Nigeria is only 11 months away from the 2023 presidential election but the campaign leading up to it is already serving as a reminder of the sharp Christian-Muslim divide in the country.
The importance of that divide is well illustrated by the fact that religion — not nationality — is the way in which most Nigerians choose to identify themselves.
Religion and religious conflict have long been part of Nigerian politics and public life. This explains the reason every political process in Nigeria is seriously influenced by religious prejudice: the civil service, appointment to important positions in the government, and the entire body politic of the nation have religious undertone.
Consequently, as tensions rise ahead of the 2023 general elections, the budding politico-religious culture in Nigerian politics become more glaring.
Though Nigeria is a secular state where religious communities have no recognized role in politics and no formal relation to the state, tension between Christians and Muslims has become a consistent feature of politics in Nigeria.
This phenomenon of religious politics is an obvious one because religion often determines the choice of flag bearer/running mate for elective posts, especially the presidency. This is done to ensure that the interest of the adherents of the particular religion is protected.
Voting and campaign are based on religious sentiment. In this case, religion is used to either canvass support for a candidate or dissuade the electorate from voting for him or her. This is why most Christians will not support Muslim candidates and viceversa.
Underlying these sharply divergent desires is the deep distrust each group feel towards the other. Muslims would support a muslim president because they believe the government would take steps to make Nigeria an Islamic country. On the other hand, christians would readily support a christian president because they desire a government that would make the country overtly christian.
On February 25, 2023, Nigerians will be choosing the successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, a die-hard muslim who has served two four-year terms. To most christians, Buhari’s eight years as president symbolized an era of muslim control. Hence, the clamour for a christian president by some christian leaders.
However, the question is: do we really need a ‘christian’ president? This question is coming against the backdrop that we have had two ‘christian’ presidents since the return to democratic rule in 1999 and a ‘christian’ vice president currently, yet we are regarded as the poverty capital of the world.
Under ‘christian’ Olusegun Obasanjo, corruption was deliberately allowed to flourish. Aides and ministers accused of corruption were either shielded or allowed to stay in their position.
The administration of ‘christian’ Goodluck Jonathan went to sleep while the insurgent group, Boko Haram ran amok killing thousands and capturing territory as huge as Belgium from Nigeria in its bid to create an Islamic caliphate. The former president only acted decisively when it became clear that the insurgency would cost him votes during the 2015 presidential election.
Furthermore, we have pastor Yemi Osibanjo at the helm of affairs, yet Nigeria is experiencing the worst form of insecurity, with killings and kidnappings at an all-time high across the country. As a matter of fact, the pastor is comfortably seating amongst corruption and injustice. Dismissing his incompetence, he said his hands are tied.
Since 1999 to date, Nigeria has tasted the combustible consequences when politics is focused on religious faith. Both christian and muslim politicians have failed as leaders since they cannot blend politics with religious values. Hence, the solution to the enormous problems bedeviling us as a nation is not to enthrone a (quasi-)theocratic state.
Nigeria as a nation is religiously pluralistic. In spite of this, Nigeria is a secular state. Unfortunately, the secularity is being threatened by religious bigots who manipulate religion, using it as a potent factor to exert a powerful influence on the nation’s public life.
Leadership is about managing people and resources and not about being a perfect or virtuous man or woman as some religious leaders present their candidates to be. Therefore, as Nigeria is gradually moving towards another round of general elections, it behooves us to gird our loins; that a particular candidate is a christian or a muslim should not determine the voter turnout. Instead, credibility – strength of their policies and the quality they can provide – should determine who gets our vote.
Come 2023, our resolve should be, “If the christian/muslim aspirant does not have what it takes to provide good leadership, I will not vote for them merely because they are a christian/muslim.”