Nigeria: State of the Race – Kaduna Gaffe Adds to Atiku’s Woes

Atiku on Saturday declared in Kaduna that the North should shun southern candidates in next year’s presidential election.

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, stuck his foot in his mouth on Saturday when he declared in Kaduna that the North should shun southern candidates in next year’s presidential election.

Atiku said this at an interactive session with a group of northern political leaders under the Arewa Joint Committee at Arewa House, Kaduna. The group is holding the session with the major presidential candidates, with Atiku the first to take his turn.

Asked by the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, why Northerners should vote for him, the PDP presidential candidate replied at the event, “What the average Northerner needs is 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.”

The remark, captured in a video recording that has since gone viral on social media, was immediately called out by a former minister of aviation and member of the APC, Femi Fani-Kayode on Twitter: “This is the height of desperation & daredevilry on the part of Atiku! This is so horrendous, so horrible & so thoughtless for Atiku Abubakar to use ethnicity to campaign, saying the North does not need a YORUBA OR IBO candidate? My God! Atiku needs to quit the race TODAY!”

Northerners need me, not Yoruba or Igbo candidate- Atiku pic.twitter.com/IiGkzwwvph— Vanguard Newspapers (@vanguardngrnews) October 15, 2022

Atiku’s two main rivals, Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), are Yoruba and Igbo respectively from the southern part of the country.

Atiku enjoyed strong support in 2019 in the South-east and South-south but the emergence of Mr Obi appears to be threatening his party’s stranglehold on the two zones. His chances now clearly depend on improving his support in the North.

And, indeed, it was to play for the northern votes in the light of President Muhammadu Buhari not being eligible to run again that the main opposition party has jettisoned its zoning policy that would have handed its ticket to a southern aspirant.

Atiku, who was a protagonist of the policy review forced through earlier this year, eventually picked the ticket following last-minute manoeuvres at the national convention by northern power brokers in the party.

With the three northern zones having the majority of the 95 million registered voters, Atiku, who is from Adamawa State in the North-east zone, will have a clear advantage over his two southern rivals if voters are swayed by primordial sectional sentiments.

However, he cannot afford to burn his bridge to the South as a candidate still needs to garner substantial support from at least four of the country’s six geo-political zones to be elected.

So even if Atiku takes all the 19 states in the North, he will still need at least a quarter of the votes in five southern states to meet the requirement for vote spread. That is the reason that his blunder on Saturday in Kaduna may also hurt him.

The remark will worsen the poor perception of Atiku in the South where he is already reviled in some parts for seizing the turn of the southern wing of his party for the presidential run.

Atiku has been facing a crisis in his party arising from his return as the flag bearer. He was the party’s candidate in 2019. The PDP power rotation policy was suspended after the southern wing of the party had pushed the position of national chairman to the North, in anticipation of being given a free run for the presidential ticket.

Iyorchia Ayu, from Benue State in the North-central zone, subsequently took the seat as the consensus candidate of the North. The renomination of Atiku has therefore handed the top two positions in the party to the North, contrary to the zoning principle entrenched in the constitution of the party.

Five of the party’s 13 state governors on Monday boycotted the flag off of Atiku’s campaign in Uyo in a continuation of their protest against that regional imbalance in the national leadership of the party. The governors and party chieftains in their camp had earlier rejected appointments to the presidential campaign council of the party.

Their condition for peace is the resignation of Mr Ayu and his replacement by a southerner. The arrowhead of the dissent, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, had repeatedly reminded Mr Ayu of a pledge he made before the presidential primaries to step aside if a northerner emerged as the candidate.

On Friday, Mr Wike said: “We had not done our primaries and a man came out and said if the presidential candidate came from his area, he would quit. Honour it! It is integrity and part of the hallmark of leadership is integrity. If he cannot do that, how can you tell Nigerians that anything the PDP tells you, we will do it?

“You are a party that wants to take over the reins of governance in the country and you don’t have integrity. You are presenting a man, the chairman of the party, who has no integrity. For the country to understand, we should mean what we say.”

But Mr Ayu has rejected the calls. He said the pledge he made was to step down if called upon by the leadership of the party to do so. On this, Atiku is behind him. And the National Executive Committee and the National Working Committee have also not asked him to. Instead, the two bodies have passed a vote of confidence in his leadership of the PDP

On Friday, the Board of Trustees also said he should stay on, but make a public commitment to resign after the general elections, probably if the party wins, too.

Wike Adamant

However, Mr Wike is adamant. He noted on Friday: “Section 7(3c) of the constitution of our party says all party and elective offices must be zoned. That is why we were clamouring for the zoning to be done and the chairmanship went to the North. But they said the presidency should not be zoned contrary to the provision of Section 7(3c).

“You see where we have brought ourselves in? The two major positions have now gone to the same zone. Atiku Abubakar is the presidential candidate. He is the one that feels the pain. What will you tell me at this level that it

is when you finish the election that the chairmanship will go to the South? What is the role of the chairman? Atiku will go for an election in February. If he wins, he will start considering who? He won’t wait till May because decisions would have been made.”

Atiku portrays himself as a unifier. His failure so far to end the crisis in his party has challenged that claim. His Kaduna remarks may further detract from it.

