By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
The rising attacks on the churches may have added fuel to the apprehension, politics and dynamics of the debate around Muslim/Muslim ticket said to be on the table of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, as Bola Tinubu is set to consider the lesser of the evil and pick a Muslim running mate, an action expected to inflame passion of Christians against him.
This has become an issue of concern. A couple of weeks ago, some gun men believed to be bandits of Fulani stock stormed St. Patrick Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State where they killed over 40 worshippers, wounding a number of people. Last a video surfaced online where a commissioner of police said he received threat letter from herdsman asking churches to suspend service for three months.
In the aftermath of another incident in Sokoto that predated the Owo tragedy, a female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education was killed by fellow students-mobs for alleged blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed.
Following this sad development, some churches were attacked in Sokoto. It is this kind of development that has raised the political stake and the role of religion in political contestations which has heightened fears over who will become the running mates of the two Muslim presidential candidates of the two major parties, APC and PDP.
The outcomes of primaries especially for APC have thrown up dynamics of politics in Nigeria; where political manoeuvres and strategic political thinking are mediated by various intervening variables, such as ethnicity, religion and other primordial sentiments.
For Atiku and Tinubu, two presidential candidates of the two major political parties, the challenge and the dynamics are not the same, nor the headache of the same irritating degree. The most intractable of the variables is religion, and for Atiku, he has scaled through by picking a Christian as vice president.
Last Thursday, a day to the INEC- imposed deadline for submission of the VP name, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party announced Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his choice for the position of vice president.
Although, it was widely reported that the party’s committee for shopping for the position had initially pitched their tents with Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike as compensation for his enormous contribution to the party, and for coming second, it was not be as the choice went the other way.
The most challenging fight of Tinubu’s long political career may have been how to manoeuvre the politics of picking a vice presidential candidate from the North considering the contestations of numerous variables, and their capacity to torpedo his long held ambition to become president of the most populous country in Africa.
Already, a member of the highly influential APC Northern governors forum, who made it possible for Tinubu to clinch the ticket, Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna State governor said the issue should not be about religion but competence, a subtle hint that electoral value and competence should carry the day. But not everyone buys into El-Rufai’s logic.
Dr. Obaremi Obamo, a political scientist told Business Hallmark that ” the problem with El-Rufai’s argument is that of the hypocrisy involved in it.
“In 2015, he was against such an arrangement, now he is in support of it. Nigeria is supposed to be neutral when it comes to religion but Northerners have not allowed it so. Check out all the past leaders with exceptions of few, all the past leaders had done religious balancing.
“Tinubu is Muslim, for him to pick a Muslim running mate has implications in a country that has enough dose of religious tensions and sensitivity, especially now, when there’s rising attack on churches”.
Professor Hassan Jameel, another political scientist said “Nigeria is a multi religious country and the issue of religion is very sensitive.
“Tinubu’s calculation is that he needs the votes of the North to win the presidential election which a Muslim/Muslim ticket can facilitate for him, considering the nature of northern society, but it would bring out a complication: Southerners and Northern Christians would not be favourably disposed to such an idea, and that may affect his chances.For now we call his victory pyrrhic, he must do a lot of consultation on this. It is like walking a tight rope.”
Some people who believe they are realists have said the only option for him to win the election is Muslim/Muslim ticket. One of them is the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who said with the emergence of former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, as the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, the party has no option but to field a Muslim running mate if it truly desires to win the 2023 presidential election.
Kalu, who backed the proposed Muslim-Muslim ticket by the ruling party, also claimed that the party would struggle to win the presidential election should it consider any other factor and jettison the idea.
“…if we don’t play the Muslim Muslim ticket, we are in trouble, and it will be difficult to win the election because the only thing left for Ahmed Tinubu today is to play a Muslim-Muslim ticket.”
As if adding a comic relief to his divisive comment, Kalu told Christians that there was nothing to fear as Tinubu’s wife is a pastor who would always have the interest of the people at heart.
He said, “If I am in Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s position, the wife is a Pastor in a Pentecostal Church. I will go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The most important thing is for the party to win. We should stop this rubbish about religion.
“Whether you put a Christian there, after all, if we win, already the wife is a Pastor and they have been living together for over 40 years.
These are facts. So, don’t blame anyone, Tinubu’s wife is already like a deputy president. I am saying my opinion. I am a Catholic. This is Orji Kalu’s opinion. You cannot deny me my opinion.”
But Dr. David Ayodele, an historian said Kalu and his ilk do not understand the role of religion in national politics of the country.
“I can’t blame Kalu. How much of the political history of Nigeria does he know, how much of the tensions inherent in his proposal does he understand in a country where attacks on churches have gone unchecked.
“Look at the recent experience where Christians have been at the receiving end of jungle justice, look at the kidnap of highly placed Christian leaders, look at Owo killings, and yet Kalu doesn’t see anything wrong in Muslim/Muslim ticket. I think something is wrong somewhere.”
