By OBINNA EZUGWU
The emergence of Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State as presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) took grit, hard work and months of deal making that eventually saw party governors from the north unite for him.
But emerging party candidate is proving to be the easier hurdle for the former governor in his quest to fulfill his lifetime ambition of ruling Africa’s most populous country.
Since trouncing Rotimi Amaechi, former transport minister, Yemi Osibanjo, the vice president, among others to emerge candidate on Wednesday, June 8, it’s been one controversy or the other for the Jagaban.
Last week, his failure to provide his primary, secondary and tertiary institutions’ credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), triggered outrage, with many asking that he be tried for perjury and alleged ‘certificate forgery.’
On Saturday, a civil society organisation, Centre for Reform and Public Advocacy (CRPA), called for his arrest for “providing false information on oath in his INEC form CF 001 which he submitted in 1999,” while running for governor.
The former Lagos governor can, however, afford to not bother about those calling for his arrest over his credentials, knowing that it’s unlikely that the electoral body will disqualify him from the contest.
But what is proving to be a major headache for him is the choice of his running mate, what ordinarily would have seemed a simple enough choice to make. Yet, a little more than two weeks to the INEC July 15 deadline for the substitution of names of running mates, there is yet no headway in choosing the right candidate.
Tinubu had listed Kabir Ibrahim Masari, a Katsina politician and serving board member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Plateau State, in ‘placeholder’ capacity, as his running mate to beat the June 17 INEC deadline for political parties to submit the names of candidates and their running mates.
But he now has until July 15 to substitute Masari’s name with his final running mate, and it’s proving to be a tough nut to crack.
Speaking at house speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila’s book launch at the weekend, Tinubu admitted that he is still searching for a running mate.
The former governor is ideally expected to pick his running mate from the north. Party governors from the region who were instrumental to his emergence are said to have been given the responsibility of recommending the ideal candidate, but even in their camp, there is confusion, amid mounting opposition to a possible Muslim-Muslim ticket for the ruling party.
It had emerged, for instance, that Babagana Kingibe, former secretary to government and influential power broker in Aso Rock, suggested the duo of Shettima and Bagudu, as well as Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary general for Tinubu, but all are Muslims and settling for a fellow Muslim is a double edged sword for the candidate.
Among those who have been mentioned as potential running mate are Shettima; Bagudu; Prof. Babagana Zulum, Borno governor; Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna governor, as well as Simon Lalong, Plateau State governor and Yakubu Dogara, former speaker of the house of representatives, the two Christians in the mix.
Tinubu is a Muslim from a largely Christian south, Southwest in particular. Ideally, he is expected to pick a Christian from the predominantly Muslim north in order to maintain the delicate balance of religion in an increasingly polarized country.
But it’s a delicate choice. Picking a Christian in the north could alienate the majority population of Muslims in the region, whose votes he needs to win. But at the same time, settling for a Muslim is certain to put off the substantial Christian population in the North, particularly in the Northeast and North Central and indeed the rest of the south, which could give his opponents, notably Atiku Abubakar who has since settled for Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, significant advantage.
Although it had emerged last week, that the APC candidate had opted to pick a fellow Muslim and dare the consequences, anothq4er major setback came on Tuesday when President Muhammadu Buhari held consultations with governors of the ruling party at the presidential villa, Abuja and expressed opposition to the idea, according to information available Business Hallmark.
Consequently, on Wednesday, weary of the approaching deadline, Tinubu submitted Masari’s name as placeholder, as confirmed in a statement by his media office on Friday.
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.
Last week northern Christians and pastors, carry the umbrella of Arewa Christians and Indigenous Pastors Association (ACIPA), warned against the move, noting that they were aware of the “intent to hijack Nigeria into a full-fledged Muslim-controlled state.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has also repeatedly warned candidates against picking running mates of the same faith as themselves.
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, noting in an interview that, “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.”
Ajomale told Punch 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.
“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.
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 government of Buhari, “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.”