Storm over Tinubu’s same faith ticket

As presidential aspirants took the podium one after the other to announce their withdrawals for Bola Tinubu at the National Convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja on the night of June 8, a terse message began circulating on social media among the delegates. “Reject Muslim-Muslim ticket,” it said. The source of the message was anonymous. But there was no doubt as to its purpose: to force the delegates to ponder the dilemma awaiting their party should they nominate the former Lagos State governor as its flag bearer. The party’s powerful state governors had agreed that the ticket should go to the South. Mr Tinubu was the only Muslim among the southern frontrunners. But he was also the only one among them not suitable to pick a running mate from the Northern Muslim majority base of the APC, and so the obvious target of the message. An official of the party later rose to shoot down the message before voting started, assuring the Convention that no aspirant had taken such a decision. But just over a month after his landslide victory in the primary, and after weeks of dithering and the subterfuge of a placeholder, Mr Tinubu on Tuesday finally picked Kashim Shettima, a senator, former two-term governor of Borno and a Muslim, as his running mate. And a storm has since pounded him within and outside the APC. Power shift Many may have forgotten that the dominant issue in this election cycle had been the clamour for the next president to be elected from the southern part of the country, after the eight-year tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari. But the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) added its own demand that the president should also be a Christian since Mr Buhari is a Muslim. However, after the association was accused of targeting Mr Tinubu and trying to deny the rights of southern Muslims, it tweaked the demand to a rejection of a Muslim-Muslim or same faith ticket. It was therefore no surprise that CAN, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Christian leaders especially in the North have taken Mr Tinubu’s pick of Mr Shettima as a slap to their faces. John Hayab, the chairman of CAN in Kaduna State, which long-running war with Governor Nasir el-Rufai heightened when the governor picked Hadiza Balarabe, a fellow Muslim, as his deputy for the 2019 election, has been understandably bullish on the controversy. In an interview with Vanguard newspaper shortly after Mr Tinubu announced Mr Shettima last week, Mr Hayab said CAN had prepared for the announcement. “We have put some media outlets on notice. All we are waiting for is the right signal to give a full-blown reaction. We’ll escalate this issue because our call for fairness and the balancing of the presidential ticket for the sake of justice, unity and fairness apparently fell on deaf ears. “However, CAN is strongly determined to sacrifice everything to protect the interest of the Church in Nigeria. We will not be moved by any form of intimidation,” the CAN leader in the Northern region added. Surprising, however, has been the reaction of Babachir Lawal, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation who was one of those who collected the APC nomination form for Mr Tinubu back in May. Following the announcement, he demanded President Buhari veto Mr Tinubu’s choice, and after the president demurred, vowed to lead a campaign against his party’s candidate among Northern Christians. Ironically, Mr Lawal was a member of the Planning and Strategy Committee of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation that also advised the candidate over the selection of his running mate. The committee had highlighted the merits and demerits of Muslim-Muslim and Muslim-Christian tickets but did not rule out either of the options in its report. Babachir Lawal While acknowledging that a Muslim-Christian ticket would sustain the established religious balance in presidential tickets since 1999 and appeal to Christians in the North Central and North East, it however warned that Muslims in the North-West and North-East might vote for northern candidates such as Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, which could result in a substantial loss of votes for the APC. On the Muslim-Muslim option, the committee said it would neutralise the voting strength of the PDP and NNPP and satisfy the Muslim community which has the numerical voting strength and has been the mainstay of support for the APC. But it also warned that the combination “will trigger a large-scale revolt from the Christian communities across Nigeria against our party, thereby resulting in substantial loss of votes that may affect the overall victory of the election. In our current nascent democracy, it has never been tried but when tried, the winner was not sworn in, even though it was adjudged as the most free and fair election.” Since Mr Tinubu announced his choice, Mr Lawal appeared to have taken the seeming snub of Christians personal, going across television stations and