Nigeria’s corporate existence is reliant on the peaceful co-existence of people of different ethnicities and religions. APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket and ‘win’ have broken decades of political and ethical convention regarding party ticketing, and threatens Nigeria’s ‘delicate balance’.
Religion has been a recurring theme in party politics and elections in Nigeria. The 2023 general election was no different. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) chose to field a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket—a decision that had precipitated religious anxiety in the polity and threatened to upset Nigeria’s ‘delicate balance’. Before the presidential election, Olu Fasan, a political economist, writer and analyst, had argued in Vanguard that APC’s same-religion ticket was an affront against Christian faithfuls who constitute a significant voting bloc in the South. I will go even further to submit that APC’s same-faith ticket, which ‘won’ under INEC’s massive logistics and technical issues, portends a likely implosion and could be interpreted as a religious war against other religious groups in Nigeria. With such an unpopular ‘win’ at the presidential poll, consequences could be dire for the country and Nigerians at home and abroad.
RELIGIOUS AS MUCH AS POLITICAL
Historically, monarchs derived legitimacy from religion. Religious figures sanctioned the monarch’s reign in order to ensure the community’s devotion. In some African societies, monarchs were next to the Gods. In Europe, it was similar. The Divine Rights of Kings sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church guaranteed monarchical absolutism i.e. monarchs wielding power as they pleased. The Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries put a stop to monarchical absolutism, severing ties between state power and religion—ushering in state supremacy, republicanism, secularism and humanism in Europe.
Nigeria’s socio-political development has been antithetical to trends across the globe. Here, religion has neither been severed from state power, nor has it bound politics for greater good. The fact that Nigeria is a multi-religious society makes the race for state power among religious groups inevitable. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that religion was layered into the foundations of Nigeria’s nationhood. Islam and Christianity have both made strong imprints on the country’s demography since their spread in the 1800s, reducing the influence of indigenous spiritual systems to the periphery.
Speaking on the relationship between religion and politics in Nigeria, Tunde Odunlade, curator and director of Tunde Odunlade Arts and Culture Connexions, voiced his disdain of religion as a factor in determining Nigeria’s next leader.
Those who are against APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket may have their reasons. It does not matter to me Muslim or Christian, Christian-Christian, Muslim-Muslim, Muslim-Christian, Christian-Muslim. What matters is what merit do they have? What love of the country do they have at heart? What service are they going to give? What government are they going to form that will move the country forward?
Odunlade, aged 68, went on to stress the complementarity of religion and politics and how both could help each other.
Politics is the way by which people are ruled, by which some decisions that people make -best known to them- are applicable to other individuals. Religion can help politics if religion were to be playing the role it is supposed to play which is a way in which people are taught, or people’s minds are put to understanding that you didn’t just come to this world. There is something that goes beyond you as an individual which is where godliness comes. So, religion becomes a medium through which you seek spirituality and which you can use prophetically to help politics.
Odunlade would liken religion and politics to two parallel lines that must not clash. And to those who then wish to see a clash between them, he posits that ‘Those are people I call aríjẹníbimọ̀dàrú, those who get their booty from confusion…If we allow religion and politics to clash, everybody will lose at the end of the day.’
This being granted, one might expect more vocal dissent from religious groups against the ruling party’s same-religion presidential ticket and ‘win’. Surprisingly, many prominent Christian groups have been silent. Perhaps APC’s same-religion presidency had been presumed a bait to provoke Christians. Perhaps in a bid to avoid reducing the presidential election into religious crusade vs. religious jihad, Nigerians have adopted silence as a golden tactic. This silence however, is no mark of complicity or weakness. The stance of Christian institutions on APC’s same-religion ticket and ‘win’ is becoming more pronounced as election draws to a close. Even until now, with APC’s presidential ‘win’, no formal statements have been issued by the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria.
PARTIES, CANDIDATES, AND UNWRITTEN TICKETING LAW
While the Nigerian constitution does not mandate religious-balance in party candidacy, the dominance of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria has made equal identity representation at the federal executive arm of government imperative. At state and local government levels, religious parity of executives or absence thereof depends on peculiarities of regions and locales.
Nigeria’s complex conditions and socio-political dynamics necessitated religious-balance, regional equality and ethnic complementarity in each party’s ticketing of presidential candidacy. The identity formations (religion and ethnicity) of presidential and vice presidential candidates since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999 reveals how deeply identity constructs run and why the unwritten ticketing law has held sway in Nigeria’s polity for so long.
