By Ayodele Olu Peters
When in the course of pursuing his aspiration for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited delegates in Abeokuta and addressed them in Yoruba, Mr. Babachir Lawal, former Secretary of Government of the Federation, was one of those who issued a statement brimming with vitriol and highly combustible against Tinubu. The former governor of Lagos State and now presidential candidate of the APC had gone down memory lane, recalling his various widely acknowledged contributions to the party and reiterating why the ticket should come to the South-West and why he deserved to have it.
Even though he flaunts his closeness to Tinubu on every occasion, Lawal tried to abort the latter’s presidential bid by portraying him as having attacked President Muhammadu Buhari and the entire North in his Abeokuta utterances. It is difficult to understand on which pedestal Lawal could claim to be speaking for the entire North. His aim was to alienate Tinubu from Buhari and other leaders of the North so that they could work against Tinubu’s aspiration at the primary.
Luckily, that gambit by Lawal and a few others failed spectacularly. Buhari proved to be more circumspect, wise and statesmanlike, and thus refrained from imposing any candidate on the party, allowing all aspirants to compete in an open, transparent and credible primary. The northern governors and other key leaders from the region played crucial roles in Tinubu’s clinching of the ticket, to the obvious chagrin of Lawal and his fellow travellers.
It is thus not surprising that Lawal has issued another inflammatory statement on the choice of Mallam Kashim Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate. In his latest missive against Tinubu and Shettima, Lawal hypocritically claims that he would do nothing to stop the path of his “very good friend” to the presidency and that he has, since 2011, had a consuming passion for Tinubu to succeed President Buhari. With a friend like this, does anyone need an enemy, as the cliche goes?
But his actions speak much louder than his words of support for Tinubu’s aspiration. It is so clear that what Lawal seeks to do is to alienate Tinubu from Christians in the North in particular and in the nation at large so that APC can lose in the 2023 general election. “He said: “Christians all over the country will revolt against the APC to put the chance of his election in serious jeopardy. It will also put the election of all Christians standing in Christian-dominated areas in jeopardy. This could result in APC being a minority party in both the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly”.
This is certainly Lawal at his most unserious and ridiculous best and nothing but wishful thinking. But just as his vituperation could not stop Tinubu earlier on in the presidential primary, it is even more baseless and his reckless outburst over Tinubu’s choice of running mate will prove to be false as regards next year’s elections.
Lawal asserts: “No one who seeks to be President of Nigeria should ever deploy the tool of religious extremism and exclusivism as a tool to win elections. This is very dangerous and this is very sad…With his choice, Nigerian Christians clearly see a pending Islamic Republic of Nigeria in its infancy and are right to be severely anxious”.
In the first place, Tinubu has de-emphasized the role of religion in picking his running mate and thus given Nigerians an opportunity to vote for candidates in the next elections based on competence and demonstrated capacity rather than religious affiliation.
The success of the ticket in the election will thus amount to the first significant victory over the roles of religious sentiments and emotions in politics. It is difficult to understand how by any stretch of imagination Lawal believes that the victory of the Tinubu/Shettima ticket will amount to signalling the turning of the country into an Islamic republic. This is reckless, grossly irresponsible and unworthy of a man of Lawal’s stature. Such wild speculations as this are only alarmist, meant to put fear in the minds of the Christian electorate. This kind of vile propaganda is dead on arrival, especially because Lawal does not tell us by what alchemy aTinubu administration will turn Nigeria into an Islamic republic. Will it be through a coup d’etat against his own administration, through an enactment of the National Assembly or by instigating a national revolution to usher in an Islamic republic? Such claims are childish and naive, revealing the puerile and deranged mindset of its purveyors.
Lawal states that he had on several occasions discussed the merits and demerits of both ticket permutations with Tinubu and some of his close associates and aides. His words: “I had left him with the sole responsibility for his final decision, arguing that in the end the consequences of the outcome of any bad choice will be his to bear. There might be some collateral damage though”.
This presumes that, in offering his advice, Lawal did not by any stretch of imagination think that Tinubu would just swallow his suggestions hook, line and sinker. Surely, Lawal must be aware that in such a situation there would be torrents of advice from diverse quarters.
And like Lawal said, the final responsibility for the choice lies with the candidate. That he did not immediately submit a substantive name for the running mate slot to INEC but took his time in consulting with President Buhari, governors from North and South as well as other stakeholders indicate that it was not a choice Tinubu made lightly. In all his vituperations, Lawal does not take into account that Tinubu’s better half over the last three decades, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). He discounts the numerous accounts by diverse persons of Tinubu’s liberalism, his fairness of mind over the years in protecting and promoting the interests of both Christians and Muslims. One good example is his return of mission schools earlier taken over by the state government in the Second Republic to their original owners, with Christians being the greatest beneficiaries. Of course, there are several other instances that can be cited but for space.
He seeks to explain the choice of Tinubu’s running mate by reference to the purported fact that “his close friends as governor have since left him to run their own systems, leaving Tinubu stranded”.
This is indeed most comical and laughable. The truth is that Lawal is not sufficiently acquainted with the workings of Tinubu’s inner circle to be able to speak magisterially on this issue as he strives to do. Yes, some of Tinubu’s associates and aides have chosen to chart their own paths as is only normal and routine in politics. But there are much more of his aides still with him while there have been new entrants into his inner circle that are no less brilliant than the few who have left.
And on Shettima’s choice as the APC vice presidential candidate, Lawal writes dismissively: “He is an overambitious man who has a Machiavellian bent and has lots of money with which to procure a preferred candidate status among Tinubu’s lapdogs”. Shettima, he says, has procured “bogus support from among the Christian community to help launder his not-too-good image”. This is obviously no more than peer envy at work as Lawal does not provide any evidence to support his attack on Shettima.
In what way, for instance, is Shettima over ambitious? Is he not eminently qualified to run, even for president? Is he not more qualified and temperamentally suited for the position than a volatile and unstable fellow who can’t subordinate his emotions to logic and reason? Eminent Christians leaders such as Archbishop Ignacious Kaigama, Bishop Oliver Dashe, Archbishop of Maiduguri Diocese of the Catholic Church and Borno State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Nagga Williams Mohammed, have at various times given glorious public testimonies to Shettima’s fairness to all religious faiths, inclusive administration, open-mindedness and liberal disposition during his tenure as Borno State governor between 2011 and 2019.
Yet, this is the leader that Babachir Lawal seeks to denigrate and malign through an attempt to taint his integrity. This campaign of calumny is dead on arrival. But what really is Lawal’s grouse and what secret agenda is he pursuing? It is not impossible that he himself was hoping to be chosen as the running mate to Tinubu. And now that that has not been the case, he wants to pull the house down on everybody. But this is a voyage doomed to disaster. In the first place, what is Lawal’s electoral value? How many elections has he contested and won? He who seeks to cast aspersions on the image of another has perhaps forgotten the multi -million Naira grass cutting scandal that cost him his job in the federal Cabinet; the case is pending with EFCC. Again, his quick recourse to temperamental tantrums in the public space without reflecting deeply on issues and events as they unfold make him emotionally unfit for public office at the highest levels.
•Ayodele Olu Peters is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos