Recurring civility of Buhari’s Star Boy, Osinbajo wins more converts

By Tope Templer Olaiya
There’s presently no challenger; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is the undisputed poster boy of Buhari’s first-term presidency. And by each passing day, the Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) carves a niche for himself through his conduct and carriage of rising above the ashes of a floundering administration to earn the sobriquet, Star Boy.

Long before President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated his cabinet in November 2015, one man had been primed to take that space, the former governor of Lagos State. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a.k.a. Eko oni baje, was propelled then as the poster boy of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) that won the hearts of many during the 2015 elections.

And when the cabinet was unveiled with the president assigning three heavy portfolios – power, works and housing – to Fashola, the coast was clear for the Lagos ‘golden boy’ to transit from APC’s poster boy to Buhari’s actualizer, but it is another Lagos ‘golden boy’ that has taken the shine and grabbed the medal of this administration’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. He is by popular acclaim the Buhari administration’s ‘Star Boy,’ the poster boy of efficiency, commitment, honesty and loyalty.

The Star Boy, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo

Both friends and foes, young and old are left enamored by the vice president’s exemplary and humble lifestyle, especially his ebullient spirit and ability to maintain uncommon composure in the face of threats and barrages of attacks.

Tuesday’s incident was unscripted. It was the latest of the vice president’s recurring civility and addition to his expanding crest lined with badges of honour. Angry youths of Gbagyi village in Abuja had blocked the busy Umaru Yar’Adua expressway connecting the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to protest against the alleged land grab by the Nigerian Army.

The vice president was heading to the airport on his way to Ekiti State to launch the Homegrown School Feeding Programme when he ran into the protesters at Goza village. The protesters blocked Osinbajo’s motorcade and all entreaties by his security aides to appease the youths failed. They were only disarmed and placated when the Star Boy seized the moment, alighted from his bulletproof Mercedes Benz to engage with the angry youths, by proposing to meet with their leaders on the matter and intervene with a view to finding an amicable solution.

Instantly, the people ended the protest and opened the highway for free passage. Still not done, the vice president didn’t order his convoy to squeeze through the congested road, he waited to ensure cars ahead of his convoy went on first and then got back into his car to continue his trip to the airport. Deservedly, the once incensed youths now formed a guard of honour that stretched several miles to bid him goodbye.

That was a simple but classic act of courage and leadership, which has never failed the vice president in the last four years, especially at critical periods when he mounted the saddle as acting president.

NO AIRS: Osinbajo walking down to engage with the protesters

Acting otherwise with an excessive show of force would have been expected but out of character for Osinbajo. A similar incident with a different outcome occurred in December 2015 when the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, ran into the annual procession of the Shiites Muslim sect in Zaria, Kaduna State.

The ensuing clash turned violent, leading to the deaths of over 300 sect members and incarceration of the sect leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife since then. It is, therefore, left to be imagined what would have been left in the wake of such obstruction if it had been the motorcade of the president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Osinbajo left that rowdy scene, arrived in Ekiti, performed his official function but what makes the man so much loved still trailed him to Ekiti when he visited the man who served as official driver to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The senior citizen, Pa Olajide Olabode, aged 87 and his family was visibly elated and felt honoured.

Apart from serving as official driver to the late sage, he also functioned in same capacity and had the privilege to interact with the former governor of Western Region, Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi, who was also the Ooni of Ife; the former Premier, Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and the first Military Governor, Western Region, General Adeyinka Adebayo. Pa Olabode was also the chauffeur of visiting head of states that included Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

Before then, Osinbajo had sat on a school bench to eat with pupils of St. Michael’s African Primary School, Ado-Ekiti after the launch of School Feeding Programme.

Long before the TraderMoni social intervention scheme was launched that would see Osinbajo visit major markets across the length and breath of the country, he had also being a crowd’s man. Osinbajo in 2017 had almost caused a scare in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, when he went for a state visit.

On arrival at the airport, then acting president Osinbajo had inspected the guard of honour mounted by troops of the Army, Navy and Air Force before proceeding to the palace of the Obong of Calabar for a brief interaction. On the way, a visibly elated Osinbajo stopped his motorcade along the IBB Way to meet the cheering crowd, especially pupils of Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, who trooped out to catch a glimpse of his motorcade.

VICTORIA ASCERTA: Osinbajo being hailed by the protesters after the engagement

He not only walked a long distance just to shake hands with the crowd, an elderly woman from the throng forced her way to Osinbajo bringing freshly harvested vegetables to present to the vice president in a tray. That gesture melted the heart of Osinbajo who couldn’t help but reward the old woman with a tight hug.

Ever since then, the vice president has always been greeted by a mob wherever he goes, a situation even his security details sometimes find difficult to control.

As a polemicist, Osinbajo enjoys sermonizing. He likes to espouse on issues. As a university lecturer and senior advocate, he is in his elements when engaging on issues to win diehards to his side. As a vice president, he has taken his long years of scholarly antecedents with measured steps to tackle the matters of state that begged his attention.

He won hearts, even from unexpected quarters, and somewhat courted some enemies, with his swift response to the blockade of the National Assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) during one of his stints as acting president last year.

While some of the president’s appointees have riden roughshod in their line of duty with no respect for democratic norms and ethos, Osinbajo had stood at variance from such malfeasance like a rare breed cut out from a refined piece. That was what Lawal Daura, the sacked director-general of the DSS, tried to display when he ordered his operatives to take over the National Assembly. He had a mission, to prevent the leadership of the National Assembly from holding their scheduled meeting. But Osinbajo aborted the Daura coup.

It would also be recalled that while Buhari was away on his routine medical trips, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) staged a public show. It demanded a referendum on Biafra. Osinbajo, also acting president at that time, handled the situation with the maturity it deserved.

“Nigeria’s unity is one for which enough blood has been spilled and many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Many have paid for the unity of this country with their lives, and it will be wrong of us, as men and women of goodwill in this generation, to toy with those sacrifices that have been made.

“The truth is that many, if not most nations of the world are made up of different peoples and cultures and beliefs and religions, who find themselves thrown together by circumstance. The most successful of the nations of the world are those who do not fall into the lure of secession, but who through thick and thin forge unity in diversity,” he said.

Osinbajo, subscribing to this civilised tenets of democratic form of government, weaved through the thorny issue of self-actualisation, but once he reverted to his nominal role as vice president, the cart soon turned and a crackdown was ordered on the unarmed and defenceless members of IPOB, codenamed Operation Python Dance. Many lost their lives in the process.