It is interesting to note that the First (1960-1966) and Second (1979-1983) Republics blazed a trail in identity-balance ticketing. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa were Southern/Igbo/Christian and Northern/Fulani/Muslim, president and prime minister respectively between 1960 and 1966, while Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme were fielded on a Northern/Fulani/Muslim and Southern/Igbo/Christian presidential ticket under the National Party of Nigeria in 1979. This trend continued in the Fourth Republic with the inauguration of the Obasanjo-Atiku administration (1999-2007), down to the current Buhari-Osinbajo administration (2015-2023).
However, APC’s controversial Muslim-Muslim ticket is not the first of its kind in Nigeria. The 1993 Abiola-Kingibe presidential ticket was a near miss. Though the short-lived Third Republic (few months-old) nearly saw the swearing in of Muslim-Muslim ticket presidency, it was an aberration that emerged due to the mounting distaste of military rule which called to bear a united democratic front instead of a separate religious front.
Considering the part religion played in the country’s development in the colonial and now, post-colonial era, one must acknowledge religious balance as a factor in our politics.
DOWNSIDES AND RISKS
The current dispensation of APC fielded a Southern/Yoruba/Muslim presidential candidate in Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and a Northern/Fulani-Kanuri/Muslim vice presidential candidate in Kashim Shettima as their flag bearers for the 2023 presidential election. APC was the only party that broke away from the ticketing norm and supposedly won at the presidential poll. In so doing, the ruling party has set precedence for the emergence of Christian-Christian presidential ticket and win subsequently.
In the face of same-faith-led presidential office, should Tinubu be sworn-in in May, already-heightened religious anxiety might be on a new high. Christians who have been accustomed to identifying themselves with the Christian identity of either the president or the vice president would not be having such fancy for the first time in the history of the country.
APC has paved a dangerous dimension to Nigeria’s politics, and as a result, the fragility implicit in Nigeria’s socio-political structure has been further severed. Indeed, many Christians in the South could become excessively conscious of their own identity and be averse to Muslims or anything Islamic in Nigerian society henceforth.
Though, not a religious example, the resurgence of ethnic bigotry against the Igbos in Lagos foreshadows what the religious situation might be if Tinubu-Shettima administration begins in May this year. During the gubernatorial election, Igbos were at the receiving end of ethnic bigotry reminiscent of the years preceding the Biafran War. The scenario was such that touts, commonly called agbèrò, identified voters of Igbo origin by simply staring at faces. A similar disgraceful case may surface in terms of religion. Real-time discrimination of Christians and Muslims in public or private sectors might be the case especially in locales where Islam or Christianity is predominant. We might also have an embarrassing case where simply carrying a Bible or Qur’an exposes one to religious profiling. Some Christians may become louder or quieter with their identity while some Muslims could become louder given the fact that they share religious identity with two individuals at the apex of federal power. One should expect terms like ‘Islamization’, ‘marginalization’, and ‘Islamic Republic’ and so on to frequent front pages of daily newspapers soon as the next administration begins. It should be recalled that fears of a possible Islamization of Nigeria have been long coming; fears were much heightened ever since former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, registered Nigeria as full member of Organization of Islamic Conference (now Organization of Islamic Cooperation) in 1986.
Arguably, the possibility of a Christian-Christian presidential win in Nigeria is low. While getting bloc votes for such a ticket may be possible in southern Nigeria and parts of the Middle Belt, getting such in the North would prove difficult, particularly in the North West and the North East where communities have experienced waves of Islamic fundamentalism. Again, such a move by Christian institutions would most likely introduce buzzwords like ‘Christianization’ into national politics for the first time. Besides, political moves like this by Islamic and Christian institutions are likely to raise an iron curtain along the north-south divide. There is a serious implication here for families and ethnic groups spread beyond the divide. Obviously, such moves when carried out, would mark a point of no return and both sides of the divide would pay dearly for it.
With a country as complex and as diverse as Nigeria, APC’s same-faith presidential ‘win’ is a threat to the delicate balance the country has been treading for so long. As far as one can envision, a nationwide reaction by Christians and churches is inevitable. It is therefore advisable that for the sake of humanity, as time ticks away, that both Islamic and Christian institutions should find common ground sooner rather than later in order to avert a lurking implosion⎈
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