The Nigerian political space has been booming since the activities of our political parties started. For those who might be asking about this: the Nigerian populace vote to elect political leaders once in four years at both the state and the federal levels. The Fourth Republic, which kicked off in 1999 after many years and tears of military rule (misrule), has been the longest republic since Nigerian Independence on 1st October 1960. As another election will be taking place in 2023, politicians, their parties and platforms have been busy doing what they know best in doing.
All the 18 political parties vying for recognition and space in the coming 2023 general elections concluded their primaries some months back. In this series, we shall be discussing some matters arising from the said primaries.
The first of them all is the religious interpretations of the joint tickets of the candidates for the presidential elections. Religion has been playing a vital role in the choice of who and who lead in Nigeria because Nigerians, generally, are believed to be religious. Of all the crises in the country, religion and ethnicity have played some major parts and so every politician knows this and tries to play along. For example, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chooses a Northern Muslim as President and a Southern Christian as the Running Mate; The Labour Party (LP) chooses a Southern Christian as Presidential Candidate and a Northern Muslim as his Running Mate. The same trend is seen in all the political parties except the All Progressive Congress (APC) where a Muslim Presidential candidate from the South has picked a Muslim from the North as his Running Mate.
It should be noted here that the concept of joint ticketing is to guarantee fairness, equity, stability, peace, representation, justice, and a sense of belonging. It should also be noted here that the APC is currently the ruling party in Nigeria. For those who are familiar with the African brand of politics, the ruling party in any election has a lot of advantages ranging from the appointment of the heads of the electoral empire to the selection of the security personnel and the appointment of the ad-hoc staff of the electoral refereeing. In order words, things can be manipulated for the benefit of the ruling political party. So, the citizenry always pays a lot of attention to what goes on in the ruling party. Since the announcement of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by the Ruling All Progressive Congress, a lot of intra-party crises and media wars have been set in motion.
In 2015, after the APC primary election, it was rumored that a party leader wanted the party to play down on the importance of religion but retain the ethnic dictation in the election of its flag-bearers. It was discussed in that year that this leader was fighting himself into an advantageous prominence because his religious faith is a minority group in the south. It was later believed that the then-presidential candidate who won the election, President Mommandu Buhari, rejected the call and stayed with the tradition of ethnic-religious consideration by choosing a Southern Christian (Pastor) as his running mate.
It is also believed that the same leader who fought against a Muslim-Christian ticket is now the party’s flag bearer – Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu – and because he believes that the Christian community is a minority group in the North, he decided to pick a Northern Muslim as a running mate and ignored all the noises, cries and complaints from every angle of the country; even a lot of voices among the Northern Muslims and within APC have condemned and rejected the controversial ticket. As it is, certainly, what the Candidates and the party wanted is just to win the coming elections without any detailed consideration for other factors. For many years now, the Christians in Nigeria especially in the Northern part of the country, have always been attacked by the Muslim fundamentalists. So, when an individual or a party jettisons the principles of peaceful co-existence, citizens will doubt the reasons given no matter how intelligent they sound.
To make things worst, when some people kicked against this ticket, the flag-bearer said he chose his running mate based on competence which the northern Christians interpret to mean that he believes that there is no competent Christian in the north. The party and the leaders have done a lot since then to dose the anger of those who were not satisfied with the ticket. But the party will surely have a lot of explanation to do because many Christians in the south will surely support their northern part during the elections come next year. The current president, who was the candidate of the party in 2015 and 2019 elections, is a northern Muslim. Ordinarily, the next candidate should have been a Southern Christian but the Christians in APC allowed Tinubu to win the election only for him to betray natural justice and his claims about the ticket always provoke the intelligent.
It is true that religion and ethnicity have not put foods on the tables of the citizens but even in the advanced democracies, considerations for sensitive matters like religion are given. For example, the political parties in the United States of America can’t make two Catholics or two Protestants to lead the country. They are very sensitive about the religious disposition of their candidates. But Nigeria is even worst when it comes to religious sentiments.
Nigeria in 2022 is different from that of 1993 when Abiola and his running mate were Muslims. The suspicion and doubts that exist today among religious groups were not too visible in 1993. It is yet to be seen how this issue will impart on the 2023 elections.