President Goodluck Jonathan has telephoned former President Olusegun Obasanjo to deny responsibility for promoting a controversial member of his Peoples Democratic Party, Buruji Kashamu, as an influential party leader in the south-west geo-political zone, a development that has infuriated Mr. Obasanjo, sources close to the presidency said Saturday.
Mr. Obasanjo was travelling to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, at the time of the conversation with Mr. Jonathan, those familiar with the matter said.
Usually reliable presidency sources said Mr. Jonathan hurriedly called Mr. Obasanjo on Thursday shortly after he received the former president’s latest letter informing him and the PDP National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur, that he was suspending participation in party activities for as long as the ruling party continued to treat Mr. Kashamu, believed to be a fugitive, with reverence.
Our sources said during the telephone exchanges, Mr. Jonathan appealed to Mr. Obasanjo to reconsider his decision to suspend himself from the party, saying he would personally prevail on Mr. Tukur to stop fraternizing with Mr. Kashamu and imposing him on the South-West PDP as a rallying point.
The president, according to our sources, told Mr. Obasanjo that he had never met Mr. Kashamu and had never instructed anyone to accord the controversial Ogun politician a special or preferential treatment in the party.
“Baba, believe me, I don’t know Kashamu,” our sources quoted Mr. Jonathan as saying. “I think it is the chairman (Tukur) that knows him. Personally, I have nothing with him. But I will ask chairman.
“Kindly consider your decision again. The PDP belongs to us all and we need to correct whatever is wrong together.”
The president then promised to “hear from” Mr Tukur, and to “do something” about the matter, those informed about the discussion said.
In his response, Mr. Obasanjo is said to have explained to the president his frustration at explaining to world leaders how an alleged criminal, wanted by the United States authorities, ended up as a leader of Nigeria’s ruling party.
He reportedly told the president that his assurance of action might amount to nothing as he believed not much could be done as of now.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media, Reuben Abati could not be reached to comment for this story. Several telephone calls to him failed to connect.
But three separate presidential aides, who do not want to be named for fear they might be sanctioned, however confirmed details of the conversation between Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Obasanjo.
Contacted, Mr. Obasanjo’s spokesperson, Tunde Oladunjoye, said he had no permission from his boss to confirm details of his conversation with anyone.
An aide of the former president however confirmed the exchanges.
Mr. Obasanjo had in a January 7 letter to Mr. Tukur announced that he was withdrawing from the activities of the PDP for as long as Mr. Kashamu, whom he accuses of being a “wanted habitual criminal”, remains a leader of the party in the south west, the former president’s geopolitical zone.
In a letter to Mr. Tukur on Tuesday, Mr. Obasanjo said he would remain a “card-carrying member” of the governing party, but will no longer participate in the party’s functions at all levels.
“Politics played by any national political party must have morality, decency, discipline, principles and leadership examples as cardinal practices of the party,” the former president’s letter, published on Saturday, read. “I have attached here recent documents that clearly indicates that you extolled PDP zonal leader in the South West of Nigeria and an indigene of Ogun State, who is, to say the least, not a credit to the party as a member let alone being a zonal leader.”
Mr. Obasanjo, a native of Ogun State, as Mr. Kashamu, said while he believed that a truly national political party should, as a microcosm of a nation, bear all forms of characters as members, he however found no justification in extolling a “known criminal” wanted abroad on drug-related charges.
“Since I stick in my practice of party politics to the hallowed and cherished principles enunciated above, I take this opportunity to let you know that while I continue to remain a card-carrying member of PDP, I cannot and I will not subscribe to a wanted habitual criminal being installed as my zonal leader in the party; a criminal for whom extradition has been requested by the US government,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
Mr. Kashamu dismissed Mr. Obasanjo’s letter as a “cocktail of lies” and a “campaign of calumny” inspired by the former president’s loss of political relevance in the Southwest.
“Let me state from the outset that contrary to Obasanjo’s claim, I am not the leader of the party in the South West,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “I am just one of the party’s foot soldiers in the zone and it is in that capacity that I am made the chairman of the Organisation and Mobilisation Committee for the party in the zone.”
Mr. Kashamu said it was “preposterous” to be referred to as the leader of the party in a zone that parades Bode George, Shuaibu Oyedokun, Lekan Balogun, Iyiola Omisore, Teslim Folarin, Yekeen Adeojo, Clement Awoyelu, Ayodele Fayose, Bode Olajumoke.
He denied being wanted in the US.
Officials close to President Jonathan and Mr. Obasanjo said the president contacted the former leader by phone after being informed of Mr. Obasanjo’s letter to the PDP chairman. He denied responsibility for Mr. Kashamu’s appointment, a decision he blamed on Mr. Tukur, who has been at the centre of the PDP’s months of intractable internal crisis.
Coming about a month after Mr. Obasanjo penned a scathing letter accusing Mr. Jonathan of being inept and corrupt –allegations the president rejected in his reply-, the telephone communication over Mr. Kashamu appears partly a fence-mending move by the two leaders as their party’s troubles escalate in the face of credible threat from the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC.