There are fresh indications that the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, may be looking beyond the recent threat of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr Yakubu Dogara, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, to mobilise northern Christian electorates to vote for other candidates.
The development is coming against the background of strong opposition against Tinubu’s preference for a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, which has pitted him against the Christian community ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
On Friday, some northern Christian leaders in the APC further called on Nigerians not to vote for any joint ticket that does not represent Christians and Muslims, saying the former Lagos State governor has made a fatal error that could end his ambition in February’s poll.
Among the leaders, who spoke during the event, were Lawal, Dogara; a former Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung and Senator Ishaku Abbo (Adamawa North).
Lawal, who was the chairman on the occasion, said many within and outside the APC had expressed shock and disbelief over the reaction to the party’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, adding that it was a grand conspiracy against northern Christians.
Reacting in separate interviews, Tinubu’s men dismissed their threat as the rants of disgruntled party members, who were merely trying to incite Nigerians to cover up the frustrations of losing out to a better candidate.
This is even as they reassured that their principal has commenced consultation with relevant religious leaders and organisations.
Director of Media and Communications, Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga, told Sunday PUNCH that he was amazed that responsible leaders such as Lawal, Dalung and Dogara can stoop low to spew such hateful words.
He said, “We know where these people are coming from. I won’t like to join issues with anybody. Dogara is a Christian. If you follow him, you will find contradictions in what he said. Who made Dogara the Speaker of the National Assembly? Jubril, a Muslim did. He was his campaign manager. Was it not a Muslim that also made Babachir Lawal the SGF?
“So when you see responsible leaders spew hatred around, you will know that it is not worth joining issues with them. Nigerians have seen through people like this. They are only inciting themselves because they lost out, not the masses. For now, we are looking forward to September when election campaign will kick off”
Onanuga, however, reassured that his principal is reaching out to religious bodies and leaders to assure them that he has no ulterior motive when he settled for a Muslim running mate.
“The candidate is talking to the Christian leaders that our ticket is not by religion at all. We believe many of them will see reason and support our ticket. We don’t want to be seen debating Christianity or Islam, that belongs elsewhere. The Tinubu-Shettima ticket is a political one, not what Babachir and Dogara are portraying. We also know it is only a matter of time before they decamp,” he said.
Another campaign team leader, Adebayo Shittu, also expressed disappointment in the statement of the Northern Christian leaders.
The Director General of Asiwaju Tinubu-Shettima Coalition for Good Governance disclosed that rather engaged in a needless media bashing, such critics can head to court for redress if they feel his principal has done something against the Constitution of Nigeria or choose to vote for other parties of their choice.
“I don’t even want to believe there is anything called APC Northern Christians or Muslims. I see that as rubbish. APC is not a religious organisation but a political party guided strictly by laws of Nigerians and the Constitution of the party. I have not seen in what way Tinubu violated either the Constitution of Nigeria or the APC. If he violated such, people know what to do. They can head straight for the court. If it is that of the APC Tinubu violated, of course, the party should know what to do.
“I suspect that some people who have been positioning themselves for the vice presidential candidate ticket, if religion was the major determinant and not satisfied with happened, are trying to sensationalise the issue.
I am not speaking for Tinubu, but I want to say with all humility and as a knowledgeable Nigerian who also happens to be in the APC, the candidate was not elected as a flagbearer because he was a Muslim. He was elected out of the 23 aspirants because he was considered to be the most fitting who could give other parties a good fight. And he also didn’t choose his running mate based on religion but on the basis of zone and who can best deliver the votes from the section he comes from,” he stated.
According to him, election is not something any candidate can gamble with, knowing that he risks losing the poll if his chosen strategy backfires.
When reminded that even Christian candidates from the same region can also deliver the goods, Shittu was adamant.
He said, “I can’t say unless you give me the evidence. Election is not a matter of people taking risks. It is not about religion. It won’t have made sense to pick a minority. It is about who can deliver the votes and it is the prerogative of the presidential candidate to choose his running mate.
“But where you have people threatening that because they are Christians from the North, they won’t vote, they are just shooting themselves in the leg. Are you saying that Muslims didn’t vote Dogara during his election or the other Senator from Adamawa? Can he win without the Muslims’ votes? These are the issues. They ought not to have restricted the whole thing to just religion. It is not even in their own interests. In any case, election period is near. Let’s see what will happen.”
On why Tinubu allowed the resentment and grievances exhibited by his co-aspirants and party chieftains like Lawal to linger for too long without addressing it, the former Minister of Communications reiterated that his principal has not been resting on his oars.
“The truth is that you cannot force an unwilling horse to drink water. Babachir is the closest Nigerian to Tinubu and he has been touting this even when we were together in the government. He also never fails to mention that it was even Tinubu who made him the SGF. If he now thinks the proper thing is for him to bite the hand that fed him, it is up to him.
“But let me also say that the APC is not intimidated by any threat from anybody,” he said.