But the vice president is not all out for the show. He brings his intellectual rigour into governance. Last week, the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, though started late due to other state assignments he anchored in the absence of the president, went on late into the night on Thursday. That was not his first time; last year when he had cause to take charge of FEC meeting, the ministers were forced to deliberate for seven long hours.

His forward thinking approach to governance has been the soothing balm in moments of crisis. Once on a tour of duty in Rivers State in 2017, Osinbajo declared that the federal government would work with illegal refineries and help convert them to modular refineries.

His approach to the Niger Delta challenge is an approach of intelligence and diplomacy, which has achieved more in the restive region than the president’s ‘command and obey’ tactics. The man approached the region with compassion and understanding, not with threats and bluster.

He physically visited and toured the region, not to canvass for votes, but actually to get a firsthand on-the-spot assessment of the issues befuddling the Niger Delta. What was the result of his avowed civility, oil production continued to rise and militancy waned.

He is an efficient technocrat in politics. Little wonder he is regarded across combustible and corrosive party lines as Nigeria’s most effective No. 2 citizen ever. He gets the work done. He is down to earth. His brainpower and people management skill more than compensate for what he lacks in a towering physique.

Where many are announced by raw physical presence only, Osinbajo only needs to speak to announce his presence: very articulate, never caught unprepared in situations needing empirical validation; always thinking on his feet and hard as granite under the harmless exterior. And when situations demand it, he is never short on quotable riposte like his anecdote of the looted empty shop and needless security over it during his sparring session with Mr. Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the vice presidential debate.

Again, Osinbajo does not strike one as an individual who has been changed by the power of his office. He is still the same good old ‘Jebby’ that his friends called him in the formative years. He appears more comfortable with being called ‘Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’ than being tagged with the awe-inducing ‘His Excellency’ label that tends to create a distance between the leader and the led.

Nigerians won’t forget in a hurry other few incidences where the vice president has shone brightly standing the middle ground between the government and the governed. In February 2017, there had been a mass movement of Nigerians mobilized for a nationwide anti-government protest tagged #IStandWithNigeria.

The protest was championed by music star, Tu Face Idibia, but he later succumbed to threats by the police not to lead Nigerians out on the protest. The rally lost a bit of momentum when the Afro-pop singer pulled out, citing security concerns, but his call to action had received widespread popular support and several civil society organisations keyed into it.

Yet at such difficult moment when responsibility fell on his shoulder to keep the country together in the midst of economic crisis skyrocketing prices of food items, then acting president, Osinbajo, received the protesters in Abuja and said: “We hear you loud and clear, those who are on the streets protesting the economic situation across the country and even those who are not, but feel the pain of economic hardship, we hear you loud and clear. You deserve a decent life and we are working night and day to make life easier.”

That statement, which was also posted on his social media handles, poured cold water on the fire the mass movement was generating.

It was a masterstroke that even disarmed a regular critic of the Buhari presidency, Reno Omokri. He had said then: “The man speaks to Nigerians as a leader should. He does not talk at us like the president. He talks to us. I may have issues with what he says sometimes but I am still impressed by his conduct and courteousness in office. Even if you do not like him, you must respect Vice President Osinbajo.”

 

Recurring civility of Buhari’s Star Boy, Osinbajo wins more converts

 

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Change or Chains

Angst as Nigerians feel pains of increasing hard times
By Tope Templer Olaiya
These are not the best of times in Nigeria. Long before July 21, 2016, when the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, officially confirmed that the country was ‘technically in recession,’ it had been an arduous battle for survival for citizens, organizations and governments at all tiers.

The first half of the year was rough.

In spite of government’s assurances, Nigerians weathered the storm, bracing the challenge of petroleum scarcity, epileptic power supply amid increase in electricity tariff, removal of subsidy on petrol, hike in cost of food, goods and services, unprecedented scarcity of tomatoes, skyrocketing exchange rate of the naira to a dollar, backlog of unpaid salaries and mass retrenchment of workers.

For this man, RECESSION is not just a word

For this man, RECESSION is not just a word

Government kept repeating that the tide would turn once the 2016 budget was passed and the second half of the year would be better for the country and its citizens.

President Muhammadu Buhari eventually signed the budget on May 6, raising the hopes of turnaround with the injection of government funds across critical sectors of the economy.

With four months left in the year, it’s a stark reality of a depressed economy staring Nigerians in the face as strange things are reported daily.

Organized and petty crimes have been on the increase, unsecured pots of soup have become endangered species, sale of human blood and organs for economic reasons is rife, and frustrations have given rise to rampant cases of domestic violence, child abuse and suicide.

The hunger is so widespread that poultry farmers confess to skipping meals for their birds as the cost of feed has risen by 100 per cent.

Signs of the time: A boy eating crumbs from a pot.

Signs of the time: A boy eating crumbs from a pot.

Even in the president’s home state of Katsina recently, there was a massive scramble for unwholesome grain when the truck conveying bags of the suspected poisonous grains for destruction broke down in a village.

When persuasion failed, authorities had to engage the help of task force to retrieve some of the poisoned grains in a bid to avoid devastating consequences.

The new economic reality is affecting the lifestyle of Nigerians.

Today, an exchange of pleasantries is incomplete without the word ‘Change’ in reference to the evocative slogan that brought the present administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power.

The standard reply to any untoward situation in the country is ‘Chanji’, the street version of APC’s motto – change.

President Buhari takes a peep at the capital city from Aso Villa

President Buhari takes a peep at the capital city from Aso Villa

A public affairs commentator based in Kano State, Aminu Muhammad Ofs, last week recounted his experience of the times, which has gone viral on social media.

He said: “I was sitting with a guy who sells tea when an elderly man came and said ‘Give me ‘Buhari’s mixture’. Without saying anything more, the man was given some tea and small bread for a sum of N40.
I was baffled, so I asked the seller what the man meant by ‘Buhari’s mixture’. He explained that it means tea without milk plus a small loaf of bread.

“Again the next day, I stopped by a small kiosk to get a battery for my wireless computer mouse. While I was leaving, a guy came who said: ‘Give me Buhari and Osinbajo. I waited to see what he meant and the seller handed him garri and groundnut.

“I inquired from the seller, who explained that garri is the street term for President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is groundnut, while Senate President Bukola Saraki is sugar, slang for the staple foods the poor can afford.”

A drummer bows his head in agony after low patronage.

A drummer bows his head in agony after low patronage.

Before now, Lagos State was often referred to the city that never sleeps, because it is known for its hustle and bustle from dawn to dusk.

The wind of recession has blown all that away.

The bustling nightlife is disappearing in the Centre of Excellence, as the city practically shuts down and becomes a ghost town once it is 10p.m., even on weekends.

Due to the harsh economic conditions in the country, Nigerians have developed some clever methods of dealing with the tough circumstances.

Policemen take to lotto and gambling to make ends meet

Policemen take to lotto and gambling to make ends meet

According to a public opinion survey by NOIPolls, released on August 10, 2016, 97 per cent of the respondents said the recent economic realities have had a negative effect on the wellbeing of the average Nigerian.

Some survival methods discovered by the polls include cutting down on household expenses and luxury items, resorting to prayers and hoping for a miracle, engaging in subsistence farming, adjusting feeding patterns in place of the regular three-square meals.

A businessman, Emeka Obinna told The Guardian that he has had to adjust the feeding patterns of his family.
“I have a family of six, with several other dependents. That’s the only way we are managing to survive. No more three-square meals. It is either breakfast and dinner, or lunch and dinner. So, it is the 1-0-1, 1-1-0 or 0-1-1 formula I am operating now with the little resources at my disposal,” he said.

 

Angst as Nigerians feel pains of increasing hard times

The Emerging Colour Of Lagos Politics

By Tope Templer Olaiya

It is 40 days to the dawn of a new era in Lagos. On May 29, the Governor-elect, Akinwunmi Ambode, will be sworn into office as the next Lagos ‘Driver’ to pilot the affairs of the nation’s commercial nerve centre till 2019.
For the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), which has held the reins of power since the fourth Republic in 1999, things may never be the same again in the next dispensation beginning from next month. It was a long-drawn and hard-fought battle for the party since the day its top hierarchy projected Ambode to be the next occupant of Lagos House in Alausa.
From the thorny issue of preparing the grounds for the emergence of a Christian governor to satisfying agitators from the Lagos East Senatorial district, who were yet to be represented at the Lagos ‘Oval Office’ and finally managing the combustible reactions of losers, who had desperately eyed to be on the party’s ticket, it was not a 100-metres dash race.
If the APC thought they were nearing the finish line when against all odds, they shrugged off all internal schisms to sell Ambode’s candidacy to Lagosians, they sooner than expected woke up to the reality that there were many rivers to cross, with their main challenger, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), digging deep to present a formidable match in Jimi Kolawole Agbaje.

LAGOS HOUSE: Front view of the Governor's Office, Alausa

LAGOS HOUSE: Front view of the Governor’s Office, Alausa

Bola Tinubu’s eight-year administration laid the groundwork of modern Lagos as has been rightly termed ‘The Navigator.’ Governor Fashola came on board as ‘The Actualizer’ to implement the development and policy thrust of his predecessor before Ambode comes on stream as ‘The Consolidator.’
Though this was the first time the opposition PDP went into the election without much rifts, the party was for the fifth time unlucky. Many political observers, including leaders of leading political parties in the state have admitted that last week’s election was the fiercest in the history of governorship elections in the state since the return of democracy in 1999.
The campaigns leading to the elections were very tense and fear of violence gripped residents. This was further heightened a week to the elections when the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, threw away the garbs of decency in a hate speech to canvass support for his anointed candidate. He told some non-indegene visitors to his place to vote Ambode or be damned.
He had infamously threatened the Igbo and non-indigenes, who were showing much love for the PDP, to drown them in the lagoon if they fail to vote for Ambode, whom he has chosen.

Ambode (middle) discussing with close associates

Ambode (middle) discussing with close associates

The governor on Wednesday restated the obvious when he described the 2015 election campaigns as the most difficult he has ever participated in. Fashola, in his confession, said never has any political contest divided over 120,000 Lagos civil service than the 2015 general elections did.
The governor, who, however, thanked the workers for giving APC the edge, said it was time to close ranks and give the in-coming administration massive support. “I have been involved in four elections till date. In 2003, I was the Chief of Staff to Governor Bola Tinubu, 2007 and 2011 as candidate while 2015 as governor. But not in any of those elections have I seen a campaign that tried to divide our public service.
Last Monday, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) drew the curtains on the April 11 governorship and House of Assembly elections in Lagos, it was a subdued celebration that greeted the announcement of Ambode as the winner of the election, after polling 811,994 votes to defeat Agbaje who scored 659,788.
This has been the closest and tightest race so far between the two parties. And for the ruling party, it is an election result that is too close for comfort. They cannot sleep easy anymore from now till 2019. In 2003, the late Funsho Williams polled 700,000 votes as against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s 900,000 votes to secure his second term in office.
At the 2007 poll, outgoing governor, Babatunde Fashola, who scored over 800,000 votes, hedged out Musiliu Obanikoro, who was able to secure about 300,000. In 2011, Fashola dusted the PDP’s Ade Dosunmu with over a million votes polling 1,509,113 to 300,450.

From Right: Lagos APC Chairman, Henry Ajomale, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Pa Odunsi

From Right: Lagos APC Chairman, Henry Ajomale, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Pa Odunsi

For the first time since 1999, the ruling party will have to carry on its business of marrying politics and governance, while a keen opposition breathes down their neck. Out of the 40 House of Assembly seats, the PDP has claimed eight. When the Eighth Session of Assembly resumes on May 29, 2015, about half of the faces will be newcomers and some of them members of the opposition PDP.
The eight PDP lawmakers will change the complexion of the House that has in the last eight years been a one-party chamber. Besides the eight, 11 newcomers on the platform of the APC will also join 21 returnees for the coming Assembly that has already been touted to be more competitive and feisty along party line.
Composition of principal officers will be the first acid test. With the current Speaker of the House, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and Deputy Leader, Lola Akande voluntarily quitting the business of law making; Majority Leader, Dr. Ajibayo Adeyeye and Chief Whip, Dr. Rasak Balogun losing at the APC primaries; and the last principal officer standing, Deputy Speaker, Taiwo Kolawole, crashing at the polls last Saturday, the Assembly will be walking the tight rope of leadership battle.

Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and Jimi Agbaje

Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and Jimi Agbaje

Roll call of the PDP-lawmakers has Fatai Olatunji Oluwa, representing Ajeromi-Ifelodun I Constituency. Oluwa defeated the sitting Deputy Speaker and the longest serving member of the House, Taiwo Kolawole, who has represented the Ajegunle axis of the state in the last 16 years. In Ajeromi-Ifelodun II Constituency, Dayo Famakinwa of the PDP defeated the sitting APC lawmaker, AbdoulBaq Ladi Balogun.
For Surulere II Constituency, Mosunmola Sangodara-Rotimi of PDP won with 33,583 votes against 32,767 pooled by Abiodun Awobotu of the APC. Dipo Olorunrinu and Hakeem Bello, both of the PDP also clinched the tickets for Amuwo Odofin Constituencies I and II seats. Olorunrinu ousted incumbent Sultan Adeniji-Adele of the APC, while Bello also clinched the Amuwo Odofin II seat from sitting Ramota Akinola-Hassan of the APC.
In Oshodi/Isolo Constituency II, the Ndigbos in Ajao Estate and Ejigbo axis ensured that the PDP candidate, Emeka Idimogu, won with 27,423 votes after defeating Olayinka Ajomale, son of the Lagos APC Chairman, Henry Ajomale, at the polls. A PDP candidate also clinched one the constituencies in Ojo area of the state.
If the story of the Lagos 2015 elections will be told in years to come, one of the highlights would be the remarkable success of the non-indigenes in Lagos to make a loud statement about their future stake in the Centre of Excellence.
In one fell swoop, three non-Yoruba including two Ndigbos from the opposition PDP won elections into the House of Representatives from Lagos State. They are Chief Oghene Egboh, Mrs. Rita Orji and Mr. Tony Nwoolu. Egboh won the House of Representatives seat for Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, while Orji won in Ajeromi-Ifelodun LGA and Nwoolu won the Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency.

Governor-elect Akinwunmi Ambode and the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akinolu when the former paid the latter a courtesy visit after the election

Governor-elect Akinwunmi Ambode and the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akinolu when the former paid the latter a courtesy visit after the election

In the governorship election, PDP won in five out of 20 local government areas. They are Ojo, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Surulere, Amuwo-Odofin and Oshodi/Isolo. These places are suspected to be stronghold of non-indigenes in the state.
Remarkably, all three defeated incumbent holders of seats and they all won in areas heavily populated by the Igbo in Lagos State. The victory of the Igbo candidates in Lagos, according to some observers, is not a surprise as Igbo candidates have in the past won national elections in the state.
They cited the era of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, when Igbo residing in Lagos won elections into the regional and central legislatures.
The Igbo may have fled Lagos in 1966-67 during the civil war but 2015 has proved the year of their resurgence in Lagos politics. Igbo, by sheer industry, has dominated street commerce in Lagos in the past few decades and as their businesses flourished, their numbers grew. The Igbos’ preferred trade apprenticeship system meant that as Igbo entrepreneurs grew they brought in family and friends from the east as apprentices.

Welcome to Lagos

Welcome to Lagos

Preoccupied with commerce, wary of politics, mindful of the war and their residency status, Igbos helped build and develop Lagos but played only at the fringes politically. The ambitious trader aspired to be the president of the market union or the Eze Ndigbo Lagos for vainglory, but that stereotype has been consigned to the dustbin of history, as a new Lagos emerges, where everyone has a stake.
Gradually, a score that the Nigerian Constitution has been unable to settle as it relates to citizenship and indigeneship is being addressed in light of modern day realities – a system in which citizens can live all their lives in a city, raise children, pay taxes, have constitutionally protected rights to vote and be voted for but are somehow not expected to occupy elective positions.
However, in the light of the 2015 experience, it remains to be seen if in the nearest future, politically ambitious “settlers” would not be looked at as ungrateful usurpers.

Deepening Nigeria’s democracy with presidential debate

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nigerians across the world will on Sunday, March 22, be treated to an interesting spectacle void of hot air that has pervaded the 2015 electioneering campaigns. It is the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) presidential debate.
With bated breath, Nigerians look forward to seeing the best and worst from not just the leading presidential candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, but a roll call of all 18 presidential candidates standing for March 28 election.
Followers of Lagos Governorship Debate already have their appetites whet to the stimulating engagement expected to herald the live debate.
The expectation is high because the entire country is the panel and though actual measurement of impact may be tentative, especially in a developing country where there are challenges of illiteracy and access to mass media, the performance of the candidates ordinarily reshapes the conversation and can significantly influence voters’ choice.
The essence of a presidential debate would be fully appreciated in a society where the people see it as an opportunity to evaluate the policies, preparedness and demeanour of those who seek to govern them. It must, however, also be warned that a great leader may not be the best of debaters.

Buhari and Jonathan

Buhari and Jonathan

Chairman of the NEDG and Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Mr. Sola Omole, during his sensitization visit to The Guardian newspaper, said the debate, which will be held in three sessions, 12noon-2pm, 3pm-5pm, and 7pm-9pm, will be broadcasted to over 300 million audiences across the world.
Omole, during his visit to The Guardian, said the mission of the NEDG is to ensure the debate process becomes a strong component of Nigeria’s democracy. “All over the world, this is what happens before any presidential elections. We want to make the debate culture a part of our growing democracy and we have initiated discussions with the National Assembly to propose a bill in order to legalize presidential debates ahead of general elections.”
The culture of televised presidential debates is one of the many cultures that were copied from the United States of America (USA).
The first ever debate in the USA between rivals for elective political office can be traced to 1857 when Abraham Lincoln insisted on having a debate with Stephen Douglas on “the virtue of the republic and the evil of slavery”. Abraham Lincoln lost that election but a history in political debating had already been made.
Lincoln would later win the presidency in 1860, in an election, which featured no political debates. In fact, there were no debates between presidential candidates until 1952.
The culture of televised debate would later become formalised with the televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. The handsome and more charismatic John Kennedy won the televised debate while an earlier radio debate had been won by Nixon. Nixon was said to have appeared rather “shifty” on television and that contributed to his loss of the election.
If televised debates could prove the downfall of a candidate who otherwise could have won in an election, why bother to participate in it? President Lyndon Johnson refused to debate with Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964; he was leading in the polls, and public speaking was not his forte.
Just as John McCain was about to do in one of his 2008 presidential debates when he said he was attending to legislative matters in Congress, President Jimmy Carter in 1980, refused to participate in the first presidential debate because it included independent candidate John Anderson.

