By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Omeiza Ajayi & Dirisu Yakubu
•As Northern Elders Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF, M-Belt Forum meet in Abuja
•Say Buhari has steered Nigeria towards insecurity, deep division, anarchy
•I’m moved by the endorsement, says Atiku
•They’re parasites, traditional PDP supporters — Buhari Campaign
ABUJA — Nigeria’s major socio-cultural groups, under the aegis of Forum of Nigerian Elders and Leaders, yesterday endorsed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, averring that President Muhammadu Buhari has steered the country towards insecurity, deep division, and anarchy.
The resolution to adopt Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for the presidency was adopted by Afenifere, (South-West); Northern Elders Forum, (North); Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; Ohanaeze Ndigbo (South-East) and the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, at the end of a meeting which held at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel, yesterday.
The resolution was immediately welcomed by Atiku who said the rare unity of prominent Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides would further energise him to lead a Nigeria where neither tribe nor tongue would impair self-actualisation.
The PDP Campaign on its part said it had fittingly positioned Atiku as the people’s candidate.
The Buhari Campaign was, however, dismissive of the endorsement, describing the chieftains of the groups as known PDP supporters and parasites who in time past, rode on the back of Buhari for political relevance.
The Buhari Campaign called out the chieftains of the various socio-cultural groups to test their political clout by organising parallel rallies anytime the Buhari campaign scheduled its rally in their zones.
A communiqué issued at the end of the summit of the leaders drawn from the six-geopolitical zones, revealed that the groups were left with no option than to adopt Atiku, given his political savvy, compared to the younger ones in the contest.
Among prominent Nigerians at the summit, yesterday, were Chief Ayo Adebanjo, (Afenifere), Prof. Ango Abdullahi (NEF), Chief Edwin Clark, (PANDEF); Chief Nnia Nwodo (Ohaneze), and Dr. Bitrus Pogu (MBF).
Also present were Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Alhaji Buba Galadima, Amb. Yahaya Kwande, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Dr. Junaid Muhammed and a host of others.
‘Why we’re adopting Atiku’
In a communiqué at the end of the meeting, the forum acknowledged the existence of younger and highly qualified candidates, but advanced reasons for its choice of Atiku.
“The Forum, having concluded a thorough evaluation of all candidates aspiring to lead our nation through its current challenges and engineer genuine national rebirth, has decided to note that several of the younger candidates who presented themselves for the Presidential election, demonstrated great capacity and promise to lead this country creditably and ensure that it engenders proper social and economic development to its people.
“However most of these qualified younger candidates do not, at present, have the machinery and structures to win a Presidential election in Nigeria.
“Therefore, the forum adopts the candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the Consensus Candidate for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as he has demonstrated the deep understanding of the critical need of the country at this time and possesses the capacity to proffer clear solutions in that respect.
“Calls on all Nigerians, irrespective of religious or ethnic background to stand in unison and vote for Atiku Abubakar on the 16th of February 2019 and ensure that they defend their votes.”
It said having maintained informed vigilance over all developments towards the forthcoming 2019 general election, it had outlined its views on the qualities of leaders that should aspire and seek its support and votes.
The forum stated further: “These include a demonstrated commitment to the democratic process, a transparent willingness to address the structural foundations of our nation in a manner that should ensure greater political unity and economic development for all Nigerians, and the courage and competence to secure the nation from multiple and varied threats among others.
“Having noted the continued drift of the country in the direction of insecurity, deep divisions, tyranny as shown in the recent unilateral sacking of the Chief Justice of the country against all globally known democratic ethos, etc.
“Having closely followed the competition for mandates within the various political parties as well as the campaigns for the votes of Nigerians so far, including four weeks of close interactions and interviews with nearly all the aspirants for the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the various parties. We make the following observations:
“The forthcoming elections are vital to our desire to live together in a democratic nation that reflects our aspirations, of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, practice of true federalism.
“There is solid national and international consensus that the 2019 elections must be credible, and improve on the quality of the 2019 elections;
“There is assurance from INEC of its willingness and ability to conduct free and fair elections, but it must be watched very closely and supported to set new, higher standards in election management and that undue pressure from any quarters does not truncate its efforts;
“The political and security environment are central to the conduct of credible and peaceful elections. So far, the pronouncements of major contenders regarding the use of violence and willingness to accept outcomes of credible elections is being severely tested in practice. The disposition of state agents that have responsibility for securing our votes has also been a major source of concern;
“These last few days before the first set of elections will test the Federal Government’s undertaking and assurances to protect Nigerians as they prepare to participate in the elections, as well as create a level playing field for all parties and candidates. The Federal Government must, therefore, ensure that no one, no matter their roles or status should be allowed to behave as if there were no consequences for subverting the electoral process or threatening the rights of all Nigerians to participate in free and fair elections.
“Conscious of its mandate and after exhaustive deliberation the Forum reminds all Nigerians that the forthcoming elections are about the type of nation we need as adults and those for whom we have responsibilities. Not since 1999 have we been challenged with the power to shape our future as these elections do; reminds the nation of its earlier position that the best candidates who should lead us are those who have the following qualities:
‘Qualities of a a President of Nigeria’
“A clear understanding of the nation’s security challenges and a strong will and commitment to tackle them decisively and comprehensively;
“Capable, intelligent, physical and mentally alert persons that understand the issues and will once more restore Nigerian international standing and respect.
“A strong will to improve the quality of Governance, including the rebuilding of key and strategic national institutions; to ensure inclusiveness is reflected in all political and governance matters; to fight corruption as a national scourge with transparent commitment; and to pursue policies that address the needs of a nation with a huge population of young people who need quality education and opportunities to participate as productive adults in a thriving economy”.
