Street wisdom dictates that those in glass houses don’t walk naked. This seems lost on Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate and the flagbearer of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have allowed their media managers to trade damaging allegations that question their own character and integrity. Each side has succeeded in painting the candidate of the other party as a criminal who is unworthy of the position being sought. While some Nigerians may be enjoying the entertainment, the tragedy of our situation is that either of these two septuagenarians could end up as our next president in a matter of weeks.
I once likened accusation and counteraccusation of impropriety by Nigerian politicians during campaign periods to the African folklore of three famished brothers eating from the same plate of food. Apparently losing out in the game of greed, the first brother remarked to no one in particular: ‘You are eating too fast’. To this, the second brother responded: ‘So you saw him’. The third brother completed the farce: ‘That was exactly what I wanted to say’!
The current circus started with the allegation by Michael Achimugu, a former aide to Atiku. In a video post that is making the rounds on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, Achimugu spoke about the sum of N100 million allegedly paid into a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)’ for misappropriating public funds at a time he (Atiku) was vice president. Achimugu revealed other damaging things about Atiku, buttressing his claims with the audio of an incriminating conversation purportedly held with his former boss.
Hardly had the allegation hit the internet when spokesman for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, went on media offensive. He also filed a writ of summons at the Federal High Court in Abuja asking that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) be compelled to investigate, invite and/or arrest Atiku over the allegation. What followed was predictable. The Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Organisation called on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the EFCC to arrest and prosecute Tinubu over lingering drug peddling and money laundering allegations. Referencing Tinubu’s 1993 alleged money laundering and drug-related case in the United States, Atiku’s media team, including Dele Momodu and Daniel Bwala, said should the APC candidate win, “Nigerians will be plunged into a drug crisis that would make the Colombia situation a child’s play.” They also threw up sundry allegations of corruption and cronyism.
The APC and PDP have shared power at the centre and in the majority of the 36 states since the advent of the current democratic dispensation 24 years ago. That ordinarily should impose a measure of responsibility. So, if all that their presidential candidates have to offer in this election season are insults, abuses, and damaging allegations, then Nigerians should be concerned. What their campaigns are invariably telling the electorate is that a choice of either would be a democratic endorsement of the crimes and vices they are accusing each other of.
In their journal article on ‘Negative Campaign’, Richard R. Lau and Ivy Brown Rovner of the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Jersey, United States argued that one of the most important decisions candidates make is “whether to run on their own merits—that is, their own policy ideas, past accomplishments, and personal strengths, which most observers would call a ‘positive’ appeal; or if instead their campaign will concentrate on the perceived weaknesses of their opponent’s policy proposals, prior policy failures, and/or personal peccadilloes”, which they described as a ‘negative’ appeal. Minders of the two parties prefer the latter.
Let me be clear here. As a journalist, I am aware that mudslinging could sometimes take the moral dimension of exposing the weakness of the other candidate in a sort of ‘buyers beware’ warning for voters. But most reasonable Nigerians are also aware that neither of these two candidates can genuinely throw stones. That is not even my concern. Whichever direction we look today, Nigeria is at a most challenging period in history. And with mounting debts amid low revenues, prospects for the future don’t look good either. So, we need those who aspire for leadership, especially at the highest level, to tell us how they intend to address the myriad of challenges that we currently grapple with and the ones that are bound to come.
The point we cannot ignore in this sordid drama is that when politicians lack depth of insight on pressing national issues, they revert to low level gutter snipes. With the language of political exchange drenched in mud, vitriol, and dirt, even the institutions of democratic society like the judiciary, police, security agencies etc are not safe. Besides, in the case of the two presidential candidates, many would have concluded that their exchanges are very revealing of who they are.
That two friends and associates of more than three decades can descend to this level of desperation is to put it mildly unfortunate. The real danger is how that could be transmitted to their followers when the election doesn’t go their way and the prospect of post-election violence. Yet, when aides get carried away by the excitement of the moment, that is when the adults in the room must show up to call them to order and draw the line. Therefore, it is in the enlightened self-interest of both Tinubu and Atiku to have some quiet words with their campaign managers. They must embrace a more sensible rule of engagement.