The Muslim-Muslim ticket chosen by APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu has generated controversy since 2015 when he sought to be Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate. Today, he is the presidential candidate and therefore got the opportunity to implement what he has canvassed for a very long time.
It is clear that Bola Tinubu is not a religious bigot and is therefore not making the choice to achieve a religious objective. He belongs to the group of analysts that believes the 1993 victory of the Abiola-Kingibe, Muslim-Muslim ticket was a winning formula. The argument is that a Yoruba candidate from the South West needs to generate electoral support from the core northern Muslim electorate to win. The reasoning in the APC camp is that the 2023 elections might be a close call with the Labor Party taking significant southern and Christian votes and Kwankwaso’s NNPP taking a big chunk of the Kano and core Muslim votes.
This is not the only political permutation circulating. Others have argued that there is a significant Christian vote in Northern Nigeria that would be alienated by the option of a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Their votes would therefore be lost to the Tinubu APC and go towards Labor Party or Atiku’s PDP might emerge as the beneficiary of their action. This would also have an impact on many Christian majority states and constituencies where Christians enjoy numerical advantage. The danger is that the very long campaign period coming up might have a focus on religious mobilization along this divide and that would be very bad for the future of Nigerian democracy because essentially, issue-based politics would be thrown under the bus as religious affiliation becomes the key signifier of political choice.
The massive level of heat generated by Tinubu’s proclivity for a Muslim vice president might seem to suggest that the position is an important one and that therefore the stakes are very high. The current Vice President to Muhammadu Buhari, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is a pastor of the Redeem Christian Church of God and there is no evidence to suggest he was able to use his position to achieve results for the Christian community. The general situation is that Nigerians are very dismissive of the vice-presidential position, often arguing that all powers are in the hands of the president which might not be completely true.
The reason why the Muslim-Muslim ticket generates so much controversy is because what is at stake is not the strategic concerns about winning permutations but real anger within the Christian community of the imbalance in political appointments under President Buhari. Earlier this week for example, the Christian political leaders within the APC in the 19 northern states met in Abuja to deliberate on the issue of the party’s Muslim-Muslim ticket and its implications to the nation. They argued that the president, the chairman of the party, deputy chairman North, the president of the Senate, the speaker and deputy speaker, and now both the presidential candidate and his running mate; etc, are all Muslims. The narrative is the marginalization of Christian leaders. They also point out that the APC party constitution preamble states that: “will guarantee equal opportunity for all mutual and peaceful co-existence respect and understanding, eliminating all forms of discrimination and social injustice among Nigerians” and that the Muslim-Muslim ticket appears to have violated this provision. They conclude that: “Nigeria is a multi-religious and a constitutional democracy and NOT a theocracy with religion as a major national fault line which cannot be whimsically manipulated without dire political consequences on our peaceful co-existence as a people”.
The former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, while expressing his anger at the Muslim-Muslim ticket declared: “Now tell me which Christian will vote for APC with the following contraption: Muslim presidential candidate (Lagos), Muslim vice presidential candidate ( Borno), Muslim National Chairman (Nasarawa), Muslim Deputy National Chairman (Borno), Muslim President (Katsina); Muslim Senate President (Yobe); Muslim speakers (Lagos); Muslim Deputy Speaker (Plateau) etc. APC the great! Wu na de try woh!”
Maybe it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria contested the 1979 presidential election with Philip Umeadi as his running mate. Both were Christians and southerners. Way back during the First Republic, Awolowo promoted an electoral alliance for the 1964 general election, the United Progressive Grand Alliance, in which the two main parties were his Action Group and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, both southern Christians. After the elections, Azikiwe refused to form a government with Awolowo and linked up with Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples’ Congress. To go back to the 1979 election, Nnamdi Azikiwe, leader of the Nigerian Peoples’ Party also had a Christian-Christian ticket with Professor Ishaya Audu as his vice-presidential contestant. Both were Christians; the latter a pastor while Azikiwe was from the South East and Audu was from the North.
What is new in Nigeria today is the climate of suspicion and fear over what many Christians see as an Islamization agenda. The emergence of Boko Haram and their jihadi agenda has always been read to be the spearhead of this agenda. At the same time, there has been significant spread of the farmer-herder conflicts and violence which has developed into large scale banditry and mass kidnapping which is also largely seen as another part of the hidden agenda against the Christian community. The dominance of Muslim officers in the command and control of the armed forces and security agencies is often cited as proof of this agenda. It is for these reasons that the Christian community has advocated for the next president to come from the Christian community based on zoning the presidency to the South. The APC elected a southern Muslim while the PDP elected a northern Muslim with a southern Christian running mate. It might well be that these choices were activated by the strategic search for winning combinations but for many within the Christian community, the strategies adapted might also have religious connotations. That is where we are on the matter today. It has become very divisive and significant confidence building measures would be necessary to make the case that there is no hidden agenda against the Christian community.