altEVERYONE is talking about one photograph. It shows our former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, alongside the man who was on the People's Democratic Party ticket with him in 1999 and 2003, Atiku Abubakar.

But the gasp of horror that went round the world when the photograph was published last week was not about the image itself. It is about the date: January 19, 2009. In theory, the picture comes only one and a half years after both men left office. Actually, the picture taken last week of Atiku and Obasanjo at the latter's Abeokuta home comes five or six years after they abandoned any pretence to governance and began the mud-wrestling that showed Nigeria the depths of our decay.

Obasanjo wanted a third term in office; Atiku did his best to make sure that did not happen. Atiku wanted to succeed Obasanjo in office; Obasanjo made sure that did not happen. As their second term wore on, Obasanjo had his VP investigated, first by an administrative panel led by Bayo Ojo, and then by the pro-Obasanjo Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) superintended by Nuhu Ribadu. Both bodies found Atiku guilty on every count that would make the boss happy.

As Obasanjo and his VP called each other a thief and a liar, Atiku was steadily isolated from the government, and his key staff fired. Looking further afield, Obasanjo made sure the electoral commission disqualified Atiku from running for the presidency, although the court eventually permitted him to run.

In the skirmish, it turned out that between both men, vast funds under the control of the Petroleum Development Trust Fund had largely been used in the manner of a cookie jar without a cover. Obasanjo found Atiku guilty of diverting its funds into local banks and to promote private interests such as Netlink Digital Television and Globacom.

The VP, we remember, fought back aggressively. He accused Obasanjo, among others, of the forgery of a N61 million cheque being used against him. He also published photocopies of cancelled cheques to prove how "Obasanjo, his family, businesses, and native community...benefitted tremendously from money deposited in the accounts he is now dissociating himself from." In one account alone, said Atiku, funds were taken out for Obasanjo's Africa Leadership Forum and the Obasanjo Campaign Organization; over N100 million was paid to a construction company owned by Obasanjo; buses were bought for Obasanjo's Bells Comprehensive High School, and cars were given to women of the President's choosing.

That was in three years ago. One of them was shunted aside from power, while the other left in bitterness in 2007, unable to realize his fantasies of a third term. The only thing they have shared since then is avoidance. And then, suddenly this week, they fall back into each other's arms, saying it is in the interest of Nigeria?

If Yar'Adua were well enough to tell the time of day, he would have had both men arrested. While they are free to meet, as citizens of the federal republic, what they admit to: dissatisfaction with the state of the nation, is an insult even to a government as helpless as we have, and to the nation. It is an Area Boys' equivalent of a coup d'etat.

Perhaps both men know just how "bad" the government of Yar'Adua is-the one from Dubai and the other from the Congo. Perhaps both men truly know just how bad Yar'Adua's health is. But they are a key part of how we got here in the first place. And this is usually how the political salvation game starts: "patriotic" soldiers who know how "bad" things are, who then conspire to "save" the country. I would rather roast in hell than another heaven of Obasanjo's design.

Strangely, if there was anything Obasanjo succeeded at in his eight years, it was in reorganizing the military so as to make sure there were no more coups. But he would then take steps to accomplish the dubious objectives not only to set the country back, but to ensure it could neither rise nor come after him. It is easy to prove that he left our nation worse than he found it. He then left the estate in the hands of a sick, complicated man with no idea what is going on. Now, why does Obasanjo want to "save" Nigeria from his very accomplishments?

If Obasanjo's motivation is curious, that of Atiku is tragic. He cuts the image of a pathetic man who is grasping at every scent in the wind to lead him into the precincts of power. That he would leave his home and head for Obasanjo's, given even a sliver of the things that have happened between them, makes writing his political epitaph an easy assignment.

But while they may make gorillas of each other, neither should fool Nigerians. As a PM News story made clear on Thursday, the real reason for their meeting was not Nigeria, but mutual survival. As America's Federal Bureau of Investigations of the Siemens bribery scandal wears on relentlessly, the agency is reported to be close to pin-pointing the officials of the Obasanjo administration who received $4.5 million in bribes. As has been previously reported, some of the bribes were paid into the account of a wife of a former Vice-President. In addition, some officials-designated as 'P' and 'V.P.' in Siemens' records-also received watches worth about $172,000.

This is what has driven both men together. There is no Nigerian that Obasanjo loves so much he would forgive him the things Atiku disclosed in 2006. None. There is no country or child or woman that he loves that much. None. Yet, while both men are practically untouchable in Nigeria, they have found themselves to be together in the same foreign minefield. And this is happening at a time Obasanjo is trying to rehabilitate his image internationally, as a statesman.

On Monday, without meaning to be profound, the 'facilitator' of the meeting, Osun State's Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, captured the Abeokuta event in a Yoruba adage. "When two witches dance," he told reporters, "a man does not go there to watch."

What does he do? Stay tuned, I think.

MEMO TO YAR'ADUA'S DOCTORS

Your patient returns to you this week, wherever you are. Before he does, it is time to tell you your diagnosis is wrong. You are making no progress because you are looking at the wrong side of the man.

Here is help: When he shows up this time, set him on his stomach and check his back thoroughly, from the base of his neck down. I predict you will find firewood where his spine is supposed to be. That would explain, for instance, why he would so casually throw the doors of Aso Rock open to a combined visit of almost all the indicted governors: Abdulkadir Kure; Ayo Fayose, Abdul Attah, Bola Tinubu, and their leader, Lucky Igbinedion.

Yes, I saw that picture too. Before you return the man to us, may God spare his life, kindly replace the firewood with fiberglass. And don't forget the anti-hypocrisy medication.

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