By Segun Olubayo, Jane Odoh and Bako Johnson

The political atmosphere in the camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC) must be in serious panic following the decision of elder statesmen and leaders of various socio-political organisations across the six geo-political zones yesterday to endorse the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar as their consensus candidate for the February 16 presidential elections. 

They also called for strong international coalition against the Buhari regime, which they described as tyrannical, divisive and rudderless.

The endorsement came at the end of the Third Summit of the Forum of Nigerian Elders and Leaders held yesterday in Abuja. 

The meeting had in attendance foremost Leaders of Thought, including Chief Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere (South-West), Chief Nnia Nwodo of Ohanaeze Ndigbo (South-East); Chief Edwin Clark of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF (South- South); Prof. Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF (North-West/ North-East) and Dr. Bitrus Pogu of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF (North-Central). 

Also in attendance were the Chairman, Northern Leaders and Stakeholders’ Assembly, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai; a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr Junaid Mohammed; National Chairman, Reformed All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Buba Galadima; a former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Kaduna State, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed; Prof. Godwin Darah, Senator Femi Okuruomu and a host of others. 

At the plenary session of the summit, leaders of the various regional groups took turns to review the state of the nation in the last four years.

Each of them lamented that whereas Nigerians voted for the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 because of promise of change, their hopes have been dashed by the poor performance of the government even on its cardinal programmes. 

They unanimously said that Nigeria had reached a crossroads where citizens must decide to either continue to ensure the current deplorable situation of things or seek a new leadership for Nigeria. 

In a communiqué released after the Summit, they said that as leaders of various regional groups in Nigeria, they were committed to working together to find solutions to national challenges, support the cause for good governance and contribute towards improving national unity, security and economic development of all Nigerians. 

The communiqué noted the continued drift of the country in the direction of insecurity, deep divisions, tyranny as shown in the recent unilateral sacking of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) against all globally known democratic ethos.

They said that having closely followed the competition for mandates within the various political parties as well as the campaigns for the votes of Nigerians so far, including four weeks of close interactions and interviews with nearly all the aspirants for the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the various parties, it had become clear that forthcoming elections are vital to the unity and peaceful co-existence of the citizens of Nigeria. 

The Forum said that having concluded a thorough evaluation of all candidates aspiring to lead Nigeria through its current challenges and engineer genuine national rebirth, it has decided to adopt Atiku as the consensus candidate for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

The elders said they were not members of the PDP, but were concerned about the negative developments in the country.

They called on all Nigerians, irrespective of religious or ethnic background, to stand in unison and vote for Atiku Abubakar on the 16th February and ensure that they defend their votes. 

“The Forum, having concluded a thorough evaluation of all candidates aspiring to lead our nation through its current challenges and engineer genuine national rebirth, has decided to adopt the candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP as the consensus candidate for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as he has demonstrated the deep understanding of the critical need of the country at this time and possesses the capacity to proffer clear solutions in that respect,” they said. 

According to them, Atiku is capable, intelligent, a physically and mentally alert person that understands the issues and will, once more, restore Nigerian international standing and respect.

They listed the other qualities they found in Atiku thus: “A strong will to improve the quality of governance, including the rebuilding of key and strategic national institutions; to ensure inclusiveness is reflected in all political and governance matters; to fight corruption as a national scourge with transparent commitment; and to pursue policies that address the needs of a nation with a huge population of young people who need quality education and opportunities to participate as productive adults in a thriving economy.”

In a swift reaction to the endorsement, Atiku said he was moved to tears that in the midst of deep divisions and deliberate use of instrumentalities of state to set Nigerians against themselves in the last three and a half years, responsible and respected leaders across Nigeria have agreed to come together for a common purpose. 

The former Vice President described the development as “a loud statement” that there is hope for Nigeria as the country goes to the polls in a few days.

“Today, we put aside all our prejudices to elect a President with religion and ethnicity playing no role in our elections. I profusely thank our leaders across the country who have created this wonderful moment for us to come to the table of brotherhood. 

“Once again, and in the words of our old National Anthem, we can proudly sing: “Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand.

”This has buoyed me to lead a pan-Nigerian team that will give practical interpretation to what has been done by the time I take leadership of our country, by the grace of Allah, on May 29, 2019… I have been chosen to unite our people and exactly that I will,” he said. 

On the other hand, the APC has dismissed the endorsement of Atiku as a non-issue. National Publicity Secretary of the ruling party, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said all those who took part in the endorsement of the presidential candidate of the PDP were apologists of the opposition party.

 “It is expected. They were the same persons that supported the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. So, they are not doing anything different, they are PDP members. Majority of them. 

“So, we welcome the development and, at the end of the day, this election is about one man one vote. Nigerians are wiser; Nigerians know that this election is about them wrestling their coun-try from the grip of people who have made them stood for decades,” he said. 

In the same vein, Director, Strategic Communications of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Festus Keyamo, has described the endorsement as a fraud, which should be ignored by Nigerians. 

According to Keyamo, the leaders who took part in the endorsement were known PDP members and sympathizers wearing the apparel of socio-cultural groups, purporting to represent entire regions of the country. 

“The impression given through these endorsements that PDP is expanding its support base is also an attempt to deceive Nigerians because these are groups that supported PDP in 2015 and lost the election along with PDP. 

“Therefore, their excuse that they are supporting Alhaji Atiku Abubakar because of the bogey called ‘restructuring’ is nothing but a subterfuge.

“In any case, Ohanaeze had said in its earlier release that the first reason they are endorsing Atiku Abubakar is that his running mate is an Igbo man. 

“In the past, it used to be that some of these individuals have used the names of these groups and platforms to purport to represent their people and as such enjoyed huge government patronage. 

“The proceeds of this patronage have never trickled down to their people they purport to represent, but ended up in their pockets and benefitted only their immediate families. 

“This is in perfect tune with the campaign promise of Atiku Abubakar to enrich only his friends. Therefore, like bees and honey, these people and Atiku Abubakar are attracted to themselves. 

“Unfortunately for them, President Muhammadu Buhari has managed to navigate his way directly to the masses who they purport to represent and is ensuring that the dividends of democracy reach the people directly. 

“Their annoyance is that they have been eliminated as middlemen. That is why the bond between the masses and President Buhari continue to grow on a daily basis,” he said. 

Earlier during the summit, the leaders and elders commended the civil society in Nigeria and the international community for their contributions towards improving the integrity and security of the ballot.

It urged all stakeholders, including the media, to continue to play the vital roles of informed vigilance and partnership in the current efforts to deepen the roots of democracy in Nigeria. 

“These last few days before the first set of elections will test the Federal Government’s undertaking and assurances to protect Nigerians as they prepare to participate in the elections, as well as create a level playing field for all parties and candidates. 

“The Federal Government must, therefore, ensure that no one, no matter their roles or status, should be allowed to behave as if there are no consequences for subverting the electoral process or threatening the rights of all Nigerians to participate in free and fair elections,” the communiqué said. 

They acknowledged that it was not enough to endorse a candidate and urged all well-meaning Nigerians to work hard by rejecting the APC at the polls.



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