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

He, however, attended subsequent debates and that memorable question by Ronald Reagan did him great damage: “Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?” The state of the economy and the American hostage crisis in Iran suggested it was the right question that would nail the coffin of the Carter presidency.
On the home turf, the highpoint of Nigeria’s experience with presidential debates and the last time Nigerians enjoyed something really close to an exciting debate was during the 1993 presidential elections. It was a memorable encounter between the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
At the end of that debate, it was clear who among the duo was better experienced, much more intellectually capable and more endearing to the electorate in terms of readiness for the job being applied for. That is what a debate, under these circumstances, is: a job interview.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a remake of the 1993 feeling. Voters would be denied this opportunity for comparison, assessment, interaction, excitement and drama that comes with a debate of any sort, as Buhari announced on Tuesday that he be shunning the debate on Sunday.
It would be recalled that the APC had said it will not participate in the previously scheduled public debates on national television and radio stations organised by the NEDG, long before the elections were postponed from February 14 to March 28. The party had alleged that NEDG, which is co-ordinating the debate, was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, according to Malam Garba Shehu, the Director Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Organisation.
Clarifying his stance, Buhari, in an interactive session with journalists, said there was nothing worth debating with the president, which has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. According to him, the mere fact that Jonathan had to rely on Chad, Niger and Cameroun to tackle the menace of Boko Haram speaks volume of the failure of the PDP-led administration.

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Reacting, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, claimed the APC took the decision to boycott the debate simply to shield from Nigerians and the international audience its candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari’s intellectual laziness and inability to constructively engage contemporary national issues in a live television and radio debate.
It is not only political gladiators that are bothered about the seeming intransigence of Buhari to debate with Jonathan as the two leading contenders for the 2015 presidential elections. Citizens like Niran Akintunde are also showing similar concern and what it portends to the electioneering process.
In his Facebook post recently, Akintunde said: “Yes, I am supporting Buhari but ask me what does my candidate think about local government autonomy or creation of state police, I would not know. This is really a shame, I must admit. But beyond rhetoric, both Buhari and Jonathan have really not helped Nigerians to be able to decide wisely.
“I expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make political debates compulsory as part of the electioneering process in the interest of the electorates because at the moment, mediocrity is found in both the Jonathan and Buhari camps.”

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Many political watchers have complained to a great length the seeming absence of issues in the campaigns of the two leading political parties. Sadly, in the few days before March 28, the campaigns might never rise beyond the present disenchanted state, which is focusing greatly on personalities rather than issues. They argued that only a presidential debate would change the narrative.
Reacting to concerns by the APC, who had earlier pulled out of the debate earlier scheduled for February 8 over the integrity of the process, Sola Omole said efforts have been made by organisers to make the debate credible.
“The debate platform, which is designed by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) comprises of all radio and television stations across the country. With our over 300 membership, it is going to be the largest broadcasting session ever.
“Over 4,000 questions were sent in from across the world and it has been polled and vetted by our technical team to avoid repetition. The questions have been kept secret from our panelists, which would only be delivered to them minutes before the debate begins. At the same time, it is the same questions that will be asked from all the contestants, while the debate is going to be aired live so there would be no filtering.”
The chairman of the debate group added that the contact committee of NESG has been in touch with the APC leaders to carry them along and explain the whole process of the debate. He, however, noted that with or without the APC participating in the debate, it would still go on as scheduled on Sunday.

Ascendancy of social media in build up to elections

• Remembering Orevba, the hero of 2011
By Tope Templer Olaiya
Few weeks before the general elections, the virtual social media space has been saturated by canvassers and cyber-warlords who have taken over the unregulated mass communication platform to run a vigorous, no-holds barred campaign either for change, as represented by General Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) or continuity as proclaimed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Long before these blood-dripping and nail-biting crusades from both divides interrupted sanity and polluted the social media space, President Goodluck Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had in 2012 dismissed the pool of online critics as collective children of anger.

War 4In defense of his principal in a piece titled ‘The Jonathan they don’t know,’ Abati, feeling rattled from unending social media jibes hurled at Jonathan had branded the new media adherents as “the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, and the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan.”

But can these ‘children of anger’ be blamed for exploiting the channel the president himself elevated to state art when in 2010, he made a public ceremony of his signing up on Facebook and went ahead to publish a 360-page book titled ‘Goodluck Jonathan: My friends and I,’ which documented his conversations with Nigerians via the social media platform.

Explaining why he decided to open a Facebook account, considering the fact that a president should be too preoccupied with state matters to have less time for inanities like chatting, he responded that he was motivated by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and his novel use of social media network during his presidential campaign to stimulate new thinking on participatory governance across the world.

War 1Facebook is one tool of social media that allows for interaction between government and the governed. Opinions on issues, policy and governance can be expressed in an unedited, uncensored way by the citizens. While you used to wonder if your letter would ever get to the president, such doubts are eliminated through Facebook. The multiplicity of opinion, variety of thoughts and the engaging, argumentative nature of the posts are very essential to breeding understanding and building consensus in the democratic process. I love Facebook also because it allows me to get some information that may normally not get to me, having been ‘edited’ along the line,” he had said.

From the thousands of feedback and raw comments the president got from Nigerians, the one which stood out for particular mention after the president got elected in 2011 was the post from one Babajide Orevba, whose father, Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba, slumped and died jubilating Jonathan’s poll victory. It took the entire country by surprise, when for the first time in the history of inaugural speeches, the president on May 29, 2011, at the Eagles Square, Abuja, acknowledged the death of a 65-year-old Orevba, who collapsed out of enthusiasm and joy immediately he was declared winner, and died three days after.

Jonathan, in his address to the nation, had said: “Only a couple of days ago, I received an entry on my Facebook page. It was sent by Mr. Babajide Izegaegbe Orevba. He wrote to inform me that I had lost a great fan. That fan was his father, Mr. Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba. The deceased, the son told me, was no politician, but had campaigned enthusiastically for my ticket. Tragically, overwhelmed by the joy of our victory, he collapsed, and passed on three days later. I pray God Almighty to grant his soul eternal rest.”

War 3

Late Orevba

Orevba’s commitment and love to President Jonathan started shortly after he became the acting president. A native of Sabongida Ora, Owan Local Government of Edo State, Orevba fell in love with Jonathan’s style of government and his determination to put an end to the epileptic power situation. He was said to be particularly impressed by the patience and maturity demonstrated by Jonathan when the controversies started over whether as Vice President, he should be allowed to act in the absence of his former boss, late Shehu Yar’Adua, who was hospitalized for over 90 days in Saudi Arabia.

Today, Babajide, a graduate of Psychology from the University of Ado Ekiti, who now lives and works in Abuja, has taken up the gauntlet from where his father left it to unabashedly campaign for the president’s reelection, using the same medium that brought him access to the president in 2011- Facebook.

Narrating how his father died, Babajide had in 2011 told The Guardian that, “three days to the presidential election in 2011, my father reminded us to ensure we all voted for Jonathan. We all assured him that we won’t do otherwise. On the day of election, before I went to cast my vote in my ward, which was a few distance away from his, I assisted him to check his name. On Sunday, he sat glued to the television monitoring as the results trickled in from the states.

