Religion and Ethnicity, The Tinubu/Shettima Combination

By Ernest Omoarelojie


Leading up to the primary election of the All Progressives Congress, APC, some of us held the view, strongly so too, that Ahmed Bola Tinubu, one of the party’s national leaders, is not good enough to take over from incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. In particular, I canvassed for his ouster, insisting that in addition to being the victim of age-related health burdens, he also carried too many unnecessary and unsetling baggages.

Time has overtaken the concerns particularly because political marketers insist that he is the one the party needs most given his demonstrable willingness to arm-twist a number of states presently governed by opposition parties into becoming APC states in no distant time. That, they surmised, outweighs the need for a man with unhindered by burdens of age-related health issues or moral baggages.


Certainly, some of us with the position that he is not fit for the job also made references to how his emergence may become a challenge to the religious concern of millions of our compatriots who fear that it will rev up issues surrounding the country’s religious and ethnic imbalances. They were worried because, admit it or not, the predominantly Muslim North has more vote than the whole of South. In which case, Tinubu, a political hawk, would dare the Christians and opt for the more rewarding Muslim-Muslim ticket. That has come to be.


Without any iota of doubt, religion and ethnicity remain two of the major reasons Nigeria remains a largely divided country. It is such that no matter how much we tended to gloss over how much influence wield over our national essence, the real reality of their hold is always manifest in the manner Muslims and Christians react to each other whenever they cross part, necessarily, as the case is in politics. Nigerians will be living in denial if they continue to live under the illusion that respecting the different religious consciousness is not important enough to be given its due consideration while sorting issues relating to who becomes the president and or the vice.


The founding fathers of the Nigerian union saw the need to address the prevalent mutual suspicion between Nigerians of different ethnic nationalities and religious divides. In so doing, they had no need for clairvoyant binoculars to realise that there was need to device compromise measures to address contingent issues. Their conclusions may not have been written but insisted there must be a balance in representation such that one side of the divide cannot, at any particular time, produce both the president and his running mate.


They did not view religion as less inclined to accentuate the nation’s existing challenges. They held the view that if not properly handled, they could produce more. For that, they canvassed for and actually upped the process of striking a religious and ethnic balances in the process of selecting political leaders. That much was demonstrated in the emergence of the Shehu Uthman Shagari/Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Olusegun Obasanjo/Atku Abubakar, Yar Adua/Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Jonathan/Sambo Dasuki and Muhammadu Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo pairings.

Nigeria tried the potentially flammable one sided Muslim/Muslim ticket with the Moshood Abiola/Kingibe combination. It ended disastrously for reasons that are not only too many to be highlighted here but also ones that require a symposium discussion to unravel.


Still, supporters of the Muslim-Muslim ticket are quick, as they do now, to conclude that there is nothing wrong with the combination, insisting that Nigerians should think more about the need for capable hands than dwell on where such hands come from or which religion such persons profess. They argue that Christians should entertain no fears because like the MKO/Kingibe combination, Tinubu and Shettima are moderate Muslims. Unfortunately, none of them has been able to convince worried Nigerians that being moderate, whatever the term means, is enough for Northern Muslims power brokers to even think of a Christian-Christian ticket. That is, if they insist religion and ethnicity are not important factors.


Leading up to the 2015 Presidential election, the biggest challenge the Buhari-Osinbajo ticket faced was the now puerile claim that a Buhari presidency was a Northern attempt to foist Islam on Nigeria. This writer recalls being in the team that accompanied Edo state governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, to a very popular church in Benin City, in one of his special interest sensitization tour with regards to his governorship ambition. It turned out that both the leadership and members were more concerned about their claim that he was aligning with those who had concluded plans to Islamize the entire country. They wanted assurances from him to the effect that he was not in any such plot, illogical as it sounded. The look on their faces was something to behold as the man talked about how preposterous the claim sounded.


Nigerians can equally recall the pervasive and grand air of suspicion over the period. Still, there are people who hold on to the view, a few months to the exit of the man from Daura, that the Islamization agenda is still on. The question therefore is, will it be proper to accentuate the air of such mutual suspicion by giving vent to circumstances that tend to prove their fears as founded?
Nigerians are still concerned, in fact, more convinced now that issues relating to religion must be of as much concern as those affecting ethnicity when considering who becomes the country’s political leader. Not giving such issues the needed consideration is akin to giving vent to the fears responsible for seemingly intractable challenges facing the country. Ignoring or downplaying them by citing the rather academic claim that competence is a better requirement is akin to fighting gas fire with ordinary water. What every Nigerian needs to remember is no core northern Muslim power brokers will accept any Christian-Christian combination even if it is made up of Havard certified, competent technocrats.

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