Nigeria’s Muslim-Muslim ticket has implications for national cohesion

Nigeria’s ruling All Party Congress (APC’s) decision to do away with traditional convention and opt for a same faith ticket, which would result in a same faith presidency, feeds into a religious exclusivism that is inconsistent with the healing balm that a major political party such as the APC – or any other party – should be deploying at this crucial stage of the country’s political development, when instability and insecurity are at such unprecedented levels.

The nation is heavily fragmented along tribal and religious lines, among others. Therefore, political leaders from all parties ought to be advocates of unity through inclusivity, as a reflection of the country’s diversity.

This diversity holds many advantages for the strengthening mutual understanding, oneness, ensuring social cohesion, and fostering sustainable development, when handled correctly. Unfortunately, the APC’s decision to adopt a Muslim-Muslim ticket runs the risk of undermining the remaining gains of harmonious coexistence that the country has been battling to entrench.

It is frequently asserted that Christians have nothing to fear from a Muslim-Muslim presidency, as if the Muslim community has any reason to fear a religiously balanced presidency. Such an assertion oversimplifies an extremely important issue. 

Today, along with a mosque, a chapel stands on Aso Rock, the presidential residence, which only came into being during former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, and which has continued to function because either a president or vice president has been a Christian.

However, should the Muslim-Muslim ticket succeed, the presence of Christians at the seat of power of Africa’s most populous nation will be diminished, if not lost in perpetuity. 

In storytelling, the plot is what happens; the theme is what it means. A successful story must answer the questions ‘what happened?’ and ‘what does it mean’?

However, answering the question ‘what does the Muslim-Muslim ticket mean’ is beclouded by partisanship, and even dissembling, as some of its apologists have attempted to dismiss concerns by claiming: a) that the role of vice-president is ‘powerless’, and b) that a Christian vice-president can do nothing to protect Christians, so, why all the fuss?

If these two assertions are true, then the question arises as to why the APC felt unable to offer that position a northern Christian, since the presidential candidate was already a Muslim. And if Christians have been denied what is clearly traditional and pragmatic, one wonders how many more significant denials await them.

It appears that for political expediency, the APC and its presidential candidate have decided to deny Christianity equal status with Islam in the Nigerian political firmament in a contravention of the federal constitution, which stipulates non-discrimination and the federal character principle of ensuring diversity in public appointments. Indeed, Christians are effectively being denied representation in the highest offices of governance, including the supposedly symbolic vice-presidential role, as our faith appears to be condemned to a second-class status, lacking the parity of political influence.

The APC continues to double down on the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Recently, leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Abuja were informed by the presidential candidate that he picked Kashim Shettima as his running mate because he is an ‘exceptionally gifted human being’ with ‘superior intellectual capacity.’ The assertion implies that no Northern Christian within the APC possesses such attributes, which is not the case in reality.

In an interview with BBC Hausa in August 2022, the APC national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, put it this way:  ‘In our understanding of the politics in Nigeria at the moment, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is the best decision for us because we want to win the election,’ adding: ‘Everyone has his own strategy for winning elections.’

Dr. Kayode Fayemi, then Ekiti State governor, put it even more bluntly. Speaking to the new executives of the CAN Ekiti State Chapter in July 2022, he admitted: ‘The decision [Muslim-Muslim ticket] was not on grounds of competence because we have competent Christians all over Nigeria, but on grounds of strategic political moves.’ He added: ‘We have to look at scenarios and calculate where the votes would come from; it’s a game of numbers!’

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence realises that APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket was not based on competence, but on purely electoral calculations.

However, these self-interested calculations, coming at a time when the nation urgently requires competent and inclusive leadership, render the decision deeply disturbing, because they illustrate the APC’s willingness to put self-interest, along with its candidate’s ‘lifelong ambition’, above the national interest, social cohesion and religious harmony. There is also an underlying assumption that Christians can be taken for granted, and their sensitivities utterly disregarded, because an APC presidency will still emerge.

It appears the party’s calculations rest on two assumptions. One is that the South-West, or the Yoruba people, will put ethnicity above religion, so Yoruba Christians will vote for the APC’s presidential candidate simply because he is Yoruba. The other is that Northern Muslims prioritize religion above ethnicity, so they will vote for a Yoruba president provided his running mate is a Northern Muslim. Consequently, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is viewed as a winning formula based on the prioritisation of ethnicity in the South-West and religion in the North.

But if these assumptions hold true, the long-term consequences for Nigeria’s Christian community would be deeply disturbing.

Firstly, it would mean that no Northern Christian could ever again become vice-president, let alone president. Because Northern Muslims simply would not vote for one.

Secondly, Christians in the South, particularly in the South-West, would continue to allow ethnicity to predominate, regardless of competence or the national interest.

Indeed, it appears that the assumptions that: a) Christians in the North lack electoral value, and can perpetually be barred from high office, and b) Christians in the South will consistently fail to acknowledge their faith in the political arena, emboldened the APC and its candidate to disregard the concerns of the Christian community and opt for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Various spokespersons of the APC also add insult to injure by reminding critics that the wife of their presidential candidate is a pastor. However, imagine a governor or a president who did not have women in his cabinet or in any senior position stating, when challenged: ‘I don’t dislike women; after all, my mother, my wife and my daughters are women,’ as if that is even a salient point. Similarly, how does having a pastor as a wife replace the need for a balanced presidential ticket in the national interest?

Moreover, even though she is a pastor, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, is 100% behind her husband, and apparently disagrees with the public position of CAN regarding the Muslim-Muslim ticket. She is even at odds with prominent Christian leaders, including Pastor Adeboye, General Overseer of her own church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who said he aligned himself with the CAN position, and Bishop Matthew Kukah of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, who stated in an interview: ‘As a Christian, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is totally reprehensible and unacceptable to me.’

At a recent public event in Lagos, Senator Tinubu defended the Muslim-Muslim ticket wholeheartedly. She said the ‘Muslim-Muslim ticket will set the tone for the future,’ adding that  ‘sometime in the future, we will have a Christian-Christian ticket.’ However, if, as has been claimed, Northern Muslims would not support a Northern Christian running mate, then will they ever be minded to support a Christian-Christian ticket? 

Southern politicians have argued that a Northerner should not succeed a Northerner as president. However, with Asiwaju Tinubu, a Muslim would succeed a Muslim and would also have a Muslim vice-president. What is more, a President Tinubu would entrench a long-running Muslim presidency. Assuming he serves for two terms, the next president in 2031 would most likely be his Northern Muslim running mate. If that president does eight years, then counting from 2015 (President Buhari’s first-term) to 2039, Nigeria will have had a Muslim presidency and possibly vice presidency for 24 years consecutively, and possibly even more.

Tinubu has stated that he will not Islamise Nigeria. But is there any more effective means of doing so de facto than through a continuous Muslim presidency?

To conclude on a personal note:  as a Christian from northern Nigeria with close family who are Muslim, I am committed to the vision articulated in our National Anthem of ‘one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity’ where ‘peace and justice reign,’ and where the blessing of diversity is utilized for the advancement of national cohesion rather than to accentuate division. My children, and indeed the children of all Christians, deserve to be treated as equal citizens, knowing that their future aspirations will not be limited by the geopolitical zone they come from, simply on account of their religion or belief, and regardless of their character, giftings and abilities.

By Rev Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria and Current General Secretary of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA)