Babachir Lawal and Yakubu Dogara are leading an attempt by APC leaders left unhappy by Bola Tinubu’s choice of a Muslim running mate to sabotage his campaign
The crisis over the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) deepened last week as some members on Friday vowed to campaign and vote against the party in the 2023 general election over the issue.
They declared that position at the APC Northern Christian Leaders Summit convened by a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal.
Bola Tinubu’s choice last month of Kashim Shettima as his running mate has become an albatross on his neck. The choice had ignited an uproar in the polity, with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) taking the same faith composition of the ticket as an assault on the Christian faith in Nigeria. Mr Tinubu and the former Borno governor are both Muslims. The association is incandescent that despite its protestations, Mr Tinubu went ahead to overlook the Christian options.
The protest intensified last week after some persons in clerical robes were introduced as representatives of CAN at the public presentation of Mr Shettima in Abuja. The association angrily denied the clerics, birthing the “fake Bishops” controversy.
Dogara, Lawal insurgency
But even as strident has been the anger close to Mr Tinubu. The former SGF, Mr Lawal, was in his campaign team during the party primary and had also headed a strategic committee of the team that advised him on whom to pick as a running mate after his landslide victory at the primary.
However, Mr Tinubu’s choice of Mr Shettima, a fellow Muslim, left Mr Lawal aghast. He has since tasked himself with ruining the ticket. He had initially urged President Muhammadu Buhari to veto Mr Shettima’s choice, but the president ignored his call. His battle cry since has been “To thy tent, Oh Israel.”
Speaking at the gathering of northern Christian leaders of the party in Abuja on Friday, Mr Lawal accused the ruling party of eliminating northern Christians from its National Working Committee (NWC) and National Executive Committee (NEC), allegedly as part of its anti-Christian agenda.
“Thus, all this talk of competence as the reason for the choice of the Muslim VP is balderdash and diversionary. This is a calculated anti-Christian exclusion agenda that is being implemented.
“Christians all over the country see this ticket as a deliberate and premeditated attempt to introduce and firmly entrench religion into the politics of the country, which could lead to further disharmony,” he said.
“This is truly a wake-up call for all Nigerian Christians. We didn’t start this religious politics; APC and its candidates did; so, all of us should take note and act as appropriate,” he said at the gathering.
“The PVC and our prayers will be our weapons of choice and we will massively deploy them in 2023.
“But while we are ready to battle this politics of exclusion and oppression, we are open to discussions with anyone who wants to engage with us in good faith.”
In his own no-less strident remarks, Mr Dogara, who was the guest speaker at the event, said Mr Tinubu made a fatal error in his choice of Mr Shettima.
He said the Muslim/Muslim ticket fuels inequality and breeds division, which is counter-productive to the collective aspirations for a united and prosperous nation.
Mr Dogara faulted Mr Tinubu’s comparison of his own situation to that of Moshood Abiola who also picked a fellow Muslim as his running mate for the ill-fated 1993 presidential election.
“An indispensable attribute of a leader in crisis is to be able to recognise a departure of events from routine to novel.
“Consequently, anyone who thinks that events in Nigeria in 2022 are not novel but routine as they were in 1993 is totally incapable of finding solutions to challenges currently ravaging our dear nation.”
After that event, Messrs Dogara and Lawal on Saturday met with Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and his Rivers’ counterpart, Nyesom Wike.
Speaking with journalists after the closed-door meeting held at Mr Wike’s country home in Rumueprikom in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, Mr Dogara said it was part of “a search to build an all-inclusive Nigeria.”
Also speaking, Mr Lawal said: “We came to visit our brother. He (Wike) is our brother. So, every now and then, the Bible enjoins you to visit one another. That is what we just did.”
Why are these two leading the battle against their own party? And how do others in the party feel about this situation? The national chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu, and Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje are some of the party leaders to have rebuked Mr Lawal or rationalised Mr Tinubu’s choice of Mr Shettima, despite the outcry.
Meeting with Wike
Messrs Dogara and Lawal, who are senior members of the APC by virtue of the positions that they have held under the administration of the party, have not really explained why they met the two PDP governors on Saturday.
Mr Wike has issues with his own presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, arising also from the latter’s choice of a running mate. In fact, the governor’s meeting with the two APC chieftains came less than 24 hours after Mr Wike accused Atiku of telling lies and using some chieftains of the party to spread falsehood against his person.
If Messrs Dogara and Lawal are looking to access the main opposition party, Mr Wike thus appears an unlikely route to follow.
But the Rivers governor is also known to have recently been in contact with Mr Tinubu, following his differences with his own party’s candidate, Atiku. Earlier in July, Mr Wike hosted a meeting in Port Harcourt with three Southwest governors who are close allies of the APC presidential candidate. The governors were believed to be emissaries of the APC standard bearer. So, did Messrs Dogara and Lawal meet Mr Wike to warn him against pitching a tent with Mr Tinubu?
Messrs Dogara and Lawal are also not known to have met with governors of the APC, especially the Christians among them. Or has the feedback that they received from them been unsatisfactory? Could that be the reason they appear to have chosen to fight from outside?
The ruling party has six Christians among its 22 state governors. Simon Lalong of Plateau State, who is the only APC governor in the North, was one of the names suggested to Mr Tinubu before he decided on Mr Shettima.
