Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) has come under fire following his advice to Northerners that they should vote for him in the 2023 election because he hails from the northern region.
Atiku, who stated this during an interactive session with the Arewa Joint Committee in Kaduna on Saturday, told his audience not to support a Yoruba or Igbo candidate in reference to the presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi.
The PDP flag bearer, a Fulani from Adamawa State, declared that “what the average Northerner needs is somebody who’s from the North and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country.
“This is what the Northerner needs. It doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate. I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin,’’ the ex-vice-president stated in a viral video.
However, his comment has attracted widespread condemnation from the APC, the LP, the New Nigeria People’s Party, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, the apex Igbo group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and civil society organisations.
This is happening against the backdrop of the crisis in the PDP which has resulted in the withdrawal of five governors and many members of the Southern bloc of the party from Atiku’s campaign council.
Those who criticized Atiku on Sunday said despite presenting himself as a pan-Nigerian candidate and a unifier, the former vice-president’s previous actions had aroused suspicions about his stance on critical national issues.
Atiku stirred a firestorm in May after he deleted a post on his Facebook and Twitter pages condemning the killing of Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, who was killed for allegedly posting comments that blasphemed Prophet Mohammed.
After coming under a barrage of threats from northerners who asked him to forget his presidential ambition for criticising Samuel’s murder, Atiku hurriedly deleted the post, claiming it was done without his approval.
Reacting, the ruling APC said Atiku’s statement inciting northern electorates to shun Igbo and Yoruba candidates was unbecoming of an elder statesman.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, in a statement on Sunday described Atiku’s utterance as an attack on the country’s long-preserved national unity.
He attributed the statement to the PDP candidate’s desperation to rule the country.
Scolding Atiku who is running for the President for the sixth time, the APC stated, “It is beyond the pale for a senior citizen and a former Vice-President of the Federal Republic to so brazenly instigate strife and disunity in our country in pursuit of his befuddled political self-interest.
“But it is not surprising coming from a desperate and serial failed candidate for the office of President. If, as Atiku believes the average Northerner needs a Northern President now, after a Northern President, when will they ever not need a Northern President?
“What does Atiku think the average Southerner needs? Why is it about what the average Northerner needs, or even what the average Southerner may need? Why is it not about what Nigeria and Nigerians need? Nigerians need bold and visionary leadership anchored on a firm commitment to transcendental national unity, over and above ethnic or sectional obsessions.
“Atiku’s words ring loud of extreme and mindless desperation and such an extremely desperate man cannot and must not be entrusted with the most important job of President – a job whose core duty is that of leading, uniting and working in the best interest of all in an ethnoreligious, pluralistic society as Nigeria. Our country does not need this kind of highly inflammable rhetoric now or ever.’’
The party further expressed surprise that Atiku who claimed to be on a mission to unify the country could engage in acts that undermined national unity.
‘’The cat has finally been let out of the bag of him that pays lip service to unity while working hard to undermine our national unity. Our Northern citizens and patriots know far better than what Atiku thinks, and will not walk down that slippery slope with him,’’ Morka noted.
Touting the credential of its presidential candidate, Tinubu, and contrasting it with Atiku’s statement, the ruling party noted, ‘’As governor of Lagos State, his executive cabinet was a rare and admirable reflection of ethnic and religious diversity.
‘’We are confident he will enthrone equity, fairness, inclusion, and unity as operating national policy when elected as President in next year’s general election, as we urge Nigerians to do. ’’
Berating the PDP candidate, the APC Presidential Campaign Council stated that his incitement of Northerners to snub Yoruba and Igbo candidates has exposed his true intention to Nigerians.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Director, Media and Publicity of the Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga.
Onanuga described Atiku’s speech as ‘’the worst expression of ethnocentric opportunism ever uttered by a former Nigerian Vice-President.’’
He said the PDP flag bearer’s speech clearly demonstrated ‘’how low a man honoured with the second highest office of the Nigerian Constitution is willing to sink in search of a perennial wild goose chase after the highest office in the land.’’
The statement added, “It confirms the argument that Atiku has feasted on such base, cheap, primordial sentiments to use the masses and the elite of the North as the ladder to ascend to power since 1989 without any dividends to show.
“In clear terms, Atiku who stole the PDP ticket with a similar mindset has cast himself as a northern candidate, who the people from his region should solely support.
“We view Atiku’s public declaration which framed him as an ethnic and regional champion as unbecoming for a man who was once a former Vice-President of Nigeria. But we are not surprised by his desperate position. Atiku has resorted to whipping up ethnic sentiments, knowing that his chances of being elected have become a mirage.
“He has himself, not anybody else, to blame for his expected electoral misfortune. First, he broke the fundamental rules of power rotation in his party and the country.’’
Onanuga further dismissed Atiku’s claims as a detribalized Nigeria as pure hogwash, adding, ‘’the Nigerian public now knows better that a man who has been campaigning as a so-called unifier of our disparate groups, is a tribal jingoist, who has now totally eviscerated all pretensions to being a detribalised Nigerian.
“Atiku only pays lip service to national unity, despite that it features as one of the five cardinal points of his so-called ‘Covenant with Nigerians.’ The facade is over, he is now fully naked before the Nigerian people.”
The Chief Spokesman of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, called on Atiku to tender an unreserved apology to Nigerians over his ethnocentric sentiments.
Tanko stated that it is wrong for anybody whether in a position of authority or not to use the ethnic card as a yardstick or campaign tool in Nigeria at the moment.
He said, “What we observed is that it is unfair for somebody who had been in the saddle of leadership of this country to play the ethnic card as a way of generating support.