Presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, yesterday, gave an undertaking that he would not pursue any religious or ethnic agenda if elected president of Nigeria.
Speaking against the backdrop of criticisms that trailed his choice of a Muslim vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima, Tinubu said his choice was based on capacity, cordiality, and one who could help him win the election.
The former Lagos State governor spoke at an iinteractive session with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
He said if it was impossible for him to Islamise his home, then, he could not Islamise the country. He added that some of those opposed to his choice of running mate in APC had lobbied for the position but were rejected.
But CAN insisted on policy that would address the crisis of development in the country, including such issues as state police or fully decentralised police authority, clear and unambiguous religious neutrality of the Nigerian state, enforcement of fundamental rights of all Nigerians, as well as economic and social rights.
Tinubu will be in Owerri, the Imo State capital, today, to speak to an audience of private sector drivers, comprising investors, manufacturers, traders, among others, preparatory to his main campaign in the state in the coming days.
Laying the template for his discussion with CAN, Tinubu said, “I did not choose Senator Shettima so that we could form a same faith ticket. The ticket was constructed as a same progressive and people-based ideology ticket.
“I offer a confession. I selected Senator Shettima thinking more about who would best help me govern. Picking a Christian running mate would have been politically easier. But the easy way is rarely the right one. The selection of a running mate is at once a very momentous yet very intimate decision.”
Lashing out at his critics, especially, those from his party, who were against his choice of Muslim-Muslim ticket, Tinubu said some of them lobbied profusely for the vice presidential position but were rejected by him.
While seeking to address the fears of Christians regarding threats to Nigeria’s secularity by the APC presidency, Tinubu said both his family background and track record as governor could bail him out as someone, who was not biased.
He stated, “As governor of Lagos, I partnered the Christians to improve lives and foster education. For instance, I returned mission schools to their owners, most of who are Christians. I instituted yearly Christian Denomination Service at the governor’s residence as we approached the New Year. This tradition continues in Lagos.
“More importantly, we fostered an atmosphere of religious tolerance and inter-faith collaboration. My cabinet was diverse and talented. In the exercise of government, I did not give a thought to whether a team member was Christian or Muslim, Yoruba, Igbo or Arewa.”
Tinubu said he had never lent himself to baseless prejudice and discrimination, adding, “To do so would be a recipe for failure in the governance of a diverse society and I am not a man that is familiar with failing.
“I never chased people out of Lagos nor made them feel unwanted. Under my administration, Lagos welcomed all comers and continues to do so today.”
He used the opportunity to highlight some of his achievements as governor of Lagos State.
The former governor described the rumour that he and his running mate, Shettima, had a hidden plot to suppress the Christian community as untrue and unfortunate.
According to him, “I can no more suppress the Christians of this nation than I can suppress the Christians in my own household, my very family. You all know my wife is Christian and a pastor. My children are Christians. I can no more disown them and their choice of faith than I can disown myself.”
He stated that as a husband and father to Christian wife and children, hearing such allegations was hurtful.
On the demand by a member of CAN’s strategy committee, Sam Amadi, that he should respond point by point to the issues raised in the CAN Charter for Future Nigeria, the APC candidate said he would rather reply to them later.
“Let me look at those things and provide answers to them, if there are remaining questions, I will try as much as possible to send you an addendum,” he said.
However, CAN president, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, said the idea of the interaction was to review the understanding of “the Nigerian crisis of development and governance and collectively find a lasting solution”.
Okoh said CAN insisted on its Charter for Future Nigeria, which tried to highlight salient issues bedevilling the country. He added that the charter started with a diagnosis of Nigeria’s problem and located it primarily in an incoherent constitutional and institutional framework that defined governance and social and economic interactions in Nigeria.
“For avoidance of doubt, we present the policy that would address the crises of development in Nigeria as follows: state police or fully decentralised police authority, clear and unambiguous religious neutrality of the Nigerian state, enforcement of fundamental rights of all Nigerians, including economic and social rights, restructuring to decentralise governance, equitable and enforceable sharing of executive positions,” the CAN president said.
Other demands made by CAN included the fact that there should be ethnic and religious representation in the military and security agencies and self-determination for all Nigerian people.
In addition, CAN maintained its no stand to RUGA, insisting that ranching is the only way to ensure peace among communities. It said there should be no open grazing but rather a modernisation of animal husbandry and local control of the local economy, including waters, rivers, and forests.
CAN said it was resolute on the creation of a new constitutional order on the basis of equality, justice, and self-determination, saying, “if we determine to create a new social compact between Nigerians of different religious, ethnic, and social groups, we will recover the promise of a great, peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria.
“As an association of Christian citizens, who believe in this country and continue to pray for its unity, peace, and prosperity, we have spent time to review the problems that hinder peace and progress in the country and are hereby making suggestions on how best to improve them.
“We have consulted with Nigerians of diverse religious, ethnic and social identities on the problems of the country and the solutions to them have been articulated in the strategic document we call, the Charter for Future Nigeria.”
Okoh said incoherence was the main reason the country today was almost submerged in the chaos of insecurity, instability, and economic stagnation.
He stated, “In this interaction, we will present the highpoints of this strategic document and listen to your response to the issues they raise. This is a conversation by concerned a religious community that desires the best for its country. Our interest is that all candidates clearly understand the concerns of Nigerian Christians and propose policy and programme to address those concerns.
“We believe that with this kind of respectful and sincere conversation, we will find lasting solutions to these crises.”
Okoh said the engagement with other presidential candidates would continue in the days ahead.
Among APC stalwarts, who accompanied Tinubu on the visit, were Governors Hope Uzodinma (Imo), Abdulahi Ganduje (Kano), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, and former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume.
Meanwhile, Tinubu would address private sector players today in Owerri ahead of his main campaign in the state. The state governor disclosed this yesterday while speaking with the media on arrival at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, from the APC Presidential Campaign flag-off in Jos on Tuesday.
Uzodinma, who was also the APC Coordinator for the South-east Presidential Campaign Council, reiterated his call on the Igbo in Jos to be part of the government of Nigeria at the centre by keying into the agenda of the APC, which he said was already a success story in Imo State.
“The only way to be part of Nigeria is being part of the government at the centre and the government at the centre is controlled by APC,” he maintained.
Uzodinma said he had not seen any calculation in the population of over 200 million people in Nigeria that would “whisk off APC,” stating, “in Imo State, there are things to show why all and sundry should encourage APC. And you don’t change the winning team, as APC is wining in Imo State and other states of the federation, so it should continue.”
Earlier, Uzodinma described APC’s outing in Jos as a very huge success, where the national leadership of the party, starting with President Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu, all the progressive governors, and all national leaders were present.