September 1, 2022

Muslim-Muslim ticket: Christianity would suffer at Nigeria’s seat of sovereignty

Bola Tinubu

By Olu Fasan

Every well-meaning Nigerian must remain outraged by the choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC. Every patriotic Nigerian should be appalled by the utter insensitivity and perniciousness of the calculated decision that belittles Christianity and puts religious harmony and internal cohesion at greater risk in Nigeria. Of course, the issue won’t go away; we will discussit until next year’s elections. My focus here is the symbolism of the choice.

Self-servingly, some have mischaracterised the opposition to the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Recently, Festus Keyamo, a minister of state for labour and employment and spokesman of the Tinubu presidential campaign, said it was about “balance of power”. According to him, Christians feared losing power at the centre if Tinubu became president with Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his vice-president. He said this was misguided because the vice-president “is powerless”.

But Keyamo is wrong. This is not about balance of power. Everyone knows that the Nigerian presidency is not a duopoly; that the president is all-powerful. Yet, you can’t have a president without a vice-president. So, this is about inclusion and representation, it’s about whether in a country where Christians and Muslims equally account for nearly 50 per cent of the population, it is right to have a same-faith presidential ticket.

Still on the “powerlessness” of the vice-president, some have also argued that a Christian vice-president can’t stop the persecution of Christians. They reminded us that despite Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo being a pastor, Christians have suffered relentless persecution over the past seven years. So, of what value is a Christian vice-president?

Well, they too are wrong. Yes, a Christian vice-president won’t stop the persecution of Christians, but imagine such persecution taking place under a Muslim-Muslim presidency. Does anyone know how many private interventions Vice-President Osinbajo made to Christian leaders to douse tension? Can anyone estimate how much his presence at the centrehelped to calm nerves within the Christian community?It’s really hard to imagine Nigeria escaping deeper conflagration over the past seven years under a Muslim-Muslim presidency. A good analysis involves thinking about counterfactuals!

But those are asides. My main focus is the symbolism of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. For context, let’s refer to the 1999 Constitution. Section 14(2)(a) says that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives all its powers and authority.” Section 14(3) then says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation … shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect … the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty.”

By the letter and spirit of those provisions, the Constitution clearly requires the Federal Government, the embodiment and seat of the Nigerian sovereignty, to be inclusive and representative in order to “promote national unity” and “command national loyalty”. So, here’s the point. Given that Christians account for nearly 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population, thus over 100m, how would their non-representation in either of the two offices, president and vice-president, which jointly symbolise Nigeria’s sovereignty, promote national unity and command national loyalty?

Some say that section 14(3)refers to ethnicity, not religion. But the section mentions “other sectional groups”. By any reasonable interpretation, religions are sectional groups, are they not? Besides, if religion doesn’t matter, why does the Federal Government declare public holidays for Christian and Muslim festivals, and support Muslim and Christian pilgrimages? Yet, Muslims are treated as primus inter pares in top-level political representation.

Take the APC. It resembles an Islamic party and an Islamic government. The president, Senate president, deputy Senate president, Speaker of the House of Representatives, deputy Speaker,party national chairman and deputy national chairman – the list goes on – are all Muslims. Islam is the dominant influence in APC as a party and government!

But if Tinubu became president, Nigeria would have an Islamic presidency, with both president and vice president being Muslims. The obvious implication is that Christianity would be relegated to a second-class status in Nigeria’s seat of sovereignty. If sovereignty belongs to the people, and the presidency is its embodiment, why are over 100m Christians, nearly 50 per cent of the population, not represented on a joint presidential ticket?

As vice-president, Professor Osinbajo invites Christians to services at Aso Rock during Christmas and Easter. He has organised prayer sessions, attended by Christian leaders and former Nigerian leaders of the Christian faith: Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan. As a Christian, Vice-President Osinbajo is the only symbol of Nigerian sovereignty who can give Christians a sense of belonging in Aso Rock.

So, who would do that under a Muslim-Muslim presidency?Don’t tell me that if Tinubu became president, his wife, a pastor, would bring Christian leaders and former presidents to Aso Rock for Christian events. The president’s wife is not a symbol of Nigerian sovereignty. And don’t tell me Tinubu and Shettima are “Christian-friendly” when, for expediency, they’re willing to condemn Christianity to second-class status in the Nigerian political firmament?

Of course, typically opportunistic, some APC Christian politicians support the iniquitous Muslim-Muslim ticket. Indeed, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State publicly insulted the Pope in an attempt to justify becoming the Director-General of Tinubu’s presidential campaign. Think about it. Tinubu couldn’t find a Northern APC Christian “eminently qualified” to be his running-mate, but he found a Northern APC Christian governor good enough to lead his campaign. And, alas, Lalong is ecstatic about defending the indefensible!

Tinubu says that “the spirit of 1993 is upon us again in 2023”. He is a superstitious man. But he ignores the different circumstances then and now and forgets that “the spirit of 1993” was stillborn: a “Muslim-Muslim presidency” never happened.

Nigeria has never had a same-faith presidency under a democracy. But if Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket wins next year, well, Nigeria would be plunged deep into uncharted waters. The Constitution mandates inclusive sovereignty to promote national unity and command national loyalty! Debasing Christianity and Christians won’t achieve that!