The Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, has come under intense criticism for placing an advert on the front page of the Punch newspaper suggesting that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Muhammadu Buhari, will die in office if elected president.
The advert, which has the pictures of, Murtala Muhammed, Sani Abacha, and Umaru Yar’Adua – past Nigerian leaders who died in office – is accompanied by excerpt from the Bible book of Deuteronomy 30 verse 19.
“Nigerians be warned! Nigeria…I have set before thee Life and death. Therefore, choose life that both thee and thy seed may live,” it said, suggesting that Mr. Buhari represents death while his rival, President Goodluck Jonathan represents life.
The advert put a huge question mark over the picture of Mr. Buhari, which was placed beside the pictures of the late leaders.
The advert then asked its readers: “Will you allow history to repeat itself? Enough of State burials.”
Mr. Fayose then spurred ethnic controversy that is one of the divisive issues in the run-up to the election saying, “Northern presidency should wait till 2019”.
Many Nigerians have expressed outrage at Mr. Fayose and the Punch newspaper for publishing the advert with one social media commentator describing the ad as “crazy and imbecilic”.
On Twitter, the advert was condemned by both supporters of Mr. Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan, with many people asking the president to dissociate himself from the advert. Others have also criticised the Punch newspaper for running the advert saying it is a display of poor judgement even if not illegal.
“In the spirit of the peace accord signed by presidential candidates, I plead with President Jonathan to distance himself from Fayose’s hocus-locus,” said Publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu.
“That Fayose newspaper ad is up there with the infamous #BringBackJonathan … mindless, cruel and insensitive drivel,” says a former member of House of Representative Patrick Obahiagon.
“You win elections by campaigning not by wishing death on an opponent. This ad by Gov. Fayose is unacceptable and ludicrous,” says Toyosi Akerele, a social worker and a member of Mr. Jonathan’s campaign team.
“Fayose utterances are regrettable. The platform that showcased same are equally to blame. You cannot in one breath crucify Fayose for his despicable thoughts while deliberately closing your eyes to the silliness of @mobilepunch,” said Blossom Nnodim, a social media expert and supporter of President Jonathan.
“My beef with this isn’t with Fayose but with Punch. Even if legal, this is unethical. It shouldn’t be all about cash. Shame,” said Kadaria Ahmed, the former Managing Editor of the suspended NEXT newspapers.
There have been speculations over the health of Mr. Buhari, 72, following unverified claims that he slumped while campaigning in Cross River State, and that his speech sounded slurred during the APC rally in Owerri, Imo State.
Last week, a diagnostic report purportedly issued by the Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital indicated that the former military head of State has advanced prostate cancer. The hospital authorities have since denied issuing any such report.
On Sunday, Mr. Buhari refuted the claim he has cancer, saying he only had cold.
He said the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is sponsoring the reports about his health and that it indicates how desperate they are getting in the run-up to the election.
A former acting National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and now an APC chieftain, Kawu Baraje, described Mr. Fayose’s ad as “distasteful”.
Mr. Baraje said in a statement that the advertorial was capable of inducing anarchy in the country.
He said he had expected that Mr. Fayose would be more careful and outgrow “his carelessness and irresponsible motor park attitude which is not expected of a governor”.
Mr. Baraje lamented that “the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the PDP to distance themselves from such comments and call Mr. Fayose to order is a direct indication that they were in support of Mr. Fayose making a mockery of the dead and trying to play God as only Allah is the one that knows the time of the passing of any individual.”
Mr. Fayose defended his decision to place the advert, saying it was all about politics.
“The governor is a Nigerian. He has expressed his opinion. Other people are also free to express theirs,” his spokesperson, Lere Olyainka, told PREMIUM TIMES.
When told the advert could further polarize Nigeria, he said: “Between the APC and the PDP, who has been stoking religious and ethnic division? I’m just reading the Vanguard and there is a story of the APC complaining that the PDP is making Nigerians hate Buhari. Are they not also making Nigerians hate President Jonathan?
“It is politics. You market your own product and you also try to pull the opposing product down. That is how it is done. It is politics. Let everybody play his own game. What I don’t support in politics is violence.
“Some of these things you are now talking about. Do you know people have done worse on social media against the president? And has the president said anything?”
Mr. Olayinka said the governor will soon come up with more contentious views.
“So, the governor has expressed his opinion and people should express theirs. He will soon express other opinions stronger than this. So people should be prepared.
The Managing Director of Punch Newspaper, Ademola Osinubi, did not respond to calls and a message to his telephone.
Editor’s Note: This report was updated to reflect comments by Governor Fayose’s spokesperson.