By Bayo Fasunwon
It is few months to the 2023 elections, and President Muhammadu Buhari, judging by the statement credited to him in Daura, is too eager to get off the hotseat of Nigeria’s Presidency, and move back to the tendering of his cows, and warm embrace of his family members. However, the embers lit by his administration is having no small effect on Nigerians in general, and APC in particular. The most heated argument now is on the issue of religion.
The Buhari led administration had left bitter taste in the mouths of many, especially with regards to the flow of the blood of the innocent in Nigerian villages, bushes and even cities. The most hit have in many cases been Christians who have had their lives cut short by Islamic bandits and radicals in the nation’s North, East, West and South zones. As at today, the whereabouts of Leah Sharibu who was not released with other abducted girls due to her unrelenting faith in Jesus Christ, remains unknown.
Certain events, like the gruesome murder of Christian worshippers in their Church in Owo, the burning or Rebecca in Sokoto, and the dastard murder of a commercial sex worker in Lagos had heightened the fear of Christians, and strengthened the fear of a possible forced foist of the Islamic religion on the peoples of Nigeria.
Added to this is the insinuation that the top echelon of the APC are Muslims, and also the raging fire lit by the Supreme Court’s judgment on the wearing of Hijabs by students, outside the prescribed school uniforms. All these have created fear, suspicion and tensions in an already polarized, disintegrating and fragile nation state called Nigeria. With these fears, it is quite understandable that some christian leaders have insisted that political parties should not host a Muslim-Muslim ticket in the choice of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential ticket of any political party. However, the Presidential candidate of the ruling All Peoples’ Congress seemed to have called their bluff and picked Senator Kashim Shettima, a Muslim from Borno State (the unofficial stronghold of the Boko Haram insurgents) as his running mate. What are the issues here?
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the flagbearer of the APC has in his past records as a politician, and marital tales had shown that he is a liberal, tolerant, and non-fanatical Muslim. Records have shown that his cabinet, and political mentees over the years had not placed religion above competence, and loyalty. Therefore, having him as the President of Nigeria ought not provoke insinuations of religious bigotry. However, BAT was aware of the sensitivity of religion to Nigeria politics when he sacrificed his Vice-President’s slot in 2015, given that Buhari is a Muslim. That paved the way for the emergence of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian and a Pastor, like Tinubu’s wife to emerge as a two term Vice President to a Muslim President.
The question then arises as to what could have changed the mind of BAT on the importance of religion as to who becomes his vice, in the forthcoming elections? A cursory look may suggest that BAT had not forgotten nor forgiven PYO and the Christian Church leaders for the roles they played in the build up to the presidential primaries of the APC. It would be recalled that BAT was reported to have advised the Islamic religious organisations to set up a political wing as was done in the Redeemed Church in the heat of the primaries. Being a politician who did not overlook the ‘betrayal’ of Ambode, also a Christian, in Lagos, it is not expected that the daring audacity of PYO to stand in contest to his ‘benefactor’ would go unpunished. Thus, if the audacity of Mordecai could lead to the punishment of the entire Jews in Shushan, why would this case be different? However, this line of thought is only speculative.
From BAT’s point of view, Bashorun MKO Abiola won the freest and just election in the history of Nigeria in 1993 flying a Muslim-Muslim banner. Majority of Nigerians, irrespective of religious affiliation then gladly gave their votes to the Social Democratic Party, because they saw in Abiola/Kingibe, an undisputable hope of a better Nigeria. The ‘Emi lokan’ crooner has also seen this in himself and exudes a knowing that the solution to the various problems of the country lies in his hands.
The firm belief in the progressive agenda of Obafemi Awolowo and MKO Abiola, which made him stick his neck out for the reign of the man of integrity, Muhammadu Buhari, assures him that the most important factor in national leadership is the vision of the leader, and his capacity to identify talents who could help him achieve the goals of his intended administration, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Be that as it may, his searchlight, which politically had to be restricted to the North, (mostly North East and North West) failed to produce a single Christian with enough dossier of excellence that could work at the frequency of BAT’s innovative and dynamic mind. This conclusion is an indictment and wake up call to the Church. In the first instance, it seems the Church in the North had not groomed their members for political office, unlike the Islamic faith.
Until recently, the Church, having forgotten Jesus Christ’s injunction of ‘occupy till I come’ had dissuaded members from taking active part in politics, calling it a dirty game. In fact, those who had the boldness to declare themselves as politicians were often seen as pilgrims on the path of hell. It therefore seems that the Church woke up late to politics, and therefore had not been able to groom their people for active political roles. One could also ask if the traditional religious leaders and Christian groups had made a list of possible candidates to BAT before he jumped to the conclusion that there was no competent person in other religions, as many as they are, to occupy the position than a former Governor under whose watch many Chibok girls were hauled into a journey of no return.
The truth remains that MKO Abiola won a free and fair election, but would the 2023 election be that free and fair? Were the national conditions, including a two-party system, in 1993 same as 2022? In comparative research, as long as the parameters differ, comparisons cannot be made. If the desire to win elections is the main reason for the choice of Shettima, then BAT is seemingly accepting the long-held belief that the Muslims in the North do not accept that the Muslims in the South are true Muslims.
Then, it implies that BAT is debunking the general held claim, that as the Jagaban, he has the acceptance and support of all tribes in the country. If the Church considers the Muslim Vice President choice of the APC as an aberration, a rub of salt to its religion caused ulcerous injury, a party seeking to win elections, would also consider their apprehensions, have regard for inclusiveness and fairness, and allow their participation at the top. If BAT could not find a competent Christian from the North as Vice President, (whose work is to do what the President commits to his hands), it is doubtful that he would find a competent Northern Christian to man the positions of Ministers, Director-Generals, Head of Service, and other sensitive positions. The beauty of politics however is that, in a free and fair elections, the people would eventually decide. But above all, as they say, man thinks, God determines. May Nigeria not tow the path of Lebanon.