The confusion over the choice of the authentic running mate to the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is deepening as he has returned to Abuja to continue consultations on the contentious issue.
Tinubu had returned to Lagos on Sunday, June 19, 12 days after he defeated a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, among others, to pick the APC presidential ticket.
Tinubu had in the days following his emergence visited all the contenders for the exalted seat in a bid to solicit their support and build unity in the party.
The APC candidate is expected to name his final running mate on or before the July 15 deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission to replace Kabir Ibrahim Masari, whom he named as in ‘placeholder’ capacity.
As the deadline draws near, Tinubu, the APC and the Progressive Northern Governors’ Forum are said to be in a dilemma over the choice of an acceptable running mate as opposition continues to mount over a possible Muslim-Muslim ticket for the ruling party. They have however continued the search for a formidable candidate.
Masari, a chieftain of the APC in Katsina State, is a serving board member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Plateau State.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had picked Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate; while the Labour Party candidate, peter Obi, settled for a former presidential spokesperson, Dr Doyin Okupe, as his running mate in ‘placeholder’ capacity.
The New Nigeria People’s Party, on the other hand, settled for a legal luminary, Ladipo Johnson, to run alongside its presidential candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso. Both LP and NNPP are still holding talks to have a joint ticket but they have yet to decide on who among Obi and Kwankwaso would be the candidate and the running mate.
However, Tinubu’s choice of running mate is generating controversies the most with different groups kicking against a potentially same faith ticket. The former Lagos State governor is a Muslim married to Senator Oluremi Tinubu, an ordained pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
Tinubu, who is from the South-West, is expected to pick his running mate from the North, which is dominated by Muslims. It is believed that Christian politicians from the region are not popular enough to garner massive votes.
The national stakeholders of the APC had urged the party to narrow the search for the vice-presidential candidate to a northern Christian, while the General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Pastor William Kumuyi, advised politicians to feel the pulse of the nation before settling for the next set of leaders.
According to him, political leaders need to make consultations, especially on speculations around Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian tickets for the presidential election.
“The Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket is a difficult and slippery area,” he said.
A group, Northern Nigeria’s Front for Equity and Good Governance, has also rejected the proposed Muslim-Muslim ticket.
While insisting that there are a number of Christian northerners that the APC can choose from, the group recommended that the search is narrowed down to the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, for the sake of equity and justice.
Leader of the group, Zakariya Abdul’aziz, noted that religion had never dictated the voting pattern of the North, adding that the region had always participated in national politics as a diverse but united entity with common goals.
A former Chairman of the APC in Lagos State, Henry Ajomale, however, said the presidential candidate was set to unveil a Muslim as his running mate next month.
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH in a telephone interview, Ajomale stated that the slot for the vice-presidential candidate, which is presently being held by would be filled by July 15.
Ajomale told one of our correspondents, “Although we are still consulting, it is certain that the APC will be flying a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“Masari, our placeholder, may likely be substituted before July 15. However, the destination is still between Borno State in the North-East and Kano/Kaduna states in the North-West. Either way, it will be a Muslim running mate.”
The names that have previously been mentioned in the three states are former governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima and the incumbent governor, Prof Babagana Zulum. In Kano State, the governor, Abdullahi Ganduje is said to be on the list, while in Kaduna State, the governor, Nasir El-Rufai, is being considered.
Ajomale maintained that the APC could not afford to gamble at such a critical moment when opposition candidates were desperately seeking an inroad to claim massive votes in the North.
He stated, “The truth is that Asiwaju has no choice. The majority of the northerners are Muslims and fielding a Christian northerner is a risk that can split his vote to give Atiku an edge. But if he settles for the former (a Muslim), they will troop out in large numbers to vote for him.”
Meanwhile, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church -Nigeria (CRC-N) on Saturday kicked against the proposed Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket by the APC.
The CRC-N synod said Nigeria was a secular state and that choosing a Muslim -Muslim ticket would come with consequences.
This was contained in the communiqué issued at the end of the 154th General Church Council meeting signed by the President, Rev Isaiah Jirapye, and the General Secretary, Rev Sagarga Gargea.
It described the proposal by the APC as a calculated arrangement aimed at pushing Christians out of the political leadership of the country.
Group advocates Dogara
The Coalition for Peace and Progress has called for the nomination of a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, as Tinubu’s running mate.
Addressing journalists on Saturday in Kaduna, the coalition’s National Coordinator, Dr Muhammad Chindo, said in keeping with the tradition of democracy, a lot of lobbying and search were ongoing to pick a capable and acceptable running mate for Tinubu.
He said such a candidate must be acceptable to the APC and the entire country.
“Above all, it is imperative that the future vice-president must be a Christian who can transcend primordial sentiments bordering on religion and the twin evils of tribalism and sectionalism in the country, for which Dogara is most appropriate,” he said.
Describing Dogara as a good Christian who would promote the cause of unity and togetherness among the diverse and heterogeneous citizens of Nigeria, Chindo said he was a viable candidate to run together with the APC presidential flag bearer.
Similarly, the General Overseer of All Christians Fellowship Mission in Maitama, Abuja, and former Chaplain of Aso Villa during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Rev Williams Okoye, has said a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the 2023 presidential election will be the height of insensitivity because the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), “has encouraged all kinds of bigotry and discrimination.”
Okoye, who is also the Director of the National Issues in the Christian Association of Nigeria, said the church would move completely against any political party that tried a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Okoye said, “It is the height of insensitivity for anybody to consider Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket at this time because since this government came into place and has encouraged all kinds of bigotry and discrimination, these things have been heightened.
“People are so sensitive now to religious matters and ethnicity. So, if you go and start talking now about a Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket, it shows you are not sensitive to what is going on with the feelings of the masses.”
