Can Atiku, Tinubu Get Serious on Issues?

As the 2023 presidential race gathers momentum, Nigerians would hope that the presidential candidates of the two leading political parties – Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party – focus their attention on how to tackle the serious challenges confronting Nigeria instead of washing their dirty linens in public, Ejiofor Alike writes

Signs of what is to come after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) formally signals the take-off of campaigns came last week when the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, and his counterpart in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, launched blistering attacks on each other. 

Atiku incurred Tinubu’s wrath during an interview on ARISE NEWS Channel penultimate week, where he stated that he rejected the former Lagos State governor’s request to be his running mate on the platform of the Action Congress (AC) in 2007 because of his aversion to a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

The former vice president had also stated that his refusal to accede to Tinubu’s request made the former Lagos State governor switch his support to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was the presidential candidate of the PDP.

Before Atiku’s allegation, there were also speculations that Tinubu also abandoned the presidential candidate of his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) in the 2011 presidential election, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu to work for former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP.

When Atiku made a similar allegation publicly, an angry Tinubu, through his media aide, Mr. Tunde Rahman, insisted that it was after Atiku clinched the presidential ticket that he offered him the vice presidential slot.

He alleged that Atiku, in his desperate attempt to win the presidential election by stoking religious bias, reduced himself to uttering baseless lies on national television.

 “Atiku may want to be president. However, all he has shown is that he is a pathological liar. Whatever moral compass he had has been lost. During a July 22 television interview, Atiku assaulted historic truth by lying that he did not name Tinubu as his running mate in 2007 on the Action Congress ticket because Atiku did not want a Muslim as his running mate.”

 “I feel sorry for dear old Atiku. Love of his ambition has eclipsed his relationship with the truth and an honest account of the past. We formed the AC without his knowledge. When President Obasanjo virtually exiled him from the PDP, we lent him our support by giving him the AC platform for the 2007 election.

“Let me say openly that Atiku offered me the vice presidential ticket in 2007. Let me also say that my religion has not changed. When he offered the position to me, I was a Muslim and I believe he was aware of my religious faith at the time.

 “Atiku’s calculations and deceit had nothing to do with religion or his sensitivity to it. His conduct has everything to do with what we discovered about his paucity of character and love of intrigue,” the statement said.

 Tinubu alleged that 15 years later, Atiku promised the Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike the same vice presidential ticket and also reneged.

 “Atiku has no business raising the issue of a Muslim-Muslim ticket except as a hypocrite. Perhaps he believes people have forgotten his antics during the 1993 election. After he woefully lost his bid to be the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, what did he do? He canvassed and lobbied harder than anyone to become the running mate to late Chief MKO Abiola. When it benefitted him personally, Atiku did not see anything wrong with a Muslim-Muslim ticket. He saw everything right in such a ticket as long as he was on it.

 “Now, Atiku criticises my selection as running mate based on religion. He does so because he cannot criticise it on other grounds,” Tinubu reportedly added.

  Tinubu Campaign Council (TCO) also launched separate attack on Atiku, saying that the former vice president was ill-prepared to be the president of Nigeria in 2023.

The Director of Media and Communication of the organisation, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, said it was most shocking that Atiku admitted that he cheated the system for decades and engaged in gross misconduct as a government worker. He added that as a customs officer at the Idi-Iroko border, Atiku revealed that he ran a commercial taxi service, claiming “there is no law stopping public officers from doing business in Nigeria.”

 The TCO argued that every officer in the civil service is expected to comply with a code of conduct and service rules which bar civil and public servants from engaging in private business while in government employment to the detriment of the service he/she is employed to render to the public. 

TCO stated: “It is our considered view that Atiku gamed the system all through his career in public service, culminating in his founding of Intel Logistics along with the late Shehu Yar’Adua and some Italians, even while he was still in the employment of the Nigeria Customs Service.”

But in a swift response, Atiku challenged the APC presidential candidate to subject himself to a one-hour interview, like he did, to test his mental capacity. In a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Paul Ibe, the former vice president added that the APC presidential candidate has not sat down for any prolonged interview due to some obvious reasons associated with his mental state.

Atiku also boasted that he obtained Master’s degree from Anglia Ruskin University, and challenged any of the present presidential candidates to present an equal or higher degree.

“Nigerians have seen him (Tinubu) talk in public and can themselves gauge the reason why he is mortified to do so,” Atiku said.

 “In conclusion, we would like to challenge Bola Tinubu to subject himself to an hour-long interview, as the Waziri did, and if he can be as articulate and mentally present as our candidate, then he can talk. Until then, we will only want to remind him and his yes men that they are not in a position to point fingers when they have not sat on the hot seat,” Atiku’s statement added. 

As if that was not enough, last Sunday, Atiku launched another attack on Tinubu, insisting that the allegations the former Lagos State governor levelled against him were indications that his memory was no longer what it used to be. He cited multiple sources in his attempt to prove that it was Tinubu who was the architect of a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2007.

In fresh statement by his media aide, Ibe, the former vice president said: “The major accusation made by Asiwaju Tinubu is that the Waziri Adamawa offered him the opportunity of being his running mate in 2007, which means that the former vice-president was not then mindful of Nigeria’s religious and ethnic diversity, making his statements during the Arise TV interview hypocritical.

“We would not say that Bola Tinubu has lied. Rather, it is our desire to give him the benefit of the doubt, and believe that his memory may not be what it used to be. Nigerians may want to note that on 14 September, 2005, the then US Consul General, Brian L. Browne, drafted a memo, leaked via Wikileaks, wherein he stated that Bola Tinubu was scheming to be a running mate to either Atiku Abubakar or Muhammadu Buhari.

“In any case, if Bola Tinubu can forget the name of his own political party, why will he not also forget what transpired in 2007 and 2015? We do sympathise with him. The fact remains that in a fragile and ethnically diverse nation, such as ours, religious and ethnic balance must be observed at the highest levels, and from there flow downwards. That is what Atiku Abubakar said during his interview with ARISE TV on Thursday, July 21, 2022, and he stands on that principle and will continue to so stand without apology to anyone,” the statement explained.

The statement argued that Atiku’s memory and recollection of the event had been corroborated by multiple, independent, and unconnected third parties.

Atiku also urged Nigerians to remember  that though multiple sources had testified that Tinubu desperately lobbied to be made Buhari’s deputy in a Muslim-Muslim ticket, the former Lagos governor himself denied this on June 22, 2022, and instead accused President Buhari of offering him the position of vice president.

Atiku noted that, taking Nigeria out of the cesspit that the APC has thrown her would require a leadership with forthrightness and a clear vision to chart a new direction into a future of prosperity and peace, which he described as the very mantra of PDP’s anthem.

 “We should not reward the APC for their failures and we should reject a discredited leadership with no clear agenda,” he added.

Some Nigerians, who reacted to the banter the two leaders traded expressed anger. Those who commented on social media insisted that rather than keep themselves busy on how to tackle Nigeria’s fiscal crisis, insecurity, power crisis and other challenges staring the country in the face, the presidential candidates are distracting Nigerians by hauling brickbats at themselves.

They wondered why such prominent national leaders should wash their dirty linens in public in their desperate efforts to win the 2023 presidential poll. Nigerians were also shocked that their bickering was not about how to move the country forward. What perhaps annoyed the commentators most was that nowhere did they hear how their living conditions would be improved to attract votes or when they win in 2023 other than opening their can of worms.

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