Obasanjo denies endorsing Sierra Leone candidate

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has dismissed reports that he endorsed one of Sierra Leone’s presidential contenders.

Mr Obasanjo, in a brief video statement, described as “unfortunate” the misinterpretation of his “innocent” comment on the leadership quality of Dr Kandeh Yumkella, to mean he had endorsed him.

Dr Yumkella is one of 16 contenders for the Sierra Leone presidency’s on March 7.

The former Executive Director of the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), once headed the organisation’s office in Nigeria, where he made friendship with Obasanjo as President of Nigeria.

Video message

Mr Obasanjo was quoted last week praising Dr Yumkella at a forum in Lagos.

Dr Yumkella’s supporters took advantage of the sentiments to the dismay of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) party.

In his video message, apparently addressed to Sierra Leoneans, Mr Obasanjo said his comments were taken out of context.

“That was rather unfortunate because I was referring to the process which made Yumkella to become the head of UNIDO and that is not in dispute,” he said, noting that he had no intention to endorse any candidate.

“I don’t think I need to say anything adverse about anybody contesting election in any country in Africa. But whatever I say which is not adverse should not be used as me running any other candidate down or be used by any other party for campaign,” the retired Nigerian statesman added.

The video was shared on social media by Sierra Leone government officials, including an aide to President Bai Koroma, who questioned the integrity of Dr Yumkella’s National Grand Coalition (NGC) party for disseminating the misleading report about Mr Obasanjo’s endorsement.

APC’s candidate Samura Kamara is being challenged at the ballot by 15 other candidates, including its major rival SLPP.

Support base

But much of the animosity appears to be between APC and NGC.

Analysts say that was because the two parties shared the same support base.

Dr Yumkella’s supporters have exploited his international experience, particularly at the UN level, to sell their candidates.

The strategy has made it appear like the Sierra Leone election was being fought both at home and abroad.

But Mr Obasanjo’s alleged endorsement had a major weight because he infamously endorsed President Koroma when he ran for his second term in 2012.

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