By Columba Oshiobughie Ogah
“Despite our obvious differences, we must strive to ensure that our actions and utterances are aimed towards strengthening our democratic framework. We must subsume our personal and sectional interests to the overall national aspirations of unity, economic prosperity and good governance”.
Your Excellency, these were your words at the combined Passing Out Parade of the Cadets of 67 Regular Course and Short Service 46 (Army) at the Nigeria Defence Academy in Kaduna two years ago. And just recently you spoke again from the heart on the need for unity of the Nigerian nation.
As one nation, Nigeria has a great destiny when the benefits of its diversity are creatively harnessed. As one people, we have benefits of economies of scale as a result of our diversity that gives us a manifest destiny not only to be the giant of Africa in terms of economic prosperity and development but also to be the pride of the black man in the comity of nations.
Nigeria today is going through a time of great need for cohesion and unity. It is on this note that one finds it preposterous for the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is a Muslim, to choose a fellow Muslim, former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima as his running mate for the 2023 elections. The adoption of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Tinubu is a direct attack on the notion of Nigeria’s togetherness.
For a start, your party, the APC at its birth was perceived by some to have an underlying religious agenda driven underneath by a minority extremist Muslims in its fold who held commanding heights over its activities. However, many Christians and Muslims who constitute a majority in your party where able to convince Nigerians that such a perception was untrue and so your party went on to win the 2015 presidential election garnering votes across a wide spectrum of Nigeria. The choice of a Muslim/Muslim ticket by the APC for 2023 gives life to the perception of some powerful elements in your party of having an underlying extremist agenda for Nigeria.
This step is a deviation from your antecedents as a fair-minded leader with a heart for a united country demonstrated in your forays in politics as an honest leader who is not divisive. This has been shown in how you managed the issue of a balanced presidential ticket on five occasions. At all the times when you contested in the presidential elections, you showed that you are an inclusive leader. Being a Muslim, you always picked Southern Christians as running mates. For Tinubu to now abandon your sense of inclusivity in the choice of a vice presidential candidate is condemnable.
Besides, many Muslims as well as the Christian Association of Nigeria have condemned the action of the APC. In any case, according to a 2018 estimate in the World Fact book by the CIA, Nigeria’s Christian-Muslim population is evenly split. Simply put, Tinubu and the APC’s Muslim/Muslim ticket is calling the bluff of about half the Nigerian population.
Your party as a ruling party which should lead the way in showing an example of inclusivity and harnessing our diversity now risks losing the 2023 presidential elections on the back of this thorny issue, especially as the presidential candidates of main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party, among others, have respected our nation’s plurality by picking running mates from different religions.
Sir, you must also note that Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria clearly states the need to promote equity in composition of the federal government. A Muslim-Muslim ticket goes against this spirit. There is no moral or constitutional justification for a Muslim-Muslim ticket by any party.
The excuse given by those who drive the idea of same faith ticket on the fact that a party fielded a presidential and vice-presidential candidate of the same faith about 30 years ago does not hold water today. Tinubu’s choice at this time will exacerbate fears by people of other faiths with his insensitive decision. The same religion ticket may not be legally wrong, but it’s morally wrong at a time like this in a religiously diverse society like Nigeria.
Concerning the person of Shettima, there are reports that a Boko Haram kingpin, Kabiru Sokoto, who was convicted as the mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing of a church, was arrested in Borno State Governor’s lodge in Asokoro in 2012 at a time Shettima was governor. This was at a time security forces where desperately looking for him all over the place, only to find him at the most unlikely place, in a governor’s lodge. It creates a certain perception, especially as such places provide a cover of sorts since governors enjoy immunity and security agencies may not easily suspect a terrorist would be there. What signals does this reality send to people of other faiths with a Shettima as a vice presidential candidate?
By fielding an insensitive presidential ticket for 2023, your party may well be ready to sing its nunc dimittis because of its the failure to understand the mood of the times. For the 2015 elections, PDP took Nigerians for granted with the assumption that it would have its way against the general view of Nigerians at the time. However, till this day the PDP is still licking its wounds.
The party that will win the coming elections is one that is able to understand the mood of the times by generating a mass movement that harnesses our diversity across ethno-religious divides with very visible grassroots networks.
It is time that you as the leader of the APC today go one more step, in addition to your recent timely sermon to also condemn the adoption of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Tinubu especially as it is a direct assault on our sense of national unity.
A Muslim-Muslim ticket also does not support your vision for fairness across religious lines. That you have been aloof on the matter does not speak well for you and triggers more questions than answers about your place in Nigeria’s history.
Sir, you should realise that the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket would be a stain on your legacy should you leave office without clearly and sternly addressing this issue with Tinubu and your party.
Nigerians would remember that you failed to speak up against the same religion ticket of your party, even though you had stood against it when your personal prospects were at stake. Now it’s the prospects for our unity as a nation that are being endangered.
Sir, you should stand up to be counted on the side of doing everything humanly possible to preserve our unity as one nation under God.
The competence argument for picking a Muslim running mate for a Muslim candidate is hogwash. Nigerians don’t believe that Tinubu could not find any credible Christian politician from the North as his vice-presidential candidate.
What this attempts to achieve, albeit unwittingly, is the degradation of Christians into second class citizens in their own country. If we allow political expediency to prevail, and you refuse to act, then we have only succeeded in promoting a fault line to a real and present danger of a new apartheid based on religion.
Why should one man’s political desperation be allowed to trigger grave consequences that would explode into our face sooner or later? For the sake of the future of over 200 million Nigerians, the country’s unity must not be sacrificed on the altar of Tinubu’s ambition and APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Mr President, you can still do something by calling your party men to order and the time to act is now.
Ogah, who writes from Abuja, is the publisher of Peoples Dividend, the magazine for local governments. He is also National Coordinator, Civil Society Movement Against Terrorism