From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
For followers of events ahead of the 2023 presidential election, such mundane issues like the All Progressives Congress (APC) planned Muslim-Muslim ticket and the much-touted regional voting pattern would likely be the cardinal features of next year’s presidential election.
The coast surrounding the emergence of the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has gradually cleared, but the apprehension, tension, and discordant tunes over who becomes his running mate have continued to fester and dominate political discussions.
Particularly, the controversies and permutations over the appropriateness of a Muslim-Muslim joint ticket have understandably divided Nigerians across religious lines more than ever since the conclusion of the APC primary.
The involvement of Muslim clerics, northern elder statesmen, and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have contributed in generating endless debate and even widening the already existing gulf between Nigerians and the party members based on sentiment and emotions.
Expectedly, the debate over Muslim-Muslim ticket obviously escalated into such disturbing proportion because of the peculiarities of Nigeria’s political arrangement which usually reflects a sensitivity to religion and ethnicity.
Based on the political exigencies, the emergence of Asiwaju Tinubu, a southern Muslim, requires his picking a running mate from the northern part of the country, preferably from the dominant Muslim North, to brighten the chances of the ruling party winning the poll and retaining the presidential seat at the Aso Rock Villa.
It would have been an easier decision for the party to pick a northern Muslim running mate if a southern Christian had emerged as the party’s presidential candidate for the obvious reason that there are more Muslim heavyweight politicians in the North than Christians.
Haunted by the impasse, the ruling party had tactically settled for Kabir Ibrahim Masari, a Katsina State-born politician, as a placeholder to beat the deadline by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and equally give room for more consultations with relevant stakeholders.
The decision will presumably help the ruling party to perhaps, feel the purse of the Nigerian electorate over what many have tagged an unpopular arrangement and retool their strategy on the next line of action.
Already, the choice of the running mate for the APC candidate has sharply divided many party members, and the ordinary Nigerians, pitching Muslim and Christian clerics.
In their perceptions of those on the other side of the divide, having experimented and succeeded effectively in adopting the method during the 1993 presidential election, and even at regional levels in some states, adopting the same religious faith arrangement for the 2023 presidential election would not have mattered.
Those championing this narrative include Islamic preacher, Sheikh Ibrahim Aliyu Kaduna and elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai among others that did not only warn the leadership of the APC of the consequences but also described it as a suicide mission for Tinubu to pick a northern Christian as running mate.
In a viral video, Sheikh Kaduna had berated APC northern governors for allegedly trading the destiny of Muslims in the region for a sick candidate’s money.
“Northern governors, especially Muslims amongst you, are treacherous because you have sold our destiny; and God will punish you for that. You set aside a critical Islamic requirement because the first criterion for choosing a leader in Islam is that the person must be healthy and physically fit. Now your second error will be to pair him (Tinubu) with a Christian from our region. This will be disastrous because we would mobilise the people to reject the ticket at the polling units,” he warned.
Describing it as politically suicidal to pick a Christian running mate from the North, Yakasai, warned that: “if Tinubu should pick a Christian, whether, from the North or South, majority of voters in the Muslim North may move their support for Atiku.”
Those on the other side of the divide, especially CAN, have equally threatened fire and brimstone against any party that settles for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, promising to unleash their votes against it.
“Any party that tries the same religion ticket will fail. Even when we have a joint Muslim/Christian ticket, the church still goes through hell. Only God knows the number of Christians that have been killed in the last seven years with no one apprehended or prosecuted.
“Imagine how bad it will be if we have two Muslims in power? The extant Nigerian Constitution promotes religious balance. So, if any political party wants to try a Muslim/Muslim ticket, it will be at its own peril. CAN is only forewarning but will make a categorical statement in the event our warning is not heeded.
“The Presidential running mate for the APC presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju Tinubu should be a Christian from the North…, anything contrary means that the leadership of the party does not bother about the unity of this entity called Nigeria.
“Those who are planning Muslim/Muslim ticket should also find out what was the outcome of MKO Abiola and Kingibe ticket in 1993. If they try Muslim/Muslim ticket this time around, the outcome will be worse because our fault lines are very visible,” CAN warns.