A prominent member of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation also said the presidential candidate had reduced the search for his running mate to Borno, Kano and Kaduna states.
He said the need for further consultations made the former Lagos State governor to return to Abuja after his brief stay in Lagos.
The source said, “Asiwaju is back in Abuja. He needs to make further consultations on this issue of running mate. He will meet with all stakeholders like members of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, members of the APC in the National Assembly, former governors produced by the party and he will even have discussions with the President on the issue.
“The issue is dragging on for too long and we do not like it. That’s why the man hurriedly left Lagos for Abuja. He is no longer a Lagos man now, but a national figure working to become the President.”
CRPA issues warning
Meanwhile, the Centre for Reforms and Public Advocacy has said the Electoral Act, 2022 prevented political parties from withdrawing running mates.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Saturday by its Executive Director, Ifeanyi Okechukwu, the advocacy group observed that political parties fielding ‘placeholders’ had not taken time to study the amended Act.
According to him, the Act is clear on provisions for withdrawal and substitution of candidates, warning that sections 28 and 84 relate to only the candidates – presidential and governorship – and not their running mates.
He stated that substitution of candidates by political parties could only become possible in the case of withdrawal or death of presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial, House of Representatives and state assemblies’ candidates nominated by parties through valid primaries in accordance with sections 29 and 84 of the electoral law.
Okechukwu said, “Section 33 of the Electoral Act says, ‘A political party shall not be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted under Section 29 of this Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate provided that in the case of such withdrawal or death of a candidate, the political party affected shall, within 14 days of the occurrence of the event, hold a fresh primary election to produce and submit a fresh candidate to the commission for the election concerned’; and to conform with Section 33, Section 29 must be adhered to, to ascertain categories of candidates captured.
“Section 29 in subsection (1) says ‘every political party shall, not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election under this Act, submit to the commission, in the prescribed forms, the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections, who must have emerged from valid primaries conducted by the political party’.”
The advocacy group leader enthused that it was no more business as usual for parties and their candidates as the current electoral law was stringent in many areas, especially on methods of political parties’ primaries, delegates, how withdrawal and substitution would be done and transmission of results, among others.
Okechuckwu added, “The current and subsisting electoral law does not capture a scenario that makes the possible substitution of associate candidates or running mates either by the account of voluntary withdrawal or death. Subsequently, any substitution of running mates nominated by presidential and gubernatorial candidates comes flat in the face of the law.
“While this might not have been a deliberate oversight, it must be accepted that the law is sacrosanct and nothing can be added or removed from it unless through amendment of sections 31 and 33 to make provision for that in the future.
“Until then, in accordance with section 31 which says, ‘A candidate may withdraw his or her candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered personally by the candidate to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the commission not later than 90 days to the election’.
“Section 33 states that only candidates who were nominated through valid primaries by political parties and whose names were submitted in accordance with Section 29 can withdraw and be substituted under the law, not running mates that were not nominated through any primaries but by presidential and gubernatorial candidates.”
Arrest Tinubu now’
Meanwhile, the CRPA has given the Inspector-General of Police, Baba Usman, a 48-hour ultimatum to arrest and initiate criminal prosecution against Tinubu for allegedly supplying false academic qualifications to secure nomination.
The group threatened that if the IG failed to act, a court action would be instituted against him for an order of mandamus to compel him to effect the arrest of the APC flag bearer at the end of the ultimatum.
The Legal Adviser of the CRPA and human rights lawyer, Agu Kalu, issued the threat during a press conference in Abuja on Saturday.
But when contacted, the Director, Legal Directorate, Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Babatunde Ogala (SAN), told Sunday PUNCH that it was ready to defend the threats and allegations because the APC presidential candidate had complied fully with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
He said, “There is nothing to respond to; the Electoral Act is clear. We are waiting; let them go bring the writ and we will defend it. I think we have gone past this stage of some people on social media, for whatever reason, issuing threats.
“If they have anything, let them bring it. As far as we are concerned, our candidate has complied fully with the provisions of the Electoral Act. If they want to go to court, let them go to court. But we must also let them know that we are not unaware of the laws of defamation in the country. We know the difference between a court process, which is privileged, and making unfounded allegations in newspapers like they are doing now.
“But honestly, our candidate is not perturbed; he can’t be bothered by all these threats. If they want to go to court, let them go to court. When they come, we will react appropriately to the court process. What we know is that we have complied fully with the provisions of the law and we will not be blackmailed and intimidated.”
Tinubu’s primary education
One of Tinubu’s aides defended why the APC presidential candidate failed to fill the primary and secondary schools he attended on the INEC form.
He said, “No law says he must list all the schools he attended. What the law says is that you must at least show evidence that you have a school certificate or show evidence that you attended a school that is up to that.
“Now, he has shown the degree he got from the university. Recall that you cannot go to university without attending primary or secondary schools. There are those who took their school certificate examinations at home. There are those who have university degrees now by attending the National Open University of Nigeria. Will you say their degrees are not valid because they did not attend regular universities?
“Tinubu has presented what he has and even added the awards he got while in the university. So, why the cry over whether he attended primary and secondary schools or not?”
Kalu had alleged that the former Lagos State governor was not legally qualified to become the next President of Nigeria on grounds of supplying false information on oath in his form EC 9 submitted to INEC.
Among others, the legal practitioner alleged that in 1999, Tinubu claimed to have attended Saint Paul Aroloya Children Home School, Ibadan, between 1958 and 1964, and Government College, Ibadan between 1965 and 1969, only to turn around in 2022 that he never attended any primary or secondary school in his EC9 form.