Senator Elisha Abbo representing Adamawa North in the Senate has described Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s explanation that his choice of running mate was based on competence as an insult to the Christians in the North and asked the APC presidential candidate to apologise for that.
In this interview, he spoke on the raging Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC among other issues.
What is your position on the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket adopted by your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Today, the price of diesel is hitting N1000 per litre and we don’t have a stable power supply in this country. Industries have to rely on diesel to power their industries, which means that the prices of commodities are going high even as workers’ salaries and people’s incomes remain static. On security, we have never had it this bad. Nigeria is going through a bad patch. What we need right now is not controversy; it is not religious or ethnic division. We need national healing and stability, and I feel that politicians should place the national interest above their personal interest. I feel that Nigeria is not ripe for a Christian-Christian ticket or a Muslim-Muslim ticket as we have seen today.
When will it be ripe, if not now?
Well, I don’t know when it will be ripe but certain things have to be put in place first. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) needs to do more to unite Nigerians. The government, politicians all need to do more. When you hear the humongous amount of monies being discovered in the houses of public servants – N50 billion, N80 billion, N90 billion stolen by one person, when the citizens are living in abject poverty and nobody is talking, you will understand that the country needs to go back to the drawing board. Only after then shall we begin to accept and behave like one, but at this point, Nigeria is not ripe for a same faith presidential ticket for any political party. And any political party that tries to do that is putting the tickets of some of its candidates for legislative positions in danger. For example, I belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am a senator on the APC’s platform. I am the party’s flag bearer in my senatorial zone, Adamawa North; the party nominated me and is sponsoring me. In my place, where the majority are Christians, this action is putting my own ticket at risk. How can I go back home to campaign with this same faith ticket? I am a Christian and I have Muslim family, but if I go to campaign with this Muslim-Muslim ticket among the Christians, nobody will listen to me. The APC has automatically boxed every Christian candidate in my Christian dominated area into a corner.
So, is it about your interest now?
No, it is not about my interest. As I said before, it is about the interest of the Nigerian state.
How do you mean the interest of the Nigerian state?
First of all, I quoted section 14 of the constitution yesterday. You may or may not agree with that.
Are you referring to the federal character?
Not just on the federal character. I think we should look at it on the federal character component which should be broader than that. Section 14 (3) says the composition of the government of the federation and any of its agencies, and the conduct of the affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect federal character and the need to promote national unity. This is the constitution of Nigeria; the need to promote national unity and to command national loyalty. A situation where somebody feels that he doesn’t belong here, how do you evoke or command that loyalty? And the intention of the proponents of this dangerous one faith ticket is to invoke reactions like this so that Nigerians will not ask for programmes, agendas, and manifestoes so that people will vote based on their religious and ethnic identity. As I said before, I am a Christian; I am a leader in this country and I want Nigeria to be united. There is no way you can have development in a country where there is no peace, and there is no way you can have peace without justice.
The APC presidential candidate said the choice of his running mate was based on competence. Do you agree with him?
It is insulting to say that there is no competent Christian in the North to be a vice president. How competent is Tinubu to be president? If you say because my father is a Christian in the North, he is competent, that is the height of an insult. You mean that no bishop, no Christian professor in the North is competent to be vice president? That is annoying and insulting and Tinubu should apologise to the Christians in the North for saying that. As I said earlier, this shouldn’t bother the Christians; it is the Muslims that should be the ones kicking against this decision because it is against the Muslim faith.
But some of them have actually kicked against the decision…
Yes, but again look at the position of many of them who are illiterate. They are all over the place, saying this is a jihad; this is not a jihad.
Is that the interpretation they are giving it in the North?
Yes, that is the interpretation, but this is not jihad; it is anti-Islam. In the book of Quran, chapter 4, verse 135, it says, “All you believers, stand for justice even if it is against you, your parents or relatives, stand for justice and be witnesses to Allah.” Now, if you are trying to justify injustice because it actually supports your narrow sentiment, you are not a good Muslim but a potential Boko Haram recruit. That is the fact.
The process took time and consultations were allegedly made before this position was taken. Now, what options are available to some of you who are not comfortable with this position?
