The Muslim-Muslim ticket challenge
Barring an extension of time by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the major political parties today rest their choices of presidential running mates, hopefully bringing down the tension and heated debates surrounding the religious affiliation of the candidates.
By INEC’s timetable, the parties must name and submit their vice-presidential candidates today. Without a doubt, and going by the passionate discussion engendered over the past week on the issue, a joint Muslim-Muslim ticket by any party has the potential of raising apprehension in the country already divided along religious and ethnic cleavages.
The development has, in fact, raised fresh dust on the ancient national question, no thanks to our political leaders who have consistently manipulated the polity for personal selfish reasons and consequently destroyed the finesse of the country’s complex diversity.
Consequently, the level of distrust and suspicion between the two major religions in the country has become so high as to make it implausible, unrealistic and unwise for any political party to field a same-religion presidential joint ticket.
For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party and most other parties, there is no anxiety because the candidates and their running mates are clear cut, chosen or expected to be chosen from the two domineering religions of Christianity and Islam. Specifically, Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim from the North, has picked Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, a Christian from the South.
The same, however, cannot be said of the ruling APC that has a presidential candidate a Muslim from the South West. In normal times and going by convention, the candidate is generally expected to choose a running mate from the Northern Christians to balance the geopolitical permutations and to create a feeling of belonging to most ethnic and religious groups in the country.
In any event, such a combination will appear to give vent to the constitutional requirement that appointments, indeed, elections of officers of the country should reflect the federal character principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. This is just an academic exercise as there is no clear provision in the constitution that presidential candidates and their running mates should reflect certain religions.
Besides, since the present political dispensation from 1999, politicians and the major political parties have avoided fielding Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim presidential and vice-presidential candidates to balance religious sentiments prevalent in the country.
Indeed, there had been only two main exceptions to that general rule; one in 1983-1985 when Major-Gen Muhammadu Buhari and Major-Gen Tunde Idiagbon, both Muslims, held sway as military Head of State and deputy; and of course in 1993 when the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) presented a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket in the persons of the late Chief Moshood Abiola from the South and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe from the North. Their election, which was adjudged to be the country’s freest and fairest ever, was however annulled by the military before the winners could be sworn in. There was indeed no record of protest from the Christian population in the country then.
In fact, results already certified showed clearly then that the Abiola-Kingibe SPD ticket did better in the Kano constituency than their opponent in the NRC Bashir Tofa-Sylvester Ugoh ticket. Bashir Tofa hailed from Kano. In the same vein, Tofa-Ugoh ticket did better than Abiola-Kingibe in the South-South stronghold of SDP, Rivers State then. Such was the beauty of political diversity in the country we seem to have lost to poor leadership at the moment.
Already, names of possible nominees in that category have surfaced and are going around and this is what has raised the bar of controversy. By the time this editorial is read today, the APC Presidential candidate may have announced his running mate.
Unlike the 1993 scenario where the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) actually supported the Muslim-Muslim ticket, the association has come out unequivocally to denounce any such arrangement, emphasising that it would not accept it; its position buttressed by glaring facts that Nigerians of the Christian faithful have claimed that they have suffered more than any other group from the insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, raping and outright killings that have become the order of the day, particularly in the last seven years of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
Decrying what he called the “high level of verbal and physical persecution” Christians have endured in the past years, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, media aide to CAN’s president, promised that the association would employ all means “legally and otherwise” to work against any plan to field a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Other groups and individuals have also expressed similar positions against a same-religion ticket. The Nigerian Youths Coalition (NYC) stated that any such plan would amount to the APC “beating the drums of religious war” while the Coalition of Arewa Forum for Good Governance (CAFGG) believes any such arrangement would “increase crisis across the country” and that it should be jettisoned “in the interest of equity, justice and fairness.”
There have been pockets of support for a Muslim-Muslim Ticket by politicians including Kaduna Governor Nasir el-Rufai, former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani-Kayode who said he would support Tinubu if he chose a Muslim running mate; and Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) who believes that what matters in the choice of a vice president, more than religion, are his “credibility, integrity and competence.”
This comment isn’t in any way in opposition to Islam. The point at issue is an imposition of a ticket that may arouse disaffection at a time such as this when an outgoing leader has mismanaged the country’s fault lines that aspiring leaders are claiming don’t matter. This is unfortunate in the extreme when we should be scrutinising the quality of the agenda and indeed manifestoes of our presidential candidates. We aren’t asking questions about the capacity of our candidates to take the country out of the present economic predicament. We are concerned about a clearly avoidable national question the outgoing administration has triggered. This isn’t a good legacy for the Buhari administration.
What is clear is that beyond the debate on the sensitive issue, an imposition of a Muslim-Muslim presidential team on the nation at this time is fraught with the danger of an implosion. The government of Buhari has failed to disabuse the wide notion of an islamisation agenda being perpetrated by the Fulani stock coming in droves into the country from all corners, taking over the forest across Nigeria from where they regularly launch deadly attacks on local communities that are predominantly Christians. While it is true that Muslims, even in mosques, have been attacked, killed and kidnapped by these marauders, more Christian clerics, churches and Christians have fallen victims of such attacks. There is evidence to support an expansionist and consequent Islamisation agenda by the bandits and terrorists, and there is even greater evidence that the government is looking the other way when and after the terror is perpetrated.
In a way, therefore, Buhari’s crass failure to secure the lives and welfare of Nigerians as required of him by the constitution is responsible for the division, suspicion and lack of trust surrounding opposition to a Muslim-Muslim presidential-vice presidential ticket. While the president accepts that blame and seeks a genuine security turnaround of the country, his party, the APC, or any other party for that matter should not heighten the tension in the polity by attempting a same-religion presidency arrangement. Such is simply out of tune with the current reality in the country.
It is a sad commentary on our politics that our leaders are thinking of strategy and stratagem to win elections even if they lose the country in the end. This is not how to build a nation. Our politicians should be conflict-sensitive at this time. Yes as the ancient words warn us: there is a time for everything. There is a time for politics. There is a time for brinkmanship. There should also be a time for statesmanship. This is not a time to raise tension in the already divided polity. Our politicians should also learn some lessons in political communication that will minister peace and grace to the people in a turbulent time such as we have now. There should be no desperation to use sophistry to win an election and lose the only country we have.