War 5

Babajide Orevba

“By Monday evening, when it was obvious that the president was in a clear lead, my father’s spirit became high. At that point, if you demand anything from him, he would gladly do it. He always told us he never supported Jonathan because of getting an appointment in return. ‘Of course, I do not know him neither does he know me, but I believe in him.’”

“On Monday night, the situation changed. The family members were all in the living room when chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, declared Jonathan as the winner of the election. Out of enthusiasm, my father shouted but he collapsed. I quickly grabbed him but he could not hold himself so we rushed him to the General Hospital, Ikeja. At that time it was already Tuesday. He remained on admission till Saturday and was not able to talk before he finally gave up.”

Explaining how he posted the death of his father on Facebook, Jide said, “I have been a fan of the president on Facebook six months before the election and anytime I have any issue to comment on, I sent it to him through Facebook. So, when my father died, I published it on the president’s Facebook page just as I used to do without attaching any importance to it, but to my surprise, when he mentioned my father’s name in his inaugural speech, friends and neighbours started calling me to say the president just mentioned your name.”

“Until his death, his belief was that Jonathan’s presidency will fix the power problem in the country. I hope my father’s sacrifice would not go in vain. If it is only the power problem Jonathan can fix in the next four years, then he would have succeeded in making Orevba happy inside his grave.”

War 2For failing to make Pa Orevba happy in the grave, and many other promises not yet fully met, the president in the run-up to his reelection has courted the wrath of many ‘all-knowing crowd of Facebook and Twitter addicts.’ Surprisingly, the bandwagon effect of the social media population is queuing behind Buhari, who has now been renamed FeBuhari, as a riposte of the February 14 presidential election day, which across the world is lovers’ day and St. Valentine’s Day.

It must, however, be noted that the FeBuhari brigade are not having a field day on the turf. As the epic day draws near and Nigerians count down in trepidation, it is a harsh tag battle between the #IHaveDecided, #ThingsMustChange Buhari camp and the #OurGEJ, #ForwardNigeria, #NoGoingBack group rooting for President Jonathan.

With his more than 1,700,000 Facebook followers, Jonathan is the first Nigerian President to use social media to communicate with the citizens. Apart from using the online platform to tell Nigerians some of his achievements while in office, the President has been using the medium to seek the electorate’s support.

Every Facebook post of the president attracts thousands of likes and comments from his supporters and the opposition.

His party, the PDP, has just a little above 60,000 followers on Facebook and about 28,000 Twitter followers.

War 6Likewise, a few days after Buhari was elected to run against Jonathan in next month’s presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, he too took the campaign for voters’ support to the social media. In just few days after signing up on Twitter, the former head of state has gained over 70,000 followers and also commands about 100,000 followers on Facebook.

His party, the APC, with over 75,000 Twitter followers, has tweeted more than 8,000 times – seeking for the electorate’s votes, while some of them are also geared towards “attacking” the PDP. The APC seems to be using the service more frequently than the PDP, which has less than 2,000 tweets.

Meanwhile, Buhari has said he would create time to read through the comments and observations of his fans via his Facebook page as he contests against President Jonathan. “I take note of every comment, suggestion and feedback you give me. Please keep them coming. Thank you for your support,” he wrote on Facebook.

With the hue and cry over difficulty getting the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), it remains to be seen how this online battle will translate to victory for both feuding sides on Saturday, February 14. Whoever carries the day will be hugely indebted to the passion of the teeming mass of both virtual and physical combatants who sacrificed sweat and blood to make it happen. Who will be the next hero after Orevba?

 

Ikorodu intensifies lobby to produce Fashola’s successor

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
The prelude to the 2015 governorship contest in Lagos State is getting interesting by the day, especially in the rank of All Progressives Congress (APC). Apart from the party’s decision to zone the governorship position to Lagos East senatorial district and its preference for a Christian candidate, different issues have been shaping the contest in the state with less than eight months to the 2015 elections.
Of the major divisions in Lagos East, the most dominant area canvassing for grassroots mobilization to produce Governor Fashola’s successor is the Ikorodu Division.
Already, a number of community-based pressure groups from the division have started networking with the APC and other political parties to pick a credible candidate for the position, which they said, had not been occupied by an Ikorodu indigene before.
The major groups that are championing Ikorodu’s agitation for governorship candidacy in 2015 include Ikorodu Division Solution Alliance (IDSA), Eminent Persons of Ikorodu Division (EPID) as well as Ikorodu Division Resource Group (IDGR) among others. Each of the groups has been working at different levels to realise the division’s dream to produce the next governor of Lagos.

Governor Babatunde Fashola

Governor Babatunde Fashola

This agitation came to the fore recently when the IDSA staged a rally from one end of Ikorodu to the other. The rationale behind Ikorodu’s quest for governorship slot had to do with what an IDSA leader, Hon. Said Ibikunle, described as the outright exclusion of the division from the state’s politics of governorship candidacy, particularly since the transition to civil rule in 1999.

The group’s political calculation, actually, goes beyond the 1999 democratic transition. The state has five administrative divisions, which are Badagry, Epe, Ikeja, Ikorodu and Lagos Island. Of the five divisions, the group said only Ikorodu and Badagry have been technically excluded from contesting the governorship office from the Second Republic to the Fourth Republic.

Ibikunle argued that the Ikeja Division had produced the state’s civilian governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande between 1979 and 1983 as well as its third civilian governor, Sen. Bola Tinubu between 1999 and 2007. Also, it cited the case of Epe Division, which it said, produced the state’s second civilian governor, Sir Michael Otedola, who ruled between January 1992 and November 1993. Likewise, the group pointed out the emergence of Fashola in 2007, who it said, came from the Lagos Island Division.

Ganiyu Solomon

Ganiyu Solomon

Jimi Agbaje

Jimi Agbaje

For the 2015 contest, though the state’s ruling party has already zoned the governorship slot to the Lagos East senatorial district, the Ikorodu groups are agitating against perceived scheming to favour candidates from Epe division, which had once produced Sir Otedola.

The group’s chairman, Mr. Japheth Odesanya, said: “By this argument, we are all Lagos residents deserving equal access to all offices, the governorship position should be zoned to Lagos East. The Ikorodu Division, being the most populous and the standing division in Lagos, comprising Imota, Isiu, Ijede, Igbogbo, Bayeku, Egbin, Owutu and Ishawo among others should produce the next governor.

