By Ochereome Nnanna
THE rumour has been making the rounds that the All Progressives Congress, APC, is plotting to unfold a presidential ticket made up of a Muslim for President and another Muslim for Vice President in the impending 2015 elections. The rumour has it that retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari will be the presidential candidate while his co-leader of the Party, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will be his running mate.
Some unnamed top officers of the party have been quoted as dismissing the rumour, as it is already kicking up storms that might threaten the fragile fabric of the newly amalgamated patchwork of three parties. The Presidency is being blamed for this rumour, because the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its supporters have often demonised the APC as the “Janjaweed” and “Muslim Brotherhood” due to the overwhelming dominance of its commanding heights by Muslims from Arewa North and Yorubaland. The APC has always rebuffed this labelling, accusing the PDP of playing the religious card against it because it has long sensed its imminent downfall at the party’s feet.
Political sabre-rattling apart, I do hope, for its own sake that the APC will not dream of such double left-handed pairing for presentation to the Nigerian electorate. It will result in one of the most comprehensive defeats in the annals of Nigeria’s presidential votes. It is not just a Muslim-Muslim ticket that will meet this sort of electoral waterloo. Any attempt to concoct a Christian-Christian ticket will fare no better. I do not think that any Christian presidential candidate will even contemplate it because Christians in Nigeria are far more sensitive to fair balancing of political scales than Muslims.
Many Nigerian Muslims often assume, without any credible or proven shred of evidence, that their population is more than those of Christians. They are always eager to take daring unilateral steps in favour of their religion, such as the enlistment of Nigeria in the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC, in 1996 without the matter being debated at the Supreme Military Council. Other instances include the design of the Presidential Villa with Muslim architecture, the design of Nigeria’s flag in Sokoto Caliphate (Usmaniyya) Muslim colours, the naming of Barbeach road in Victoria Island, Lagos after Ahmadu Bello signifying that he dipped the Koran into the Atlantic as he had boasted he would do, the inscription of Islamic messages in ajami in our currency notes, as well as the recitation of Koranic verses by Muslims before speaking at official public functions, without regard to the multi-religious complexion of such gatherings.
In April 1993 after the Social Democratic Party, SDP, convention in Jos, the winner of the Party’s presidential ticket, Alhaji Moshood Abiola, picked his closest rival, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate, thus creating the first Muslim-Muslim ticket for a presidential contest by a major national political party in Nigeria. The ticket defeated its Muslim/Christian rival of the National Republican Convention, NRC, led by Alhaji Bashir Tofa with Dr Silverster Ugoh as running mate. Emboldened by the apparent magnanimity of the Nigerian Christian community in overlooking the anomaly because of the special circumstances of that time, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, created another Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket with Malam Nuhu Ribadu as presidential candidate and Alhaji Fola Adeola as his running mate in the 2011 presidential poll contest. The ACN only got 2.1 million votes, while the more balanced tickets of President Goodluck Jonathan/Vice President Namadi Sambo won with 22.5 million, followed by Muhammadu Buhari/Pastor Tunde Bakare (12.2 million).
It is important for politicians to note that the Abiola/Kingibe winning ticket was a mere fluke. Prevailing factors made Nigerians to put aside ethnic, religious, regional and other divisive factors aside to vote for that ticket. Top among these was the fact that both Abiola and Kingibe were popular all over the country and had grassroots appeal each on his own steam. Their cult images transcended primordial borders. Secondly, their opponent, Tofa was a dark horse, and his running mate, Ugoh, lacked popular support even among his Igbo people.
Buhari is only popular among the rabble of the Muslim Arewa North, with little horizontal appeal among the elite even in the North. Tinubu is the prevailing political leader of the Yoruba people, but many are beginning to doubt his hold in the zone after the way he imposed family members and cronies in high places in the defunct ACN. Murmurings are getting louder over the marginalisation of Christians in his political fold. The APC has to do something extraordinary to disprove the Muslim-domination tag developing around it or it will become a drag on its electoral fortunes.
The truth be told, Nigeria is a multi-religious society. It is a country created to give ethnicity, region and religion their special places of pride. The original founding fathers of Nigeria’s independence, such as Dr Herbert Macaulay and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe set out to make Nigeria more than a mere geographical expression by fomenting a nation united by common citizenship like the US and other progressive multi-racial societies. But Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group brought tribalism into the country’s politic, while Sardauna Ahmadu Bello brought Islamic imperialism and Arewa fundamentalism. Between these two, Macaulay and Zik’s nationalism was defeated and Nigeria has lived for ever unhappily after.
Political parties that seek to win elections in Nigeria must carefully and strategically balance their tickets between Christianity and Islam and between North and South, East and West. It is not only equity; it is the right thing to do. There will be no shortage of talents from any corner of Nigeria to carry out the balancing act. To say it does not matter is self-deceit. If a section of Nigeria will not accept a Christian/Christian ticket, what makes it think the others will accept a Muslim/Muslim one? The sectarian violence masquerading in Sharia riots, Boko Haram attacks, Fulani militia strikes on Christian-dominated hamlets at night and places of worship in Northern Nigeria cannot promote a political society where religion does not matter.
Those who ignore the Nigerian reality and present “single-cell” presidential tickets must be ready to accept the defeat that awaits them.