As we get closer to 25 February 2023, the date for the presidential elections, the leading candidates seem to have taken off their gloves for bare-knuckle punches. While desperately trying to de-market their opponents, they concomitantly hype their candidates as the messiahs that would, with a magic wand, solve all the country’s problems, once elected. In the course of the competitive de-marketing of their opponents, there have been troubling allegations against some candidates which deserve being independently fact checked to guide the voters into making informed choices during the election.
From the PDP, we have heard the allegations by one Michael Achumugu, who claimed to be a former aide to the PDP Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. According to the ‘whistleblower’, while Atiku was the Vice President of the country (1999-2007), he created, in conjunction with President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Special Purpose Vehicle for siphoning public funds to private pockets. From the APC came accusations from Naja’atu Bala Muhammad, who was the Director of Civil Society Organizations at the APC Presidential Council that the party’s presidential candidate Ahmed Bola Tinubu has serious cognitive and physical health challenges such that he cannot hold a cup of tea. There has been several other controversies around Tinubu, including over the primary and secondary schools he attended, his real name and age and his alleged links with a heroin cartel in the 1990s which led to his forfeiting a whopping sum of $460,000 to the US government in plea bargaining. There were also allegations that Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, while he was Governor of Anambra State, invested the state’s money in businesses in which his family had interest. He was also accused of forcing residents of the state from the Northern parts of the country to carry ID cards while he was the Governor.
Festus Kenyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and one of the spokes persons of the ruling All Progressives Congress, in either righteous on feigned indignation, has gone to court to seek redress over the allegations by Achumugu. In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/84/2023, Keyamo is praying the court for an order compelling the PDP candidate “to submit himself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Conduct of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for thorough investigation”. Kenyamo’s suit is based on the written and audio revelations by Mr. Achumugu.
Similarly, the PDP Presidential Council, through one of its spokes persons, Kola Ologbondiyan told journalists at a press conference in Abuja that the party is in court to ask for the disqualification of the APC presidential candidate over allegations bordering on “conviction for trafficking narcotics in the United States”.
While both the PDP and the APC claim they have gone to court to seek the disqualification of the other candidate, everyone knows that even if the parties really want to pursue the cases (and not mere posturing with them for political gain), the courts are unlikely to be able to conclude the trial before the elections, meaning that the voters will not have the correct information on these allegations before the election date. In fact our judicial system is not known to come strongly against individuals like Atiku and Tinubu who are not only very wealthy but are also extremely influential. This means that most likely the cases will be abandoned as soon as the elections are won and lost.
This is where public interest demands that our fact checkers, the media and NGOs should come in. They need to fact check some of the troubling allegations against these candidates especially as both parties appear unwilling to let their principals have media interviews where they would be grilled on those allegations – as would have been the case in other climes. In fact, the court cases instituted by both parties now provide extra alibis for the accused to avoid scrutiny by arguing that commenting on the case would be sub judice (under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere) .
Since these allegations are very weighty and voters deserve to have the correct information to help them make informed choices, we call on our fact checkers and civil society groups to take the gauntlet and let the public know which of these allegations are true and which are mere propaganda designed to de-market their rivals for political gain.