A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, has again condemned the decision of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to run with a Northern Muslim candidate, Kashim Shettima.
He described the Muslim-Muslim ticket as a direct attack on Christians, noting that the party produced a Muslim presidential candidate and that most of the party officials are all Muslims.
This, he said, had resulted in an outcry by the Christian community in the party.
Lawal was reacting to a report that the Planning and Strategy Committee of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation which he led recommended the same faith ticket.
Speaking in an interview on Arise TV monitored by The PUNCH on Thursday, he explained that the committee recommended that a Muslim-Christian ticket outweighed the merits of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Apart from Senator Kashim Shettima, the sub-committee chaired by Senator Grace Folasade Bent was said to have recommended a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed and Kashim Imam, an associate of Tinubu.
Others included Ambassador Fatima Balla; Senator Anthony Manzo; Hajiya Najatu Mohammed; a former governor of Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Wamakko;
Governors Babagana Zulum (Borno); Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi).
But explaining the panel’s recommendations, the former SGF stated, “Our report was very detailed about the implication of religion in this coming election. In the report, both scenarios were viewed and analysed and the report made provision for the advantages of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, and the disadvantages.
“There was also a recommendation as to the benefits and demerits of a Muslim-Christian ticket, and that outweighs the benefit of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“I tried to get the APC to see the benefits of including the Christian community in the National Working Committee and National Executive Council of the party, but they didn’t listen and instead appointed Muslims as both the national chairman and deputy national chairman.”
The APC chieftain further said that his fears were realised when the party primaries produced a Muslim presidential candidate.
Referring to his letter to the APC presidential candidate, the former SGF said anyone vying for the presidency must consider religion as a major factor.
He stated, “First of all, nobody should aspire to be President of this country if he ignores the religious dichotomy in the system. We know that religion is a major factor in this country and it’s a divisive factor. And anybody wishing to lead this country, ought to be concerned that he is going to kickstart his government in a manner that is divisive in a manner that is antagonistic to a certain segment of the society.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is Christianity, whether it is Igbo tribe, or Hausa tribe, or Muslims or so on. You are supposed to, first of all, seek to unite the people you intend to rule. Whatever else you will do, without this unity, nobody will appreciate it.”
Lawal alleged that Tinubu had not reached out to the Christian group within the APC, stating that if he had, he (Lawal), would have been at the meeting.
He justified his statement that the Muslim-Muslim ticket would not play out well for the APC.
He added, “First of all, you would antagonise the Christian majority in this country; it’s a direct attack on them. And even in your own zone, you might put your election in jeopardy. Because when it comes to religion, Nigerians take religion first. Now, you’ll jeopardise the whole of the Christian religion in the North, in the South, in the South East”.
Lawal also said his stand against the Muslim-Muslim ticket is a fight for inclusiveness in the APC.
He said the presentation of a Muslim-Muslim ticket would create agitations among Christians and Muslims, who have always lived peacefully.
“I can tell you that this is not about religion. This is about all-inclusiveness, this is about equity, this is about justice, this is about peaceful co-existence with each other, with our neighbours. No Muslim wants to be in an acrimonious relationship with the Christians. The fight we are fighting, is a fight for everybody, for justice,” he argued.
Regardless of the competence of the vice-presidential candidate, Lawal asserted that there would always be reservations against his nomination by aggrieved parties.
“This is where the danger would come; if you go into a government in which the Christian population feels discriminated against; whatever that government would do, no matter what they do to placate the Christian community, there will be no interest in supporting this government,” he noted.
Commenting on the issue, a former Archbishop of the Catholic Church, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, stated that the sentiments about ethnicity and religion were key in Nigerian politics.
He, therefore, urged the electorate to vote for political parties and their candidates in the 2023 general elections based on these sentiments.
Okogie, a former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH.
The vocal cleric was asked if competence and not ethnoreligious factor should determine who governs the country.
Responding, Okogie said, “Put simply, competence should be the defining factor for any government and not ethnoreligious sentiments. Unfortunately, ethnoreligious sentiments play a key role in Nigeria’s politics.
In the final analysis, the voters make the choice so whatever impression and/or expression about any of the candidates and political parties should be expressed by either voting for or against them.”
In a related development, the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja on Thursday described as falsehood reports that its Archbishop, Ignatius Kaigama, has endorsed Shettima as the APC vice-presidential candidate.
The Director of Communications of the Archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Alumuku, clarified this in a statement titled, ‘Archbishop Kaigama Endorses Shettima: A Disclaimer,’ obtained by The PUNCH.
Also, the Gombe State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria condemned the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC.
Speaking in a telephone interview with our correspondent, the CAN Chairman, Rev. fr. Joseph Shinga described the latest development as an act geared towards disintegrating the country.
He said the current political temperature does not support the same religion ticket, revealing that the current administration has divided the country along religious and ethnic lines.
In its comment, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo observed that the Muslim-Muslim ticket showed that the APC did not care about the fragile unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria.
Addressing journalists in Awka, on Thursday, the Vice President-General of the group, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, also noted that the efforts of well-meaning Nigerians, who have, over the years bridged religious differences and promoted ethnic harmonious co-existence in the country, have been seriously undermined.
However, the Sokoto State Chairman of the APC, Isa Acida, has disclosed that the choice of a running mate from the North-East would not cause a negative impact on the chances of the party in the state.
He said there is no difference between the North-West, the North-East or even the North-Central.
Acida said the party would support the presidential candidate of the party irrespective of where the running mate hails from.
But the APC National Vice Chairman (North West), Malam Salihu Lukman, on Wednesday night warned that the party cannot afford to make any costly mistake that could give the opposition an edge in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
Lukman told our correspondent that the average Nigerian knows that the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and New Nigeria People’s Party are waiting for the APC to mismanage its campaign and lose the trust of Nigerians so they can take over.
Meanwhile, the APC presidential candidate has cancelled the planned presentation of his running mate to the leadership of the party.
Shettima’s unveiling was billed to hold at the APC secretariat in Abuja by 1.00pm on Thursday, but hours before the programme, journalists were informed that the event has been shifted to a yet-to-be-announced date.
No reason was given for the postponement.
When contacted by our correspondent, the Spokesman for Bola Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga confirmed the report, saying Shettima’s unveiling has been moved to next Wednesday.
When asked if it has to do with Tinubu’s rumoured meeting with the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Onanuga said he had no information on it.
“The presidential candidate and his running mate are here (in Osogbo) with other APC governors. But I am not aware and can’t confirm if there is a planned meeting with Aregbesola,” he said.