By Samuel Oyejola
For the first time in Nigeria’s 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, the country would by May 29, 2023, have a President and his Vice who are from the same religious extraction – Muslims.
On 25th February, 2023, Nigerians went to the polls to elect new leaders who would take charge from President Muhammadu Buhari, whose tenure ends on 29th May, 2023, having served the constitutionally allowed two terms of four years.
The Chairman of the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu, announced Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the winner of the election after he defeated 17 other candidates including strong contenders, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour party. Tinubu, a Muslim from the South-West geopolitical zone of the country would be sworn in as president while his Vice, Senator Kashim Shettima, is another Muslim from the North-East geopolitical zone of the country.
In the build up to the election, Nigerians have never been this divided along religious lines as they were during the electioneering campaign activities. The silence code of conduct in choosing candidates and their running mates by all political parties has been to respect religious differences and carry the two major religions along in the choice of candidate and running mate.
As the clock ticked and there were already indications amongst those close to happenings within the camp of APC Presidential candidate that he may likely jettison the national tradition, some of his allies raised concerns about the implication of choosing a Muslim as his running mate.
A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, warned Tinubu and the APC of the dire implication of floating a Muslim/Muslim ticket. In one of his media interviews, he described the APC and Tinubu’s decision as a “disastrous error”.
He said Tinubu allowed himself to be misguided by sycophants. “The result is that they have played on his long-term ambition to be President and have built it into a sort of desperation and a crescendo that easily justifies this satanic resort to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. This is the calamity that has befallen my friend.
“It appears that the gods want to destroy the APC and its presidential candidate and have chosen the instrumentality of the northern Muslim governors and their super ambitious tool and Kashim Ibrahim for this purpose.
“Alhaji Kashim Shettima is a Greek gift from the Northern governors to Tinubu. I advise Bola to make sure Kashima’s two hands are always in his plain sight and empty.”
Also, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, had campaigned against the APC candidates for floating a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket. The Former Speaker at a summit tagged ‘Meet the Church’ organised by the Nigerian National Christians Coalition (NNCC), said Tinubu did not only ignore the advice of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) against the same faith ticket but also dismissed it.
He challenged Christians and the church in Nigeria to resist the decision of the APC. “Every Christian knows that our God does not tolerate waste. It is unchristian for the church to waste anything given to us from above as we own nothing except what is given to us from above,” Dogara said.
“These warnings were not only ignored but dismissed in one fell swoop by the APC presidential candidate who strangely believes that he can build a strong, secure and viable nation-state without first forging a shared identity, vision and values for our people thereby enabling us transit from citizens of a country into a nation of people with strong shared identity and values.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had before the election warned that political parties participating in the presidential election must ensure that they factored in Nigeria’s peculiar religious sensitivities in the choice of candidates and their running mates. The Christian body in an open letter addressed to all political parties in June 2020 said it would take a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a declaration of war and would mobilise against political parties that adopted it.
While the APC went ahead to adopt a Muslim-Muslim ticket, other parties took religious sensitivity into consideration. The PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, chose a southern Christian as his running mate, while the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, chose a northern Muslim as his running mate.
The Labour Party candidate, being a Christian, was able to warm his candidature into the hearts of Christians all over the country, especially in the North where Christians have limited say. The results of the presidential election reflected how Christians all over the country voted.
Although Tinubu‘s APC polled 8,794,726 votes making a total of 37.62 percent of the total votes cast to win the election, Peter Obi was able to poll 6,101,533 of the total votes cast, coming third closely behind Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who polled 6,984,520 of the total votes cast.
Obi’s 6,101,533 votes reflected the voting pattern of Christians in the country. States like Enugu, Lagos, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Benue, FCT, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Abia, Plateau, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Anambra, Taraba, Rivers and Imo that have Christian voters, voted massively for the LP candidates.
Obi may have failed to win the election, however, Christians all over the country successfully sent clear signal to the political class that Christian vote matters and that Christians as far as politics and elections are concerned, are forces to be reckoned with.
For political watchers, what would be the fate of Christians under Tinubu’s regime? It is an open secret that Christian leaders mobilized their congregation to vote for Christians at the poll, a direct reaction to the ruling party’s choice of candidate and running mate. Many campaigned for Peter Obi on the pulpit while some others campaigned against the APC.
