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Keeping religion out of ballot box in Nigeria

By Rasheed Kola Ojikutu
12 April 2022   |   2:25 am
Notwithstanding its claim to secularism, the Nigerian state is covertly cognizant of the sensitivity of religion to the promotion of peace, concord and harmonious relationship between the various sections in the country.

Notwithstanding its claim to secularism, the Nigerian state is covertly cognizant of the sensitivity of religion to the promotion of peace, concord and harmonious relationship between the various sections in the country. Despite the superfluous and unjustified claim of marginalization by various religious sects, particularly, Christianity and Islam, it is obvious that at least the two major religions have been adequately accommodated in the governance of the country. This is the true situation in many states of the Federation and at the national level. Neither Islam nor Christianity can lay any honest claim to being shortchanged or stranded in the distribution of political positions unless such a state has a monolithic religious structure.

Therefore, one can advocate that since religion does not have a direct role in governance and administration of the country, it should be kept away from the ballot box in Nigeria. We should avoid voting for candidates based on their religious or ethnic affiliation and focus on competence, integrity and possession of adequate nationalistic and patriotic tendencies. Most developed nations of the world have surpassed these mundane issues in the determination of leadership positions. Of what benefit is the promotion of ethnicity and religion to the progress of our nation? How does voting for a Muslim or Christian or someone from our ethnic group bring food to the table, earn children spaces in school, provide electricity and give citizens basic and essential amenities of life?

The crisis that engulfed the Nigeria nation between 1962 and 1966, started like a child’s play and to continue to escalate, religious tension in Nigeria almost in similar fashion in 2022 is sheer irresponsibility. There is no reason whatsoever for either the Christian or the Muslim communities to complain about marginalization in governance in Nigeria because the country has been very fair to the two religions. If anything, it is the traditional worshippers who should be at daggers drawn with us as we ridicule their religions, choke and refuse to give them a breathing space. While we have retinue of holidays in a year, we turn deaf ears to their request for public holidays. Yet, they celebrate with us and rejoice with us. Instead of being a good example to the traditionalist, we, I mean Muslims and Christians continue to behave like a spoilt child who must throw tantrum whenever he is denied the opportunity of licking the toffee.

It is unfortunate that the general belief is that since its independence in 1960, it was the Muslims that had been leading the Nigerian nation. This is certainly far from the truth. Looking at the chronology of events, the first President of Nigeria was Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, A Christian. He was followed by another Christian Head of State, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi who was succeeded by another Christian, General Yakubu Gowon. In 1976, the government of Gowon was overthrown by a Muslim, General Murtala Mohammed who had a very short stint in Government for only six months before he was succeeded by another Christian, Mathew Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo who handed over the government to Alhaji Shehu Shagari . What this record shows is that from the time Nigeria became a Republic in 1963 to 1979, a period of 16 years, a Muslim governed Nigeria for only six months. This does not remove the fact that the first Prime Minister was Alhaji Tafawa Balewa but history is history.

Alhaji Shehu Shagari was succeeded in 1983 by General Muhammadu Buhari and his lieutenant Tunde Idiagbon, both of whom were Muslims. This is not unusual in the history of Nigeria Because the Christian trio of General Yakubu Gowon, Rear Admiral Akinwale Wey and Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, led the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria between 1967 and 1973.  The duo of Buhari and Idiagbon was overthrown by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who ruled from 1985 to 1993, a period of eight years before installing Ernest Shonekan, a Christian, as the Head of Government for another three months before he was overthrown by General Sani Abacha who was a Muslim. Abacha died in 1998 and was succeeded by the bearded General Abdulsalami Abubakar another Muslim who handed over the reign to another Christian Mathew Olusegun Okikiolu Obasanjo  who steered the ship of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Obasanjo was succeeded by Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua who died in office in 2010 and was succeeded by a Christian Jonathan Ebele Goodluck who was in the saddle for another six years. He was succeeded by Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim who came into power from 2015 to date.

It should be noted from the above that out of the fifteen Presidents that Nigeria ever had, seven were Christians while eight were Muslims. It is important to mention that in the first sixteen years post-independence, Christians Ruled Nigeria for fifteen and a half years while Murtala Mohammed, a Muslim only ruled for six months. In the democratic governance of Nigeria (minus the reign of the Military but including the period of Chief Ernest Shonekan), Muslims have governed for 15 years to date while Christians have occupied the seat for approximately seventeen years. For avoidance of doubt, Nnamdi Azikiwe was President for 2.5 years, Sonekan for three months, Obasanjo for eight years and Goodluck Jonathan for six years. Amongst the Muslim Group, Yar’adua was in the saddle for three years and Buhari for eight years if God is willing because he has spent only six years to date.

In the current republic since 1999, records show that Muslims have governed for only nine years to date but when Buhari completes his terms Muslims would have been in Government for11years whereas Christians have governed for14 years.

Religion should be confined to the four corners of our homes when choosing a leader. The fact that one is religious does not mean that he is godly. Our country needs more of leaders who fear God and not promoters of religion and faithism.
Professor Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.