Anyone who thinks that the furore over the choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), will disappear before next year’s general elections is living in cloud cuckoo land.
Every well-meaning and patriotic Nigerian must remain outraged by the utter insensitivity and perniciousness of the calculated decision that belittles Christianity and puts religious harmony and internal cohesion at greater risk in Nigeria.
So, the issue simply won’t go away. My focus here is the symbolism of the choice.
The Constitution mandates inclusive sovereignty to promote national unity and command national loyalty! That won’t happen by debasing Christianity and Christians!
Some have self-servingly mischaracterised the opposition to the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Recently, Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour and spokesman of the Tinubu presidential campaign, said it was about “balance of power.”
According to him, Christians feared losing power at the centre if Tinubu became president with Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his vice-president. He said this was misguided because the vice-president “is powerless.”
But Keyamo is wrong. This is not about balance of power. 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, this is about inclusion and representation, it’s about whether in a country where Christians and Muslims equally account for nearly 50 percent of the population, it is right to have a same-faith presidential ticket.
Still on the “powerlessness” of the vice-president, some have also argued that a Christian vice-president can’t stop the persecution of Christians. They reminded us that despite Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo being a pastor, Christians have suffered relentless persecution over the past seven years. So, of what value is a Christian vice-president?
Well, they too are wrong. Yes, a Christian vice-president can’t 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 made to Christian leaders to douse tension?
Can anyone estimate how much his presence at the centre helped to calm nerves within the Christian community? It’s really hard to imagine Nigeria escaping deeper conflagration over the past seven years under a Muslim-Muslim presidency. A good analysis involves thinking about counterfactuals!
But those are asides. My main focus is the symbolism of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. For context, let’s refer to the 1999 Constitution. Section 14(2)(a) says that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives all its powers and authority.” Section 14(3) then says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation … shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect … the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty.”
Basically, by the letter and spirit of those provisions, the Constitution requires the Federal Government, the embodiment and seat of the Nigerian sovereignty, to be inclusive and representative in order to “promote national unity” and “command national loyalty”.
So, here’s the point. Given that Christians account for nearly 50 percent of Nigeria’s population, thus making up over 100 million, how would their non-representation in either of the two offices, president and vice-president, that jointly embody Nigeria’s sovereignty, promote national unity and command national loyalty?
Some say that Section 14(3) refers to ethnicity and not religion. But the section mentions “other sectional groups.” By any reasonable interpretation, religions are sectional groups, are they not? Surely, the drafters of the 1999 Constitution couldn’t have intended the Federal Government to be dominated by people from either of the two main religions.
Besides, if religion is irrelevant, why does the Federal Government declare public holidays for Christian and Muslim festivals, and support Muslim and Christian pilgrimages? Yet, when it comes to top-level political representation, Muslims are treated as primus inter pares.
Take the APC. Truth is, it resembles an Islamic party and an Islamic government. The president, Senate president, deputy Senate president, Speaker of the House of Representatives, deputy Speaker, party national chairman and deputy national chairman – the list goes on – are all Muslims. Islam is the dominant influence in APC as a party and government!
But if Tinubu became president, Nigeria would have an Islamic presidency, with both president and vice president being Muslims. The obvious implication is that Christianity would be relegated to a second-class status in Nigeria’s seat of sovereignty. If sovereignty belongs to the people, and the presidency is its embodiment, why are over 100 million Christians, nearly 50 percent of the population, not represented on a joint presidential ticket?
As vice-president, Professor Osinbajo invites Christians to services at Aso Rock during Christmas and Easter. He has organised 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 who can give Christians a sense of belonging in 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 “Christian-friendly”; that they built churches as governors. When it matters, they are willing, for expediency, to condemn Christianity to second-class status in the Nigerian political firmament.
Well, typically opportunistic, some APC Christian politicians support the iniquitous Muslim-Muslim ticket. Indeed, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State publicly insulted the Pope to justify accepting his appointment as Director-General of Tinubu’s presidential campaign. Think about it. Tinubu couldn’t find a Northern APC Christian “eminently qualified” to be his running-mate, but he found a Northern APC Christian governor good enough to lead his campaign. Alas, Lalong is ecstatic about the second-fiddle role, defending the indefensible!
Others have resorted to distorting 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 had Tinubu considered the different circumstances then, under a military regime, and now, under a democracy, he would have understood the unwisdom of his decision.
Secondly, Tinubu forgets that “the spirit of 1993” was stillborn: a “Muslim-Muslim presidency” never happened. We would never know why the military annulled the 1993 presidential election. Could one of the reasons be the same faith ticket?
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 so for electoral calculations.
According to Ebenezer Babatope, Awolowo’s key aide, this was because no Northern Muslim wanted to run on the same ticket with Awolowo. Babatope said Awolowo approached Northern Muslims like Yahaya Gusau and Ibrahin Tahir, but they turned him down, saying he wasn’t popular in the North.
If, in principle, Awolowo believed in a same-faith ticket, why didn’t he repeat it in 1983? Rather, for the 1983 presidential election, he picked a Northern-Muslim running-mate, albeit a relatively unknown Mallam M Kura.
Harking back to the past, some have also mentioned the Nuru Ribadu and Fola Adeola Muslim-Muslim ticket under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011. But who cared about the nationally irrelevant ACN? Who cared about the politically inconsequential Ribadu? He ended up securing only 2m votes (5.4%) nationwide. They posed no real threat. By contrast, APC is the ruling party!
So, yes, there were previous same-faith presidential tickets, but none led to a government. Nigeria has never had a same-faith presidency under a democracy. If Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket wins next year, Nigeria would be plunged into uncharted waters. The Constitution mandates inclusive sovereignty to promote national unity and command national loyalty! That won’t happen by debasing Christianity and Christians!