By Sen Soji Akanbi

Expectedly, the announcement of Senator Kashim Shetima by the All Progressives Congress (APC) flag-bearer, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as his vice presidential has become a major issue of national discuss with mixed reactions over burning questions among concerned stakeholders; especially, from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella body of Christian faithful in the country.

It is important to note that politics is about interest, which can be personal, group, community, ethnic, racial, religious etc. It is on this angle that the party and the presidential flag-bearer need to appreciate the concerns raised by leading members of the party, political allies, national figures and civil society groups over Tinubu’s decision.

However, as we enter a moment of renewed hope for Nigeria to move forward, we need to seize this moment to make necessary sacrifices that focus on the country’s desire to advance the ideals of democratic and progressive governance devoid of sentiment of religion, tribe or region.  

It is a well-known fact that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, being a democrat with deep understanding of the country and her complexities will not take such important decision without wide consultation as demonstrated even in his campaign for the APC’s primary. As a matter of fact, the party and Tinubu must begin another round of consultation from within the party to a larger segment of the country to assure every concerned stakeholders about his genuine intention to reform and govern wisely in order to rebuild their faith in his capacity to lead the country successfully.

The challenge of political rivalry between the North and South, which dates back to the independence seems to have contributed to fear and suspicion, and the reason we must not overlook the principle of zoning in our political consideration. The choice of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as flag-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with potential of having another Northerner and especially, a Fulani succeeding our amiable president, Muhammad Buhari should be a major concern rather than our religious difference. Nigeria is a multi-religion country, which is represented in both regions and has history of mutual relationship and understanding which we must sustain as a nation.

The emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a Fulani as presidential candidate of the PDP has raised an issue that is threatening political understanding between the North and South in the country. Fortunately, the APC seems to have arrested this threat with the emergence of Asiwaju as her flag-bearer. This comes with a child of necessity in form of “Muslim-Muslim” ticket in order to carry the ruling party’s stakeholders in the north along and ensure inclusiveness of all in the 2023 election project.

It is important for stakeholders, especially, the Christian leaders in the south to see the decision of PDP to jettison the principle of zoning between the North and South as a major contributing factor to the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, rather than perceiving it to be indifferent to the religious concern.

The decision which is not new in our political history with reference to three former military heads of state with either Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian, and which manifested in the June 12 presidential election that produced Late M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe who were flag bearers of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Beyond the issue of religion, the country as a matter of principle needs to demand for candidates with strong and admirable values and visions for nation building. Looking at this indicator, the selection of Senator Kashim Shetima as APC vice presidential candidate seems to have enjoyed wide support from political and religious leaders especially, in Borno State where a catholic leader supported his selection and acknowledged his leadership quality.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shetima who were former governors of Lagos and Borno states respectively have demonstrated patriotism to the unity of this country with administration that truly reflected pan-Nigeria with inclusion of cabinet members across religion, ethnicity and regions in the country.

While recognizing the benefits of balancing religions in the party ticket, we must not lose focus on the possible threat to presidency moving to the South, which depends largely on sustaining the large followership the APC enjoys from Muslim-dominated northern regions. The North which incidentally produced the main opposition candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar remains a stronghold of the APC as against the South that is largely known for supporting the PDP since 1999.

Winning the 2023 presidential election should be the focus of all concerned stakeholders, members and supporters of the APC above religion of the candidates. The party has succeeded in presenting two formidable candidates with deep knowledge, experience and accomplishments in governance which are major factors in leadership recruitment, and have positioned the party for third consecutive victory in the 2023 presidential election.  

We appeal to concerned party members, leaders as well as stakeholders to see the relevance of vice president slot in the presidential system of governance compared to legislative power where a senate president is influential and plays more important roles in the system. Also, the party leaders should ensure that distribution of other important political offices at the national level are filled in such a manner that mitigates the concerns raised over the selection of the party’s presidential running mate.

It is important for religious leaders to reflect on the likely backlash of promoting religious posture in our political environment knowing that most of the states, especially in the south with Christian  majority present Christian-Christian tickets without protests of threat to peaceful coexistence of the citizens. We need to improve on this understanding by allowing political exigency rather than religious consideration to divide the country or set us back as a nation.

  • Senator Soji Akanbi is the Deputy National Chairman SWAGA’23-Initiator Coalition movement for BAT COMBAT

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