Already, an Islamic preacher, Sheikh Ibrahim Aliyu Kaduna has warned the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Bola Tinubu against picking a northern Christian as a running mate. Aliyu Kaduna, a northern Islamic cleric, warned that with a Christian from the region as Tinubu’s running mate, the ruling party is sure to lose the election.
The preacher further threatened to mobilise Muslims to reject the APC candidate during the forthcoming presidential election. In a viral video, Sheikh Kaduna berated governors from the north 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’ve 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 added
Commenting on such remark, an elder of the Evangelical Winning Church, ECWA, Professor Dapo Olukomogbon, a gynaecologist told Business Hallmark that “the Christian Association of Nigeria has already made its position known in the matter.
“We shall vote a candidate that has a Christian on its ballot either as presidential candidate or vice presidential candidate. The question of a Muslim/ Muslim ticket is unacceptable, unjust, unfair and morally condemnable.”
He said bigots, such as Aliyu Kaduna are the problem of the country.
“In a saner clime, it would not have mattered, but this is Nigeria, where there’s high level of religious ill-feeling fuelled by politicians who deliberately fan embers of religious discord for political gain and also illiteracy and ignorance.”
Joining the fray, the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) last
Tuesday, issued a warning about probable attacks on Christians and non-Muslims in Biafra region by killer-herders and bandits. The aim, according to the group, is to repeat the heinous episode in Owo, Ondo State, in which over 40 Christians were killed inside a church.
The pro-Biafra group claimed to have received intelligence from its “M-Branch” that bandits were planning attacks on churches, Christians, and their locations, and that Biafrans must be on the lookout to avoid the danger.
Emma Powerful, the group’s Director of Media and Publicity, made the announcement in a statement last Tuesday.
The statement read, “We, the global family of Indigenous People of Biafra, ably led by our prophet and indefatigable liberator, Mazi Kanu, deemed it necessary to once again alert the Christians and the general public that Fulani people have devised another means of attack against Christians, churches, and non-Muslims in Biafraland.
“The information contained in the intel received from our intelligence unit, “the M.Branch,” says “the Nigerian government is transferring bandits and terrorists as ostensible Christians into the eastern region of Nigeria in readiness to replicate similar or deadlier terrorist act that was unleashed in Owo Catholic Church, Ondo State.
“We advise Christians and other religious leaders to sit up, be at alert and be security conscious as strange seeming worshippers of non-Igbo ethnicity would infiltrate their midst to commit havoc.
“They must be on the lookout for Fulani-looking persons that may come to join them in pretence as converted Christians. Do not also be deceived into thinking that Fulanis don’t speak Igbo, dress like Igbo, and behave like indigenes, because, they do.
“So many of them were born and brought up in Igbo-land and they know, not just all nooks and crannies of the Igbo land, they also understand all events and their seasons.”
In the atmosphere and context of such apprehension, it will be difficult for Muslims/Muslim ticket to flower without fear of domination of one religion by another.
Commentators like the former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode have warned against Muslim/Muslim ticket because of political and electoral backlash.
Already, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has warned political parties against fielding candidates and running mates from the same religion for the 2023 presidential election.
National Secretary of CAN, Joseph Bade Daramola, a barrister, noted that a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket will threaten the country’s unity.
Speaking in Abuja penultimate Friday, Daramola said, “CAN urges that a balance of both religious practitioners be considered in the choice of running mates of the presidential candidates. We do not subscribe to Christian-Christian ticket or Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“Politicians can talk politics but we have stated our view long before now. Any party that tries same religion ticket will fail. This is not 1993. Even when we have joint Muslim-Christian ticket, the church still goes through hell.”
He added, “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 Muslim-Muslim ticket, it is at its own peril. CAN is only forewarning, but will make a categorical statement in the event our warning is not heeded.”
He said, “Anything contrary to the above means that the leadership of these political parties do not bother about the unity of 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.”
Daramola further decried the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to address concerns over Muslims’ domination of the leadership of the country’s security agencies.
“In the ongoing dispensation, CAN leadership cried in vain to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to break the monopoly or dominance of the security architecture with people of same faith. We are all seeing the outcome now.
“It is obvious that the Nigeria of today is different from that of 1993. Our politicians should stop flouting the Constitution by respecting the North and South dichotomy and religious factor,” he said.
“To those arguing that people do not care about the religions of their leaders once they are competent and credible, we dare APC to pick its presidential running mate from the South and PDP pick its own from the North and see what follows.
“When the late sage, Papa Obafemi Awolowo picked Chief Mrs Oyibo Odinamadu, a fellow Christian and Southerner, as his running mate in 1979, we all know the consequences on his performance in the North. Our politicians should be doing what will unite us instead of what will further polarise the country,” the CAN scribe added.
Pastor Oludele Samson Akinpelu of Freedom Living Church said, “the issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket should not even arise, saying that “would amount to great insult to Christians all over the country. Are we saying there’s are no credible Christians in the North?”
This will be the biggest test of Tinubu’s political sagacity, and ability to balance various contestations in his career as a politician.