The All Progressives Congress (APC) is no doubt a party that brings together some of the most outstanding politicians in Nigeria. However, what makes the APC most attractive is the fact that it is in power. It seized this power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria for 16 years and adjudged to be a failure by majority of Nigerians including their president, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari. That is why despite all the shortcomings of the APC federal government and the economic and security challenges confronting them, Nigerians do not see PDP as the solution.
One manifestation of the interest Nigerians have in the APC is the occupation of social media discussions, radio and television programmes and interpersonal group discussions on the APC presidential ticket. Last week, Asiwaju Bola Ahmad Tinubu, a devout Muslim from Lagos state, won the APC presidential primary election with a landslide to qualify as the party’s flag bearer in the February 2023 presidential election. As is the tradition, Alhaji Tinubu, a southerner is expected to pick a northerner as his running mate that shall serve as the vice president in the event that the party succeeds in winning the presidential elections.
But there is also another tradition. Christian flagbearers usually pick Muslim running mates and Muslim flagbearers pick Christian running mates. The examples are many. In fact, since Nigeria’s return to party politics that has been the case. First, it was Obasanjo/Atiku, then Yar’adua/Jonathan followed by Jonathan/Sambo and now Buhari/Osinbajo. But in all these examples, the Muslims are northerners and the Christians are southerners. There is no problem, since it can be said with a good degree of accuracy that Christians are the majority in the South and a negligible minority in the North.
Now, should Asiwaju pick a northern Nigerian Christian as his running mate? I listened to many arguments. The Governor of Kaduna state Mallam Nasiru El-Rufa’i, for example, said religion does not matter in the choice of a running mate. What matters, according to him, is competence. This argument is faulty considering the fact that democracy is about the choice of the majority, a choice characteristically influenced by many factors that include ethnicity, religion, gratifications, etc. in our country. If it is just about merit, candidates would be selected based on their performance in a standard examination on governance organised by my colleagues in political sciences.
The position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is the most uncouth and uncivilised. This group of Nigerians think they have the monopoly of violence and always use threats instead of valid logic. If their position were backed by sound logic all they have to do is to present their arguments to Nigerians including Christians and non-Christians like every other individual and group does and the rest shall be for Nigerians to judge. Again, in politics threat is the language of someone who has no one to influence and it is obvious that Nigerian peace-loving Christians have lost faith in CAN and are no longer influenced by its rantings.
The fact is, any step taken by a political party preparing for an election is carefully taken to attract majority votes from the electorate. This includes choice of its flagbearer and their running mate, its manifesto, which unfortunately, majority of Nigerian voters do not read, its campaign strategy, etc.
Now, who are the majority voters in Northern Nigeria and what is their relationship with the minority? What would happen to the chances of APC if this majority realises that the party is succumbing to threats like that of CAN to select its running mate? Is it by force to vote for the ruling party after all? Can’t they look and vote for an alternative?
Religion was not captured in the 2006 census but we can have a good idea of the Muslim:Christian ratio in the North by considering the ratio of elected politicians in the North. Of the 19 elected governors in the North, 16 are Muslims representing 84.2 per cent while three are Christians representing 15.8 per cent in the North and 8 per cent nationwide. Of the 58 senators from the North, nine are Christians representing 15.5 per cent in the North and 9 per cent in the entire country. In the North-central geopolitical zones, there are more Muslims than Christians. Four of the six elected governors in the North-central are Muslims with the other two being Christians.
The meaning of these figures is that northern Christians are a very small minority compared to their northern Muslim compatriots. Their number is even much smaller when the country is considered as a whole, and much smaller if we take into cognisance the fact that most Christians in the North would not vote for APC regardless of its flagbearer or his running mate. You may wish to look at the voting pattern of Benue, Taraba and Southern Kaduna.
Over the years, activities of groups like CAN have set northern Christian minority against the Muslim majority. It is so bad that in any Northern Nigerian community where Christians are the majority, the story is that of hate and violence against Muslims. The examples are many. For example, as I am writing this piece, there is no single Muslim left in Tafawa Balewa, the hometown of the first Nigerian prime minister. The few Muslims who have not been killed have migrated to Bauchi and other places. Incidentally, that is the constituency of Yakubu Dogara, one the northern Christians being mentioned in the selection of a running mate for the APC flagbearer. In the event Dogara becomes the running mate of Asiwaju, the question every northern Nigerian Muslim would ask is, is it compulsory for me to vote for my killer?
Other examples of Christian communities known for their violence against Muslims are Plateau state and southern Kaduna. Over the last several decades, whole Muslim communities have been attacked and nearly wiped out in these places. When commissions of enquiry are set up, the grievances of the northern Christians have always been that they are dominated by emirs, their great grandparents were enslaved, they are not given opportunities, etc.
Muslims have made many overtures in states where they have the majority in order to take Christians along and make them feel at home. An example of this is Kaduna state. It has always been ensured that the deputy governor of Kaduna is a Christian even though a Muslim-Muslim ticket can win with a landslide as demonstrated in 2019. To give Christian maximum opportunity, Muslim politicians were once suppressed to allow for a Christian to become the governor. Where in the whole of Christian world has this ever happened? To address their complaints of being traditionally ruled by emirs, chiefdoms were created for them by the.Makarfi administration. It was after all these overtures that the same people killed over 1000 Muslims on one day in Zonkwa. Those who are saying that appointing a Christian as the running mate of Asiwaju would bring Christians and Muslims closer are probably not aware of this.
Compare the case of Kaduna with that of Plateau. Plateau has a population of Muslims equivalent to the population of Christians in Kaduna state. Yet, a Muslim has never been a deputy hovernor, much less a governor of that state. Attacks on Muslim communities in Plateau and Southern Kaduna only ceased because of the Fulani herders who, unlike the Hausa, would always revenge when they are attacked. When the intolerant Christians realised that it is a war they cannot win they had to declare peace.
That does not mean Muslim travelers are not intercepted in Plateau and massacred. We are very much aware of the murder of General Idris Alkali by Lafendeg non-Muslims. Somehow, all the suspects arrested have been released due to the influence of the governor, Simon Bako Lalong. We saw how he was running up and down between the state house and Defence headquarters to make sure that the culprits were not punished and not even a fly of Plateau state has been convicted due to the murder of General Idris, a high profile Muslim General.
Those who are pushing for Lalong to become Asiwaju’s running mate are probably ignorant of this. If Lalong, who is only a governor, can successfully follow up to make sure that murderers of Muslims are not punished, what would happen if tomorrow he sits as the acting president with full control of the security apparatus of the country and a similar thing happens?
Now take Babachir Lawal and the more charismatic Boss Mustapha. Both of them are from Adamawa state and were appointed by Mr. President only because he is Buhari, the darling of northerners. The only question I have here is that do they have the political strength to defeat Atiku in their state. Certainly no. Outside Adamawa, other rules apply.
This writeup is not meant to malign any politician. All the Christian politicians I have mentioned above have APC dear to their hearts and wouldn’t like to see it lose at the polls. That is also the intention here.
Northern Nigerian Christians have not adequately prepared themselves for elections at national level due to unnecessary inferiority complex and hate towards their Muslim neighbours. Of course, there are very good ones among them as no rule exists without exception. However, collective behaviour of a community is used to assess a people anywhere.
For now, northern Christians may wish to set their house in order and plan for the future. Elections are not won by threats but by careful planning and building bridges.
Professor Jibia writes via [email protected]