The Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket is no stranger to Nigeria. It has been used before and it fetched the nation its historically acknowledged freest, fairest, most peaceful election. It was not predetermined when it happened. Circumstance thrust it upon us as a nation. And the nation still savours its sweet memory.
It seems history is on the verge of repeating itself.
In 1993, when Bashorun Moshood Kashimaawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, a Muslim from Ogun State, ran for Presidency with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, another Muslim from Borno State, Nigerians voted massively for them. It was not about religion, but merit, competence and capacity.
The feat could be replicated in next year’s general election.
But some people now differ for partisan reasons. They are no more talking about geo-political balance. They are calling for religious balancing as if the God of Christians is different from the Allah of Muslims.
When Nigerian political elite are not exploiting poverty, they shift to religion. Preaching now focuses on the pursuit of transient earthly power, whereas Christian clerics ought to focus on winning souls for the Kingdom of God.
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Some armchair commentators even threaten fire and brimstone over a matter they should not lose a minute’s sleep over. Obviously, their self-serving agitation is not premised on truth and logic, but on apparent religious misjudgment.
Those opposing the Muslim-Muslim ticket appear unconcerned about the capability of the candidates to make things work for the generality of the people. They appear to have created an elitist warfare designed to cajole, create a wrong impression and generate controversy. The wrong advocacy is meant to manipulate public opinion and incite the electorate. So far, only the gullible are swayed by the fleeting emotion and trickery.
Pro-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) critics, spin doctors and propagandists are trying to preempt the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is still consulting on the choice of a competent and suitable running mate. They are making an unsolicited suggestion that could herald an electoral doom. Their tool is a section of the social media, which is misguided and disposed to unethical practices. Mischief makers are praying for a mistake that should never happen. Their threat is that Asiwaju Tinubu should either pick a Christian running mate or heaven will fall.
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To keen observers, the hired social media agitators are mischievously whipping up inexplicable sentiments. They are evading reality and indulging in prevarication. They are jesters wallowing in daydreaming. Their expectation is that APC should make a big blunder, which their principal or sponsors will instantly exploit to maximum advantage. Observers are asking: if the PDP had picked a Yoruba Muslim as its presidential flag bearer, would it contemplate picking a Northern Christian as his running mate?
Those who witnessed the 1993 presidential poll are taken aback. Did Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim, not fight to be the running mate to another Muslim candidate in the past? What should occupy the minds of sponsored critics is whether the PDP ought to have picked its candidate from the North in the first instance since a northerner, President Muhammadu Buhari, will be completing his two terms of eight years next year. Advocates of power shift are asking: should the North occupy the presidency for 16 years? How logical is the analysis of those who have jettisoned geo-political equity, only to turn round and make a case for conjectural religious balance to suit the prejudiced agenda of few manipulators who crave attention? How many clerics in the Southwest will have the audacity to mount the pulpit and ask the congregation to reject a presidential candidate from the zone for picking a Muslim running mate? Would the congregation listen to him? How logical? Muslims and Christians attend family and township meetings together. Christians felicitate Muslims during their festivals. Muslims rejoice with Christians during Christmas. There is no basis for discrimination.
To the anti-Muslim/Muslim jesters, history means nothing. They allude to “changing times” as they tacitly fuel subtle religious tension.
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Having failed to stop Asiwaju Tinubu at the primary, they have resorted to a campaign of calumny ahead of next year’s election. Yet, certain facts cannot be wished away. It is on record that defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate MKO Abiola and Kingibe defeated the National Republican Convention (NRC) candidate Bashir Othman Tofa and his running mate, Sylvester Ugoh, on June 12, 1993. Abiola and Kingibe are Muslims. Tofa was a Muslim though Ugoh was a Christian. It would appear that the NRC ticket reflected religious balance, which the SDP ticket appeared to have lacked. At the close of poll, it was evident that Nigerians had ignored the religious bias and voted for the best ticket.
In 1993, there was a clash of strategies and structures, intelligence and capabilities, tact and willpower. Many factors shaped the historic exercise. The present political class is not oblivious of the details. The current circumstances present a similar scenario. The two factors – ethnicity and religion – have not fizzled out. But regional reactions to these two issues have always differed.
According to analysts, ethnicity is strong in the South in the choice of a standard bearer, especially when zoning is on the front burner, while religion is strong in the North when attention has shifted to the choice of a running mate from the region to pair with any presidential flag bearer from the South.