issuing statements to attack Mr Tinubu and predicting his doom. He had acted in the same manner days before the presidential primary after Mr Tinubu’s outburst in Abeokuta in which he derided the president. A storm forewarned Since the anger of the Christian community was forewarned, why did Mr Tinubu go ahead to choose the combination, which for the first time in the Fourth Republic left out a major faith from the ticket of a major party? First, it may be expedient to stress the point now that religious balance is a recent concept in the Nigerian political processes. The First Republic ran the parliamentary system and did not feature a direct election of the President and Prime Minister. Also, the first two military rulers in the 13-year military interregnum that followed, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and Yakubu Gowon, both had deputies of the same Christian faith as themselves. But in the first election, after Nigeria switched to the American-type presidential system, the candidates of three of the five parties were northern Muslims who saw the need to pick southern Christians as running mates to expand their reach. Chief Obafemi Awolowo However, the two southerners among them, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe, who eventually returned first and second runners-up respectively in the 1979 presidential poll, picked fellow Christians. The National Party of Nigeria, which had the most support outside the region of its candidate, Shehu Shagari, won the poll, albeit not without controversy. In the next election of 1983, Mr Awolowo picked a Muslim running mate but that was perhaps because he had realised the need to appeal to Northern voters, whom he appeared to have ignored with his previous pick of Phillip Umeadi from the old Anambra State in the South. However, after yet another military intervention, during which some events had awoken religious sensibilities in Nigerians, there was an uproar when Moshood Abiola picked Babagana Kingibe as his running mate for the ill-fated June 12, 1993, presidential election. At that time though, the two parties allowed on the field were essentially government parastatals. The military government of Ibrahim Babangida had formed the parties by decree after denying registration to any of the scores of political associations formed by the politicians. After Mr Abiola’s ticket defeated the “balanced” Muslim-Christian ticket of Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Ugoh, many political observers hastily ticked the election as the moment Nigerians rose above sectional and religious divisions. Unfortunately, however, the whimsical annulment of that election by Mr Babangida pushed Nigeria into a political impasse that has deepened the same divisions. Mr Babangida’s military government had advised Mr Abiola to pick Paschal Bafyau, a Christian from Adamawa State and president of the Nigeria Labour Congress at the time. Although he has cited one flimsy reason after the other to explain why he voided the election, the former dictator has never included the absence of religious balance among the reasons for denying Mr Abiola’s ticket its electoral victory. Peter Obi Regional and religious balance Parties in the Fourth Republic have since embraced regional and religious balances as a tradition. But the observation of that tradition has been made convenient by the fact that the major tickets have exclusively featured Northern Muslims and Southern Christians since 1999. Each of those two groups constitutes the religious majority on its side of the country but a minority on the other side. It is largely for that reason that no Northern Christian or a Southern Muslim (until Mr Tinubu) has been on the presidential ticket of a major party in this dispensation. Jerry Gana, David Mark and Sarah Jibril are some of the Northern Christians to have run for the tickets of major parties or on the tickets of smaller parties, but none of them recorded large impressions on the polity in their presidential bids. If they were southerners, they probably would have been more successful in their quests. Tinubu’s travails In that regard, we can better understand Mr Tinubu’s travails. He has seized the Christians’ southern ticket. To show fairness to the dispossessed and balance the national political equation, Christians asked him to use his historic feat to also disrupt the political order across the two rivers, by handing the Christians the northern ticket that has by tradition belonged to Muslims. While such a geo-religious Minority-Minority ticket has dim electoral prospects, it has a high moral value. It will elevate Christians to a height they have never attained before in the North and show the progress of Northern Christians in the political calculus. The same scenario will apply to Southern Muslims going forward. However, in his statement announcing Mr Shettima’s pick, the APC candidate tried to discourage the elevation of religious divisions. He said: “I am mindful of the energetic discourse concerning the possible religion of my running