Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday said his criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in office in the last three years was not borne out of bitterness, hatred or malice.
Obasanjo, who said this in Abeokuta shortly after obtaining his membership card of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), declared that his recent comment in an open letter to the president was done in the best interest of Buhari, Nigerians and the country.
He also stated that contrary to insinuations, the CNM is not a “third force” for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but rather, a popular movement to accommodate all Nigerians irrespective of political interest or affiliations.
The former president spoke at the Ogun State secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oke-Ilewo, Abeokuta, where the state chapter of CNM was formally launched. Obasanjo was accompanied by former governor of Osun State and acting National Coordinator of CNM, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke; former Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Modupe Adelaja; former Military Governor of Ondo State, Chief Ekundayo Balogun, and two-time gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State, Prince Gboyega Isiaka. Also in attendance were former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Hon. Taofeek Arapaja; former Secretary to Oyo State Government, Chief Olayiwola Olakojo; former member of Ogun State House of Assembly, Hon. Johnson Olu-Fatoki, Dr. Femi Majekodunmi and Otunba Niyi Salako.
Before a packed audience, Obasanjo filled his form as a member of the coalition and subsequently submitted it to Oyinlola. He described CNM as the new direction “to mobilise our population for unity, cooperation, development, rule of law, employment, law and order, justice, integration, peace, security, stability, welfare and wellbeing.”
Fielding questions at the event, Obasanjo revealed what transpired between him and Buhari during the African Union (AU) summit held last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He explained that he exchanged pleasantries and extended courtesies to the president and also posed for photographs with him alongside former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
He said: “I wonder why some Nigerians were worried why I had to pay respect to the Nigerian President. That is my own upbringing as a well-born and bred Yoruba boy.
“Now that does not mean what I have said about the President, which I did not say out of bitterness or out of hatred; it is evident what I said, that the President has performed good enough in some areas, and in other areas, not good.
And I proffered advice, which he may take or he may not take. But I didn’t do that out of malice, or out of what you may call bad belle.
I did it out of my respect for that office and for my interest; your interest and, I hope, his own interest too in Nigeria. “As for what I told him, I went to him just before the opening of the AU summit.
I’ve seen and gone round a few other Presidents to greet them. And if I can greet other Presidents, should I not greet my president? So I went to my President, I greeted him. We laughed and joked. Another colleague of ours, General Abdulsalami said we should take a group photograph which has now gone viral.”
Obasanjo said the CNM had no direct or indirect relationship with the various movements and coalition groups springing up in the polity. “As far as I know, we have no direct or indirect relationship with any other movement. But if there are people of like minds, who share the views, aims and objectives of CNM, who want their members to join this movement, we will not object, we will welcome them,” he said.
He added: “This is the new message in town, the new dance in town, the ceremony in town and I will appeal to you to join this ceremony and dance in town because there may be many masquerades… but when big masquerades come out, the small masquerade must go and hide.”
Obasanjo expressed happiness in being a member of the new movement, which he described as a pressure group towards good governance.
He said: “Some people have started worrying about the problem of personalities, in which some, in other efforts allocate positions to themselves. This movement is not about personalities; but about platform and system. “Our system, so far, has not given us what we must have. For the first time, we are building a platform from bottom-up.
The movement’s base is the grassroots and the people – all the people. “It is necessary to make it clear that this movement does not regard itself as a third force. It sees itself as a popular movement that can accommodate all Nigerians irrespective of their political interest or affiliations and will propel Nigeria forward.”
Obasanjo noted that though Nigeria has many challenges, like all countries, nobody or group should feel excluded in his own country. The former president, who observed that nationbuilding had been taken for granted, called for inclusion and popular participation in the country’s affairs.
Obasanjo said Nigeria cannot continue with business as usual, stressing that a socio-economic popular movement needed to be the new vehicle to give hope to the citizenry. Obasanjo urged all wellmeaning citizens, especially women and youths, to join the new movement towards building a new Nigeria.
He, however, reiterated his vow to pull out of the movement if it eventually transformed into partisan politics.