Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and Vice President Kashim Shettima
The PUNCH reports that a northern socio-political organisation, under the aegis of the Northern Elders Forum, has issued a warning to the senate.
The group again warned against the imposition of the 10th Senate President, insisting that 109 senators-elect be allowed to choose their leaders.
This was just as the northern elders cautioned that religion, either Islam or Christianity, should not be a deciding factor in who leads the 10th Senate.
The organisation noted that it had repeatedly cautioned the President Bola Tinubu-led administration to respect the rights and privileges of elected members of the National Assembly to choose their leaders and campaign “for its preferences with sensitivity and decorum.”
The northern elders knocked Vice President Kashim Shettima over his comments that “under the current dispensation, the worst incompetent Southern Christian is better than the most puritanical Northern Muslim for the Presidency of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
The NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, while addressing a press conference in Kaduna State on Monday, described the Vice President’s statement as “unfortunate,” saying that such utterances would have been avoided had the senators-elect been allowed to pick the Senate President of their choice.
Baba-Ahmed, a former Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission, explained that the attempt to impose the Senate leadership caused the vice president’s gaffe ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly on Tuesday.
The NEF’s spokesman said, “The nation has been made aware of comments made by His Excellency, Senator Kashim Shettima, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the course of strengthening the cause for election of leaders of the 10th Assembly, which the APC and the government prefer.
“A particularly outstanding comment made by him is that under the current dispensation, the worst, the most incompetent Southern Christian is better than the most puritanical Northern Muslim for the Presidency of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The Northern Elders Forum has cautioned the President Tinubu administration on many occasions to respect the rights and privileges of elected members of the Legislature to choose their leaders and to conduct its campaign for its preferences with sensitivity and decorum.
“The statement of Vice President Shettima in the context of the commitment of the administration to determine the legislature’s leadership makes references to Muslim and Christian faiths in the most unbecoming and irresponsible manner imaginable.
“It deepens the worrying position of religious faith as a fault line in our politics today and denigrates the place of an important value such as faith in conduct of elected leaders, whether they are Muslims or Christians.
“The suggestion that poor faith and incompetence can be preferred to piety and competence when it suits political interests sends damaging signals to a nation desperate for good leadership.
“A statement of this nature coming from a Northern Muslim who has earned his respect in the course of his political career is most unfortunate.
“The suggestion that the piety of leaders could be sacrificed for political exigences offends a nation of Christians and Muslims who watch as leaders swear by the Qur’an and the Bible to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Baba-Ahmed added, “The Vice President has done himself, his faith and his standing a great injury with his comments, and the Forum hopes he can find appropriate opportunities to assure Nigerians that the Tinubu administration will respect sensitive values that define us as Nigerians.
“It is important that Nigerians discard the notion that the quality of our faith has no place in deciding those who lead us.
“It is instructive that leaders who rode on the back of faith now turn around to advise that it is of no significance where their interests are at stake.
“The Forum advises the Tinubu administration once again to respect the rights of the legislature to operate as prescribed in the constitution and allow legislators a free hand to choose their leaders.
“It is the desperation to determine leaders of the legislature that is responsible for damaging gaffes such as the nation just heard from our Vice President, and it may not be the last damage that can be caused to our democracy and national cohesion.”