First of all, Osibanjo is a pastor in the RCCG but I did not support him during the primary. I know that he is my pastor; we go to church and he stands before me to preach the word of God to me, but we supported Tinubu. I spent millions of my personal money working for Tinubu to emerge as the APC candidate. And everybody in the Tinubu Support Group, including the chairman, knew about that. I also know that he is a Muslim. Now, talking about available options, time will tell. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) will have its national election on July 29, or rather a ratification, where the new national executive will emerge and there will be a national executive meeting thereafter. A lot of discussions will take place, but like I said, I don’t feel happy that my party is provoking this kind of negative discourse.
The northern Christians in APC issued a communiqué in Abuja on Tuesday, were you part of the meeting?
I was not there because I missed my flight but I support the communiqué totally. I have a copy of the communiqué and I stand by it 100 percent and we call on President Muhammadu Buhari, who fought the Nigerian civil war to keep the country united; who understands what it means to have a divided country and who is now the leader of the party and the country to save this situation.
You are from the North East, what forms of consultations were carried out before the choice of Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate?
There was no consultation. Anybody who tells you that there was any consultation is telling you a big lie because there was no consultation; consultation with whom? That’s why I blame Mr. President.
But, we heard that the president was given the privilege to nominate a running mate; how true is that?
Of course, we all know who Buhari is. He said he is tired and wants to go home. Maybe, when they met him, he reminded them that he had earlier said he was tired. So, the fact remains that there was no consultation. They put the placeholder to buy time, maybe, see one or two people and bribe them.
Who are these one or two people?
I don’t know but there was no consultation.
Were the governors not involved in the decision that led to the choice of running mate since they played a major role in Tinubu’s emergence as the party’s candidate?
You see, I was part of every intrigue, at least 80 to 90 percent of the intrigues that produced Tinubu; I know because I was part of it. I know the governors that were with us, those that were not with us, those who joined us 24 hours before the primary and those that joined us on the day of the primary and few hours to the election as well as those that were convinced at the election venue. I know all these facts. Out of over 20 governors, how many of them were consulted? Did they come together as they used to meet regularly before the primary?
There were initial reports that one of the governors was going to be favoured or at least they will take the decision or be part of the decision making; what actually happened?
They were not. Like I said, this is about national unity. You will not expect national loyalty from a man that you rejected; a man you feel is not part of the system. You don’t invoke national loyalty from such a man. And from what I am seeing, you can win and become the president; you can even become the president of America, but will the people respect you? Will they look at you as their leader?
How do you expect the president to intervene when he has said that he is tired and eager to finish up and retire to his village?
The president should realize that May 29, 2023 is his date to go back to Daura, not now; he still remains the president till then. He is tired but we still need a president and party leader. I am calling on Kashim Shettima to resign as Tinubu’s running mate and hand over to a Christian from the North in the interest of Nigeria.
Why call on Shettima to resign when you should be telling the ticket holder that has the final say to change him?
Yes, Kashim Shettima is another place holder; he should resign and hand over the ticket to a northern Christian so that we can have unity in this country. If you don’t have a country, where will you rule?
Maybe, they are looking at votes that will guarantee victory for the APC…
Which votes? In 2015, when Osinbajo was picked as Buhari’s running mate, what was his electoral value? What was his political relevance or worth? You don’t pick the vice president because of votes. You pick the vice president because of balance, unity, and national stability. Have you seen how many people have resigned from the party across the country since this decision was made? A lot of people are still assimilating this decision and when its repercussions will come, I won’t be here to beg again. They will come and tell us to go and beg our people. We have people. Forget this noise. Nobody can win an election if you don’t have people. The time to right the wrong is now. Our national unity and stability is threatened. I strongly believe the North has been in power for seven/eight years, power should go back to the South in the interest of peace, stability and national unity. That is what I believe.
Why are some people not comfortable with a northern Christian matching Tinubu’s ticket?
I can’t speak for those people. I am from the North. I was born in the North. I grew up there and I live there. I have my own blood brothers who are Muslims and during Sallah, we go to their house to celebrate with them. During Christian celebrations, they equally celebrate with us. We never knew the difference between the two religions; there was no discrimination. So, if someone says today that he is not comfortable with you being his leader even though you are a Nigerian because of your religion, I don’t know how to classify that person but I know that something is wrong with that person.