Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, on Sunday responded to a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan who accused him of demonstrating a lack of strong ethical values by jumping from one politician to another.
Mr Shehu acknowledged his former assignment as a long time aide of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, but added that his “loyalty” now lies absolutely with President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a statement circulated last week, Reno Omokri said Mr Shehu lacked the moral grounds to insult the PDP because he was “brought” into the “limelight” by the erstwhile ruling party.
“The PDP brought Garba to limelight. The PDP is Garba’s mother and father. When Garba Shehu indicts PDP for 16 years of alleged ‘misrule’ he should accept responsibility for 12 of those years,” Mr Omokri, who served Mr Jonathan as a new media aide, said.
He was responding to an earlier statement by Mr Shehu, in which the presidential spokesperson said the PDP should return its alleged loot rather than angling to return to power in 2019.
Mr Omokri said Mr Shehu was in PDP “for 12 years” and was the author of many scathing press statements against Muhammadu Buhari, who was then a major opposition figure.
“Now he crafts press releases for the same man he once attacked against the same people he once praised!” Mr Omokri, now based in the U.S., added. “Garba is the epitome of AGIP-Any Government in Power. I am the epitome of loyalty. There is no basis to compare myself with him. I follow my conscience. Garba follows his stomach.”
He went on to task Mr Shehu to counter his statement if he was lying, a challenge the spokesperson apparently accepted with his statement Sunday, although reluctantly.
““Pastor” Reno Omokri is forcing me to do what I don’t do. I don’t react to published criticisms. I have spent my entire career in the media and as one who criticises others; you must be ready to take criticism,” Mr Shehu said.
After questioning Mr Omokri’s status as a pastor, Mr Shehu brushed aside the criticism and said his detractor was a nonentity at the time he worked at the State House in the 2000s.
Mr Shehu, who served for many years as an aide to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, also explained the circumstances that took him out of the presidency at the time.
“This is about exposing a liar masquerading as a pastor. By the way, I have known and worked with exemplary pastors who are decent and from whom you learned more of the etiquette of truth telling.
“Take for example Pastor Emeka Izeze and his brother, Pastor Ifeanyi, or his friend, Pastor Segun Babatope. And lately, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President and Pastor Femi Adesina.
“For those Reno tried to mislead, yes it is a fact that I worked in the media office of a PDP administration. Not for five years as the new-day pastor published but only for six months at which point it was announced on NTA news, to my surprise, that my letter of resignation had been accepted when I hadn’t written any.
“I learned of course that I was fired because the head of the country at that time, who believed that every published criticism was sponsored by an insider, read the weekly magazine, The News, and didn’t like what was written about him.
“Another point the “Pastor” keeps making is that he was my colleague at that time. No, he wasn’t. His boss was. The Reno I knew was a Personal Assistant (PA) to a Principal Officer like me. He didn’t attend meetings and didn’t receive official briefings as we did but ran errands for his boss.
“Not being a principal officer by status, he could not have had an office opposite my own. He may, however, have perched on a stool in one of those offices but I didn’t take particular notice of which one. He was, however, very personable at that time.
““Pastor’’ Reno lied by calling me an AGIP – meaning an unprincipled person ready to serve any government in power. The period he was referring to was one in which my boss ran into bad political weather and some of us around him were scapegoated. I was locked in DSS detention many times, my houses in Kano and Abuja broken into and valuables, including cash some of which were never returned were seized.
“I was going to court for two years and for the most part of which I didn’t have a passport. In the course of that trial, the judge presiding called back my lawyers, Niyi Akintola, SAN and Rickey Tarfa, SAN, after an adjournment to say that “I didn’t mean that he should be kept in DSS detention. I said he should be taken to Kuje Prison,” and that’s where I was kept. Under detention in the DSS I was stripped down to the pants and photographed head to toe. All that didn’t make one to capitulate,” Mr Shehu explained.
Mr Shehu also rendered details of how he switched from Mr Abubakar to Mr Buhari in 2015.
“When they lost to Muhammadu Buhari in the party primaries, the candidates in that race, Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, Rochas Okorocha and Sam Nda-Isaiah surrendered their media assets to the winner who had the grace to ask me to lead the media team. When we won, he (then President-elect Buhari) invited me to serve as one of his two spokespersons and I pledged 100 per cent loyalty to him and that’s where I am. This cannot be AGIP by any standards.
“Reno should stop lying, if only to help the pastoral calling to retain its good name. Otherwise he should quit the ministry,” he said.
Mr Abubakar is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the PDP. If the party nominates him as its 2019 flag-bearer, he would square off with Mr Buhari at the presidential elections.
With Mr Shehu clearly reasserting his absolutely loyalty to Mr Buhari, he could be expected to attack Mr Abubakar on the campaign trail, said political analyst, Sola Olubanjo.
“Mr Shehu does not want to keep anyone guessing about his preparations for 2019,” Mr Olubanjo said. “But we shall see to what extremes he would go at distancing himself from his former principal.”