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Open Letter to the President: Halt the divisive same faith ticket now

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President Muhammadu Buhari at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland says Nigeria will achieve net zero emission by 2060 World Bio Summit

By Ogah Columba Oshiobughie

“Despite our obvious differences, we must strive to ensure that our actions and utterances are aimed towards strengthening our democratic framework. We must subsume our personal and sectional interests to the overall national aspirations of unity, economic prosperity and good governance.”

Your Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari these were your words at the combined Passing Out Parade of the Cadets of 67 Regular Course and Short Service 46 (Army) at the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), in Kaduna two years ago. And just recently you spoke again from the heart on the need for unity of the Nigerian nation.

This reality should be obvious to any enlightened thinker. As one nation, Nigeria has a great destiny when the benefits of its diversity are creatively harnessed. As one people, we have benefits of economies of scale as a result of our population and diversity that gives us a manifest destiny not only to be the giant of Africa in terms of economic prosperity and development but also to be the hope and pride of the black man in the comity of nations.

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Muslim Muslim Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima are APC flagbearers for the 2023 presidential election 11 Muslim-Muslim

Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima are APC flagbearers for the 2023 presidential election

However, Nigeria today is going through a time of great need for cohesion, peace and unity. This is so because the country is regrettably polarized along ethnic and religious lines as a result of ill informed actions by state and non state actors across Nigeria from 1999 till now. It is on this note that one finds it preposterous for the All Progressive Congress Presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is a Muslim to also chose a fellow Muslim, former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, as his running mate for the 2023 elections.The adoption of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Tinubu is a direct attack on the notion of Nigeria’s oneness and togetherness.

For a start, your party, the APC at its birth was perceived by some to have an underlying agenda driven underneath by a minority extremist Muslims in its fold who held commanding heights over its activities. However, many Christians and Muslims who constitute a majority in the party where able to convince Nigerians that such a perception was untrue and so the party went on to win the 2015 presidential elections garnering votes across a wide spectrum of Nigeria. The choice of a Muslim/Muslim ticket by the APC for 2023 gives life to the perception of some powerful elements in the party of having an underlying religious extremist agenda for Nigeria.

This step is a deviation from your antecedents as a fair-minded leader with a heart for a united country demonstrated in your forays in politics as an honest leader who is not divisive. This has been shown in how you managed the issue of a balanced presidential ticket on 5 occasions. At all the times when you contested in the presidential elections; you showed that you are an inclusive leader. Being a Northern Muslim, you always picked Southern Christians as running mates.

In 2003, on the platform of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), you chose the late Chuba Okadigbo as your running mate. Later on, you accepted Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, a Christian as a running mate. In 2011, you picked Pastor Tunde Bakare. In 2015, when you won the elections, your choice of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as vice presidential candidate not only calmed frayed nerves, but proved again that you are a fair leader. It was arguably one of the many jokers for the APC to coast home to victory at the presidential polls both in 2015 and 2019. For Tinubu to now abandon your sense of fairness and inclusivity in the choice of a vice presidential candidate is highly condemnable.

Besides, fair-minded Muslims as well as the Christian Association of Nigeria have condemned the action of the APC. In any case, according to a 2018 estimate in the World Fact book by the CIA, Nigeria’s Christian-Muslim population is evenly split. Simply put, Tinubu and the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket is shamelessly calling the bluff of about half the Nigerian population who are Christians both in the South and Northern parts of the country.

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As such your party which as a ruling party should lead the way in showing an example of inclusivity and harnessing our diversity risks losing the 2023 presidential elections on the back of this thorny issue, especially as the presidential candidates of main opposition party, PDP and the new third force, the Labour Party, among others, have respected our nation’s diversity and plurality by picking running mates from different religions.

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Your Excellency, you must also note that Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria clearly states the need to promote fairness, equity and national unity in composition of the federal government. A Muslim-Muslim ticket goes against this spirit. There is no moral or constitutional justification for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, not by the ruling APC or any other political party for that matter.

The excuse given by those who drive the idea of same faith ticket on the fact that a political party fielded a presidential and vice-presidential candidate of the same faith in a democratic dispensation about 30 years ago, which was won by the late philanthropist Chief M.K.O Abiola does not hold water today.

That occurrence had a lot of history behind it, which you well know. Nigerians were tired of decades of with the shenanigans of then military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, who kept changing the rules as he deemed fit.

