As the campaign for the February 14 presidential election gathers momentum each day with the countrywide tour by the political parties, the two main contenders have intensified a battle of wits targeted at each other’s perceived soft underbelly. The campaign organisation for the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, accused former President Olusegun Obasanjo of covering up acts of fraud allegedly committed by the All Progressive Congress presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, when he was chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund.
The Jonathan campaign team, in a statement on Saturday by its director of media and publicity, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, also took issue with APC about Buhari’s health status and his alleged inability to produce his educational certificates.
But the APC presidential campaign organisation dismissed the allegations that Buhari was stricken as a wicked lie, saying it is the figment of the imagination of “wicked and evil persons.” Director of media and publicity of the APC campaign organisation, Garba Shehu, said in a statement in Abuja that reports that Buhari was stricken by prostate cancer was disdainful, mischievous, and fallacious. He said the APC presidential candidate was as fit as a fiddle.
On his part, the APC national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described the controversy over Buhari's certificate as a mere distraction that the party had decided to ignore. He said, “The party is not distracted by it. Let them continue to amuse themselves with that. At the appropriate time we will address a press conference to put an end to the matter.”
The Jonathan campaign organisation questioned the Obasanjo administration’s decision to absolve Buhari of all responsibility over an alleged N25 billion fraud while the latter was PTF chairman. A statement by Fani-Kayode said, “We make reference to the findings of the Dr Haroun Adamu-led Interim Management Committee probe of Petroleum Trust Fund where General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC, presided as executive chairman for a number of years while General Sani Abacha was in power.
“The final report of that probe exposed nothing but monumental sleaze and the most pervasive and insidious type of corruption in PTF while General Buhari held sway there. The report concluded its findings by recommending that the PTF under General Buhari and his entire team be asked to explain the circumstances in which N25, 758,532,448.00 disappeared and could not be accounted for. As the chief executive officer of PTF at the time, Buhari, and no one else, must be held responsible for this.
“The fact that the recommendation of the Dr Haroun Adamu-led Interim Management Committee was never acted upon by the Olusegun Obasanjo government is rather curious and gives us some cause for concern.”
The Jonathan campaign organisation frowned on what it called Obasanjo’s “attempt to clear Buhari of all the charges made and issues raised in the report and give him a clean bill of health almost 14 years later.”
It said Buhari should “make full disclosure about a number of issues. Whether it has to do with his record at the PTF, his educational qualifications, his school certificates or his health, it is time for General Buhari to tell the Nigerian people the truth.”
But Shehu dismissed the controversy regarding Buhari’s health. He stated, “The Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital has discredited the purported report said to have emanated from the hospital to the effect that General Muhammadu Buhari is stricken with cancer.”
Besides, according to the APC campaign’s media director, sources at ABUTH said medical report analyses only come from laboratory technologists and not medical doctors, and such reports are not handwritten, as in the case of the report that alleged Buhari had cancer. He said he had it “on good authority” that Buhari had not visited ABUTH in the last five years and could not have been diagnosed with prostate cancer last October.
APC said it would address the Buhari certificate issue at an appropriate time. But the issue might be dealt with as early as this week, going by insinuations by a senior official of the party who did not want to be quoted. This may involve presenting the APC presidential candidate’s certificates.
In the meantime, the nationwide campaign tour of the two main political parties continued at the weekend. Yesterday in Jos, Buhari reiterated his pledge to lift the country’s dwindling economy and tackle insecurity and corruption head-on, as he campaigned before a mammoth crowd of supporters at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium. Also yesterday, the Buhari campaign train berthed in Makurdi and Ibadan. In Ibadan, APC national leader and former governor of Lagos State, Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, accused Jonathan of promoting corruption by allowing a cabal to steal copiously from the national commonwealth.
The Jonathan campaign team was in Onitsha, in Anambra State, yesterday, where the president raised hope on the Second Niger Bridge. Addressing supporters at the Holy Trinity field, Jonathan disclosed that 50 expatriates and 200 Nigerians were already working at the site of the bridge. He said the project would cost N130 billion, in the absence of further variations, and the federal government had so far released N10 billion. The president pledged to complete the bridge if re-elected.
In Owerri, Jonathan assured women and youths of improved status and job creation in his second term in office if re-elected. He also promised to tackle the erosion menace in the South-east and solve the problem of infrastructure nationwide.
Also, ahead of next month’s presidential election, there is a groundswell of opposition from some Nigerians in the Diaspora against Buhari.
The opposition against the former military ruler is being championed by the United States chapter of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), the flagship association of Nigerians living abroad.
Speaking recently at a Press Conference held at the Hilton Garden, Washington DC, Hon. Victor Ugho, the immediate past Vice-President of NIDO, who is the current President of the Georgia State chapter of the association with headquarters in Atlanta, told Buhari to forget the thought of becoming the next president of the country.
He noted that as Head of State, he had ample opportunity to turn the country around.
Also speaking, the Public Relations Officer of NIDO, Mr. Ndubusi George, called on Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora to think wisely and vote for the right candidate in next month’s presidential election.
The Diaspora Campaign Network (DCN) on its part described the presidential aspiration of General Buhari as laughable.
The National Coordinator of the organization, Mr Franklin Ekechukwu said Nigerians could not afford to return the management of the nation’s economy to a vestige of the Military era during which time the nation’s economy was damaged.
The Secretary General of the Alliance of Nigerians in the Diaspora (ANID), Mr Uche Thomas, said that, "General Buhari lacks the intellectual capacity to understand the complexity of global situations, the operations of the world economy, security management, including the nuances of insurgency and counter-insurgency.”