mate. Just and noble people have talked to me about this. Some have counselled that I should select a Christian to please the Christian community. Others have said I should pick a Muslim to appeal to the Muslim community. Clearly, I cannot do both. “Both sides of the debate have impressive reasons and passionate arguments supporting their position. Both arguments are right in their own way. But neither is right in the way that Nigeria needs at the moment. As president, I hope to govern this nation toward uncommon progress. This will require innovation. It will require steps never before taken. It will also require decisions that are politically difficult and rare. “If I am to be that type of President, I must begin by being that type of candidate. Let me make the bold and innovative decision not to win political points but to move the nation and our party’s campaign closer to the greatness that we were meant to achieve. “ Here is where politics ends, and true leadership must begin.” Realpolitik Notwithstanding those stirring words, realpolitik was the overriding factor for the candidate in the choice. The APC, perhaps due to its antecedent of leveraging the popularity of Mr Buhari among Northern Muslims to unseat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, continues to rely on the support of that segment of the population. President Buhari not being on its ticket for the first time in its life takes the APC into uncharted territory. Mr Kwankwaso, who is from Kano in the North-West; Mr Abubakar, who is from Adamawa in the North East; and newcomer Datti Baba-Ahmed of the Labour Party who is from Kaduna also in the North-west; will certainly seek advantage in the campaign for Northern Muslim votes should the ruling party give its ticket to an adherent of the other religion. Religion has become a big part of people’s identities in the North and has basic influences on their interactions. The Northern Christians, who sometimes dispute that they are the minority in the North, are in a struggle for self-assertion against their Muslim neighbours who have dominated the politics of the region and Nigeria. That rivalry runs deep. So, just as Mr Lawal is angry at his side being overlooked, so would members of his party of the other faith feel had they been the side overlooked. Mr Tinubu and the APC probably see it as suicidal to leave the rich electoral field of the Northern Muslim voters to its opponents, just to score a moral point with a symbolic gesture. Another point that has been made by some APC supporters, albeit inelegantly, is that the APC has never enjoyed strong support among Christian communities especially in the two easter zones of the South and across the North and that nominating a Christian running mate will not change that situation. In the 2015 and 2019 elections, most Christian leaders openly campaigned for opposition candidates and the APC lost in most Christian-dominated areas. The APC is probably braced for the continuation of that trend and thinks it wisest to focus on standing firm with old friends. However, there are seven months before the elections and the implications of Mr Tinubu’s choice would have become clearer before the polls open on the morning of February 25. Bishop Idahosa and Rabiu Kwankwaso Kwankwaso’s running mate Mr Tinubu was not the only presidential candidate to substitute his running mate last week. Mr Kwankwaso of the NNPP did the same by naming Isaac Idahosa as his substantive pick. The choice has attracted little attention and Mr Kwankwaso may even be envious of Mr Tinubu for the fury that his own choice had ignited. The NNPP had spent some time in a merger talk with the Labour Party until both parties went their separate ways after failing to agree on which platform to adopt and who between Mr Kwankwaso and Peter Obi should lead a joint ticket. Mr Obi was the first to name his own substantive running mate while the NNPP hopeful waited until the last day to file his own pick with INEC. Mr Idahosa is a newcomer to politics. But that does not mean he was unknown. He is a pentecostal pastor from Edo State but based in Lagos. It is not clear which state he will choose as his political base. It is also uncertain what value he will be adding to the NNPP ticket. But videos of him that appeared since his nomination show he performs miracles. Mr Kwankwaso has focussed his activities in the North. Apart from a few big-name politicians defecting to the party in Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom, the NNPP remains unknown in most parts of the South. The party and its presidential candidate have even noticeably fallen off from attention on Twitter, where it had momentarily become visible while the courtship with Mr Obi lasted. To run a serious presidential race, he has to find his way back into attention, this time on the ground in the South too. Maybe that is the reason he chose the miracle worker, Mr Idahosa. Read More Related News Here Let here it in the comment below if you do have an opinion on this; Storm over Tinubu’s same faith ticket