to my hosts, the Foursquare 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 Sheikh Gumi and Reverend Oyedepo. This was welcome news – Reverend 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 Abeokuta about 12.15 p.m. 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 Reverend 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 Foursquare 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 aircraft 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 9.00 a.m. the next day, it was necessary to ensure that I took no favours from any of the two parties.,” Kukah stated further.

The cleric who added that he understood the feelings of many of his friends and members of the opposition party, said all the bills for his travel were settled by the Foursquare church, adding that he was a strong believer in a peaceful and united Nigeria, ideals for which he said he had served his entire adult life.

He recalled his involvement and experience with the Oputa Panel when the Generals refused to respond to the invitation of the panel, as he had to personally undertook to visit both General Babangida and Buhari (he was not at home).

“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 cannot please everyone,” he added.

The cleric added that he did not take the step alone as he consulted with and alerted the chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC), General Abdusalami Abubakar and also drove to the Ikoyi home of Chief Emeka Anyaoku to brief him on the development.

“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,” he said.

The post Our mission in Obasanjo’s house not to endorse Atiku — Kukah appeared first on Tribune.

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