The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on Friday, dashed the hopes of several Nigerians wishing that he would reconsider his stance on the contentious Muslim-Muslim ticket by replacing former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, with a northern Christian, as his running mate.
A source within Tinubu’s camp revealed hours to the deadline of the Independent National Electoral Commission that the APC standard-bearer had shunned all entreaties to drop Shettima.
Tinubu, who is a southern Muslim, had incurred the wrath of the Christian Association of Nigerian, some party members and political stakeholders when he announced Shettima, a northern Muslim, as the ‘special one,’ to be his running mate.
He broke the news to journalists after his closed-door meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at his residence in Daura, Katsina State during the Sallah break.
The announcement provoked widespread criticisms, particularly from the Christian community with its feeling of marginalisation and age-long suspicion of an alleged plan to Islamise Nigeria.
Following the outrage that greeted his decision, Tinubu’s men and campaign teams deployed diplomacy and political conversations in the media to assuage frayed nerves.
The desperate move to downplay talks surrounding ‘Islamisation of Nigeria’ fuelled the belief that Tinubu and the leadership of the APC might consider dropping Shettima for a northern Christian before INEC deadline.
However, the possibility that Tinubu might bow to pressure to change his running mate was erased on Friday when he went on to submit Shettima’s name to INEC.
The spokesman for Bola Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga, told Saturday PUNCH that it would have been unwise for his principal to drop Shettima because certain people were uncomfortable with the choice.
“That is not possible. We have seen this move before; all these campaigns to pit us against fellow Nigerians. It happened in 1993 and the result was clear. There was pressure from several quarters for (MKO) Abiola to drop (Babagana) Kingibe because of his Muslim background,” Onanuga said.
The campaign spokesman urged Nigerians to focus on competence instead of flying the kite of ethno-religious sentiments.
“What we should be looking at is not religion but competence of the candidate to deliver and take the country to a greater height. They will soon realise that. As I said earlier, there is no likelihood of our presidential candidate dropping Shettima. He has selected him and Shettima will remain. He is a cool candidate. Either of them can be a President,” Onanuga insisted.
The former Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria also disclosed that there were ongoing efforts to appease CAN and disgruntled APC stalwarts, including a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, a former ally of Tinubu, who has been one of the most vociferous voices against Tinubu’s decision to settle for Muslim-Muslim ticket.
He said, “I can assure you that Tinubu will appeal to Babachir and others. What we are seeing is natural. This is politics where you may not get all you want. But we know people will soon realise that the choice they have is not really a bad one.
“Don’t forget that we are still six months away from the 2023 elections. In politics, even 24 hours is a long time. Anything can happen that can change the course of things. There are moves by the party to appease all of them to rally round the presidential candidate for the election.”
Meanwhile, a former Chief of Staff to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Taiwo Akerele, has said Tinubu was right to ignore critics of the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Akerele said, “When we talk of Muslim-Muslim ticket and Christians are saying the VP choice should be a Christian, I begin to ask, what happens to the majority of 120 million Nigerians that are neither Muslims nor Christians, many who didn’t go to church or mosque?
“Between 1999 and 2007, the PDP gave us a Muslim vice presidential candidate from the North. In 2007 to 2011, it was the turn of Jonathan, a Christian. And today we have a vice president, who is a pastor and a professor.
“Christians and Muslim have had their turn. If Tinubu is going to come under pressure to drop Shettima, God forbid, it should not be the turn of Christians or Muslims, it is the turn of pagans.”
According to Akerele, what Nigerians should consider are key issues, such as the ailing economy, rising inflation, unemployment and insecurity when choosing a leader.
Similarly, the Director-General of Asiwaju Tinubu Presidential Campaign Organisation, Adebayo Shittu, also confirmed that the former Lagos State governor and APC leader plan to engage religious bodies and other stakeholders.
He said, “I can assure you that we will do the needful. We know what to do. Is the ultimate aim not for close ranks and work towards winning the presidential election? We will do it.
“Let me also point out that it is not all Christians, even among the clergy, that are aggrieved with our decision. We should not generalise. But we know many of the disgruntled party members are supporters and loyalists of the vice president (Yemi Osinbajo). That is why we said the APC is a party of ‘free joiners’ and ‘free leavers.’ Anybody can leave and come in anytime.”
A source in the Christian Association of Nigeria told Sunday PUNCH that the leadership of the Christian had not had any engagement with Tinubu or anyone from his camp.