It was Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, who once observed that the real problem with Nigeria is impunity, not corruption. Of course, he was right that the brazen corruption and primitive accumulation rocking the nation today and warranting psychiatric evaluation, is borne out of impunity and callous disregard for civilised conduct and integrity.
What is more, the said impunity is breeding and transmogrifying into other worse conditions in Nigeria, and one of them is trampling on the religious rights of Nigerians, manifest in the idea of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, which El-Rufai and few others are now championing.
Nigeria is the largest black nation on earth with the two leading monotheistic religions, namely Christianity and Islam, well represented, fairly balanced and flexing muscles, even though Christianity is dominant in the South and Islam more in the North. Nigeria from colonial times has been crawling to nationhood and the over 250 ethnic nationalities are yet to come to terms and mesh into one nation indeed. The reason for this is that the powers that be, each time, promoted mainly the issues that divide the citizens rather than unite them.
This reality was bemoaned recently by the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who observed that Nigeria is still a country (better put, still much like a geographical expression), and not yet a nation. Obasanjo is known to be frank to a fault. Let us leave out the part that the former president and elder statesman played or failed to play in making Nigeria into a nation and concentrate on his apt and damning submission that Nigeria is not yet a nation.
Nigeria is one country blighted by primordial sentiments; chiefly religion. Religion has not helped the country and is one factor drawing Nigeria back from attaining nationhood and which cannot be contained by simply wishing it away. It is that reality that has led El-Rufai and other APC leaders in the North to push for Muslim-Muslim to ensure victory in the 2023 presidential poll. But in taking this parochial stand El-Rufai and fellow travellers unmasked some more fundamental dilemmas in their presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Jagaban of Yoruba land.
Let us also leave out Tinubu’s obvious health challenges — (a flag-bearer who could not even hold the flag) — age and integrity issues for another day and focus on the Muslim-Muslim ticket and its implications for the APC and the rest of Nigeria. One recalls that even during the totalitarian and autocratic military regimes in Nigeria, soldiers tried to balance religion and the North/South divide in composing the military governments. With two possible exceptions of Ironsi/Gowon and Buhari/Idiagbon pairs, all other military regimes ensured Christian-Muslim and North-South balance all through history.
Such arrangements had not been by accident but a conscious and delicate act of balancing to ensure unity by offering a sense of belonging to all, and to create a chance for progress for the beleaguered nation, Nigeria. But in 2023, the ruling APC believes that the Christian population, which is possibly half of the country’s population, can be ignored and there will be no consequences.
Serious issues are really bugging down the APC northern leaders that are not easily discernible. Asiwaju is a Muslim and ordinarily represents the Muslim divide. Why then the insistence that yet another Muslim would have to pair with him? The reason is simple: Asiwaju does not represent the Muslim North. Put differently, the core Northern Muslims do not believe that Asiwaju represents them from a religious perspective and that is what El Rufai is drawing attention to. This disparity is really curious.
We have often heard that Yoruba Muslims are not usually allowed to lead prayers where they are mixed with Muslims from the North. In Abuja, for example, there is a Yoruba mosque, and one wonders why. Religion is a delicate and spiritually deep issue and how one wishes that it is left out of the national affairs completely.
There is no doubt that the APC is looking at the role religion will inevitably play in 2023, as it has always done. The candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is Muslim, and Northern Muslim voters are more likely to identify with him at the polls than with Tinubu. And there is Rabiu Kwakwaso the presidential candidate of NNPP, yet another strong Muslim lurking around with his expansive Kwakwasiyya Movement! This is what is giving El-Rufai and the rest nightmares.
Now that it has dawned on them that Tinubu’s choice is not quite the knockout they hoped for, they want to cure it by pairing him up with yet another Muslim and damn the likely backlash from the millions of voting Christian community. The signal the APC has sent to the Christians is that this election can be decided regardless of where they vote. They are also reinforcing the simmering notion that there is a significant disparity between the Muslims from different parts of the country.
Yes, in history, Nigeria has once been saddled with a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a democratic dispensation, and that was when Moshood Kashimawo Abiola contested for the ill-fated June 12 presidential election with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, a Kanuri Muslim from Borno state as running mate in 1993. Then, however, religion has not become so emotionally charged in Nigeria. The current APC federal government has played up religion as a high negative energy to divide the country like never before. That is why the Christian divide will not ignore the Muslim-Muslim ticket this time around even though a block in the APC North led by El Rufai strongly believes it does not matter.
Furthermore, the Muslim-Muslim ticket kite they fly also suggests that the APC Christian political leaders of the North have no electoral value. It is really surprising that among the APC Northern Christian leaders, none is considered qualified enough to pair up with Tinubu to respect and maintain the delicate religious balance in the country. To the likes of El-Rufai, men like Boss Mustafa, a fine gentleman with an unblemished record and currently Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is unqualified.
Even if Boss Mustafa’s predecessor, Babachir Lawal, is not also a good option because of his grass-cutting scandal. How about Yakubu Dogara, a former number four citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Dogara was meritoriously the Speaker of the House of Representatives for four whole years, and is also unqualified? If these three can be said to be unqualified, how about Simon Lalong who is the current governor of Plateau state and chairman of the Northern Governors Forum? One would think Simon Lalong is a darling of the North, so how come his religion or zone cannot represent the North?
Factually, one can see that it cannot be said that the APC North lacks qualified Christian leaders to fit the bill. The push for a Muslim-Muslim ticket is not for want of qualified Christians who can garner votes for the party at the presidential poll in 2023 and represent the Christian divide in their anticipated government even for reasons of optics and psychological effects.
The fact that El-Rufai, echoed by some others, especially Femi Fani Kayode, is bent on blundering on with it, even if Tinubu takes a Christian running mate, the damage has already been done. The people maligned and presented as inconsequential are not likely to forget. As earlier stated, it is all about impunity and a callous lack of consideration for others. It is a form of religious intolerance to even contemplate a Muslim-Muslim ticket in the first place.
El-Rufai since tested the waters for ultimately foisting the same on the entire country when he ran on a Muslim-Muslim ticket for his re-election as Kaduna state governor, a religiously pluralistic and multiethnic state. That is yet another example of impunity and for El-Rufai, if he could get away with it in Kaduna state, the APC can also get away with it in Nigeria. Only time shall tell. Just that by then, it will be too late, win or loss.
Mefor is a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought. He can be reached via 09056424375 or email@example.com. He tweets @DrLawMefor