The Co-chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, yesterday disputed the democratic credential of former Vice President Atiku Abubkar.
He berated the Waziri Adamawa for what he described as a shallow commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the anti-corruption fight, stressing that his antecedents and current position on the state of the nation lend credence to hypocritical devotion to the cause of liberty and freedom.
Iinubu said the former number two citizen, who worked in tandem with his boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to rig elections in five Southwest states, cannot be described as a democrat.
He recalled that, recently, the former vice-president was apologising to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for failing to also rig the 2003 governorship election.
The former Lagos governor chided Atiku for his subjective criticisms of the Buhari administration’s battle against graft, lamenting that he deliberately decided to support those who refused to thread the path of honour and decency.
Tinubu, who reacted to Atiku’s State of the Nation Address, particularly his position on the Justice Walter Onnoghen saga, wondered why the PDP candidate had uncritically confused the suspension of the Chief Justice with removal, thereby confusing members of the public.
He said the PDP flag bearer indulged in disregard for truth, patent misrepresentation, mistatement and self-incrimination, which, instead of exalting him, have made him unfit for the highest office in the land.
Rejecting Atiku’s claim to a life-long defence of democracy, Tinubu said: “his previous life of over seventy years was one of skirting democracy and of blatant impunity in attempting to enshrine reactionary government and installing an unjust political economy.”
Tinubu chided Atiku, who he described to as “my dear and good friend” for a shortfall in historical perception, saying the difficulty he alluded to in his speech about the moment was less significant than the difficulty with his personal memory.
The former governor recalled that Atiku teamed up with Obasanjo to illegally withhold Lagos State’s local government allocations, in utter disregard for court orders.
Tinubu stressed: “When you lorded over Nigeria in tandem with President Obasanjo, there were myriad court orders mandating that your government render to Lagos State the funds due it to improve the lives of its millions of inhabitants.
“Instead, you gladly and without dispute joined Obasanjo in utter disregard for these unambiguous legal verdicts. In so doing, you demeaned the rule of law. You also readily sacrificed the economic development and welfare of millions of innocent people in Lagos just to gain some illicit political advantage that proved to be fleeting and of no avail to you in the end.”
To Tinubu, it is curious that Atiku pontificated on democracy and executive restraint, oblivious of how he kept sealed lips “when Obasanjo improperly removed Senate Presidents more easily than a trendy cad exchanges a pair of shoes or changes the subject of his false affections”.
He said the former vice president’s lamentation for his boss’ failed plot to rig the 2003 poll in the Centre of Excellence, instead of showing remorse, portrayed him as a destructive enemy of popular rule.
Tinubu said the searchlight should be beamed on the curious and strange breed of democracy being professed by the Adamawa-born politician, especially his disposition to the enthronement of an oligarchy for the purpose of enriching his personal friends.
He stressed: “A few weeks ago in a televised broadcast, you even revealed to the people that your official policy envisioned the base enrichment of your friends, should you achieve the presidency.
I must assume that your lifetime as a defender of democracy began after this long record of unjust deeds and even after your latest statement of intent to mould Nigeria into an oligarchy.
“If this is not the case and if all these things you have done and said are consistent with your current notion of democracy, then there is but one conclusion. The democracy you now claim to support remains a rather strange breed of democracy, such as to be nigh indistinguishable from the regressive, rentier political economy you designed and foisted on Nigeria as the crafty lieutenant of the bullish Obasanjo.”
Tinubu also flayed Atiku for stirring controversy and emotions by claiming that Justice Onnoghen, who was suspended, was removed from office by the president.
He said: “Strange that you would choose to depict the current situation so inaccurately as to stir emotions unduly. You claim that CJN Onnoghen has been removed. However, this is not so. He has been temporarily suspended. You and your advisors should know and recognise the vast legal difference between “suspension” and “removal”.
“Yet, you persist in conflating the two in what you say is a pursuit of justice. While true you may be in pursuit of something. It is not justice.
“If justice was your goal, you would acknowledge that the CJN has only been temporarily suspended, not permanently removed. Thus, your recourse to saying that the president violated the constitutional provision regarding the removal of a CJN is inaccurate in that Buhari never intended to remove the CJN.
