Atiku attacked over comment against Yoruba, Igbo

Atiku Abubakar

Atiku Abubakar

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) committed a serious Freudian slip during an interactive session with the Arewa Joint Committee in Kaduna on Saturday, 15 October. At a time when Nigeria is trying to play down ethnic sentiments on its way to a mature political culture, Atiku played the tribal jingoist to the letter. He told his listeners to give the All Progressives Congress presidential candidates Bola Tinubu and his Labour Party flagbearer, Peter Obi, a wide berth in the 2023 elections.

Psychoanalysts define Freudian slip or parapraxis, as “an error in speech, memory, or physical action that occurs due to the interference of an unconscious subdued wish or internal train of thought.” Whatever Atiku’s media spin doctors or language deconstructionists may say, an average Nigerian and analyst believe that the politician has given an idea of the type of (provincial and ethnically skewed) government he would run if Nigerians vote for him.

At the event, Atike said with gusto: “What the average Northerner needs are somebody who’s from the North and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country. This is what the Northerner needs. It doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate. I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”

That this Atiku faux pas came at a time when Governor Nyesome Wike is battling him over what he feared as a Northern monopoly of power and when the PDP candidate withdrew his earlier tweet condemning the killing of Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education over alleged blasphemous comments on Prophet Mohammed, made the matter more serious.
First, analysts posit that Atike might have run foul of Section 97 of the Electoral Act which states: “A candidate, person or association that engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional reason to promote or oppose a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to (a) a maximum fine of N1m or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both and (b) in the case of a political party, to a maximum of N10m.’’

First, the All Progressives Congress (APC) through its National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, in a statement on Sunday described Atiku’s utterance as bad, especially at such a time that Nigeria is preaching unity. Morka says, “It is beyond the pale for a senior citizen and a former Vice-President of the Federal Republic to so brazenly instigate strife and disunity in our country in pursuit of his befuddled political self-interest.

“But it is not surprising coming from a desperate and serial failed candidate for the office of President. If, as Atiku believes the average Northerner needs a Northern President now, after a Northern President, when will they ever not need a Northern President?

“What does Atiku think the average Southerner needs? Why is it about what the average Northerner needs, or even what the average Southerner may need? Why is it not about what Nigeria and Nigerians need? Nigerians need bold and visionary leadership anchored on a firm commitment to transcendental national unity, over and above ethnic or sectional obsessions.

“Atiku’s words ring loud of extreme and mindless desperation and such an extremely desperate man cannot and must not be entrusted with the most important job of President – a job whose core duty is that of leading, uniting and working in the best interest of all in an ethnoreligious, pluralistic society as Nigeria. Our country does not need this kind of highly inflammable rhetoric now or ever.’’

“The cat has finally been let out of the bag of him that pays lip service to unity while working hard to undermine our national unity. Our Northern citizens and patriots know far better than what Atiku thinks, and will not walk down that slippery slope with him,’’ Morka noted.

Touting the credential of its presidential candidate, Tinubu, and contrasting it with Atiku’s statement, the ruling party noted, ‘’As governor of Lagos State, his executive cabinet was a rare and admirable reflection of ethnic and religious diversity. We are confident he will enthrone equity, fairness, inclusion, and unity as operating national policy when elected as President in next year’s general election, as we urge Nigerians to do. ’’

Also, the APC Presidential Campaign Council, in a statement signed by the Director, Media and Publicity of the Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga described Atiku’s speech as ‘’the worst expression of ethnocentric opportunism ever uttered by a former Nigerian Vice-President.’’ He said the PDP flag bearer’s speech demonstrated ‘’how low a man honoured with the second highest office of the Nigerian Constitution is willing to sink in search of a perennial wild goose chase after the highest office in the land.’’

The statement added, “It confirms the argument that Atiku has feasted on such base, cheap, primordial sentiments to use the masses and the elite of the North as the ladder to ascend to power since 1989 without any dividends to show.

“In clear terms, Atiku who stole the PDP ticket with a similar mindset has cast himself as a northern candidate, who the people from his region should solely support.

“We view Atiku’s public declaration which framed him as an ethnic and regional champion as unbecoming for a man who was once a former Vice-President of Nigeria. But we are not surprised by his desperate position. Atiku has resorted to whipping up ethnic sentiments, knowing that his chances of being elected have become a mirage.

“He has himself, not anybody else, to blame for his expected electoral misfortune. First, he broke the fundamental rules of power rotation in his party and the country.’’

Onanuga further dismissed Atiku’s claims as a detribalized Nigeria as pure hogwash, adding, ‘’the Nigerian public now knows better that a man who has been campaigning as a so-called unifier of our disparate groups, is a tribal jingoist, who has now totally eviscerated all pretensions to being a detribalised Nigerian.

“Atiku only pays lip service to national unity, despite that it features as one of the five cardinal points of his so-called ‘Covenant with Nigerians.’ The facade is over, he is now fully naked before the Nigerian people.”

The Chief Spokesman of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, also joined the fray, asking Atiku to apologise. Tanko said, “It is unfair for somebody who had been in the saddle of leadership of this country to play the ethnic card as a way of generating support.

“Our principal has made it clear long before now that even when people are trying to play ethnic agenda, nobody should look at him as an Igbo candidate. Our movement is a Nigerian project for the Nigerian people.

“So, in the interest of our democracy and unity of this country, which of course we represent, I think the former vice-president should apologise to Nigerians in such a way that it would show him as a true leader of a free country.

“Our principal has made it clear too that if there are issues that have to do with his co-candidate, he would be able to answer them personally. I know he prefers to speak on issues like this personally.”

While the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere took a dig at Atike over the matter, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement on Sunday by its Secretary-General, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said by Atiku’s utterances, he had finished whatever was left of the PDP.

“We find it very weird and disappointing that an elder statesman and a presidential candidate could mount the podium at a public function and play such an ethnic card.

“We are worried that at such a time Nigeria is seeking a unifier, Atiku is further pushing the country into disintegration. He has shown that he cannot lead and unite this country.

“His ambition has already destroyed the PDP and pushed it from number one to third if not fourth force. Now, he wants to bring the same division into the affairs of the country. We ask Nigerians to say no by rejecting him stoutly at the polls,” Ohanaeze said.
It said, “We can see that the party has even suspended the presidential campaign after the flag-off in Uyo recently. All is not well with the team PDP.

“Nobody can trust a man who said he is a stepping stone for the actualisation of the South-East presidency in the future but within 48 hours, he offered the same presidency to Wike. It’s absurd to see how the PDP’s presidential team now hawks counterfeit promises.”

On Twitter, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Prof. Kingsley Moghalu wrote: “I was very disappointed to view the video clip of H.E. Atiku Abubakar @atiku, a former Vice-President of Nigeria telling an audience in Kaduna that what the North needs is a northerner to be President and not a Yoruba or Igbo candidate.’’

The National Publicity Secretary of NNPP, Dr Agbo Major, submitted: “My reaction is as good as the outrage of the average Nigerian. Our unity is so fragile and somebody who wants to be president shouldn’t be seen making such divisive statements. It is left for Nigerians to judge.”

However, Atiku’s camp has come up to defend itself. His media adviser, Paul Ibe, accused the APC of twisting the matter out of context. He stated, “For the benefit of the innocent public who might be hoodwinked by the usual behaviour of APC in telling a big lie, what transpired was a direct question to Atiku to address the Northern audience on why he should be voted for by the Northern electorate.

“In answering this question, Atiku started with a joke by addressing the questioner as ‘Mr. Northerner’ which is a veiled criticism of why he limited his question to the Northern audience in the first place.’’