The former president, one of the most influential of his living peers, hinged his blistering position on the unsavoury corruption perception of Mr. Atiku in an interview with an online news medium, Premium Times.
He said; “How can I be on the same side with Atiku?” Mr Obasanjo asked. “To do what?”
“If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me. If I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support,” .
Mr. Obasanjo rejected all notions that his remarks could be deemed too personal, coming as 2019 presidential campaign gathers steam with Mr. Abubakar amongst the front-runners.
The pronouncement comes barely two weeks after Mr. Abubakar declared his intention to run for president, touting his pro-business credentials and lambasting President Muhammadu Buhari for his handling of the country’s security situation.
Before then, the former vice president, who has unsuccessfully run for the top office multiple times, spent the past few months criss-crossing the country as part of a strategy aimed at broadening his appeal amongst politicians and the electorate.
It also comes a little over a month after the two met at an event in Abuja and shook each other’s hands before photographers, days after reports said Mr Obasanjo was under pressure to back Mr Abubakar.
“I do not have personal grudges with anyone,” Mr Obasanjo said. “If you do not do well for Nigeria, you do not do well for all of us.”
“It is not a question of working with or not working with an individual,” he said. “If you are working for the good of Nigeria, I am working with you. If you are not working for the good of Nigeria it does not matter who you are I am not working with you.”
In making his position clear on Mr. Abubakar ahead of the presidential primaries in October, Mr Obasanjo has put to rest several months of speculation about whether he would soften his borderline disposition to his former vice president of eight years.
OBASANJO’S ISSUE WITH ATIKU
Mr. Obasanjo, 81, tapped Mr. Abubakar as his running mate in 1999, and both went on to rule Nigeria until 2007. The pair started on a good note for Nigeria’s democracy, working together to dismantle the statist political economy imposed by successive military administrations for more liberal economic policies.
Mr. Obasanjo trusted Mr. Abubakar with key government initiatives, placing him in charge of the National Council on Privatisation to midwife the sale of federal assets which were not only dysfunctional at the time but fast becoming white elephants draining national resources.
But years into the administration, Mr Obasanjo started accusing Mr Abubakar of corruption, and at a point, set up a panel to probe his deputy. aAnti-graft detectives allegedly came up with damning dossiers that linked his lieutenant to a slew of financial misdeeds.
When United States authorities commenced investigation into the infamous iGate scandal, Mr Obasanjo asked Nigerian anti-corruption agencies to cooperate fully with their counterparts from America.
The F.B.I. accused Nigerian and American officials of running a bribery racket in the award of a broadband project to expand Internet coverage in Nigeria in the mid-2000s.
Specifically, Mr Abubakar was said to have received kickbacks for his role in helping iGate, an American firm, secure the contract. Williams Jefferson, an American politician who was a member of the U.S. Congress at the time, was identified as a political associate of Mr Abubakar with whom the Nigerian leader allegedly connived to inflate the contract and get illicit payouts for seeing it through.
It was further reported that the infamous $100,000 cash which investigators found in Mr Jefferson’s refrigerator was intended as parts of the bribes to be paid out to Mr Abubakar. Mr. Abubakar strongly denied ties to the fraud.
Mr Jefferson was convicted on 11 out of 16 counts of criminal charges filed against him in 2009 and sentenced to jail shortly thereafter.
But Mr Abubakar was never arraigned, much less convicted of any crime. During Mr Jefferson’s trial, prosecutors failed to prove him guilty of allegations of bribing foreign officials, which meant that there was no evidence to link Mr Abubakar to the $100,000 bribe.