Atiku, Tinubu pledge on economy

Before his indiscreet remark against his southern rivals, Atiku had earlier published a five-point development agenda. At the Kaduna meeting with the northern political leaders, he expanded on his promises in that document.

He said the manifesto, which seeks the political and economic transformation of Nigeria into a united, a secure, and prosperous country, is capable of making the country one of the top 15 global economies.

“The policy priority of the development agenda is to double the size of the Nigerian economy and achieve a GDP of approximately US$900 billion by 2030,” he said. “This would raise Nigeria’s GDP per capita from the current levels of approximately US$2,000 to US$5,000, with additional significant impact on jobs and poverty.”

Although current growth projections are significantly lower, Atiku said: “Nigeria has the potential to achieve this and become one of the top 15 global economies”.

For the country to achieve a strong and resilient economy, the PDP candidate said it needs to restructure, diversify and strengthen the productive base of the economy. He said the federal government under his leadership will support subnational units to develop better means of generating revenue.

Atiku also promised to prioritise agricultural development, noting that Nigeria has immediate potential to irrigate more than three million hectares (Ha) to support agricultural production. “Unfortunately, today

less than 100,000 Ha representing less than three per cent of the potential are under irrigation.”

He described the MSMEs sector as a cornerstone of national development, adding that with slightly more than 40 million MSMEs and employing 60 million people, the sector can sustainably resolve the challenges with job creation.

Atiku said one of the key issues affecting MSMEs in Nigeria is the shortage of finance. To address this, he promised to create a US$10 billion Economic Stimulus Fund to support MSMEs across all economic sectors.

To reduce poverty, Atiku promised to enhance access to credit for at least two million micro-enterprises, with special attention to non-farm micro-enterprises in the rural communities, institute microcredit schemes for two million home-based income-generating activities directed to poor women and increase investment in basic skills and vocational training for an estimated one million marginalised and vulnerable populations annually.

He also promised to provide affordable quality education from primary up to the secondary level as well as affordable and quality healthcare facilities.

On his part, Mr Tinubu, who spoke at the 7th edition of the annual Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit (KadInvest 7.0), also in Kaduna, promised to lead an efficient government that will eliminate revenue and expense leakages across all federal government areas, and leverage technology into government operations.

“I will marshal a team of the most talented of Nigerians – men, women and youths, no matter their tribe and affiliations, to reset our nation on a path to achieve double-digit economic growth within a couple of years. We will do this through a coordinated set of policies in key sectors,” he said.

In the oil and gas sector, Mr Tinubu said he will prioritise gas distribution and availability to power the country’s industries.

“In agriculture, we will provide incentives for investments, machinery and equipment, expand and empower commodity boards, enhance our strategic grains reserves, encourage the formation of farm cooperatives and expand the scope and depth of access to finance for our farmers.”

He also pledged to introduce policies that will make it easier to transfer titles and carry out transactions on landed properties. He promised to work with the private sector to significantly expand mortgage financing and provide credits and incentives to encourage real estate developers.

“We will collaborate with key technology partners to develop policies that promote the use and integration of technology across other sectors within the nation. We will work to accelerate the work that is being done with the private sector to train our youth and promote innovation through sponsored incubator hubs and science technology parks,” he said.

“Under my stewardship, the federal government will build on the efforts of the current administration to review, amend and/or enact the relevant laws that will engender the rule of law. My administration would ensure that the the judiciary has true financial and administrative autonomy and strong disciplinary and integrity monitoring mechanisms,” Mr Tinubu added.

On national security, the APC standard bearer promised to place great emphasis on the use of a counter-insurgency doctrine and strategy and prioritise the use of superior aerial technology to deter criminal and terrorist activities, as well as to monitor and protect our critical national infrastructure.

Tinubu, Obi, Kwankwaso missing on campaign field

It has been three weeks since the whistle sounded at the beginning of public campaigns for the 2023 presidential election, but only Atiku, the candidate of the PDP, has hit the track.

In accordance with Section 94(1) of the Electoral Act, which provides that campaigns shall last for 150 days, the *Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) *blew the whistle on 28 September for the candidates and their political parties to begin their campaigns for the February 25 election.

Twelve days later, on Monday, Atiku, who is taking his sixth stab at the presidency since 1993, flagged off his campaign in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. But the three other major candidates are still being held back by issues in their parties connected to putting together their campaign councils.

APC

The APC campaign has been delayed by a disagreement in the party over the composition of the presidential campaign team. The secretary of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, James Faleke, had earlier released the list of a 422-member campaign council.

But many party stakeholders, including state governors and members of the National Working Committee (NWC), complained that they were not carried along in the making of the list. Some governors said their nominees were not included in the council.

The Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council and Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, in a statement, later announced the postponement of their inauguration to allow for the inclusion of more party stakeholders.

Labour Party

The Labour Party is also trying to reconcile party leaders unhappy with the composition of the presidential campaign council. This led to the candidate issuing a statement via Twitter withdrawing the published list and announcing that it was being reviewed.

NNPP

The NNPP) is also yet to announce a campaign council or start rallies.

Daily Trust had reported that the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Agbo Major, said the party would flag off the campaign in a North-central state last Wednesday, but that did not happen.

The newspaper later said it was told by a “well-placed source in the party” that the delay was due to logistic issues as the party was still tidying up the presidential campaign headquarters in Abuja.

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