Confronted with the stark realities of Nigeria as a hypersensitive religious nation with heightened secular consciousness, the arrangement looks counter-productive to the aspiration of the ruling party presiding over Nigeria beyond 2023.
Again, the ruling party might be in more dilemma considering the fact that the 2023 presidential election will be largely decided along the regional voting alignment, due to the support base of the ethnic nationalities of the candidates.
Yet, the reality is that the ruling party may be left with a limited option of settling for a Muslim-Muslim joint ticket if it must compete with the two northern presidential candidates from the opposition parties, and win the appreciable vote in the North.
Understandably, the controversy over the choice of running mate has continued to be a matter of utmost concern, dividing the party members in particular and the entire country at large. What ordinarily would not have been a serious issue has subjected the ruling party to such a precarious situation capable of posing a serious threat to its chances of retaining power beyond 2023.
The debate has centred around whether the ruling party can attract the desired voting strength of the northern electorate by picking a Christian running mate from the minority Christian northern community or settle for a Muslim and leverage on the popular voting strength of the Muslim northern community.
For emphasis, the ruling party is certainly in a serious predicament over the twin evil of either fielding a Christian running mate and risk losing large chunk of the northern voting strength or settling for a Muslim-Muslim joint ticket and risking the anger of the Nigerian Christian voting public.
Joining the debate, APC National Vice Chairman (North West), Salihu Moh Lukman, described the quagmire as an inconsequential consideration, warning that if Nigeria is to move forward, the 2023 presidential campaigns must not reduce important debates to sentimental considerations of ethnicity and religion.
“With Asiwaju’s victory, the debate had shifted to the choice of running mate. As usual, conservative and reactionary ethno-religious considerations are colouring the debate. The question of the Muslim-Muslim ticket and leading party members are already becoming strong advocates for or against the so-called joint ticket.
“If choices of leaders are dictated by ethno-religious factors, Nigerian politics will continue to be disadvantageous to many sections of the country. For instance, only Christian Southerners and Muslim Northerners will continue to have advantages. Most of those trying to use religious arguments to influence the choice of running mate for Asiwaju Tinubu are impliedly arguing that a Christian northerner can only win the presidential election if his/her running mate is a Muslim from Southern Nigeria.
“In the same way, this will be politically disadvantageous, if not impossible for any Christian from the North or Muslim from the South to win the presidential election. Such a backward national mindset must be changed,” he cautioned.
Arguing further, Lukman warned that: “if Nigeria is to move forward, 2023 presidential campaigns must not reduce important debates to sentimental considerations of ethnicity and religion. Truth be told, Islam and Christianity, as well as all our ethnic factors, have been used in equal measure to hold Nigeria at a standstill. Many so-called religious and ethnic leaders have used and are still using religion and ethnicity to pollute the minds of Nigerians against one another.
“If Nigerian politics is to overcome the adversities of these so-called religious and ethnic leaders, religious and ethnic backgrounds of leaders must be subordinated to experiential attributes of persons being considered for leadership,” he said.
In the same line of thought with Lukman is the former National Secretary of the ruling party, Waziri Bulama, who argued that mundane factors like ethnicity and religion should be inconsequential considerations.
Defending the delay in the party announcing the running mate, Bulama said: “What is delaying the announcement is more or less strategic and conscious consultation going on within the party. The religious background of the running mate is never an issue in our party. What is paramount is the unity of the party.
“The delay is strategic and political rather than religion or ethnicity. We are going to pick a Vice President who will add value to the party and make it easy for our party to promote unity. We want to pick a running mate that will give every member some sense of belonging and create peace building in our party.
“We want someone who will add value in terms of bringing votes to our party, especially during next year’s presidential election. I repeat that religion will be an insignificant issue in picking the running mate,” he said.
However, the validity of their conviction did not vitiate the fact that the ruling party is in a serious precarious situation. A party chieftain, who does not want his identity revealed, asked during a chat with Daily Sun; “what do you expect the leadership of our party to do under the circumstances concerning the voting pattern? We are really in a tight situation and the evidence showed in the delay in naming the substantive.
