President Goodluck Jonathan and Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) – both of whom are presidential candidates in next month’s polls – held a secret meeting in Abuja last Sunday, THISDAY can report.
This is even as THISDAY has learnt that the TV presidential debate to be organised by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) has been tentatively fixed for Tuesday, March 29.
The presidential election will hold on April 9, one and a half weeks after the debate.
BON is an organisation of government-owned as well as private television stations, including AIT and Channels, and has traditionally organised presidential debates since 1999, although flag bearers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have always failed to participate.
Jonathan, who has been criticised for turning down invitations to debates especially the one organised by NN24 TV, recently expressed readiness to participate in the “traditional” BON-organised debate.
Meanwhile, the meeting between Jonathan and Buhari was held in absolute privacy, at the Defence House in the nation’s capital.
THISDAY could not ascertain the reason for the meeting, but it is understood that it might have to do with the polls scheduled for next month.
THISDAY learnt that Jonathan was planning for a post-election scenario to heal “the fracture” in the polity.
Sources close to both camps said the meeting was at the instance of the president who is “uncomfortable” with the growing tension between his party, the PDP, and Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
It was widely reported that CPC supporters were hostile to Jonathan’s supporters, leading to skirmishes and attacks on the campaign offices of the president in some Northern states.
It is understood that the two men might have discussed ways to avert a bigger problem during the elections as well as seek assurances that genuine efforts would be made to achieve credible polls.
Both men were also said to have discussed the best ways of achieving credible polls devoid of violence, rigging and underhand tactics.
Speaking in Sokoto yesterday, Buhari denied advocating lynching of election riggers during the flag-off of his presidential campaign in Kaduna last month.
He had been quoted as telling his supporters in Hausa language: “You should never leave polling centres until votes are counted and the winner declared and you should lynch anybody that tries to tinker with the votes.”
But during a courtesy call on Sokoto State Governor Aliyu Wamakko in Sokoto yesterday, Buhari said he was misquoted by the press.
Rather, he said, he was committed to free and fair elections and had always appealed to his supporters to make sure that their votes count.
He maintained that he was completely misquoted by the media and denied ever calling on his supporters for mass revolt against those who rig elections.
According to him, at no time in his life had he called on his supporters for any form of violence.
“It seems the press was happy to misinterpret me. If there is one thing I fear and hate in my life, it is violence. I have seen enough of violence in my life. I have seen many military coups; counter coups and the Nigerian civil war. I lost many of my valuable friends and colleagues in the military to violence,” he said.
“In fact, having been a presidential candidate in 2003 and 2007, I cannot be advocating violence. I always tell my supporters to protect their votes and ensure that their votes count in the forthcoming elections and this is being misinterpreted by the press,” he added.
He pointed out that the CPC had embarked on massive awareness campaign in the country on the need for people to defend their votes and expressed optimism that in the forthcoming elections, the votes of Nigerians would count.
The CPC presidential candidate called on Nigerians to join hands together to ensure credible polls.
Responding, Wamakko said President Jonathan was committed to ensuring a free and fair election.
He maintained that the state government was totally against any form of violence and warned its supporters against carrying weapons during electioneering.
“In my campaigns, I preach non-violence and none of my followers carries weapons. I will never support violence or condone it because it is not in our political culture,” Wamakko said.
Later yesterday, Buhari addressed a mammoth crowd at a campaign rally at the trade fair complex Sokoto where he called on youths in the country to protect their votes, saying it is only by doing so that their votes would count in the elections.
Buhari said Nigerian youths could determine their fate by defending their votes during the polls.
According to him, it is only the youths that have the energy and strength to do so and that their efforts would amount to nothing if they fail to guard their votes, which is the only way they can choose credible leaders.
“You should protect your votes and watch over it at the collation centres. I believe only you can do this, otherwise your efforts would end up in vain. So, it is when you do this that the people you vote will be those that will emerge as your leaders, who will meet your aspirations.
“CPC as a party will ensure that all those who win elections on its platform from councillors to president will use the resources at its disposal for the betterment of the lives of the people,” he stressed.
Buhari handed over the CPC flag to the governorship candidate in Sokoto State, Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar Yabo, and other candidates contesting for National Assembly positions.
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