Exchange of aspersions by leading presidential campaigns suggests deliberate avoidance of issues, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Following a strategic rebound by the All Progressives Congress presidential campaign last week, its Peoples Democratic Party counterpart would seem to have gasped for breath earlier this week.
Yet the PDP drew first blood when last year it renovated virtually worn out alleged past misdeeds of Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the APC. Apparently running on a negative campaign, the main opposition party dug up a past case of alleged implication in a US illicit drug ring, leading to the forfeiture of some money by Tinubu. They also renewed references to gaps in his personal records relating to his parentage and academic history.
Expectedly, the Tinubu camp dismissed them as refurbished perennial dirt that is dug up for want of fresh mud to fling at him. Maybe. But the fact of the matter is that there is nothing new in those issues the main opposition party raised. Shortly after Tinubu became governor in 1999 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, the remnants of his foes in the bitter struggle for the party’s ticket could not be assuaged. They were the ones that raked up the gaps in his academic records. Not much was achieved until the stormy petrel of the bar, Gani Fawehinmi, now of blessed memory, joined the fray. So stormy was the dust raised that the state House of Assembly was forced to institute an inquiry, which Tinubu as a sitting governor had to attend upon a summons. In the end, he was exonerated as Tokunbo Afikuyomi, a senator of the Federal Republic, accepted responsibility for the inconsistencies in his academic records.
Fawehinmi took a further step. He approached the courts asking them to compel the police to investigate and prosecute the alleged falsification of the academic records. He went all the way to the Supreme Court, which met him halfway, ruling that though a sitting president or governor could be investigated for a crime, he could, however, not be prosecuted because of the immunity clause in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution as altered.
Blocked by the House of Assembly and the courts, Tinubu’s traducers did not relent. As the electioneering for his second term neared in 2003, they introduced another filth: the alleged illicit drug and money laundering case in the US. It was an extremely strenuous time for him as he laboured to dust off the potent impact of the massive public interest in the allegation, on his return bid electioneering.
Not particularly denying the substance of the allegation, Tinubu sweated profusely to explain the circumstances surrounding the eventual outcome of the case: forfeiture of some amounts in one of his bank accounts. Admitting that some of his accounts were compromised, he explained that he needed a plea bargain in order to protect the balance of his hard-earned savings from his commodity trading investments.
If his traducers hoped that the heat from the storm generated by their allegation would secure his defeat, they were disappointed as he not only went ahead to win that election, but his victory was also spectacular because he was the only one of the six AD governors that survived the testy poll. That outcome plus the fact that he has not been personally involved in any competitive electioneering would, however, seem to have only put in abeyance his controversial past.
So, Tinubu’s political strategists would have been naïve to think that his opponents would not have recourse to those past the moment he opted for the presidential race. Obviously, they were not, hence their rebound last week as they latched on to the expose of Michael Achimugu, an erstwhile aide of Atiku Abubakar, who revealed an intimate conversation in which the PDP presidential candidate admitted to creating a special purpose vehicle that was used to liberate money from the federal government for the use of the party while he was vice-president between 1999 and 2007.
At a joint press conference by its spokesmen, addressed by Festus Keyamo, who is the junior labour minister as well as silk, in Abuja, the APC presidential campaign sought to make a political gain from the Achimugu scandalous revelation, contending that it smacked of official corruption, which must be probed by the anti-corruption agencies, including the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. In fact, Keyamo has approached the court for an order compelling the agencies to invite, investigate and prosecute Atiku for official corruption.
Without a doubt, the rebound jolted the PDP camp as its spokesmen laboured to find a response. First, they denied the relationship between Achimugu and Atiku. When the former doubled down with evidence of his intimacy with his former boss and family, they resorted to name-calling. Next, they held their own joint press conference to counter allege, repeating their earlier allegations, and now calling for Tinubu’s prosecution. Really? For What? Ever heard about double jeopardy?
Obviously, the resort to the negative campaign by the two front runners in the presidential race is symptomatic of their lack of capacity or ability to run on the strength of their records. This is strange because all the front runners have public office records of not less than eight years each. In fact, at least three of them, Atiku, Tinubu, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party have been part of the nation’s political landscape since the ill-fated Third Republic. So, what is the problem?
It might be that having been part of the political processes that have brought the nation to its current sorry state, it might be difficult to lay claim to fresh ideas about how to bring the country out of the woods. In 2015 Nigerians were told by the APC that the preceding 16 years of the PDP were a disaster. Atiku was with them on the rostrum. Now, the PDP is saying the last seven years plus were an unmitigated disaster. This time, Atiku is on the PDP rostrum. Which of the claims are Nigerians supposed to believe?
Meanwhile, what is Tinubu supposed to be saying to Nigerians now in the face of the one-year-old long fuel queues nationwide and evident abject poverty in the midst of unremitting economic doldrums? Although in fairness to him, he was not part of the APC government but not a few Nigerians hold him responsible for cobbling the contraption that delivered the last seven years plus misery.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org