The Question of Religion and Ethnicity in our Politics

Sanusi Muhammad

Sanusi Muhammad

Religious leaders are not helping the growth of unity in Nigeria going by their preaching, behavior and past antecedents. Of recent, religious difference was brought in to bear in politics in the case of the just concluded Bassa/Jos North House of Representatives by-election. That has not been the first time in our brand of politics that affects good governance and confidence. Religion has been carried to the highest level of decision making in our system. There lies a big problem.

Nigeria is only 11 months away from the 2023 general elections beginning with the presidential election, but the campaign leading up to it is already serving as a reminder of the sharp Muslim-Christian 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 not minding the negative effect on unity and good governance.

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 politics becomes more glaring.

Though Nigeria is said to be a secular state where religious communities have no recognized role in politics or governance and no formal relation to the state, tension between Muslims and Christians 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 for the presidency and some state governors. This is done to ensure that the interest of the adherents of the particular religion is protected and defended.

Voting and campaign are based on religious sentiment and ethnicity in few cases. In this case, religion and ethnicity are used to either canvass support for a candidate or dissuade the electorate from voting for him/her no matter his/her quality.

Underlying these sharp divergent desires is the deep distrust each group feel towards the other. On February 25, Nigerians will be choosing the successor to outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North West Geo-political zone of the country of Fulani extraction who served for eight years. The clamor within the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) for power shift to another geo-political zone for possibly a Christian candidate to succeed him has begun in earnest not minding the consequences involved against national interest.

However, the question is: do we really need a ‘Christian or Muslim’ president to attain our developmental desires or a qualified patriotic Nigerian no matter his religious affiliation?

This question is coming against the backdrop that we have had two ‘Christian’ and two ‘Muslim’ presidents from the Southwest, South- south and Northwest since the return to democratic rule in 1999 and two ‘Christian’ and two ‘Muslim’ vice presidents from Northeast, South-south, Northwest and Southwest, yet we are regarded as the poverty capital of the world with high rate of corrupt practices and looting of public resources despite our claimed religious affiliations.

Under ‘Christian’ Olusegun Obasanjo, corruption was deliberately allowed to flourish and shielded. Aides and ministers accused of corrupt practices were either shielded or allowed to stay in their respective positions with clean bill of health for business as usual.

The administration of ‘Christian’ Goodluck Jonathan went early to bed while the insurgent group, Boko Haram ran amok, killing and maiming thousands and capturing our territories as large as the entire land mass of Belgium in its bid to create a dream Islamic Caliphate for their types. The former president only acted decisively when it became clear that the insurgency would cost him his return for a second term which it partly did.

Now, look at the ongoing mess bedeviling the presidency of a Muslim, Muhammadu Buhari who was erroneously rated as an upright leader that hated corrupt practices. Ironically, corruption is now fashionable under the watch of Mr. Right with the corrupt having even the guts and temerity to wage open and silent wars against whistle blowers with the support of compromised rotten security agents. National lawmakers that are ordinarily expected to checkmate the excesses of the executive are allegedly more corrupt than corruption itself. They are in a rat race for illegal wealth accumulation and ostentatious living styles and still claiming to be Muslims and Christians while existing on illegal wealth that deprives the original owners from enjoying the wealth.

May be, our leaders have either redefined what Islam and Christianity entail or are fully prepared for the wrath of their dubiousness from the creator they claim to worship.

Since 1999 to date, Nigeria has tasted the combustible consequences when politics is focused on religious faith. Both Muslim and Christian politicians have honestly 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 as claimed. Unfortunately, the secularity is 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 women as some religious leaders, portray their candidates to be.

Therefore, as Nigeria is gradually moving towards another round of general elections, it behoves 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 votes. If we do that, we shall have a happy and prosperous country that we can all be proud to have. But the present leadership is best for the dustbin of history.

What we have presently are the Yahoo Yahoo politicians that engage professional liars and deceivers to market them for 2023 election. They print deceitful loan forms for ‘FREE’ distribution to the ignorant in anticipation of votes before accessing the non-existent loan. Dishing out fake appointment letters as political aides to those ignorant of the trick and several others deployed deceitful mechanisms just to have the 2023 votes for either return to business or to access an elective office.

Take a critical look on how we survive as people under insurgency, escalating banditry activities, high cost of living, collapsed infrastructure, high unemployment, protected corrupt practices and above all, cluelessness and ineptitude combined. Nigeria is a failed state in the hands of its undertakers living in pretence. Allah de!

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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