Politicians in Nigeria are always told to discuss issues during electioneering, but they often choose to do so in their own way, which raises the question of context.
When Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Presidential flagbearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) played the ethnic card for high stakes before the June 7, 2022 presidential convention of his party in Abuja, the ethnic import did not quite jell because it was a party affair (one among 18 political parties) meant for its delegates.
Then, some of the prominent social and political groups in the country, such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, PANDEF and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum (MBLF), pitched in. Arguing that power must shift to the South-East for equity, they endorsed Peter Obi, presidential candidate of Labour Party. They also argued that the South-East, among the three major ethnic groups in the country, namely Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo, was yet to ascend the presidency.
Then in late October, 2022, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, was reported to have said at an Arewa Consultative Forum event that the Hausa-Fulani should vote for him and not an Igbo or Yoruba candidate.
Atiku’s party and minders have since held that he was quoted out of context and that he said he was the best among the front-running presidential candidates with national links to serve the interests of the North. But the public view still prevails such that his media men are still facing the question at interviews.
However, as public reactions to that matter was yet to settle, Tinubu gave a new twist to the story when he sought and got the endorsement of some members of Afenifere during a visit to the group’s former leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, in Akure, Ondo State on Sunday, October 30, 2022.
Apart from the raging controversy over the leadership of the Yoruba social-political group, which Tinubu’s endorsement has generated, following Obi’s earlier endorsement by Afenifere’s Acting leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, alongside Ohanaeze, PANDEF and MDLF, the APC candidate’s backing, like others before him, has resuscitated the ogre of ethnicity and religion in the 2023 general election.
As for religion, recall that the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC has not only polarised it as many ‘Christian’ politicians within the party have kicked against it and either defected or vowed to work against it, besides the organisational protest posed by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Seyi Makinde, Governor of Oyo State put this emerging religion and ethnicity trend in bold relief on Saturday, October 29, 2022 during a private radio programme monitored by THEWILL in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital.
Asked by the anchor if he was not threatening his re-election bid by his alliance with PDP’s foe, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, he answered: “The North is preparing to vote for Atiku as president because he is their son, while they would vote for senatorial and House of Representative members on the platform of other parties.”
Then on the next day, a Sunday, his deputy, Bayo Lawal, represented him at the Akure, Ondo State, event where Pa Fasoranti endorsed Tinubu.
Lawal, at the event, spoke in his master’s voice. Oyo, he said, would support the Yoruba’s position on the presidency.
Reacting to the development, Pa Adebanjo, who insisted that he is the leader of Afenifere because Pa Fasoranti conferred that power on him in a letter still in his possession, told THEWILL on Friday that, “Nigeria and Nigerians should leave ethnicity out of electioneering and judge the candidates on the basis of their character and competence as well as equity. That is what we did by our endorsement of Peter Obi. We did it on the basis of ideology, but they are now dragging ethnicity into it. That is dangerous.”
THE AFENIFERE ANGLE
When Pa Adebanjo endorsed Obi alongside other groups, a few comments were heard. Tinubu’s endorsement, however, has let all hell loose. The ensuing controversy the backing is still generating in the southwest has a direct political implication for the 2023 polls in the southwest.
Many of those who witnessed the Akure endorsement are known supporters of the APC candidate, with links to power brokers and stakeholders in the South-West geo-political zone.
In the roll-call were representatives of the Southwest states, with Yoruba natives of Kogi and Kwara States duly represented. Governor Abiodun Oyebanji (Ekiti) was present and the governors of Ondo, Oyo sent their deputies, namely Orimisan Aiyedatiwa and Bayo Lawal, respectively. From Osun, Dr Charles Akinola, the Chief of Staff, represented Governor Gboyega Oyetola. Segun Adesegun, former deputy Governor of Ogun State, represented his former boss, Chief Olusegun Osoba, the former Governor and old Afenifere chieftain.
Others in attendance were Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu from Oyo; Lt General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade; Governor Cornelious Adebayo, ex- Governor of old Kwara State; Chief Bisi Akande, former governor Osun State and first National Chairman of APC; Chief Pius Akinyelure; retired Major-General Olu Bajowa; Oba Mafimisebi, the former Olugbo of Igbo, Ondo State; Chief Solomon Ayo Oladunni, former deputy managing director of Mobil Oil and Dr Kunle Olajide, former General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).
Also on the list were considered pillars of Afenifere: Kabiyesi Olu Falae, Bashorun Deinde Arogbofa, ex-Ogun state governor, Gbenga Daniel, Abagun Kole Omololu, Chief Demola Folarin. Others were Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Bayo Onanuga and Tunde Rahman, points men in the Tinubu campaign team.