In the aborted Third Republic, the Southwest intensified its struggle for power shift. The region was lucky to have its son, Abiola, a business mogul and largely inexperienced politician, as the SDP candidate. This followed the banning, unbanning and banning of the so-called old and new breeds by the wily military junta. To the Northern SDP Caucus, Abiola was the candidate of the South, although a section of the Southeast and the Southsouth rejected him. It could be said that the Southwest was emotionally attached to his candidacy; perhaps, for ethnic reason. He was a Muslim, but his religion never mattered to the South, particularly the Southwest. Muslims and Christians alike flocked around him because of his pedigree. He was a household name: a bridge builder, a philanthropist and man of the people.
The SDP primary in Jos, the Plateau State capital, was tough. It was because the party had become a platform to beat. But, the choice of a running mate was more hectic. Two stalwarts -Atiku, who was sponsored by his godfather, the late Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua, and Kingibe, who was endorsed by SDP governors and state chairmen – vied for running mate. The probability was that in a Muslim-dominated North, a Muslim would likely emerge. The only Christian, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Paschal Bafyau, who was supported by military President Ibrahim Babangida, could not fly.
It may have become a trend that whenever a Muslim presidential candidate comes from the South, Northern Muslims, who only view him as a Southern candidate, may show a strong disposition towards the choice of a Muslim from their region as his deputy. This pervading feeling cuts across the two major parties. It would also appear that the dimension of ethnicity is stronger than religion in the South while the North can hardly dissociate itself from ethno-religious calculations.
Conversely, and as history has shown, if a presidential candidate from the North is to pick his running mate from the Southeast or the Southsouth, the likelihood exists that he will pick a Christian. However, if a presidential candidate from the North is to pick his running mate from the Southwest, he can either pick a Muslim or a Christian. The people of the Southwest will accommodate his choice, if he is competent and suitable, his religion notwithstanding.
It is not clear why other regions have not been able to demonstrate enough religious tolerance and understanding like the Southwest. This region, over the years, perceives religion as a personal matter between an individual and his creator, and sees the two major religions as similar because God is the Ultimate.
It may be inferred that those against Muslim-Muslim ticket in the North are few, although their reaction may be blown out of proportion. In the South, particularly the Southwest, it is a non-issue. The founding fathers of the Southwest never saw a dichotomy between Islam and Christianity. What was important to them was unity of the zone, development and integration. The first Premier of Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was the first head of government to set up the Pilgrims Welfare Board in the Christian-dominated region. No eyebrow was raised by Christians. Later, a similar board was set up for Christians. Awo only had one younger sister, Nimota. She was a Muslim married to Awofeso, a native of Sagamu and father of Bimbo Awofeso, journalist and former member of the House of Assembly in Ogun State.
It is significant to recall that the Lateef Kayode Jakande/Rafiu Jafojo Muslim/Muslim ticket was the best in the Second Republic. Lagosians never regretted it. The period between 1979 and 1983 has remained a reference point. Recently, Kaduna State Governor Nosiru El-Rufai spoke about how he picked a Muslim in 2019 and the APC won Kaduna State. However, this is not to say that the demand of Christians for the running mate is not legitimate.
The atmosphere of religious harmony permitted the wedding of Asiwaju Tinubu, a Muslim, and Yeye Asiwaju Oluremi, a Christian and now, an Assistant Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Former Lagos State governor and Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), a Muslim, has a Christian wife, Emmanuela, a staunch Catholic. The story is told of Ede Muslim faithful who decided to appoint a Christian as Treasurer of the Central Mosque.
At a time when Efon-Alaaye, a town in Ekiti State was prided as a religious town comprising CAC devotees, Anglicans and Catholics, the paramount ruler, the late Oba Lawani Aladegbemi, was a devout Muslim. He will never miss church harvest services and the yearly one-week New Year prayers by the Aladura Church. In fact, he usually hosted the grand finale in his ancient palace. Oba Aladegbemi usually assisted churches to plant more branches by providing land for church buildings. Christians also reciprocated his kind gestures as father of all. Many Christians usually celebrated with him after Ramadan. Also, every year, his chiefs, who were Christians, and many townspeople usually accompanied him to the Muslim Praying Ground during Sallah.
In 2023, what is important is the ticket that can reposition the country by revitalising the economy, providing jobs, tackling insecurity, fighting infrastructure deficit, strengthening education and health sectors, fixing the power sector, ensuring national unity, and restoring the glory of the country in the comity of nations.