The Plateau governor has not spoken out against the Muslim-Muslim ticket, although none of the party’s governors has done so too. Instead, Mr Lalong is said to be the favourite to be named as the director-general of Mr Tinubu’s presidential campaign council later this week.
The five other Christian governors of the APC are in the South. All of them have been cautiously supportive of their candidate by admonishing Nigerians not to mix politics with religion.
So, how deep is the resistance to the Muslim-Muslim ticket in the APC and among Christian members of the party in the North?
For instance, not many notable names turned up at the summit convened in their name on Friday in Abuja. One of the few who did was Elisha Abbo, the Adamawa senator who defected to the APC over a quarrel with his PDP state governor; and Solomon Dalung, the sports minister in President Buhari’s first term who defected from the APC in April, before the party’s primary that produced Mr Tinubu.
However, the paucity of star names in the gathering probably underscores the level of political opportunities available to them in their areas. There are not many Christians who have become governors, deputy governors, senators or ministers in the North, aside from those from states like Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Kaduna where Christians constitute the majority or large minority. Not many also have attempted elective national positions, which have almost always been taken by Muslims.
Potential Christian running mates
One prominent northern Christian face missing in the Abuja gathering was Boss Mustapha, the current SGF. Like his predecessor, Mr Lawal, the incumbent SGF is also from Hong in Adamawa State. But Mr Mustapha has not spoken on the issue. Or could that be out of discretion, because of the sensitive position he holds in government?
Mr Mustapha was one of those Mr Lawal said to have been recommended for Mr Tinubu’s consideration for his running mate. Also recommended were Messrs Dogara and Lawal, the two protagonists in this insurgency in the APC over the ticket. This has left the two open to an accusation that their anger may have more to do with being overlooked for the nomination.
In fact, their recommendation for the position showed the dilemma that faced Mr Tinubu over his choice. Mr Mustapha once ran for governor in Adamawa State and had name recognition before he succeeded Mr Lawal as SGF. But their predominantly Christian Hong Local Government Area has always voted for the PDP, especially in presidential elections. They did so in 2015 when the state went to the APC, and also in 2019 when the PDP regained the state. But could that also have been because the APC candidate was a Muslim?
Mr Lawal was stained by the so-called “grasscutter”scandal that got him out of his position as SGF. He had stayed out of public affairs until he reappeared beside Mr Tinubu during the campaigns for the presidential primaries of the party. That scandal alone would have made his nomination hard to contemplate. But even so would have his lack of clout in his state as a politician.
Mr Dogara, on his part, is not a regular APC member, having moved in and out of the party on a few occasions. He was part of the mass defection at the National Assembly of 2018, even though he had been spared the travails that assaiked Bukola Saraki, who just in the manner that Mr Dogara became the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had beaten the candidate anointed by the APC to take the Senate President’s seat. Mr Dogara returned to the ruling party after his 2019 reelection only because of a quarrel with Governor Bala Mohammed of the PDP.
However, to be clear about their argument, they do not believe the North would reject a presidential candidate simply because his running mate is a northern Christian. But the most important point they have made is that justice and the need for inclusiveness surpass other considerations.
So, are Messrs Dogara and Lawal too far gone to retreat in their insurgency? The former seems to be demanding negotiation with his party but the latter’s language suggests he has reached the point of no return.
How badly will the Muslim-Muslim ticket hurt Mr Tinubu? A former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, last week said something that should interest us and Mr Tinubu here:
“If it was in 2007, it could have been okay. But now, religion is being promoted as a key player in the politics of today. So the mallams are talking about religion; the Christians are talking about religion. Nobody is talking about Nigeria anymore. Whatever he may likely secure from the North, he will lose it from the South. I don’t see this working for him,” Mr Lamido said.
Battles on other fronts
As if his troubles are not enough yet, two parties are trying to stop Mr Tinubu even before the election next year.
One of the aspirants that he beat in the APC primary, Emeka Nwajiuba, has asked the Federal High Court to disqualify Mr Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP from standing in the presidential election because the primary elections that produced them were marred by vote-buying.
Mr Nwajiuba, a former Minister of State for Education, stated the same allegation by another defeated aspirant, Rotimi Amaechi, as part of his evidence.
In a related development, Action Alliance, again sued INEC, APC, Mr Tinubu and Mr Shettima at the Federal High Court in Abuja over alleged double nomination.
The party filed an earlier suit seeking the disqualification of the APC from the 2023 presidential polls over alleged perjury by Mr Tinubu.
The fresh suit instituted on July 28 is again seeking the disqualification of the APC on the grounds that it has nominated a candidate for more than one constituency in the 2023 general elections.
Lalong to lead Tinubu campaign
However, on a brighter note for Mr Tinubu, APC state governors have reportedly endorsed their Plateau State colleague, Mr Lalong, for nomination as the director-general of the presidential campaign organisation of Mr Tinubu. The candidate had initially tipped former Edo governor, Adams Oshiomhole, for the position but has now been prevailed upon to pick Mr Lalong.
There was a report that Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai, had taken the position, but the governor later issued a statement to debunk the report.Mr Lalong’s appointment may be announced this week.