But things are very much different now. Then, Abiola as the presidential flagbearer of the Social Democratic Party in 1993 was a much loved and revered politician by all sections of the country. His choice of Babagana Kingibe, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate in 1993, was welcomed by both Christians and Muslims across the six geopolitical zones.

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Tinubu’s choice at this time will if anything, exacerbate fears by people of other religious faith with his insensitive decision to pick Shettima as his running mate.While the same religion ticket may not be legally wrong, but it’s morally wrong at a time like this in a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse society like Nigeria, which is also grappling with major security challenges in every region underpinned by ethno-religious sentiments.

Concerning, the person of Shettima, there are reports that a Boko Haram Kingpin, Kabiru Sokoto, who was convicted as the mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing of a Church in Madalla, Niger state which killed at least 37 people and injured 57 others was arrested in Borno governors lodge in Asokoro in 2012 at a time when Shettima was governor. This arrest was at a time security forces where desperately looking for him all over the place, only to find him where many would think most unlikely… in a governor’s lodge. Many still wonder what his mission there was. It creates a certain perception; especially as such places provide a cover of sorts as governors enjoy immunity and security agencies may not easily suspect a terrorist would be there. In any case, terrorists cannot be as successful as they have been in Nigeria without connections in high places. Was there any connection? What signals does this reality send to people of other faiths with a Shettima as a vice presidential candidate?

Speaker of House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara

Former Speaker of House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara has rejected APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket

There is also the argument by some that the APC can only win by presenting same faith ticket. However, the view that the promotion of a sense of inclusivity, unity and harnessing our common diversity are more important than winning an election is the opinion of the majority of Nigerians.

As things stand, your party by fielding an insensitive presidential ticket for 2023 may well be ready to sing its nunc dimittis because of failure to understand the mood of the times. The Peoples Democratic Party for the 2015 elections took Nigerians for granted with the false assumption that perception does not matter and it would have its way against the general view of Nigerians at the time. However, till this day the PDP is still licking its wounds.

The mood of the times suggests that the party that will win the coming elections is that political party that is able to understand the mood of the times by generating a mass movement that harnesses our diversity across ethno-religious divides with very visible grassroots networks and solid loyal bases. Before now, political parties have depended on what one may term politics by intermediaries. Parties pay off an oligarch who then pays a few other men usually thugs to deliver the votes. Tinubu by his choice of a vice presidential candidate against popular opinion wants the APC to follow the old path that is bound to fail because his choice suggests that he believes that the APC does not need a mass movement of supporters across all divides but that it can have its way irrespective of how Nigerians feel.

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To my mind, the APC has boxed itself into a corner and it is time that you as the leader of the APC today and whose quote on the imperative of national unity was the beginning of this piece go one more step in your recent timely sermon and condemn the adoption of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by Tinubu especially as it is a direct assault on our sense of inclusivity and national unity.

A Muslim-Muslim ticket also does not support your vision for national unity, and fairness across religious and ethnic lines. That you have been silent or aloof on the matter does not speak well for you and triggers more questions than answers about your place in Nigeria’s history.

Your Excellency, you should realise that the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket would be a big eternal stain on your legacy should you leave office without clearly and sternly addressing this issue with Tinubu and your party.
Nigerians would remember that you failed to speak up against the same religion ticket of your party, even though you had stood against it when your personal prospects were at stake. It is no longer your personal prospects that are at stake, it’s the prospects for our unity as a nation that are being endangered. Your Excellency, you should stand up to be counted on the side of doing everything humanly possible to preserve our unity as one nation under God.

The competence argument for picking a Muslim running mate for a Muslim candidate is folly. It is inconceivable that Tinubu and his cohorts want Nigerians to believe that it could not find any credible Christian politician from the North as his vice-presidential candidate.

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What this attempts to achieve, even if unwittingly is the degradation of Christians into second class citizens in their own country. If we all sit-by and allow political expediency to prevail, and you refuse to act, then we have only succeeded in promoting a fault line to a real and present danger of a new apartheid based on religion.

Why should a man’s political desperation be allowed to trigger grave consequences that would explode into every one’s face sooner or later? For the sake of the future of over 200 million Nigerians, the country’s unity must not be sacrificed on the altar of Tinubu’s lifetime ambition and APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Mr. President, you can still do something by calling your party men to order and the time to act is now.

Ogah, Columba Oshiobughie, publisher of Peoples Dividend-The Magazine for Local Government and National Coordinator, Civil Society Movement Against Terrorism writes from Abuja

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