By victor ecoma
THE choice of a Muslim/Muslim ticket by the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has generated controversies in Nigerian politics and exacerbated religious sentiments.
Nigeria is a multicultural pluralistic society which naturally elicits divided opinions on issues that touch on religion, ethnicity and region. Issues of national politics and leadership when mixed with religion heightens the diverse differences capable of terrorising national interests.
The sensibilities expressed on the choice of Muslim/Muslim ticket have triggered fears on lack of religious balance, harmony and tolerance. The reactions that follows it may be intellectually valid as expressions of democratic rights of freedom and the right to be part of national choice making process, but it has also placed in focus the citizenship question.The aspirants Asiwaju Tinubu and Kashim Shettima are Nigerians and eminently qualified for the positions they are seeking for.
The question then is: should any one of them be discriminated against on the basis of his religion? Is Islam and Christianity not a state recognised religion? The answers to these questions form the foreground to the issue of religious harmony and tolerance.
The choice of Muslim/Muslim ticket no doubt is a postmodernist idea which countries all over the world are experiencing, the acceptance of new ideas and ways of doing things as different from what had been. However, postmodernism is berthed in innovations, individuality and skepticisms.If the precedence of Muslim/Muslim ticket is set today, tomorrow it can be Christian/Christian ticket; so why allow religious labels with no direct consequences on improving living standards to cause a stir in the polity.
The emergence of Nigeria as a modern nation state after colonial rule presupposed that ethnic nationalities and interests they convey will gradually collapse into nationhood. This implies that tribal identities are subsumed into citizenship identity which rests squarely on nationality as affirmed by the Nigerian nation state which recognises every citizen of the country as a Nigerian rather than by their ethnic origin.
The principles of nationhood and nationality demand that we de-emphasise whether one is of Hausa or Fulani origin, Igbo or Yoruba, Muslim or Christian, Northerner or Southerner and maintain a patriotic outline and responsibility to nationality as Nigerians.
This is lacking in our national psyche and consciousness at the individual and collective levels. As Nigerians we should strive to create a society that carries the full weight of social harmony, de-emphasises primordial sentiments and fashion out a democratic culture that takes full cognisance of our peculiarities while maintaining the essential ingredients of a democracy, with the aim to build a strong, united and progressive country.
Ultimately what matters in any nation of the world is the economy and how it is driven, the living standards of citizens, not so much as to where the president or vice president comes from and the faith they practice.
In essence, it is what governance offers citizens that matters most which by implication demands the credentials of those who sought to lead, their family upbringing, education and experiences which should be in the public domain and of public interest. The quality of governance is not predicated on conversion of all citizens into one faith, imposing a homogenous culture, creating a tyrannical dominant class or majoritarian autocrats. If anything it is such that erupts volcanic violence, turbulent political circumstances that undermine development and impoverishes everyone.
Public engagements of those who aspire to lead should be based on constitutional essentials not religion, tribe or region.
In nation building it is necessary to control what can be controlled, balance what can be balanced and create opportunities for all. It is not possible to solve all of a nation’s problems even in two term periods but a good job can be well accomplished with results but not without the cooperation of all citizens.
Among the things to be controlled in the national space is emphasis on religion, ethnicity and region. The English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes states that religion and its divisiveness is a source of political instability and argued that it should be controlled to maintain civil peace.
He argued further that religion usually comes into conflict with politics and that a secular or liberal state is supposed to remain neutral to religion. Neutrality in human society is an impossible concept because it is a position which can be justified without appealing to any one section, and such a position does not really exist.
What should be uppermost in our minds is not to allow religious identities to take priority over citizenship or allow religious duties to supersede civic duties. We should as a nation maintain a liberal tradition of not assessing citizens on the basis of their religion, ethnicity or region which are personal and without quantifiable value of capacity. Justice requires leaders to honour their duties as citizens and not allow religion to restrict or interfere with their leadership roles.
All political parties want to win elections and will not intentionally disadvantage one group of citizens for the sake of it or go with practices that are unjustified and politically undesirable either in the short term or long term. If Muslim/Muslim ticket is exclusivism and Muslim/Christian is inclusivism, the opponents of exclusivism are inclusivists who focus on the weaknesses of exclusivism. It, therefore, suggests that if exclusivism is bad inclusivism is only good by default. The critical question is: which of the two guarantees a good governance model? None really, except the quality of individuals themselves regardless of whether they are of the same faith or differently and it can only be judged by the track records not religion, region or ethnicity.
All nations of the world experience and express fears as a result of historical facts or observable contemporary happenings. It is fears orchestrated on both sides that have necessitated the Russian-Ukraine war. Religion has played a devastating role in politics right from the Protestant Reformation of 1517 and the 19th century Jihad as sources of social instability and repression. We should be guided as a nation not to escalate religious limits. People should in a democracy have a free choice in a free state not trumped up by religion. All Christian and Islamic religious leaders have enormous responsibility to preach and sustain peace as a matter of civic duty.
Professor Ecoma wrote from the Dept. of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Calabar.