Reacting to the perceived ethnic colouration of the event, General Secretary of the YCE, Dr Olajide, who was present at the occasion, said there was nothing markedly surprising about the gathering.
He told THEWILL, “There is no Nigerian who does not have an ethnic origin. You cannot wish that away. What we are preaching, anyway, is that we have to decide where we are going, even though our main thrust is for somebody with competence and productivity.”
According to him, the positions taken by either Pa Adebanjo or Pa Fasoranti were political. “That is politics playing out. Adebanjo is a leader, Pa Fasoranti is a leader. What we have said is that we are in support of Tinubu and the Yoruba should stand together, that is all. There is nothing wrong with that,” he said.
He thinks the same fate ticket that has polarised the governing party and raised eyebrows in the discerning public would fizzle out with time before the polls and ought not to draw the kind of attention in the public but for the media.
He said, rather dismissively, “I even think that it was courageous for Asiwaju Tinubu to embrace the Muslim-Muslim ticket. For how long will we as a people continue along this dimension and division. It is time to convince Nigerians that the three tests of capacity, character and competence should inform their choices of candidates.”
Explaining the political influence behind Tinubu’s decision, which was long in coming, a dependable party source who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, said the presidential candidate of the opposition PDP pushed his APC rival to seek “home support,” because Atiku has been successfully eroding the influence of the ruling party in its northern stronghold, playing the ethnic card there in reaction to the same-faith ticket of the governing APC.
Considered a major weapon of political mobilisation in the North, religion often gives big political leverage during electioneering, he maintained.
Disputing this claim, one of the PDP presidential campaign committee spokespersons, Kola Ologbodinyan, told THEWILL, in reaction, that it was the APC candidate that started the introduction of ethnicity and religion to campaign even before the kick-off of campaigns.
He said, “How else would you interpret the Emilokan philosophy? That is how he ignited ethnicity in the current dispensation. That is how he has dominated the politics of Southwest and used it to feather his ambition. The truth is that he has been striving to fill the leadership vacancy in the Southwest since the death of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. His eyeglasses are suggestive of the quest for that tall ambition.”
On Atiku’s Arewa’s Forum “vote for me and not Igbo or Yoruba,” appeal, Ologbodiyan explained that Atiku, whom he described as a nationalist because, “he has built and sustained a pan-Nigerian network of friends across geo-political zones,” was purposely coloured by political rivals to demonise him.
Professor George Obiozo, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which threw up factors of power shift, equity and competence as determinants of its endorsement of Obi, was said to be in a meeting when THEWILL called to get his reaction on Friday as he did not answer the call at the appointed time earlier fixed by an aide.
THE POLITICAL ANGLE
Geo-political voting power, THEWILL has learnt, is also one of the undercurrents driving religious and ethnic cards. In regional terms, the North has the highest numbers than the South, according to data released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Geo-politically, the Northwest has the highest voting population at: 22.67 million, followed by the South-West at 18.3 million, the South-South at 15.2 million, North-Central at 14.1 million North-East at 12.8 million and South-East: 11.49 million.
Desperate to grab votes in an emerging democracy with a multi-ethnic, diverse population fixated on ethnic, religious affiliations, politicians of the major parties still reeling from self-inflicted crises are desperate to break every rule in the book to pursue their goals.
Adebanjo thinks ideological stand on issues of equity, competence and character in choosing candidates at all levels of election is the way out of the “issues of ethnicity and religion that have always been exploited to divide the country.”
He said, “That was why we made it clear in making our choice of Peter Obi we said we were not speaking for Yoruba. Why should I abandon a principled stand and support somebody because he is from my area? We should take each candidate on the basis of issues they stand for and not on ethnicity or religion, which is not good for the development of Nigeria.”
Chief Olajide agrees with Adebanjo, but differs with him on emphasis on issues and values as the basis for determining choices.
He said, “It depends on what you mean? When we say the Yoruba are standing together for Tinubu, we are also saying that he has the competence and productivity. That is very clear to most Nigerians from the Atlantic to the Sahara.”
PDP presidential spokesperson, Ologbodiyan, who insisted that his principal, Atiku, is the best presidential candidate when it comes to talking about discussing issues rather than trading insults, held that as a fragile polity fractured by the prevailing widespread insecurity, inequities and popular discontent, issues that unite and integrate should be pursued by all candidates.
“That was the symbolic message of the Peace Accord signed by the parties recently. The media, the watching public and security agencies should help in enforcing the spirit of the accord,” Ologbodiyan maintained.