The Nigerian government Sunday said the verbal attacks on President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress by the country’s former leader Olusegun Obasanjo was a sign of “corruption establishment” fighting back.
A government spokesman said the “puerile attacks” were because the former leader could not control President Buhari.
“It is a notorious fact that in dealing with any leader that he failed to control, he resorted to these puerile attacks,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.
“As the grand patron, more correctly the grandfather of corruption as described by the National Assembly, Chief Obasanjo released today’s letter purely for the reason of rescuing his thriving corruption establishment.”
Obasanjo, earlier on Sunday, described his former ally Buhari as a reincarnate of Nigeria’s former despot General Sani Abacha, accusing him of planning to perpetuate himself in office beyond May 29 by rigging the presidential elections holding next month.
But the government said its first message to the former leader was for him to get “a good doctor”.
Free and fair elections
The former Nigerian president insisted that Buhari could not be trusted to allow the Independent Electoral Commission oversee free and fair general elections.
Pointing to the alleged familial relationship between the president and an INEC official Amina Zakari in spite of the government’s denial of such, Obasanjo said Buhari’s “mad desperation” has cast doubt on the electoral body’s integrity.
“I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election,” Obasanjo noted.
“And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it?”
President Buhari, on multiple occasions, promised free and fair elections. He reiterated that promise in his New Year message to the country, noting that winning an election is not a “do or die affair”.
The spokesmen for APC and the government doubled down on that promise in different statements on Sunday. Both Lanre Issa-Onilu and Garba Shehu were also upbeat of an APC victory at the polls.
“The elections starting in February will be free and fair as promised the nation and the international community by President Buhari,” Shehu said.
“What Chief Obasanjo and his co-travellers in the PDP should expect is that from the outcome, we will teach them a political lesson that they will never forget. This margin will be much bigger than we had in 2015.”
Although he famously tore his membership card of the opposition People’s Democratic Party in the runup to the 2015 presidential elections, Obasanjo has not hidden his preference for the party’s candidate Atiku Abubakar, who was his vice between 1999 and 2007.
Both men fell out even before leaving office in 2007, with Obasanjo labelling his former number 2 man a corrupt person. He said God would not have forgiven him if he had allowed Atiku to succeed him.
But that stance changed in October 2018.
“Grand patron of corruption”
Before he fell out with Buhari about a year ago, Obasanjo had previously defended his [Buhari] performance, especially in tackling insecurity.
“President Buhari, I have said, has not disappointed me because the areas which we knew he was strong, he has performed fairly well,” Obasanjo told BBC’s Focus on Africa in September 2017, about five months before he began his scathing criticisms of the president, singling out Buhari’s scorecard in the fight against corruption and the Boko Haram insurgency.
But the former leader conceded that not “everyone will be satisfied” with Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign.
That campaign, the Nigerian government said on Sunday, was unfairly judged by the former leader, who himself Shehu said is the “grand patron of corruption”.
“As for his attacks of the administration’s records in fighting corruption, what the former President said is no more than evidence that President Buhari’s war against corruption is succeeding,” Shehu said.
“They thought it is all a joke.”