“The agitation of the people of Ikorodu Division is legitimate, timely and rooted in due principle of equity, justice and fair play. This is a clarion call to all well-meaning people of Ikorodu Division and lovers of democracy and justice to stand up and be counted globally.”

Already, the quest has gained the support of chieftains, elders and traditional rulers from all communities that make up the Ikorodu Division. The monarchs from the division have subtly dissociated themselves from the standpoint of the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu that all the traditional rulers in the state are in support of the ambition of former Lagos State Accountant-General, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode.

Rather than supporting Ambode’s governorship ambition, the Ikorodu monarchs are now looking inwards for a credible indigene from the division to contest the 2015 race irrespective of their political affiliations. This is following the Odofin of Ikorodu, Chief Kabiru Sotobi’s recent declaration calling on all eminent indigenes of Ikorodu to join the governorship contest.

Sotobi made it known that the traditional rulers and elders would support the candidacy of any Ikorodu indigene irrespective of his political affiliations. “We want the Ikorodu Division to produce the next governor. The eminent personalities in Ikorodu are not doing this alone. If the PDP decides to have its candidate from Ikorodu, we will support him. If the APC decides to have candidate from Ikorodu, we will support him. If it is Labour Party, we will support him.”

Adesegun Ogunlewe

Adesegun Ogunlewe

Abike Dabiri

Abike Dabiri

As a result, some aspirants from the divisions have started indicating interest in the race. They include Senator Ganiyu Solomon; former Lagos State Head of Service, Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe; Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA) candidate in the 2007 governorship election, Mr. Jimi Agbaje; and Abike Dabiri-Erewa, among others.

Another pressure group, Ikorodu Division Resource Group (IDGR) lamented that Ikorodu had suffered outright neglect and marginalization under different political dispensation since the country’s return to civil rule in May 29, 1999.

In a communiqué issued by the group and signed by its chairman, Chief Babatunde Benson (SAN) and Secretariat Coordinator, Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe, it resolved that the group should request for letters of intent from persons interested in the 2015 governorship race from all political parties.

The communiqué explained that the effort “is directed towards all registered political parties in the state to ensure that an indigene of Ikorodu Division is presented as a gubernatorial candidate for 2015 governorship election by his political party.”

Disturbed by what the group described as the politics of exclusion, the communiqué emphasised the groups’ observation that for too long, Ikorodu Division has been at the tail end of political benefits of dividend of democracy.

 

The Strange Dream of a Muslim/ Muslim Ticket (Part 1)

By Femi Fani-Kayode

”The last notable Christian-Christian ticket was Awolowo-Umeadi in 1979 and the last notable Muslim-Muslim ticket was Abiola-Kingibe in 1993. You can figure out the rest. But let the optimists know that reality always trounces wishful hope in political contests. Chief Femi Fani-Kayode’s advice that we get real must be directed where it truly belongs – to the leadership of the APC’’- CHIEF KAYODE SAMUEL, FACEBOOK, 29th MARCH, 2014.

I thank my brother Kayode Samuel for his contribution and I shall take his advice and direct my counsel to the leadership of the APC and to the Nigerian people in general. That is the purpose of this essay and so important is the subject matter under consideration that I would urge as many as possible to find the time to read it from the beginning to the end.

 

Chief Akin Osuntokun, the Bashorun of Oke-Mesi, the former Special Advisor to President Olusegun Obasanjo and the highly celebrated columnist for Thisday Newspaper is one of my closest brothers and friends even though we tend to disagree on virtually everything. He is a very complex and interesting person who has a penchant for speaking the bitter truth. He is blunt to a fault and brutally frank and he manages to give as good as he gets in any argument.

 

I respect him immensely for a number of reasons, one of them being his unquestionable loyalty to his friends regardless of their circumstances, political views and party affiliation. Simply put, he is capable of maintaining a good relationship even with those that he disagrees with politically. I say this because most of Akin’s friends like Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Alhaji Kashim Imam, Mallam Uba Sani, yours truly and a host of others have left the PDP yet we still meet virtually every other night as a group and slug out politics and current issues.

Even though Akin is invariably the lone voice in a hostile sea at such meetings, he always holds his own and stands his ground in a most admirable and spirited manner even when things get rather heated up. His loyalty to and support for President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration is second to none and I have often wondered how difficult things would have been for us if Akin and his likes were the ones speaking for this government.

ImageFani Kayode

He is an intellectual par excellence and one of the most under-utilized assets that the PDP has in their armoury. Yet I often marvel about how well he stomachs the attacks and intellectual ripostes that he suffers from those of us that are no longer in his political party but that have the rare privilege of still being in the inner circle of his friends.

That is what makes Akin special. That, together with the fact that more than any other person that I know, he can tell his friends the bitter truth about themselves and point out their mistakes. You can count on him for that. And the strangest and most uncanny thing is that nine times out of ten he has been proved right.

Today I shall take a cue from my brother Akin and tell a few bitter home truths to my own friends and political associates in the APC. Whether this will break or enhance our friendship and association remains to be seen. I hope that it does not have any negative consequences for our relationship but if it does I have absolutely no regrets. After all the greatest gift and virtue that a true friend and brother can offer is truth and wise counsel. That is what real friends are supposed to do even when that truth and counsel is unpleasant and painful to hear.

The subject of my counsel is the suggestion by some that our party the APC should consider fielding a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2015 Presidential election. Even though the party leadership itself has not expressed such an intention and even though the matter still remains in the realms of speculation, as someone recently pointed out, I can confirm to you that quite a number of people within the party are discussing it privately and are actually considering it.

As a matter of fact some are openly advocating and canvassing the idea. Whether we like to admit it or not this is the subject of heated discussions in many party circles today with some party leaders being for it whilst others are against it.

Consequently the party would do well to issue a statement on the matter and tell us whether they are in a position to rule out such a course of action or not. If they refuse to do so the speculations will simply continue and, like an insidious cancer, the matter will eat away at the very soul of the party and eventually squander its fortunes.

It is in order to avoid this and for that very reason that I deem it fit, wise and appropriate to make my views on the matter known to the world, regardless of what the consequences of doing so may be for me. The outcome of this exercise and the reaction to my counsel will determine whether I am indeed in the right political party or not.

Let me start by stating loudly and clearly that I have nothing against Muslims. As a matter of fact I am very proud of the fact that I have both Muslims and Christians in my family. So strong is the Muslim influence in my extended family from my mother’s side that I, together with all my siblings have at least one Muslim name. Mine is Abdul Latif, which I am told in Arabic means ”servant of the All Gentle”, and I am very proud of it.

