The political space has been abuzz with the decision of Ahmed Bola Tinubu and the henchmen of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to field a Muslim as Tinubu’s presidential running mate. There is angst and disquiet in some Christian circles on account of this. Their argument is that an arrangement which has both the presidential standard-bearer and his running mate from the same religion smacks of insensitivity and lack of consideration and regard for the other religion. Nigeria is basically stratified into Christians and Muslims, with each group working hard to protect its own turf. For Christians in Nigeria, therefore, the Tinubu arrangement smacks of deliberate and willful exclusion of Christians from the country’s seat of power.
Let me make it clear from the outset. My interest in this matter does not in any way suggest that Tinubu will make it to the presidency. As a matter of fact, I believe that the ticket he is holding is poisoned in many ways. The same-faith arrangement, which he has settled for, makes the ticket much more unattractive. For this reason, I am insulated from all the angst and anxiety over the matter. My concern here is simply hinged on the implication the awkward arrangement may have on the country’s political configuration at the highest levels, if it comes to be accepted as the norm. In other words, I am concerned about the propriety or otherwise of the action.
Tinubu has told us what informed his decision. The Muslim-Muslim order has taken place in Nigeria before. MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, had Babagana Kingibe as his running mate. Both were Muslims. Since that election was presumably won by Abiola, the conclusion many reached at that time was that same-faith presidential ticket does not matter. Thirty years after, Tinubu has enthused thus: “the spirit of 1993 is upon us again in 2023.” Beyond romanticizing the 1993 order, Tinubu said he did not make his choice on the basis of religion or to please one community or the other. Rather, he was guided by the belief that his running mate, Kashim Shettima, “is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians, period, regardless of their religious affiliation or consideration of ethnicity or region.” This is how Tinubu deodorized an obviously distasteful order.
But Nigerians are not taken in by this antic. Tinubu chose a northern Muslim, not a Christian, after a rigorous political calculation. In the end, he and his co-travellers came to the conclusion that it is only the choice of a northern Muslim as running mate that can guarantee Tinubu victory at the polls. They told him that northern Muslims who are in the majority in the region will not vote for him if he chooses a Christian as his running mate. What this means in essence is that the support of the Muslim North for Tinubu will be predicated on religion, not anything else. If this is the case, as it obviously is, it becomes hypocritical for those who led Tinubu into this error to tell Christians in Nigeria that they have nothing to fear. They have everything to worry about.
By their action, northern Muslims are saying that Christians in the North are of no consequence in the scheme of things. If any of them decides to run for the office of the President in Muslim-dominated North, he will roundly be rejected by Muslim voters. This is bad enough. It is worse that a southern Muslim cannot also choose one of them as Vice-President. Such a choice will not get the support of the Muslim North. This makes the northern Christian an endangered species. So, what should he do to get out of this quagmire? Should he decamp to Islam in order to be reckoned with or remain where he is and face perpetual devaluation and rejection by his Muslim brothers?
Unfortunately, the endangered situation of the northern Christian is not helped by the disposition of the Christian community in Nigeria. Today, Christians are shouting that they will not accept the all-Muslim ticket of Tinubu and Shettima. But that is as far as it goes. When the election comes, most Christians will not look in the direction of religion. They will vote based on other considerations. The South-West, for instance, will not be bothered about the Muslim-Muslim ticket. They will vote for Tinubu massively for the simple reason that he hails from their region. That is why someone like Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who has been fighting against the Islamization agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration being pushed through Fulani expansionism, suddenly does not see anything wrong with what is about to play out through the Muslim-Muslim order. For him, it does not matter if Nigeria becomes an Islamic state in so far as a Yoruba man is at the helm of the presidency. What hypocrisy.
Even the northern Christian who has been discriminated against will also not vote in a manner that will show that he is aggrieved. So far, I have not seen much of the disapproval of the toxic agenda from the Middle Belt region predominantly occupied by Christians. Does it mean that they are comfortable with the arrangement? The fact of the matter is that Christians in Nigeria will be the ones who will pave the way for an Islamic agenda to work in the country. Right now, some of them who are supposed to rise against the ugly arrangement are busy defending it. And the only reason for that borders on personal interest.
The Muslims who cajoled Tinubu into toeing this destructive path are having a good laugh. They are being entertained by the discordant tunes wafting out from Christian circles. They must be convinced now, more than ever before, that the Christian community in Nigeria is a disjointed lot.
Imagine this scenario. Can there possibly be a Christian-Christian ticket? The mere thought of it alone can lead to uprising by northern Muslims. If Muslims were to be at the receiving end of the present arrangement, riots would have, by now, broken out in the North. In fact, the Muslim North would have threatened to boycott the forthcoming elections.
Going by the complacency of the Christian community in Nigeria, the Muslim-Muslim debate will, in the end, pale into insignificance. When this happens, it will no longer matter in future if a Muslim presidential candidate chooses his fellow Muslim as running mate. And should Tinubu make it to the presidency, Christians in Nigeria would have, by their own making, given up their religion.