Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said he did not leave ‘weak’ successors in office when he left Aso Rock in 2007.
He stated this on Sunday during a virtual interview with academic and historian, Toyin Falola, monitored by The PUNCH.
The ex-president was reacting to accusations by critics that he installed the late Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan as president and vice-president respectively after his eight-year rule.
Obasanjo was Nigeria’s president between 1999 and 2007 under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party. He handed over power to Yar’adua, a two-term governor of Katsina State, who died in office as president, three years after he was elected in 2007.
Upon Yar’adua’s demise in May 2010, Jonathan, who was then his deputy, was sworn in as president in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The PUNCH had reported that Jonathan later won the 2011 presidential election and returned to office but handed over to the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2015 after he (Jonathan) lost his re-election.
Many Nigerians have since criticised Obasanjo for bringing the late Yar’adua into office despite knowing his medical history. Obasanjo has also been censured for bringing Jonathan, whom some critics described as ‘weak’, into Aso Villa.
But speaking on Sunday, Obasanjo said he distinguishes between objective and mischievous criticisms but discards negative criticisms.
The former president said he did his homework very well to crosscheck Yar’adua’s medical condition before he ran for president.
He described as “absolutely nonsense, total nonsense”, claims that he installed Jonathan and Yar’adua in power to weaken Nigeria’s democracy. “How should somebody in the like of me deliberately do something to weaken the country that I fought for? The country of my birth, the country that I want to be great?” the ex-president asked.
When asked whether he was aware that the late Yar’adua was sick before he supported his candidacy, Obasanjo said, “Let me tell you the story of Umaru Yar’adua. I knew he was ill and before I put him forward, I asked for his medical report which he sent to me and I sent it to one of the best doctors of our time and a good friend of mine who died only last year –Professor Akinkugbe.
“I said look at it because it is confidential and he said to me that from this report, this man has had a kidney transplant and it is successful, he is no longer under dialysis. And if you have a kidney transplant and it is successful, it is as good as if you didn’t have a kidney transplant at all. I accepted that and Umaru Yar’adua contested within the party and he contested within the country and came up.
“In the process of the campaign, I remember that he had to go for a medical checkup abroad and he was not around for a campaign here in Abeokuta. I called him because the rumour was that he had died. I called him on my telephone and put it on speaker. I said, ‘Umaru, are you dead or alive?’ and he said, ‘I am not dead, I am alive’.
“Within a couple of days, he came back and reported that he was checked up and he was well. That was the position of Umaru Yar’adua and if anybody in his right sense will think that what I have done in that position was not right, I leave him in the hands of God.”
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Obasanjo further said the PDP needed a running mate for Yar’adua during the 2007 presidential campaign. He said the party agreed to produce a vice-president from the South-South geopolitical zone, noting that former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odili, was a stronger choice that his then Bayelsa State counterpart, Goodluck Jonathan, but Odili had a case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“Now, we needed a running mate for Yar’adua. There were two possibilities – the first possibility was Peter Odili. Peter Odili was a much stronger personality than Goodluck Jonathan but Peter Odili had an EFCC issue which made him to be dropped and once he was dropped, the next man was Goodluck Jonathan and Goodluck Jonathan had all going for him. He was not a strong character as Peter Odili, I will admit that, but he was not a pushover; he had been a deputy governor, he had been a governor and his state was doing fairly well.
“I don’t know what else anybody will say because the deputy president had to come from the South and we had agreed that it would come from the South-South,” the former military ruler said.