The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, has dismissed insinuations that the party was planning to field a Muslim-Muslin ticket in the February 2015 presidential election.
He described as “very unfortunate,” but unnecessary the controversy which trailed the interview granted an online newspaper, The cable, by a leading presidential aspirant of the party, Muhammadu Buhari, in which he said he would keep an open mind on the issue of his party’s presidential candidate and running mate.
Mr. Buhari, a Muslim, had in the interview, said he had demonstrated to Nigerians in the past that he was not a religious fundamentalist by picking Christians as his running mates in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections in which he ran.
“Nigerians will always uncover impossible room for manoeuvre for politicians. I had to face one of the governors during one of our party’s meetings [over the issue of religion],” Mr.Buhari, Nigeria’s former head of state between 1983 and 1985, said.
“In 2003, I chose Okadigbo as my running mate. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. In 2007, I picked Ume-Ezeoke. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. And in 2010, I chose even a pastor. Pastor Tunde Bakare.
“Honestly, what do Nigerians want me to do? If they don’t believe I’m not a fundamentalist, what else can I do?”
He recounted that the late Moshood Abiola, a southern Muslim, picked Babagana Kingibe, a northern Muslim, as his running mate in the 1993 presidential election.
The Muslim-Muslim ticket won the election generally considered the fairest and freest election in Nigeria’s history.
There had been speculations that Mr. Buhari might be looking in the direction of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, who is also a muslim, or his predecessor, Bola Tinubu, also a Muslim as his as his running mate, if he picks the APC ticket in the December presidential primary of the party.
However, a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Sunday warned parties against fielding candidates of the same religion, saying it was dangerous for the country.
“Sensitivity is a necessary ingredient for enhancement of peace, security and stability at this point in the political discourse and arrangement for Nigeria and for encouraging confidence and trust,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
“It will be insensitive to the point of absurdity for any leader or any political party to be toying with Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket at this juncture,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
“Nigeria cannot at this stage raise the spectre and fear of Islamisation or Christianisation. The idea of proselytisation in any form is a grave danger that must not be contemplated by any serious-minded politician at this delicate situation in Nigeria, as this time is different from any other time.
“Therefore, disregarding the fact that there are fears that need to be allayed at this point will amount not only to insensitivity of the highest order but will also amount to very bad politics indeed.”
But Mr. Odigie-Oyegun said the APC had never contemplated fielding a presidential and vice presidential candidates who belong to the same faith and that the current debate over the matter was just a distraction to the party.
He explained that the party was pre-occupied with the process of choosing its presidential candidate and that it had not toyed with the issue of who becomes the running mate yet.
“You know what triggered these things. It is very unfortunate. We are trying to get a presidential candidate now. Once that is sorted out, the issue of running mate becomes a simple matter,” the APC national chairman told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview on Monday night.
He said Mr. Buhari might have been misunderstood on the matter, stating, “It is his usual way of speaking. You know he is a straightforward man. It (running mate) is not an issue. But that is his own way of putting it and should not be misunderstood.”
Mr. Odigie-Oyegun said the APC has a mission of rescuing the country from alleged mis-governance and therefore would neglect any segment of the country by being insensitive in the choice of candidates for the elections
According to him, “We want to rescue this country; we want to save this nation. And so we will not do anything to make us loose votes, especially from a very large segment of the society. That is the simple truth. We don’t have to.
“We are looking at somebody who will contribute to winning the election. These things are commonsensical things that will be taken care of when we get to that bridge.”
On the reaction of Mr. Obasanjo to the issue, the APC national chairman said the former president’s comment on the matter was a non-issue for his party but generally okay.
He stressed, “We, as a party, haven’t gotten to that bridge. People shouldn’t forget that we are a new party. We do not want these distractions. We are taking all those issues gradually.”
Asked if the party was planning to pick a former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, as the running mate to Mr. Buhari, Mr. Odigie-Oyegun said, “I’m the national chairman. Whoever we will choose as our presidential candidate, whether it is Buhari, Atiku, Kwankwaso, Rochas Okorocha or any other person, the party will then sit down with him and say this is the type of running mate that will contribute maximally to the success of the party in the election.”
He denied claims that the party was reluctant to address the issue and that an official of the party was mandated to clear the air on the issue, but refused.