 

This is a name which my friend and brother Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, in an attempt to crack a joke about me and my ”one eighth” Fulani bloodline, mischievously reduced to ”Boda Lati”  in one of his celebrated articles and I am still trying to find it in my heart to forgive him for that.

I also have many friends from both the south west and the north who are Muslims and who can testify to the fact that I have nothing against Islam. I am talking about people like my dear brother Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, our current Minister of State for Defence, who I not only grew up with in Lagos but who I also cut my political teeth with in 1990 when we both joined the defunct NRC and people like Governor Tanko Al Makura of Nassarawa state who formed and led the youth wing of the defunct NNC with me in 1989.

 

The reason that I have gone to great lengths to point out my strong links and family ties with the Islamic faith is simply to prove that I have nothing against Muslims and that the great faith of Islam is part and parcel of my proud and noble heritage.

Yet despite my deep respect for and affinity with Islam and in spite of my fondness for all those that have espoused that ancient and noble Abrahamic and monotheic faith, I would be the first to say that it would be most improper and politically inexpedient for anyone to suggest the idea that any political party in Nigeria today should present a Muslim/Muslim ticket in next year’s Presidential election.

I have said it privately in countless political meetings and I will say it publicly today. Please mark it- the biggest mistake that my party, the APC, can make is to field a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2015 Presidential election. If we do that we will not only offend the Christian community but we will also lose the election woefully. This is not 1993 and whether we like it or not we must accept the fact that religion plays a major role in our politics today. This is not the ideal but it is the reality that we have to accept and live with.

Our party must have both a Christian and a Muslim on the ticket if we want to be taken seriously in the Presidential election. I implore those that think otherwise to sit down and think this through properly. We must not present a Christian/Christian ticket as this would be insensitive to the feelings of Muslims and we must not present a Muslim/Muslim ticket as this would be insensitive to the feelings of Christians. I for one would NEVER support a ticket that presents two members of the same faith no matter what the consequences would be.

 

This country belongs to both Muslims and Christians- we are all one and we must ensure that we do not hurt the feelings or the sensitivities of one another either advertently or inadvertently. As they say ”the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Let us be mindful of our actions, deeds and words, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, and let us ensure that we do not confirm the terrible stereotyping that those that are against us are trying to label us with.

Unlike some who only joined the political fray a few years ago, I have been in politics in this country for a total of 24 long years and during that period of time I have learnt a thing or two. The first lesson that I have learnt and which must be appreciated is the ability to distinguish between an ideal and reality. It is laudable to pursue an ideal and we must do all that we possibly can to enthrone it but it is disastrous to ignore the realities on the ground no matter how unsavoury or distasteful that reality may be.

The ideal, which we all desire and which we all seek to enthrone, is to play the type of politics in our country which has no recourse to religion and where a man or woman’s faith is entirely their own affair. Yet the reality is that to ignore the religious sensitivities and differences of the Nigerian electorate is a manifestation of, at the very best, political naivety of the highest order and, at the very worst, dangerous, self-depreciating and self-destructive ignorance. Simply put, religion SHOULD NOT be a factor in our politics but in reality it IS a factor.

To those who say that the APC will produce a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate that have ‘’integrity, capacity and competence’ and that the religious faith of those two candidates does not matter, I have only the following to say. The ‘’integrity, capacity, competence’’ and all those other laudable qualities are virtues that can surely be found in adherents of both the Muslim and the Christian faith.

They are not the exclusive preserve of the adherents of one faith alone. You can find Muslims that have these qualities and you can find Christians that have them as well. It therefore makes perfect sense to present one of such people from each of the two major faiths as a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate respectively.

This is especially so given the fact that Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country which suffers from severe religious tensions and periodic sectarian violence and which has at least 80 million Christians and Muslims on both sides of the divide living side by side. We are already sitting on a keg of gunpowder and to ignore one side of the religious divide and treat them with contempt and disdain may be the trigger that causes that keg to explode.

Presenting a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the 2015 Presidential election ticket, no matter how cleverly rationalized, defended or justified in the pursuit of an ideal or in the name of ‘’political correctness’’, will be a terrible insult to the 80 million Christians that are part and parcel of this country and it would result in their voting, en masse, for another party. My candid advice to those that are thinking that way and that are moving in that direction is that they should perish the thought and that they should do so very quickly.

As far as I am aware the APC is not an affiliate of Al Qaeda and neither is it a Boko Haram party, a Janjaweed party or a Muslim Brotherhood Party. I have had cause to say so and to defend the intellectual integrity and what I consider to be the multi-religious and secular ethos and composition of the party on numerous occasions. And of course it is a pleasure, a duty and a privilege for me to do so simply because that is what I honestly believe and because I happen to be a secularist myself. Like millions of others from all over the world I believe that religion ought to have no place in the running of the affairs of any country.

However that does not mean that we ought to ignore the very delicate religious balance that we have in Nigeria or that we should play havoc with it. To do so would be disastrous for the fortunes of the party and for the future of our nation. As a matter of fact we would be opening the gates of hell and we would be courting catastrophe. Anyone that doubts that should consider the ugly events that are unfolding in the Central African Republic today or that took place in the Sudan before the country broke into two. We must never allow such things to happen in Nigeria by any act of commission or omission.

As far as I am aware the APC is a party for both Muslims and Christians. It is a vehicle for change and not one that seeks to give the impression that Christians don’t matter or that they are second class citizens. If I am wrong then those that claim to know better or that believe that they own the party should please tell me. If it is a party where faith and religion has no place, as some would have us believe, then they should please let us know. We have an image problem which we need to deal with.

Permit me to share just one example of the factors that have sustained that image problem. We have a leading member of the party from Borno State that has been consistently accused of being the sole founder and originator of Boko Haram.

In fairness to the individual concerned the allegations about his personal involvement in these ugly events remain unproven yet all the same they remain serious and grave and they cannot be ignored for much longer. He must provide direct answers to these serious allegations so that, if they are all false, we can make it our business and duty to defend him. Until then, being in a political party that harbours and attracts the sympathy and support of such a person puts some of us in a very awkward position.

If such things do not make some people uncomfortable they certainly make me very uncomfortable. This is especially so given the atrocities that Boko Haram has perpetrated against both Christians and Muslims in our country in the last three years. Whether we like it or not we must go out of our way to try to let the world know that we are not a party of Muslim fundamentalists and closet Islamists and if we choose not to bother to do so it simply means that we are arrogant and that we have lost touch with reality. (TO BE CONTINUED)