Some Northern elders under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Elders For Peace and National Unity (CNEFPNU), have asked security agencies to arrest and interrogate Mahdi Shehu, a Katsina-based activist, over what they termed a provocative statement against Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party for the 2023 general election.
A video of the statement, which has gone viral, captured Shehu advising Christians in the North against voting for a presidential candidate of southern extraction in the election.
In the video, the Katsina-born activist was seen urging Northern Christians not to vote for Christian Candidates from the South, particularly the Labour Party candidate, purporting that a vote for him would amount to a vote for Biafra, and a secessionist.
Shehu further claimed that Northerners – both Christians and Muslims – are being discriminated against in the South East, South West, and South-South, hence his despicable outing.
But reacting to his remarks, CNEFPNU, described the disposition of Mahdi as “distasteful, provocative, and capable of inciting ethnoreligious tension”.
While insisting that the outing constituted hate speech and fake news, the elders called on relevant security agencies to arrest, interrogate, and where culpability is established, prosecute him, to serve as deterrence to others, who may contemplate such an infamous path especially as political parties would soon commence their campaigns.
In a statement signed by the National Coordinator, Prof Abdulkadir Mohammed Gummi, and National Secretary, Hajiya Hadiza M. Gwazo, the elders maintained that the position of Madhi was a brazen attempt to incite Christians against Muslims in the North on one hand, and Northerners against Southerners on the other.
“As responsible Northern elders, we view the video by Shehu Mahdi, as a deliberate attempt to instigate ethnoreligious tension in the country, hence our call on relevant security agencies to take him in immediately for questioning.
“We further enjoin our people to disregard the provocative comments made by Mahdi, even as we urge them to vote for presidential candidates of their choice, devoid of ethnic, religious, or political consideration.
“May we also clarify that having followed Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate, for a long time now, we can say, without equivocation, that he is a detribalised, and patriotic Nigerian, who has the interest of the ordinary people at heart”, the statement read in part.
According to the patriots, by calling out Northern Christians and urging them not to vote for Obi, Madhi has inadvertently demonstrated that Christians in the North should be held accountable, should an unpopular candidate from the South emerge as President in 2023.
The statement reads: “This would mean that Christians from the North would automatically become targets of disparaging remarks and violence.
“Secondly, Mahdi’s charge is laced with a lot of tribal and religious slur aimed at causing disaffection between Northerners and Southers, Northerners against Igbos and Northerners against Southeast in general.
“In an election period and in a period when Northern Nigeria is going through a very turbulent period, what the North needs is unity in face of all odds and not a campaign of calumny against anyone or region.
“As far as the coalition of Northern Elders Forum for Peace and Unity is concerned, Peter Obi was duly certified and cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC), the Department of State Security ( DSS ) as a Nigerian who is eligible to contest for any elective office.
“INEC which cleared Obi did not say that the Labour Party Flag bearer is a Biafran. The DSS did not come out to say Obi is from Biafra and these organisations are headed by Northerners. Nigerians should be asking Madhi to tell them how he came about his allegations against Obi.
“Mr Peter Obi is running to be President of Nigeria and not President of Biafra or Igbos or Southern Nigeria. His ambition according to him is to guarantee economic prosperity and security for all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation.
“The Peter Obi campaign is broad-based and all-inclusive. His track record of inclusivity is not in doubt. It is callous for anyone to accuse Peter Obi of running to represent the interest of Biafra. Peter Obi is running to represent the interest of all Nigerians”.
It was the contention of the Forum that the current insecurity, untold hardship, and economic deprivation, among other challenges facing Nigerians; with the North worst hit, can only be truly addressed by a visionary and committed leader like Mr Peter Obi.
Therefore, it would be foolhardy for anyone to tell Northerners to vote on a tribal, religious or regional basis again.
“We as a group would encourage Northerners to scrutinise the economic blueprints of all the Presidential candidates and then choose who has the competence to bring about a positive change, for us in the forum we took our stand with the wave of a new Nigeria that’s about to be birthed, a position we will make public soon.
“Similarly, Northerners should interrogate the achievements of all the contestants before choosing who should lead them. What Northerners should not do this time around, is to vote on religious or regional lines as Madhi is advocating”, the statement concluded.