“What he has done is to have the CJN temporarily get out of his chair so that the serious matters against him can be heard by someone other than himself. Should the charges show themselves to be wrong or unproven, the CJN will be automatically reinstated as the head of the Nigerian judiciary.
“However, for Atiku to state that the CJN should remain on seat while credible and grave charges swirl around him is to put the entire workings of the Supreme Court under a heavy cloud.”
In Tinubu’s view, President Buhari has handled the Justice Onnoghen crisis with restraint, balancing the public concern about the integrity of the judiciary with the concern about the rights of the chief justice.
He said: “It is ironic that Atiku of all people throw such darts at President Buhari. Buhari actually exercised considerable restraint in this matter. He has reasonably balanced concerns about the integrity of the judiciary with concerns for the individual rights of the accused. Nothing has been taken from the CJN that cannot be restored, if the facts warrant such restoration.
“Thus, President Buhari conditionally suspended the CJN. By doing so, this allows for the case to move forward without the CCT or others fearing the CJN might use his position to unduly interfere with proceedings. If the CJN is exonerated, then he will return to his position. If not exonerated, then a more permanent discipline awaits him.”
Tinubu said the President opted for a balanced approach, following the realisation that the constitution does not provide clear and unambiguous guidance on a sensitive matter where the chief justice is the defendant.
He said while Atiku railed against President Buhari because he showed restraint, it is doubtful if he and Obasanjo would have demonstrated tact, if they were faced with a similar situation while in power.
Tinubu said Obasanjo and Atiku “would have put Onnoghen in the stocks or shipped him off to that infamous farm in Ota where he would have begun his new career in plucking poultry.”
He added: “It is curious that Atiku would take up the marker of a jurist who has enjoyed the sweet but hidden benefits of several million dollars of mystery money passing through his secret bank accounts, Even when discovered, these accounts held several hundred thousands of dollars in them.
“Someone in Atiku’s position would normally be wary of a judge thusly tainted. A politician in Atiku’s position should more objectively be concerned that the government would have been the source of the hidden funds or that government would use the fact of the clandestine money as leverage against the judge to make sure he did government’s bidding for surely this is a jurist highly compromised by pecuniary indiscretion.
“It is almost unnatural that an opposition candidate would champion the soiled cause of such a judge who seems to have sold something in exchange for the money found in his vest’s secret pockets.
“Yet, Atiku now cries the anguished cry of a man who thought he had won the lottery only to find he had misread the last number on his claim ticket. Or perhaps these are the tears of a man who thought he had invested in a sure deal only to see the reason for the investment evaporate before his very eyes.
“Now, Atiku and his cohort seek to turn their personal disappointment into a burning national issue. They seek to manufacture a constitutional crisis where none exists.”
Tinubu enjoined Atiku and PDP to ponder on the logic of campaign suspension and juxtapose it with the suspension of the chief justice, maintaining that suspension and removal are not the same thing.
He said: “They said they suspended their campaign because of this matter. Here, they are as illogical as illogic can beget. By suspending their campaign, did that mean they were permanently ending it? Of course not! That would be a boycott or the permanent “removal” of the campaign. No, they have resumed their campaign after temporarily suspending it.
“If they know the meaning of suspend in this regard, only malign intent allows them to feign ignorance to the meaning of the word “suspend” when applied to CJN Onnoghen.
“There is no need to quake at the solitary incident of the interim suspension of a justice pending the legal resolution of serious criminal claims against him. If this matter is shorn of the political trappings it has acquired, there is no fairer way to handle the matter.”
Tinubu wondered whether Atiku would have left Justice Onnoghen alone in the face of the grave allegations, if he is president.
He said: “Atiku, I gather, would rather leave the man in seat and allow the charges against him to go unattended. Or Atiku would rather that the CJN preside over his own trial. Such is the logical conclusion of Atiku’s position.
“It is an odd bravery that would lead Atiku to stake such a position. If Atiku is as oddly courageous as he now depicts, then let him venture a step further.
“Let Atiku tell us what good and precious thing he and the PDP rendered that they cannot even countenance the temporary and conditional suspension of a single jurist until the charges of illegality against the man have been fully resolved in open proceedings conducted by his judicial peers.”