With Nigeria’s campaign season hitting top gear, we’re seeing the leading candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), beginning to feel the heat, providing entertainment that is unmatched in both hilarity and cringe value.
Our story begins in Kaduna, where on Saturday, October 14, 2022, Atiku met with the Arewa Joint Committee. The meeting was billed as an interactive session ahead of the 2023 presidential election. Donning his customary full-flowing agbada and what looked like sneakers (perhaps to appeal to his youth base), Atiku took the mic to answer a question posed by the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed. The question itself was innocent enough, but Atiku’s response set off a tsunami of reactions online, revisiting old worries about tribalism and dog-whistling in Nigerian politics.
Atiku’s “emi lokan” moment
Baba-Ahmed asked Atiku why the North should support his candidacy. The candidate began by talking about how he had “traversed the whole of this country and built bridges”. However, in the words that followed, Atiku stepped on a landmine, or what one political commentator called his “emi lokan moment”.
The former vice-president said, “I think what the average northerner needs is someone who is from the North, and who also understands the other parts of Nigeria, and who has been able to build bridges across the rest of the country. This is what the northerner needs. He doesn’t need a Yoruba candidate, or an Igbo candidate. This is what the northerner needs.”
Given that Atiku is the most experienced candidate by virtue of being a serial contender, it smacks of sheer disbelief that he would make that statement in full glare of the cameras. The self-styled “unifier” for whom his supporters describe themselves as “Atikulate”, clearly didn’t win plaudits from the South with that comment, in what can at best be spinned as a “misarticulation”, and at worst, succumbing to the demands of what has been a flailing campaign.
The audacity of the BAT
Tinubu was speaking at the 7th edition of the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit. Not to be outdone by Atiku, he said, “I’m begging Nasiru El-Rufai not to run away for (an) additional degree. Your vision, creativity and resiliency in turning a rotten situation into a bad one is necessary at this critical time.”
Following online taunts over the gaffe, Tinubu’s campaign team issued a statement describing the comment as a “slip of tongue”. That hasn’t quelled things though. Some critics are doubling down that it reveals the true sentiments that BAT has about El-Rufai. For others, it reignites fears that BAT suffers from dementia.
Because Tinubu rarely appears publicly to discuss his plans for Nigerians, the few times he does are always subjected to scrutiny and there is almost always a soundbite that generates wild reactions online — take your pick from anywhere between “emi lokan” and cassava and agbado. If he wasn’t running for president, BAT certainly has enough material to be a skitmaker.
A presidential election of slips
As we approach the elections, there will be no shortage of slips and gaffes from your faves. Today, it’s Atiku and BAT, but it could also be Peter Obi, Rabiu Kwankwaso or Omoyele Sowore tomorrow. Whatever the case, we’ll continue to bring you the latest happenings in Nigeria’s political terrain. It’s going to be a long four months before the 2023 presidential election.