“The fact that the voting for the presidential election next year will be largely based on regional trajectory and bias will leave our APC with the option of using religious sentiment to attract votes, especially in the North.
“No matter the logical indices used, what has become indisputable is that the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and that of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, will surely divide the northern votes.
“So, APC must have to adopt strategies to edge out other candidates in benefitting from the divided northern votes. And if you ask me, adopting the Muslim-Muslim ticket option will most likely be the best potent strategy for the ruling party. You and I know that picking a heavyweight northern Muslim politician, can only guarantee harvest of votes for our APC in that region,” a chieftain of the party argued in a chat with Daily Sun.
Speaking further, he also contended that the APC has high chances of winning next year’s presidential election. He claimed that since winning the South West geopolitical zone is a sure banker for Asiwaju, the APC will have to battle it out with the candidates of other parties in the North Central to stand a better chance of winning.
“It is expected that the South East will naturally vote for Peter Obi, the South West for Asiwaju, while the duo of Atiku and Kwankwaso will share the massive votes from North West and North East. The permutation therefore leaves the South-south and North Central as the battleground for all the candidates to jostle for votes.
“The candidature of Atiku and Kwankwaso means that the APC is missing out in the contest for votes in the North West and North East which traditionally should be its stronghold. So, to whittle down the influence of Atiku and Kwankwaso, the APC may now be left with the option of picking a strong heavyweight politician from that part of the zone.
“Will a minority Christian fit into that vacuum, if you ask me, I will say that a Muslim will be a better option? So, there is every likelihood that the APC, faced with this dilemma, may settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket,” the party chieftain submitted.
To confirm the feelings of the party’s national leadership, the National Organising Secretary, Suleiman Muhammad Argungu, said that the constitution of the party does not provide that two candidates of the same faith cannot run a joint ticket.
Argungu, in an interactive session with newsmen in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, said there was nothing wrong with picking a Muslim running mate from the North West for the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.
“I have acknowledged the fact that Governor Bagudu and another indigene of the state, Malami, are among top six contenders for the vice presidential slot to replace the placeholder.”
“Indices in voter strength show that the North West Zone had the highest votes during previous elections. Therefore, such contribution should be taken into consideration in choosing the vice presidential candidate.
“There is no law in the APC constitution which bars candidates of the same faith from vying for office as president and vice president. I need to make a passionate appeal to all eligible voters to collect their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to enable them elect leaders of their choice,” he said.
To douse the situation however, APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yakubu Murtala Ajaka, dismissed the possibility of presidential candidates of other political parties – Atiku, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso, posing any threat to Asiwaju in the 2023 presidential election.
“That is why I said that it is not too late for Kwankwaso to return to the APC. That is where he naturally belongs and has assurances of becoming a President one day, not his current sectional NNPP.
“Some people might be deceiving him by calling him Mr. President already, but just one or two states in the North-west cannot make him a president. Kwankwaso needs a national party like APC to achieve his presidential ambition. So, I plead with him to do the needful before it is too late.
“Just like Kwankwaso, Peter Obi is only enjoying sectional sympathy, but a real presidential candidate needs to enjoy acceptability from all parts of the country. So, we believe that Peter Obi should enjoy his social media frenzy for now before the real campaign starts very soon.
“PDP and Atiku are good customers to APC who cannot go beyond coming second at any election. Even that second position has been threatened with the recent result in the Ekiti governorship election. The opposition party can make all the noises without facts, enjoy its propaganda for a while, but Nigerian voters will eventually distinguish between PDP lies and APC record of achievements.
“At the end of the story, our presidential candidate, Asiwaju Tinubu, will certainly emerge victorious in 2023. The other candidates are no threat to him,” he noted without commenting on the controversial issue of joint ticket.
Head or tail, the last may not have been heard about the planned joint ticket of the ruling party as it has sharply divided the northern APC governors, the presidency and even the national leadership of the party.