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Following a huge outcry of condemnation, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has claimed that his statement asking northerners to vote only Northerners, rejecting Yoruba and Igbo candidates in the 2023 presidential election was ‘a joke’.

According to Atiku, the statement which he made during an interactive session with northern groups under the aegis of the Arewa Joint Committee, was taken out of context and propagated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

The ruling party had knocked Atiku, saying his request to the northern people exposed his “mindless desperation” for power.

The former vice president during the townhall held on Saturday in Kaduna said the northern people do not “need a Yoruba candidate, or an Igbo candidate” and should therefore vote for him because he is “a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”

However, following outrage from some Nigerians, Atiku has attempted to limit the damaging effects of his comment through a statement issued by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, on Sunday night.

Ibe said, “For the benefit of the innocent public who might be hoodwinked by the usual behavior of APC in telling a big lie, what transpired was a direct question to Atiku to address the Northern audience on why he should be voted for by the Northern electorate.

“In answering this question, Atiku started with a joke by addressing the questioner as ‘Mr. Northerner’ which is a veiled criticism of why he limited his question to the Northern audience in the first place.

“Continuing, Atiku explained without a slur, unlike the APC candidate would, that what matters the most to the Northern electorate is a candidate who has built bridges of unity across other parts of the country and not necessarily a Northern candidate who lacks the credentials of national spread and acceptability.

“Those were the unambiguous remarks of the PDP presidential candidate. But because the APC does not possess any tangible ideas to campaign on for their candidate, they resorted to dubious tactics of diverting public attention, first, away from the failures of their party in the past seven years plus and, secondly, to shift attention away from the embarrassing gaffes of their presidential candidate in his public communication which they frequently shy away from.”

He described the APC as a failed political party whose presidential candidate “cannot withstand five minutes of unscripted speech”.

Ibe added that the APC and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, have resorted to “irritating scavenging” because they do not have tangible contributions to the ongoing presidential campaigns by political parties.

“On the same day when Atiku Abubakar stood agile and cerebral before his hosts at the Arewa House, the APC candidate whose only entitlement for president is because of an ethnic identity claim was also at a public function in Kaduna State and publicly embarrassed his host, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, by saying that he should not contemplate pursuing higher educational qualifications and likening him to ‘a rotten case that has turned into a bad situation.’,” he said.

“Are we to play to the gallery, we could have rushed to the press to make a bad case for such rotten remarks. We did not because we know that the upcoming election is not about scoring cheap political gains, but about ensuring that Nigerians have a fair deal in the next president that they will be electing.

“It is even more repugnant that a man who is not honourable enough to make a full disclosure about his elementary education records would ask to be elected a president of the most populous Black nation in the world.

“The very ambition of former governor Tinubu to aspire to become the Nigerian leader is a rude attack on the integrity of every Black country and certainly an act of disgrace to all Nigerians.”

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