Controversy as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, NEF, PANDEF endorse Atiku

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Despite the controversy that has trailed their endorsements in the 2019 general election season, several regional socio-cultural groups across Nigeria including Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum, Pan-Niger Delta Forum and the Middle Belt Forum have endorsed the People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, for the 2019 Presidential elections. The groups came together in at a meeting held at Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, on Sunday.

At the meeting themed “Summit of Nigerian Leaders and Elders,” the groups said they were endorsing Atiku because he possesses the intelligence, capability and knowledge to lead Nigeria. The groups noted that they came to the decision after meeting with different presidential candidates.

Atiku is the main challenger to the incumbent President Buhari, who is seeking re-election at the polls on February 16. The groups accused President Buhari of dividing the country rather than uniting it while asserting that the President had lost control of the government. Participants in the meeting include Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere), Chief John Nnia Nwodo (Ohanaeze Ndigbo), Dr Pogu Bitrus (Middle Belt Forum), Malam Ango Abdullahi (Northern Elders Forum), Chief Edwin Clark (Pan Niger Delta Forum), and Buba Galadima.

In a statement on Sunday, Atiku said the endorsement “is a loud statement that there is hope for our country as we go 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”.

It is worth-noting that President Buhari also has the endorsement of an Afenifere faction, led by Chief Ayo Fasanmi while the suspended general secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Okwukwu, also drummed support for president Buhari. A spokesman of the Middle Belt Forum has even come out to deny endorsing Atiku. “There was no time when we came together as a people to endorse Atiku Abubakar as our candidate in the 4th coming elections. Atiku Abubakar is not our candidate and will never be”, said Middle Belt Forum spokesman, Gowon Egbunu.

“Beloved Middle Beltans, take that as fake news and go about your normal business. If there’s a need to endorse any candidate, you will be communicated accordingly”, Egbunu, who is director of media and publications for the forum said. “This is to clear the air and put the records straight, that, Middle Belt people are honest and highly principled people, who will not sell their conscience for a loaf of bread. I watched and listened with regret, one Dr. Bitrus Pogu, the Chairman of Chibok community in Abuja, on Channels Television a while ago, claiming to be speaking for the Middle Belt Forum”.

In another reaction, Festus Keyamo, the APC Director of Strategic Communications described the whole politics of endorsement as Voodoo. Keyamo told Channels Television’s Sunday Politics that those who endorsed Atiku are persons who the masses do not listen to anymore. He dismissed the endorsement of Atiku Abubakar by the Leaders of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Northern Elders Forum, Pan-Niger Delta forum, the Middle Belt Forum, and a faction of Afenifere, as inconsequential.

“There is nothing that is as fraudulent as known PDP members and sympathizers putting on the apparel of social-political groups and endorsing their own political parties. The people don’t listen to them again. These are people who have over time represented their own interest and of course they are in tune with the philosophy of Atiku Abubakar who says that he will enrich his own friends. So like bees are attracted to honey, these people are attracted to Atiku Abubakar who wants to enrich his friends”

Keyamo further noted that “President Buhari is an unusual leader, he has managed to navigate his way through these middlemen and he has reached the people directly in this country.” The Senior Advocate went on to challenge the socio-political groups to a popularity contest in states where President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to hold his presidential campaign. “I want to challenge the so-called groups now, we are still on our campaign rally. Let them call a rally the same day we arrive their region, I am challenging them openly, I am challenging the faction of Afenifere: we have not gone to Lagos, we have not gone to Ekiti, the day we are arriving Lagos, I am challenging Afenifere to call a rally of Yoruba people at another venue in Lagos and let us see the turn out.”

The challenge was also thrown to the other socio-political groups including the Middle Belt Forum. “I am challenging the middle belt forum, we have not gone to Benue, we have not gone to other places; to know how connected you are with your people, I challenge you to call a rally the same day we are arriving the middle belt and let us see the turnout at your rally and our rally” Keyamo challenged.