Muslim-Muslim ticket: Tinubu’s major hurdle ahead of 2023 poll

As criticisms continue to mount over the choice of a vice-presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS examines how a substantive running mate was eventually chosen

The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has an enviable reputation of winning most of his political contests. However, nothing prepared him for the avalanche of backlash that greeted his disposition to the Muslim-Muslim ticket that has pit him against a considerable number of Nigerians, aggrieved party supporters and religious bodies in the country.

As the build-up to the search for his running mate intensified, caucuses in the APC had reportedly pushed for eight names from which a preferred candidate would be chosen. Several political office holders, including serving and former state governors and ex-ministers, lobbied to be considered for the enviable position.

After weeks of negotiation and tinkering with several contenders from the North-East, North-West and North-Central to fill the slot of the party’s vice-presidential candidate, a handful of names were identified.

They included governors Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), Babagana Zulum (Borno), Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano) and Samuel Lalong (Plateau). Others were former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Boss Mustapha.

North-West, North-East rivalry

Tension rose as the horse-trading and lobbying intensified. At a point, news filtered in that the governors of the ruling political party from the North-West and North-East were divided over the choice of a running mate for Tinubu. To buy more time to avoid presenting an unsellable running mate, the former governor of Lagos State submitted the name of a placeholder, Ibrahim Masari, to beat the deadline of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Masari, an APC chieftain in Katsina State, is a serving board member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies.

Weeks after Masari’s name was submitted to INEC, the APC could not come to an agreement on a suitable candidate. A party chieftain, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the delay in settling for an acceptable candidate among the governors spurred the party to temporarily opt for a placeholder. The APC source also attributed the challenge to internal wrangling and agitation between governors from the North-East and North-West.

“I think it is down to three governors, Babagana Zulum, Senator Kashim Shettima and Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who have been seriously agitating for the vice-presidential slots, while the former (Zulum) wants his predecessor to be considered for the exalted position,” the source had said.

The source also fingered some North-West governors who championed the move to concede the presidential ticket to the South as principal actors on the negotiation table.

On why the North-East was also not willing to settle for positions other than the vice-presidential slot, the APC stalwart disclosed that despite being marginalised politically, the region could also not be ruled out because of the massive votes it had churned out in the last two presidential elections.

The National Vice Chairman (North-West) of the APC, Mallam Salihu Lukman, however, disagreed with the notion that there was a crack within the ranks of the northern governors. While arguing that the perception was far from the truth, Lukman added that what many critics mistook for conflict or internal wrangling among the governors was negotiation.

“What you call internal wrangling is incorrect. That negotiation is ongoing does not make it a conflict. Nobody is going to impose somebody on anybody. Whoever is going to emerge will be a product of consensus from the negotiation. And just as the emergence of Asiwaju was acceptable to everybody, whoever is picked will be acceptable to all. There is no wrangling at all.”

As the search for Tinubu’s running mate entered the third week, again, news filtered in that a two-term governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau, had officially defected from the ruling APC. The letter of defection of Shekarau, who jumped ship to reunite with old foe, Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso, the New Nigeria Peoples Party in the North-West, was read during plenary by Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.

Tinubu anoints Shettima

Against the run of play, Tinubu announced a former governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima, as his substantive running mate on Sunday, July 10. Tinubu’s declaration came hours after the surrogate, Ibrahim Masari, officially stepped down as vice-presidential nominee. The national leader of the APC shocked many when he made the announcement while fielding questions shortly after his closed-door meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at his residence in Daura, Katsina State.

He said, “I saw Kabir Ibrahim Masari today and told him there is going to be an announcement to replace him fully with the substantive candidate.” When prodded to disclose who the substantive candidate was, Tinubu declared that it was Shettima, but quickly added that he had not informed him officially.

“Kashim Shettima, I have not discussed with him but I have disclosed it to you,” he said.

Tinubu was accompanied to Daura by the Katsina Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, after landing at the Umaru Musa Yar’adua airport, Katsina. His decision was said to have infuriated the North-West stakeholders, including the governors from the zone, who felt that the national leader of the party should, at least, inform them before making the premature announcement.