The senior Pastor of Dunamis Gospel Centre, Dr. Paul Enenche, who had been a steady critic of the Buhari-led administration for the insecurity that has engulfed the whole nation, in a post on his verified facebook page, shared a picture of himself, Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church and Peter Obi. He accompanied the picture with a caption that reads: “A picture they say, is worth a thousand words. This picture was randomly taken by a photographer some time ago but is speaking volumes right now, especially in this season. What do you see? What can you hear? Are you in doubt of the way to go? The way of integrity, authenticity, honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, capacity, productivity; here is the way to go”.
Observers recalled that in July 2022, the presidential candidate of the LP visited Dumanis Church with a reception that reflected the mood of Christians in the country. Christians were not ready to vote a Muslim-Muslim candidate.
Bishop David Abioye of the Living Faith Church in a daring message said Tinubu’s decision was an insult and an aberration to Christians. Addressing the church members in Abuja, he said: “I know everybody is getting ready for 2023 because everybody wants a new life, and wants good thing to happen; and good things will happen for us next year. There are some incompetent people that want to run this nation aground, but they will not succeed.
“I hope all of you heard that one party said there is no qualified Northern Christian to become Vice President. That is an insult, an aberration. You mean all the Christian Northerners are dummies? To now say that there is no competent Northern Christian is an insult and such a statement must be withdrawn.
“Otherwise, what they are saying to you is, ‘to your tent o Israel’, they are drawing the line. We have never tried to introduce religion into politics, but if they introduce it, we will tackle it.
“I have been a voter since 1979 and the first person I voted for was Shehu Shagari who wasn’t a Christian but a Muslim. So, it’s not about being against anybody. We voted for Yar’Adua who was a Muslim and he did well. So, for somebody to be thinking there is no Northern Christian qualified to be Vice President, is nonsense,” he said.
The founder of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, also took side and called on Christians to vote for a preferred candidate whom he indirectly told his congregation. Few days to the election, the pastor, while delivering sermon gave a description of the three major candidates without mentioning names. The first, he said, “He is not himself. He is under the influence of a devil. This devil was mocking and laughing, scoffing at Nigerians. The devil is using him. It’s a wicked spirit of darkness, a mocker. The devil’s named him a jackal. A jackal is a trickster, a swindler who usually operates on behalf of another for deception. This demon is mocking Nigeria. But he’s been cut off.”
“In the spirit of the second candidate, if you let him get into office, you will have no country. You would have sold your country,” he said.
”Then, in the spirit, the third candidate was afraid of winning. He didn’t want to lose, but he was scared of winning. Then I prayed, Lord give him wings to fly! His name is in the Bible.”
With major religious leaders taking sides in the elections, there are those who feared that the worst Christians in the country feared for, may yet to be materialized. But the president-elect on the contrary has promised not to run the government based on religion.
At a meeting with the leadership of the CAN in the build up to the election, he gave assurance that the same way his administration did not discriminate against anyone either based on tribe, religion or gender when he was Lagos State Governor, he would not start such in office as president.
He said his belief in the need for secular government and faith-based organisations to work in unison was not something adopted recently to benefit his campaign. He recalled that as Governor, he partnered with the Christians to improve lives and foster education, saying for instance, he returned mission schools to their owners, most of whom are Christians.
Tinubu added that he instituted yearly Christian Denomination Service at the Governor’s residence as New Year approaches, saying the tradition continues in Lagos.
On why he chose a Muslim as his running mate, he explained: “I did not choose Senator Shettima so that we could form a same faith ticket. The ticket was constructed as a same progressive and people-based ideology ticket.
“I offer a confession. I selected Senator Shettima thinking more about who would best help me govern. Picking a Christian running mate would have been politically easier. But the easy way is rarely the right one. The selection of a running mate is at once a very momentous yet very intimate decision.
“Resting such a key decision on religious affiliation as the primary weight did not sit well with me. I am not saying there were not good and adequate potential running mates of the Christian faith.
“What I am saying is that the times we inhabit do not lend themselves to the good or adequate. We have urgent problems that lend themselves not to a Christian or Muslim solution. We need the best solution.