With Nigeria`s major political parties recently concluding their primaries and setting themselves up for an epic contest for the presidency next year, Nigerians are warily casting their eyes over the list of candidates, and of course, deliberating over their emergence.
With the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) having chosen Mr. Atiku Abubakar as its candidate, the Labour Party going for Mr. Peter Obi and the All Progressives Congress picking Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu to fly its flag ahead of many others who parted with a hundred million naira each to secure nomination forms, the conversation has turned on those those who would be their running mates.
Ordinarily, the decisions should be easy. But in a country where the tendency is to skew everything along ethnic and religious lines, the ethnicities and religions of those who will square off to compete for Nigeria`s highest office are already in issue.
Mr. Atiku Abubakar is a Muslim from Northeast Nigeria. The calculation is that just like when he ran in 2019 with Mr. Peter Obi, the current presidential candidate of the Labour Party as his deputy, he will look to pick a Christian from the South for his running mate.
Mr. Peter Obi, the Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party who is a Christian from the Southeast is poised to go to the North for his choice of running mate. Intense consultations are said to be underway about a candidate who can mobilize votes for the party from the North.
Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Muslim from the Southwest, who has emerged as the Candidate of the All Progressives Congress would have to choose a running mate from the North. However, fears that he could pick another Muslim from the North thereby leaving the ruling All Progressives Congress with a Muslim-Muslim ticket has prompted concerns, forcing the Christian Association of Nigeria to speak out against either a Muslim- Muslim ticket or a Christian- Christian ticket.
Reacting to the brewing controversy, Nasir El-Rufai, the Kaduna State Governor, who is himself no stranger to controversy, at the weekend dismissed concerns, stating that ‘the way the media and many irresponsible people try to inject religion into politics and governance is sad and pathetic and will not take us anywhere. Nigeria is at a crossroads. It is so sad. It is not religion that will address the problem of this country. It is competent people that will address them, unite the country and put it in a progressive part(sic)’.
Of course, Nigeria is at a crossroads, as is Kaduna State where El-rufai is governor, and where the mindless slaughter of Christians in Southern Kaduna by terrorist Fulani herdsmen has escalated since El-rufai picked who was in his words ‘a very competent Muslim woman,’ as running mate in 2019. As if the entire Kaduna State was without very competent Christian women.
Do we know that El-rufai`s action which sidelined Christians in Kaduna State has not further emboldened those who now even use helicopters to attack Southern Kaduna?
Mr. El-rufai is always at hand to speak of competence, yet, it is not exactly competence that he has been exuding since he won elections in 2019 with another Muslim as his deputy. If anything, the last four year has seen Kaduna State convulsed by incompetence and insecurity.
The argument about competence has long grown stale because Nigeria has grown to such a level where every ethnic group and every religion in the country boasts competent people.
For many years, Nigeria`s diversity has threatened to become its biggest distraction. On hand to complicate an increasingly burdensome diversity are politicians like El-rufai, Bashir Ahmed, Salihu Mohammed Lukman, Fani- Kayode, and the flippant Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), who know how to speak from both sides of their mouths.
The fact that Nigeria
s unity is strained to breaking point today is largely due to the activities of those who upset the countrys delicate balance by choosing to blatantly ignore the delicate sensibilities of all who form Nigeria.
Democracy is a game of numbers. It is also a game for the majority. However, one of its greatest attributes is its ability to give a sense of belonging to even those marched to the margins by the vagaries of life. Until democracy is able to do his, it would have largely failed.
In Nigeria, the tendency has long been for public officers to pick and choose the options that favour them, and then proceed to weave spurious arguments in defense of those actions, at the expense of the greater good.
For example, would those Muslims who now argue that religion does not matter because a Muslim-Muslim ticket is a strong possibility for the APC maintain the same argument if the tables were turned and a Christian-Christian ticket is mooted? It does not appear so.
It is easy for El-Rufai and his ilk to say that religion should be downplayed in political configuration because the shoe is not yet on the other leg.
However, in a country where many want out, and where those who cry wolf when there isn’t any are many, getting the delicate balance right is not just a question of diversity or diplomacy, it goes to the roots of Nigeria`s democracy and survival
To ignore it will have far-reaching consequences.