Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, first Africa-owned, US-based newspaper published on the Internet
Kene Obiezu is a contributor to USAfricaonline.com
Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress has decided to float a Muslim-Muslim ticket in the 2023 presidential election, and in a country where religion remains a sensitive subject for many. The heated debates generated when the possibility was first mooted over a month ago have now degenerated into full blown hysteria.
With the raging storm, it is Nigeria`s multifaceted diversity which has become more of a problem than plus, that has again been put in the spotlight.
The announcement was made by the APC’s presidential candidate Ahmed Bola Tinubu to lay to rest speculations over who would be on the ballot with him. Against all wise counsel and even common sense, he has gone for Kashim Shettima, a former two-term Governor of Borno State and senator representing Borno Central in the 9th Senate. He chose Daura as the venue of the announcement and maybe, unwittingly, he chose doom.
Mr. Kashim Shettima would seem to have finally received some reward for his outing on national television as the primaries of the All Progressives Congress drew close in June.
Mr. Shettima had during an appearance on Channels Television made uncomplimentary and uncharitable remarks about Nigeria`s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and President of the Senate Ahmed Lawan, whose only offense was their effrontery to try Mr. Tinubu for size for the ticket of the party. Mr. Kashim`s belated apology came only after the deed had been done and by which time his true self as an energetic attack dog had already been splayed under the Nigerian sun for all to see.
The howls of hypocrisy
There are many, mainly Muslims of course, who in the wake of the controversy over a Muslim-Muslim ticket have argued that religion should be of little moment in Nigerian politics and competence put above everything else. When controversy first flared up over the probability of such a ticket which has now become a reality, Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, the Kaduna State Governor, and Mr. Ishaq Akintola, the Director, Muslim Rights Concerns (MURIC), were some of those who weighed in to say there would be nothing wrong with such a ticket. Their conclusion then and even now appeared too convenient, hasty and even hypocritical.
To expose their hypocrisy would be a simple question: if the tables were turned and the conversation was about a Christian-Christian ticket, would they accept that? Would they find such a ticket balanced, appropriately inclusive and fairly representative of the interests of every Nigerian?
Given the antecedents of many of those who weighed in to say there was nothing wrong with a Muslim-Muslim ticket, and their penchant for controversy and incendiary comments, what their reaction would be were the shoe to be on the other leg is fairly predictable.
No sooner had Mr. Tinubu emerged as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress than the discussion shifted to an issue which has become a sensitive factor in today’s Nigeria. Being a Muslim from the Southwest himself, many asked if he would choose another Muslim from the North which has a Muslim majority or whether he would go for a Christian to give the ticket a fair balance.
Several groups within the country including the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN) had loudly warned against candidates of the same faith being on the presidential ticket of any political party.
However, Mr. Tinubu in choosing Mr. Shettima, a Muslim has sought to allay the concerns of groups like CAN by saying that he put competence over religious concerns even if it appears that all he has put above anything else are political considerations.
If things were working as they should in Nigeria, religious affiliations would not always bore their way into conversations and become such powerful shapers of many a debate. However, as those who have wormed their way into the corridors of power have struggled with the basics of good governance over the years, they have been experts at weaponizing religion and using it to achieve their aims.
Over the years, this has brought about a deeply divided country where religion plays a divisive role. It is only the seventh month of the year, but Nigeria has already borne horrifying witness to the weapon religion has become in a slew of religious-related mob killings in the country.
In Kaduna State which has practically become the epicenter of insecurity in Nigeria, the Christian-dominated Southern Kaduna region have only very little doubt that the decision and actions of the current governor Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, a Muslim to ditch decades-long equitable tradition, and go for a Muslim running mate in 2019 has contributed to the fires licking up their lives and livelihoods.
Tinubu’s twisted ticket
As a result of their excruciating experience at the hands of bad leaders, Nigerians do not actually expect much from the current political class, especially the ruling All Progressives Congress, which in the last seven years has seemingly reimagined and reinvented what bad leadership is.
However, as the ruling party, the nationwide interest in the party`s ticket is understandable. It may be the ruling party, but the manner of defeat suffered by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2015 provides a cautionary tale.
Questions were already raging about the age, educational qualifications and source of wealth of Mr. Tinubu, a Muslim, the APC’s presidential candidate. Going for a fellow Muslim has further bled te ticket of any credibility.
A banquet of choices
Nigeria is a democracy, and the beauty of democracy is that it gives people choices and options. Come 2023, Nigerians would be expected to choose what is best for them.
The choices that Nigerians make will go a long way in shaping the future of the country as well as its present. Nigerians must know that they cannot afford to continue with a political party that has shown only anemic concern for their welfare and diversity. keneobiezu at gmail dot com