Too much deafening noise. Too much puerile postulation. Too much barber-shop theorising and hairdresser’s salon prognostication. Too much gutter gossip. Too much arm-wringing and hand-twisting among jostlers for political power. Too much holler from pundits with talents for toadyism. Too much nerve-breaking analysis on TV and social media. Too many delicacies for delegates to munch on as they swagger sweet to the bank. Too many false prophecies from pastors’ penthouses and too many blabbers from the Imam’s megaphone. My friends, there’s always too much drama and many drama kings and queens anytime there’s an election in Nigeria. Now that the rude revelry from political party primaries is over, and the rowdy presidential field is narrowed down to a few dreamers bent on slugging it out in February 2023, a not too-dainty noise about Christian-Christian, Muslim-Muslim talk-a-thon is now a sickening, tinkling cymbal.
A handful of candidates will be in the election skating ring next year but the main duel will be between Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling party All Progressives Congress and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Tinubu from the South and Atiku from the North are Muslims. The weird unwritten rule, and one that has been in force in Nigeria for aeons, is that if a presidential or gubernatorial candidate is a Christian, his running mate must be a Muslim and vice-versa. Except on scanty occasions, politicians have always surrendered to this type of identity politics. The pressure is no longer on Atiku. He is from the vote-rich and predominantly Muslim North. Yesterday, he picked Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, performing and calm Governor of Delta State as his running mate. Atiku’s pick of Governor Okowa is seen in many quarters as a game-changer. But eight months is a long time in politics. The world is watching.
The pressure is now on Tinubu who has to pick his running-mate from the North. Connoisseurs who adjudge pathways to winning elections believe the party will be best served if Tinubu hangs around the mosque shopping for a candidate. Many prominent voices also postulate that a Christian candidate is the way to go otherwise Tinubu’s life-long ambition will face a ferocious and boisterous stormy headwind. This debate is already emitting coarse hullaballoo. In these times of insurgence from Islamic fundamentalists terrorizing the nation as a whole; in this tenebrific season when bandits freely walk into any assembly of Christian worshippers slaughtering mothers and ridding infants’ frail bodies with bullets form AK47s, it is understandable that Christians will be apprehensive of a Moslem-Moslem Presidential ticket. If Tinubu picks a Christian candidate from the North, how will a Moslem north react to a Northern Christian VP? There’s more to picking a candidate than just religious, or even competence consideration. Of course, a Presidential candidate needs a competent hand, Christian or Muslim. But more than ever before, he needs a personality he can work with. He needs a loyal and committed person who sincerely shares his vision, not an ultra-ambitious being who’ll slice his throat politically. A president is the visionary, the VP is like the Biblical Aaron who holds his hands when fatigued.
Tinubu’s adversaries have accused him of many unsavoury things as a politician. But nobody till today has pointed an accusing finger at him as one whose life-long ambition is to Islamise Nigeria or give Islam an upper hand. The man has a large and accommodating heart regarding religion and ethnicity. That is his history. His wife, a sitting senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is an ordained Pentecostal pastor in Nigeria’s biggest church. But if Tinubu settles for a Muslim candidate for the reason of political expediency, what will the optics look like? Although perception is not always the reality, in politics, optic is perception and perception is considered facts by many. The brutal truth is that the optics of picking a Muslim as VP creates a toxic political environment in an election year and resentment in the hearts and minds of voters. I’ve had many friends who are Tinubu hardcore Christian adherents threaten to vote Atiku if Tinubu picks a Muslim as VP. I also have others who don’t give a hoot whom he picks. The two routes have their political risks. It is up to Jagaban to decide how much risk his ageing shoulders can carry at this time. It is ultimately Tinubu’s call. I wish Nigeria was less a flummox and intricate specie. But it is what it is. We must, however, remind ourselves that ordinary Nigerians want a better Nigeria, not a better sword of religious zealotry.
Yakubu Gowon, a Christian soldier, was only 31 when he became Nigeria’s Head of State in 1966. The bacchanal seed of effusion about Muslim-Muslim, Christian-Christian controversy had not been conceived. Gowon was chosen by Muslims and Christians with no wrangling over the God he served. He became the longest-serving Head of State in history. That was Nigeria then; the country is a different beast today. Religion is now a requirement for holding a political office. What is it about Christian-Christian, Muslim-Muslim malarkey that takes us nowhere? What about a candidate’s competence? What about his depth of knowledge? What about her worldview? What about his acceptability? What about a mind not mangled in religion? If a Christian or Muslim person is able to hang hunger, pulverise poverty, break the backbone of terrorism and give Nigerians a new lease of life, is that not the desired result we all seek? Do ordinary Nigerians really care if their president and his vice shout Alleluia or Allah Akbar?
Nigeria has had a religious balance on presidential tickets for decades—Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku, Umar Musa Yar’adua/ Goodluck Jonathan, Jonathan/Sambo, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)/Yemi Osinbajo—but the country remains backward as lives of the downtrodden remain entrapped in the belly of hell. Our national grid is in a gridlock and dysfunctional state. No flicker of uninterrupted electricity supply for 24 hours anywhere in Nigeria. No food. No money. No hope. Religion is an artificial problem created by greedy and gluttonous leaders ploughing a smooth route into shielding their selfish interests. Aside from bling-bling fat-cats of religion, who cruise around in cosy jets and sleek cruise ships, who has religion really helped in Nigeria?
Inflation rate in 2021 was 7%. In April this year, it was 16.82%. Economists are already forecasting that the next five years will be tougher in Nigeria and that the economy will take a while to recover. They are projecting that inflation will continue to be high around 25% and naira-to-dollar will remain in the N600s. It means businesses will fold up leading to job losses and a worsening poverty rate. Some businesses are shipping out to more conducive economic climates and real estate is crashing with big, beautiful buildings for sale in posh areas of Abuja and Lagos lacking buyers. And yet some Nigerians are immersed and soused up in the desideratum for religion instead of looking for solutions in persons who can help crush the albatross of backwardness. Religion does not grow a country; it will stunt it if not managed with wisdom. German economist, Karl Marx, once wrote, “Religion… is the opium of the people.” A country hung on opium does not have eyes to see opportunities for growth when they come. A nation drugged up in religion cannot possess the requisite sanity of mind to reason a way out of a mess when it presents itself. Don’t give us this Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim malarkey. Give us a Nigeria that works for everybody. Period!