Tinubu’s choice of Shettima confirmed the earlier suspicion of Nigerians, who warned the APC against a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Barely 24 hours after Shettima’s unveiling, the ruling political party received a barrage of criticisms from concerned Nigerians, opposition parties and religious bodies.

Earlier, there were warnings from the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and civil society organisations against a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the 2023 presidential election. According to CAN’s spokesperson, Adebayo Oladeji, making such a decision in a polarised country is a wrong move.

Oladeji stated that despite having a pastor as the vice- president of the country, Christian clerics and worshippers were being killed, the security of lives and properties of Christians under a Muslim-Muslim arrangement could not be guaranteed. He also warned that Nigerians would face the consequences of their actions if they endorsed and voted for Muslim candidates.

Earlier, one of Tinubu’s loyalists and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, described as a “disastrous error” the decision of Tinubu to settle for Shettima as his running mate. Lawal disclosed that he saw the decision coming and made his reservations known to the proponents long before the announcement was made.

Defections hit APC

In an apparent protest against Tinubu’s choice of a running mate, a chieftain of the party, Daniel Bwala, announced his resignation last Sunday. The erstwhile Special Adviser on Legal and Constitutional Matters to the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, renounced his membership of the party after Tinubu announced his running mate.

Bwala expressed concerns that despite the fear and protests by Nigerians over the party’s disposition to a Muslim-Muslim ticket, Tinubu could still settle for Shettima as running mate. Bwala’s resignation came hours after a former caretaker managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission, Ibim Semenitari, dumped the party.

Semenitari, who was also a former Information commissioner under the administration of a former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, reportedly sent her letter of resignation to the APC ward chairman in the Okrika Local Government Area of the state.

Semenitari’s predecessor, Ogbonna Nwuke, along with another loyalist, Allwell Onyeso, had earlier left the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party, where the latter had secured a senatorial ticket for the 2023 National Assembly election.

‘It’s only Shettima’

The series of backlash had fuelled insinuations that Tinubu and the leadership of the APC might consider dropping Shettima for a northern Christian two days to INEC’s deadline, but Tinubu’s media team dashed the hopes of many anti-Muslim-Muslim ticket critics and announced that the national leader of the APC won’t be bullied into dropping Shettima to appease a section of Nigerians, including religious bodies and critics. Tinubu’s men argued that the negative review being peddled by a select few was not enough to force them to abandon their vice-presidential candidate.

Speaking with our correspondent, the spokesman for the Bola Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga, stated that Tinubu would not be cowed into taking such an unpopular decision.

“That is not possible. There is nothing like that going on in our camp. We have seen this move before; all these campaigns to pit us against fellow Nigerians. It happened in 1993 and the result was clear. There was pressure from several quarters for (MKO) Abiola to drop (Babagana) Kingibe because of his Muslim background.

“I pray people will come back to their senses to discover that what they should be looking at is not religion but competence of the candidate to deliver and take the country to a greater height. They will soon realise that,” he said.

On what his principal was doing to appease CAN, disgruntled party leaders, stakeholders like Babachir Lawal and aggrieved APC Christian leaders, especially in the 19 northern states, Onanuga said there were ongoing efforts to “engage” them.

He said, “I can assure you that Tinubu will appeal to Babachir and others. What we are seeing is natural. This is politics where you may not get all you want. But we know people will soon realise that the choice they have is not really a bad one.

“Don’t forget that we are just six months away from the 2023 elections. In politics, even 24 hours is a long time. Anything can happen that can change the course of things. There are moves by the party to appease all of them to rally round the presidential candidate for the election.”

The Director-General, Asiwaju Tinubu Presidential Campaign Organisation, Adebayo Shittu, also expressed the same sentiment. He said, “Let Babachir Lawal go and join any other party if he is no longer willing to support the party. The truth is that if Shettima is dropped as a result of the pressure from within and outside the party, the APC will be in trouble. One thing we need to factor in here is the time it took Tinubu, the northern governors and the party to decide on his candidacy. This country is bigger than a single individual or group,” he said.

