His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto and President General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) is known to wield admirable influence in the country. This explains the different shades of fake news making the rounds about his preferred candidate for the 2023 presidential election. But anyone familiar with the Sokoto Caliphate would know that a Sultan would rather speak in parables about any candidate of his choice than making it open.
Lo and behold, on Thursday January 19, 2023, the Sultan himself rose and finally spoke. He spoke volumes. He spoke about the kind of candidate the citizens should vote for. And he spoke in parables. The Sultan “told Nigerians to vote for leaders with reputable character in the 2023 general elections.” He challenged fellow Nigerians “to think and rethink of who they are casting their votes to. He told us NOT to “consider the religious or ethnic backgrounds of anybody we are voting for but Nigeria first.”
Please read the above statement as many times as can be convenient—and very carefully.
Now, who, among the three top presidential candidates: Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party); Peter Obi (Labour Party); and Bola Tinubu (All Progressives Congress); do you think the Sultan was referring to? I mean that candidate with “reputable character”?
Could the candidate “with reputable character” be Atiku or Tinubu—both of whom are currently at different courts of law, suing each other for various shameless offences, ranging from drug peddling, massive corruption, kickbacks, vote buying, questionable biodata, including forged birth and education certificates, and shady sources of income?
The answer is simple: Any sincere supporter of Atiku or Tinubu would agree that neither of the two is an option—if reputable character is a criterion for the Nigerian presidency. In a nutshell, it is a well-known fact that no Nigerian--whether military or civilian--has ever assumed the governance of the country with the type of shady cum illegal background well known of Atiku and Tinubu. Never!
Enter Peter Obi and character: No need to say much here! Even Obi’s worst enemy would vow that the man is a godsend anywhere “reputable character” is an attribute. Case Closed!
But let’s keep the discussion open because Sultan’s statement did not stop at the topic of character. Yes, he added that we should NOT vote based on religion or ethnicity.
So, could the Sultan be referring to a former vice-president who has staked his entire campaign on ethnicity? I mean Atiku who will go down in history as the first presidential candidate in history to openly warn his fellow Northerners not to cast their vote for candidates of Southern extraction for the president of the country?
Or, could the Sultan then contradict himself by promoting Tinubu, the very Muslim-Muslim man, who has staked his whole hope of winning on a dangerous belief that the election would be reduced to a warfare between the Muslims and Christians? Could Sultan Abubakar ever consider the same candidate who will be remembered in history for boasting that it is his turn to rule Nigeria, based on an arrogant claim that he “made Buhari president”?
How about Peter Obi on religion and ethnicity?
Let’s call a spade a spade. Voters who have listened to Mr. Obi would think Sultan Abubakar adapted his speech from Obi-Datti Baba-Ahmed campaign manual. The Labour Party candidate has indeed become popular with the slogan that we should not vote based on religion or ethnicity. He never fails to remind us that neither a Christian nor a Muslim can buy food or fuel cheaper because of our religion or ethnicity.
As noted from the beginning, the call by His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto and President General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, highlighting character and unity was fashioned as a general statement because of standing principles at the Caliphate. Yet, the very statement is in tandem with those of the leaders of the other major apex socio-cultural groups in the country, such as the Afenifere (Yoruba), Ohaneze Ndigbo, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF), the Middle Belt Forum (MBLF), and numerous others—all of which have offered open endorsement to Mr. Peter Obi.
The timing of the call by the eminent Sultan was profound. It was made few days after a consequential sermon by Bishop Samuel Olumakinde Alawode of the Maranatha Lord Cometh Ministries, Ibadan, Oyo State, now popularly known around the globe as “The Yoruba Pastor”. Like the Sultan, the Bishop was able to enlighten fellow citizens on the essence of character in choosing leaders in Nigeria’s 2023 elections. The man of God professes that the character of society is as good as the character its leaders. But that was not all.
In a life-changing sermon, Bishop Samuel Olumakinde Alawode rose and asked his congregants to raise their hands--if they knew who they would vote for. Most of them responded and raised their hands. He told them he wanted to pray for them.
Bishop Alawode then said a simple prayer: “That man you want to vote for, may your children have his character and destiny…That man that you are rooting for, shouting on Facebook and shouting about, may your great grandchildren behave like him.” May that leader “be the picture of your children…the picture of your future.”
Interestingly, most of the congregants became nervous, frightened, terrified, and petrified. They became ashamed. They became ashamed and embarrassed that their motivation was neither for “Nigeria first”, as the Sultan had admonished, nor for the character, as the Muslim leader and the Yoruba pastor had prayed.
The very sermon of Bishop Alawode and style of its delivery might have emerged as the most God-fearing and sincere religious oration capable of saving the country. This sermon has become a litmus test for our sincerity of purpose as Christians, Muslims, any other religion. It strikes deep into our conscience as Nigerians.
Final Exercise: Now, in line with the admonitions of the Sultan and Bishop Alawode, please cast aside the influence of ethnicity, religion, bribery money or party affiliation, and answer the following question:
Who among the three top presidential candidates in the Nigerian 2023 elections: Atiku, Obi, or Tinubu, would you want your children and future generation to have as a role model, including his type of background, character, behaviour, and destiny?
Let me lead by example and answer: Though I am a bonafide member of the APC; the candidate—among the three—that I can possibly have as a role model for my children and my future generation is Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
That candidate with “reputable character” is truly PETER OBI: He is truly blessed with the character, competence, capacity and, of course, the vigour and the sense of equity and justice ideal for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
SKC Ogbonnia, Former APC Presidential Aspirant, writes from Houston, Texas.