Anyone who thinks the outcry over the choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, will die down before next year’s general election lives in the land of clouds.
Every well-meaning and patriotic Nigerian must remain outraged at the utter callousness and perversity of the calculated decision which belittles Christianity and puts religious harmony and internal cohesion in Nigeria at risk.
Thus, the problem will simply not go away. My focus here is the symbolism of choice.
The Constitution requires inclusive sovereignty to promote national unity and enforce national loyalty! This will not happen by degrading Christianity and Christians!
Some have misinterpreted the opposition to the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Recently, Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labor and spokesperson for Tinubu’s presidential campaign, said it was a “balance of power”.
According to him, Christians feared losing power in the center if Tinubu became president with Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as vice president. He said it was a mistake because the vice president “is powerless.”
But Keyamo is wrong. It is not a question of balance of powers. Everyone knows that the Nigerian presidency is not a duopoly; that the president is all-powerful. Yet you can’t have a president without a vice president.
So it’s about inclusion and representation, it’s about whether in a country where Christians and Muslims make up nearly 50% of the population equally, it’s fair to have a presidential ticket of the same faith.
Still on the “powerlessness” of the vice president, some have also argued that a Christian vice president cannot stop the persecution of Christians. They reminded us that although Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is a pastor, Christians have suffered relentless persecution over the past seven years. So, what value is a Christian vice president?
Well, they too are wrong. Yes, a Christian vice president cannot stop the persecution of Christians, but imagine such persecution taking place under a Muslim-Muslim presidency. Does anyone know how many private interventions Vice President Osinbajo has made to Christian leaders to ease tensions?
Can anyone estimate how much his presence at the center has helped to calm the nerves within the Christian community? It is really hard to imagine Nigeria having escaped a deeper conflagration over the past seven years under a Muslim-Muslim presidency. Good analysis involves thinking about counterfactuals!
But these are asides. My main focus is the symbolism of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. For context, let us refer to the 1999 Constitution. Section 14(2)(a) states that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom the government derives all its powers and authority”. Article 14(3) goes on to say: “The composition of the government of the Federation…shall be so effected as to reflect…the need to promote national unity and also to foster national loyalty.
Fundamentally, by the letter and spirit of these provisions, the Constitution requires that the Federal Government, the embodiment and seat of Nigerian sovereignty, be inclusive and representative in order to “promote national unity” and “enforce national loyalty”.
So here’s the point. Given that Christians make up nearly 50 percent of Nigeria’s population, or over 100 million, how can their non-representation in either of the two offices, President and Vice President, which jointly embody the sovereignty of Nigeria, promote national unity and national leadership? loyalty?
Some say that article 14(3) refers to ethnicity and not to religion. But the section mentions “other section groups”. By any reasonable interpretation, religions are sectoral groups, are they not? Certainly, the framers of the 1999 Constitution did not intend the federal government to be dominated by people of either of the two main religions.
Also, if religion is irrelevant, why does the federal government declare holidays for Christian and Muslim holidays and support Muslim and Christian pilgrimages? Yet when it comes to political representation at the highest level, Muslims are treated as primus inter pares.
Take the APC. The truth is that it looks like an Islamic party and an Islamic government. The president, the president of the Senate, the vice president of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the vice president, the national party president and the national vice president – the list goes on – are all Muslims. Islam is the dominant influence within the APC as a party and government!
But if Tinubu becomes president, Nigeria would have an Islamic presidency, with the president and vice president being Muslims. The obvious implication is that Christianity would be relegated to second-class status in Nigeria’s seat of sovereignty. If sovereignty belongs to the people and the presidency is its embodiment, why aren’t more than 100 million Christians, nearly 50% of the population, represented on a common presidential list?
As Vice President, Professor Osinbajo invites Christians to services at Aso Rock during Christmas and Easter. He organized prayer sessions attended by Christian leaders and former Nigerian leaders of the Christian faith: Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan. As a Christian, Vice President Osinbajo is the only symbol of Nigerian sovereignty that can give Christians a sense of belonging to Aso Rock.
Now, who would do that under a Muslim-Muslim presidency? Don’t tell me that if Tinubu became president, his wife, a pastor, would bring Christian leaders and former presidents to Aso Rock for Christian events. The president’s wife is not a symbol of Nigerian sovereignty. And don’t tell me that Tinubu and Shettima are “friends of Christians”; that they built churches as governors. When it matters, they are ready, out of expediency, to condemn Christianity to second-class status in the Nigerian political firmament.
Well, typically opportunistic, some Christian APC politicians support the unfair Muslim-Muslim ticket. Indeed, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State publicly insulted the Pope as justification for accepting his appointment as Tinubu Presidential Campaign General Manager. Think about it. Tinubu could not find an “eminently qualified” Northern APC Christian to be his running mate, but he did find a good enough Northern Christian APC governor to lead his campaign. Alas, Lalong raves about the role of second fiddle, that of defending the indefensible!
Read also: Muslim-Muslim ticket DG: the Pope did not say that I was wrong – Lalong
Others have resorted to the distortion of history to justify Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket. Tinubu himself said that “the spirit of 1993 is upon us again in 2023”, referring to the Muslim-Muslim ticket of MKO Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe in the 1993 presidential election. But if Tinubu had Considering the different circumstances then, under a military regime, and now, under a democracy, he would have understood the imprudence of his decision.
Second, Tinubu forgets that the “spirit of 1993” was stillborn: a “Muslim-Muslim presidency” never happened. We’ll never know why the military canceled the 1993 presidential election. Could one of the reasons be the same ticket of faith?
Some have also pointed to Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Christian-Christian ticket with Philip Umeadi in the 1979 presidential election, as if, like Tinubu, Awolowo did it for electoral calculations.
According to Ebenezer Babatope, Awolowo’s key aide, this was because no northern Muslim wanted to show up on the same ticket as Awolowo. Babatope said Awolowo had approached northern Muslims like Yahaya Gusau and Ibrahin Tahir, but they turned him down, saying he was not popular in the north.
If, in principle, Awolowo believed in the same-faith ticket, why didn’t he repeat it in 1983? Instead, for the 1983 presidential election, he chose a northern Muslim running mate, albeit a relatively unknown Mallam M Kura.
Looking back, some also mentioned the Muslim-Muslim Nuru Ribadu and Fola Adeola ticket under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011. But who cared about the ACN without national relevance? Who cared about the politically inconsequential Ribadu? He ended up getting only 2 million votes (5.4%) nationally. They posed no real threat. On the other hand, the APC is the ruling party!
So, yes, there have been presidential tickets of the same faith, but none have led to a government. Nigeria has never had a presidency of the same faith under a democracy. If Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket wins next year, Nigeria would be in uncharted waters. The Constitution requires inclusive sovereignty to promote national unity and enforce national loyalty! This will not happen by degrading Christianity and Christians!