Asked how his principal planned to appease CAN and Christian communities, Shittu stated that there was time before the 2023 election. He said, “But I can assure you that we will do the needful. We know what to do. Is the ultimate aim not to close ranks and work towards winning the presidential election? We will do it.

“Let me also point out that it is not all Christians, even among the clergy, that are aggrieved with our decision. We should not generalise. But we know many of the disgruntled party members are supporters and loyalists of the Vice-President (Yemi Osinbajo). That is why we said the APC is a party of ‘free joiners’ and ‘free leavers.’ Anybody can leave and come in anytime.”

Call for reconciliation

Similarly, the APC North-West spokesman, Musa Mada, called for caution, saying, “This is the time for the leadership of the party and the candidate to sue for peace.” He stated that a true leader must know when to appease his people and apologise.

“What matters in any political system is the fact that, as a leader, you need to realise when to say ‘sorry.’ “It matters a lot to people. Some members contested and, one way or the other, felt offended because they failed to win the flag.

“You cannot afford to leave them out simply because they are grumbling and complaining, under the guise of they are no longer relevant to the party. There is the need to give them a sense of belonging and reassure them that they are still important, whether they win the ticket or not. They should also be involved in all the affairs of the party.

“For us in the North-West, we think it should be the best approach in maintaining our membership and perhaps lure opposition members to our party in the process. In politics, you cannot afford to move on and leave someone disgruntled. As long as he remains in your party, you should do everything to make him feel at home,” he said.

However, the leadership of the APC assured Christians that they had nothing to fear over the contentious Muslim-Muslim ticket.

The National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu, told journalists in Daura that it was a situation they couldn’t help accepting because the ticket was the will of God.” The National Vice Chairman of the political party and the leader of the South-East APC, Dr Ijeomah Arodiogbu, also allayed the fears of Nigerians.

While refuting the allegation of being a fanatical supporter of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, Arodiogbu stated  that people must learn to focus on competence instead of being goaded by opposition parties.

“I am a Christian but I believe that the country has reached a level where we have to live beyond the primordial consideration of ethnicity and religion. The most important thing is to think about performance.

What we should be talking about is if Asiwaju can tackle the problem of insecurity and hunger in the country. Our challenge in the nation cuts across hunger, infrastructure and  the absence of a strong economy. If Asiwaju’s presidency will guarantee these, I urge Nigerians to vote for him,” he said.

He noted that in politics, it was always hard to please the electorate, especially when their mind was made up. According to him, the elite in the country have a penchant for playing conspiracy around religion and ethnicity on issues when strong considerations are being made.

In a related development, the Lagos chapter Chairman of the APC, Cornelius Ojelabi, also believed  that reconciliation and sustained enlightenment campaign would help to assuage frayed nerves ahead of the 2023 general elections. He added that Tinubu would also engage religious bodies such as CAN and other agitated stakeholders.

“Of course, Tinubu and the party will engage all stakeholders on the need to really play down this issue of religion and think of the future of our country ahead of the 2023 general elections,” he said.

On the duration of the ‘engagement,’ Ojelabi told our correspondent that it would be a continuous exercise.  He added, “I can tell you that it has started already. Tinubu is a very liberal person. He is not far from these Christian leaders. He is closer to them than most people know. It is just a matter of reaching out to them to explain the situation of things and the need to give him the opportunity to turn the country around for good.”

‘Opponents misinterpreting ticket’ 

Reacting to the lingering debate on the issue, the APC in Rivers State said the opponents of the party were misinterpreting the choice of its presidential candidate. The spokesman for the party in the state, Chris Finebone, said, “Muslim-Muslim ticket is receiving undue misinterpretation by opponents of the APC who have realised that it is a winning ticket. The best they can do is to criticise it and hide their reason when there is imminent defeat for them in 2023.

“A Muslim-Muslim ticket doesn’t mean much to the ordinary Nigerian. It is some mischievous politicians who use it to fool ordinary people. the governorship election in Osun State featured a Christian-Christian ticket and the election was won with that ticket without the voters expressing any worry. This goes to show that same faith ticket isn’t the preoccupation of Nigerians. All they care about is purposeful leadership that will give them the dividend of democracy.”

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