The National Vice Chairman (North-West) of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Malam Salihu Lukman, has disclosed that the contentious Muslim-Muslim ticket was a tough decision for the party to make.
This is as he urged Nigerians not to see the choice as discrimination against any religion or ethnicity but as a conscious effort taken to produce competent candidates.
Lukman made the clarification after a meeting of the North-West APC leaders and stakeholders on Thursday night at the Katsina Governor’s Lodge in Abuja.
The presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a Southern Muslim, had incurred the wrath of the Christians Association of Nigeria, party members and political stakeholders when he announced the former Governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima, a Northern Muslim, as his running mate.
Tinubu broke the news to journalists after a closed-door meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at his residence in Daura, Katsina State.
His choice of candidate for the vice presidential slot confirmed earlier fears that the ruling party was planning to impose two Muslim leaders on the people.
The action of the APC national leader degenerated into a backlash, particularly from the Christian community, many of whom have been nursing a feeling of marginalisation and its age-long alleged ‘Islamisation’ of Nigeria by the ruling (Muslim) elite class.
Following the outrage that greeted his decision, Tinubu’s men and campaign teams deployed diplomacy and political conversations in the media to assuage frayed nerves.
The desperate move to play down the talks surrounding ‘Islamisation of Nigeria’ had fuelled the belief that Tinubu and the leadership of the APC may consider dropping Shettima for a Northern Christian, a vain hope that was dashed on Wednesday when the latter was officially unveiled at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja.
But Lukman, who posited that the situation was inevitable, believed the decision of the APC went beyond the presentation of two Muslim candidates.
The APC vice chairman also expressed disappointment that critics of the party were not assessing the candidates in the light of competence and proven track record.
He said, “I think we need to be very honest to ourselves. It is true that people have concerns and those concerns are not being dismissed. To the best of my knowledge, all competent party leaders have acknowledged the concerns.
“When you make a decision, certainly some people will be at the receiving end of the outcome. Our party, the APC, is not working to exclude any category, whether in terms of religion, ethnicity or any group. We have taken the decision to produce candidates and they are the ones we saw at the unveiling yesterday (Wednesday).
“They are about the Nigerian project, not a fake one. That is the emphasis and I think, as a nation, we need to look much more positive. That I am Salihu Lukman doesn’t mean I am against a Festus or a Bankole.”