On Monday 11 December, I stumbled on the 6th, in the series of opinions about the last general election being peddled by Daily Sun columnist, Amanze Obi. I was shocked by the cocktail of lies and fallacies put forward by the writer, on why his candidate, Peter Obi lost the last presidential election and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu won. This spurred my frantic search for the 5th edition. It was more of the same, indeed dangerous as Amanze tried, albeit fruitlessly, to instigate Christians and their leaders against President Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima. Believing so much in his concocted Islamic conspiracy against Christians, Amanze Obi wondered why there was no “fury”, or ‘outrage’ displayed by the Christians after Tinubu’s election.
In the two articles that I read, Amanze, disappointedly, packed too many falsehoods about the last election such that ignoring him will be a great disservice to our people, especially the younger, impressionable, easily excitable ones. To Amanze and his ilk, I will say it is too early to start distorting the story of the last election, with clearly revisionist misleading information, that one will only come across at beer parlours or market places.
In trying to decode Tinubu’s emergence as candidate of the APC, Amanze Obi invented a conspiracy of northern muslims who had “the temerity to insist on a muslim-muslim ticket as a condition for power shift to the south”. There was nothing of such. Tinubu went into the primary election to slug it out with Rotimi Amaechi, Yemi Osinbajo, both Christians and Ahmad Lawan, a muslim. Religion was not the issue at this stage. What was at stake was each candidate’s appeal to party delegates. Tinubu won a landslide victory, because many delegates believed he has the experience, political and national network to beat other candidates from the other parties and succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Tinubu, as candidate, saw himself as a nationalist. It was the myopic and parochial political opponents that tried, in vain, to define him by his faith. The opposition ought to have known that a man whose wife is a Christian, whose children are allowed to practice their own faith, cannot be stereotyped by his faith.
This worldview of the candidate explains why throughout his campaign, he did not appeal to the base sentiments of his religion, he did not see himself as a Jihadist, unlike another candidate that rallied clerics to see the election as a ‘religious war’. Tinubu sold his programme of action to make our country better to voters, even when he was the target of unprecedented vitriolic attacks by opponents, the worst political behaviour ever witnessed in our political history.
When Tinubu chose Kashim Shettima, as his running mate, he was reawakening the spirit of June 12, 1993 presidential election, in which an Abiola-Kingibe combination resoundingly won the election. The victory was cruelly annulled by the military junta, led by General Ibrahim Babaginda.
When Tinubu chose Shettima, religion was not part of his political calculation. He was focused on a higher ideal, placing factors such as competence, innovation, compassion, integrity, fairness, and adherence to excellence, above religious sentiments.
Tinubu’s statement after announcing Shettima’s nomination as his running mate is worth recalling:
“I am mindful of the energetic discourse concerning the possible religion of my running mate. Just and noble people have talked to me about this. Some have counselled that I should select a Christian to please the Christian community. Others have said I should pick a Muslim to appeal to the Muslim community. Clearly, I cannot do both.
“Both sides of the debate have impressive reason and passionate arguments supporting their position. Both arguments are right in their own way. But neither is right in the way that Nigeria needs at the moment. As president, I hope to govern this nation toward uncommon progress. This will require innovation. It will require steps never before taken. It will also require decisions that are politically difficult and rare.
“If I am to be that type of President, I must begin by being that type of candidate. Let me make the bold and innovative decision not to win political points but to move the nation and our party’s campaign closer to the greatness that we were meant to achieve.
“Here is where politics ends, and true leadership must begin.
“Today, I announce my selection with pride because I have made it not based on religion or to please one community or the other. I made this choice because I believe this is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians, period, regardless of their religious affiliation or considerations of ethnicity or region”.
The result of the election in all the six zones showed that Tinubu’s political calculation worked. Just like it worked for Abiola-Kingibe in 1993.
It was not true that Tinubu ‘roundly lost the ‘Christian South’ as Amanze wrote. Indeed there is no such geographical or demographic division in our country. While we have a preponderance of Christians in the South-East and South-South, we cannot say the same of the South-West where the two predominant faiths have adherents. Tinubu won the South-West, and had very poor number from the South-East because the voters erected an iron curtain against other candidates, except Peter Obi, who belongs to their ethnic stock. Tinubu also had a good showing in the South-South states of Edo, Delta, Cross River and Rivers, where he had, at least the mandatory 25 percent of the votes. Again, Amanze was wrong to say that Tinubu did not have ‘the right appeal’ to the voters in the entire three zones in Southern Nigeria, as the facts above have demonstrated. The only place where the voters were blinded about Tinubu was in the South-East and all Nigerians know why that was so.
In the second part of Amanze’s article that I read, it was shocking that Amanze was still peddling the egregious lie that Peter Obi and not Bola Tinubu won the election, even when third-placed Obi still have second place Atiku Abubakar to surpass to claim the trophy.
Let me say loud and clear. Obi lost the election. INEC did not scheme him out. The so-called popular impression about his purported victory was the product of an echo chamber of Obi’s supporters. You all hoped Obi would win, you even conducted fake polls, but the reality of Nigeria’s electoral map made all the pre-poll projections unrealistic.
Of the three major candidates, Obi had the narrowest path to victory. Outside his home base in the South-East, part of the South-South and Lagos, where he sprang an electoral upset, Obi only showed presence in the northern part of the country in the predominantly Christian states, such as Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue, where he was checkmated by Governor Hyancinth Alia, in favour of the APC candidate, now President Tinubu. In more populous North-West states, Obi was not in contention. He was a political paper weight. Similarly, in Kwara, Niger and Kogi states, Obi had scant appeal. He suffered similar fate in Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe and Taraba.
It is uncharitable and malicious for Amanze to attribute Tinubu’s victory to other factors other than his popularity with the voters. In the three horse race, Tinubu was the pre-eminent favourite of the Nigerian people.
Obi’s supporters who often adduce extraneous reasons to Obi’s political Waterloo, often forget the APC was in control of 21 states before the election. Polls by the APC before the election showed that our candidate was destined to win at the first ballot, despite all the obstacles of currency and petrol scarcity and the incumbent’s unpopularity in some parts of the country.
The election result was an upset of sort as we did not expect a tight race.
No one in his right senses would have expected Tinubu to come back empty handed in states under the control of his party. Despite the upsets in several states, our candidate was able to muster the votes that matter, pulling 25 percent of the votes in 30 states, leading in 11, recording tight race in Katsina, Sokoto, with the presumed ‘northern candidate’. Not to forget, our candidate reaped a political windfall from the crisis in PDP, which boosted his votes in Rivers and Oyo.
Amanze Obi should desist from spreading fantasies about the last election. Tinubu won it free and fair. “Popular impression” not based on hard facts, does not win any election. Any candidate who wants to win a general election must work hard to win plural votes in four of the six regions that make up the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Peter Obi succeeded only in two and fell seriously short in the other four.
I will end with this story about the 1979 election, which Shehu Shagari won. In Ogun State capital, Abeokuta, the popular impression was that Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria would sweep the polls. The party was the noisiest, the most visible in the city as it had in its fold many prominent sons of the town. But an opinion poll conducted by the PUNCH newspaper showed contrarily that Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria was headed to victory. The election result affirmed pre-poll prediction and also affirmed that Shagari and Awolowo would emerge the two leading candidates.
The PUNCH poll was unlike the ‘arrangee’ polls conducted by Peter Obi and his friends before the election. The latter gave Obi’s supporters false hopes, false expectations of a forlorn victory. Amanze, it’s time to shake off your disappointment and quit the business of election fortune-telling.
-Onanuga is Special Adviser to President Tinubu on Information & Strategy