In their individual remarks, the leaders said the President Buhari administration had become very divisive and should be voted out.
We couldn’t get Buhari to mend his ways — Ango Abdullahi
Co-chairman of the forum and leader of the Northern Elders Forum NEF, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said the forum had since 2015 tried to get the Buhari Presidency to amend its ways, but to no avail.
He said the group had secretly advised the President on the areas that needed correction, and that it was after exhausting the behind-the-scene approaches that it decided to now call him out.
He added that NEF insisted on an earlier resolution taken over a year ago that northern politicians that have failed in office should not expect to be voted back to power in 2019, adding that his group aligned with others on the adoption of Atiku.
This is not for selfish interest — Clark
Chairman of the forum and leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, warned partisans not to think that the group was out for pecuniary or any selfish interest, saying when it comes to governance and holding positions, they had seen it all.
He said: “Nigerians need a capable, intelligent, physically fit leader who has the focus and experience that the outside world will recognize without making mockery of us.”
I’m moved by this endorsement, says Atiku
Responding to the endorsement yesterday evening, Atiku said the unity of all major tendencies in the country around him had moved him to the point of tears.
“I am moved to tears that in the midst of deep divisions and deliberate use of instrumentalities of state to set our people against themselves in the last three and a half years, responsible and respected leaders across Nigeria have agreed to come together for the purpose of endorsing my candidature for the February 16th,2019 Presidential elections.
“The endorsement by the leading lights of our nationalities – Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Northern Elders Forum, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, and Middle Belt Forum is a loud statement that there is hope for our country as we go to the polls in a few days.
“Today we put aside all our prejudices to elect a President with religion and ethnicity playing no role in our elections .
“I profusely thank our Leaders across the country who have created this wonderful moment for us to come to the table of brotherhood. Once again, and in the words of our old National Anthem, we can proudly sing: “Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
“This has buoyed me to lead a Pan-Nigerian team that will give practical interpretation to what has been done by the time I take leadership of our country, by the grace of Allah, on May 29, 2019.
“Many countries of the world have been led into disintegration by strongmen (one in each country), and we have seen how individuals who understand the management of diversities have rallied their people for unity.
“I have been chosen to unite our people and exactly that I will. I will run a properly federated Nigeria through constitutional reforms to bring out the best from ALL sections of Nigeria to make Nigeria work again like in the past when the Saudi Royal family came to Nigeria to access Medicare.
“We will promote an inclusive Nigeria based on productivity that every section of Nigeria will bring out the best under their soil, and in their brain to make Nigeria assume its position in Africa and the global community .
“It would be 100% for every section of Nigeria as I would not understand any arithmetic outside that.
“I enjoin our people across Nigeria to come out en-mass to vote on February 16 to pull our country from the brink and propel it to greater heights so we can live a better life.
Take my words as a covenant with Nigeria.”
Atiku is peoples’ candidate — PDP
The PDP campaign in its formal reaction said it had now made Atiku as the people’s candidate.
“The endorsement is the position of majority of Nigerians, and they have come to the end of the Buhari-led Presidency. And they have seen that another four years under President Buhari can only sink us further into the abyss,” publicity director, Kola Ologbondinyan said yesterday.
“Nigerians have suffered enough in the last three and half years. So they want new thinking, new initiative which Atiku Abubakar has promised Nigerians. And that is why it is not a surprise but a very welcome development that the geopolitical groups have come out to endorse former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. It validates the position of the average Nigerian in our country and even in the world today,” he added.
The Buhari Campaign was, however, dismissive of the endorsement describing the chieftains who met as either known PDP supporters and where not, former associates of Buhari’s who had parasitic relationships with the president.
They’re traditional PDP supporters — Buhari Campaign
Speaking on behalf of the Buhari Campaign, Barrister Festus Keyamo, SAN told Vanguard:
“These are traditional supporters of the PDP and PDP members; it is nothing new they should not hide under the clout of social-cultural organisations. It is fraud. These are PDP members
“It is like me, a known Buharist going to hide under the platform of a Niger Delta group to endorse Buhari. If I now join that Niger Delta group with my brother and sister and give the impression that there is a big endorsement going on. It is fraud. These are normal PDP members who have always campaigned for PDP and lost.
“So, PDP is not getting any fresh endorsement; they are only recycling old supporters who were defeated along with PDP in 2015. They are angry and frustrated supporters because even they themselves know that there is nothing like restructuring in view; that it is a bogey; it is the greatest deception going on.
“Second, these are people totally disconnected from their people; they have no relevance with their people, they cannot win their wards. I challenge Afenifere, they should check our remaining time-table, let them call a rally the same day we are going to Lagos at a different venue to know the strength on the ground.
‘’I am challenging them! I am challenging the Middle Belt Forum; we are going to Nasarawa, we are going to Benue, I am challenging them to call a rally the same day we are going to Benue.
“I am challenging Ango Abdullahi to, any day we are going to any town in the North, call a rally, I am challenging him. These are people who have lost relevance with their people, disconnected from their people, deceiving their people, wear big cloth and big beads to the villa with big title for nothing!”
They had parasitic relationship with Buhari, says Keyamo
Reminded that some of those present yesterday endorsed Buhari in 2015, Keyamo said:
“Buhari won in spite of him; he wasn’t the one who delivered any vote to Buhari, these were people hanging on Buhari’s back.
‘’They never delivered any vote; it wasn’t a symbiotic relationship. They had a parasitic relationship with him; he won in spite of them, not because of them, they were hanging on his back.
“I am challenging them now, they should go and form their own parties, or they should call out a rally the same day Buhari is going to town.”