PEOPLE’S Trust (PT) presidential candidate Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim yesterday move closer to achieving his aspiration with the Middle Belt Forum endorsing him as its candidate for the February 16 election.
Leaders of the forum, at a meeting in Abuja yesterday, ratified the choice of Olawepo-Hashim, capping a process that started some six months earlier.
The forum’s leader, former Plateau State Military Governor Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd), who announced the news to a gathering of its elders in Abuja, said the choice of Olawepo-Hashim has been ratified by the forum.
The forum has presence in 12 of 19 Northern states, its leaders said.
The leaders added that the new development could alter the calculations ahead of the 2019 election.
According to him, the journey for the ratification of a common Middle Belt candidate started, when the Southern leaders asked the Middle Belt to produce a common candidate that would be supported for the Presidency by the Southern and Middle Belt Forum.
He said the forum identified many aspirants from the Middle Belt and later shortlisted three of them, who met with the leaders at the home of former Kwara State Governor Chief Cornelius Adebayo in Lagos.
Suleiman said the forum had assured the three shortlisted candidates that a final choice would be made and that all of them must be ready to work together.
He also stated that the Middle Belt would continue to network with Southern leaders on the adoption of the common candidate.
“What we are doing here today is to tell you that the Middle Belt has completed the exercise and we have settled for a candidate and that candidate is you (Olawepo-Hashim),” the retired Air Force officer and former Chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) said.
Air Commodore Suleiman then asked Olawepo-Hashim, who was in attendance to respond.
Olawepo-Hashim, who expressed gratitude to leaders and members of the Middle Belt Forum for the adoption, said he was a candidate with capacity to unite Nigeria and bring prosperity to the land.
He said his adoption was not just because he hailed from the Middle Belt, but more of a recognition of his capacity to keep the country safe and united, a role, he said the Middle Belt has always played.
He said the Middle Belt has remained the mainstay of Nigerian unity, adding that Middle Belters fought in the frontlines as soldiers, policemen and forces that keep the country united.
Olawepo-Hashim said: “That Nigeria is still standing as one today is due to the sacrifices of all of you. Most of you were not just soldiers in mouth, you also led in the battle field to keep Nigeria one. The forces that fought either as Air Force officers, or as combatant soldiers and Police officers are all from Middle belt.
“Today, the country is facing an existential threat. Eleven out of 19 Northern states are today ravaged by cross border banditry and all manners of criminality. The South is threatened by kidnappers, armed robbers, you can hardly travel from Port Harcourt to Lagos on road without major incidents. So, the country is facing existential threat.
“And it is not surprising to me that you have done what you are supposed to do as leaders. At this point in time, by agreeing to support somebody who can bring the country together. I am sure you have done this not just because I am a Middle Belter, but because you believe that we are able to keep the job done. And this job is to keep Nigeria one, secure the country. Secondly, bring prosperity to the land and three guarantee all round socio-development that would bring our people quickly out of poverty.
“The next election is not just about choosing a President, it is a battle for the soul of Nigeria.”
He promised to address the imbalance in state creations and form a National Guard to enhance security, if elected President.
Other leaders of the Middle Belt present at the brief gathering included the President of Middle Belt Forum Dr. Pogu Bitrus, Chief Adebayo, former Rivers State Military Governor Maj.-Gen. Zamani Lekwot (retd), former Niger State Deputy Governor Nuhu Zagbayi, retired DIG Porter Dabup and members of the executive committee of the Middle Belt Forum.
The PT Presidential Campaign Council of People’s Trust (PT) also yesterday condemned the violence at the Lagos rally of the All Progressives Congress (APC), where thugs of political rivals allegedly fired gunshots at one another.
Two persons were reportedly killed in the process while many others sustained various degrees of injury in the pandemonium that ensued.
PT Presidential Campaign Council, in a statement issued by its Director of Communication, Laura Oloyede, described the incident as ominous and called on Nigerians to take note of the violent dimension that the governing party has introduced into the campaigns for the forthcoming general election.