By Prof. Abdussamad Umar Jibia
The All Progressive Congress (APC) is undoubtedly 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 People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a party that ruled Nigeria for 16 years and was also adjudged a failure by the majority of Nigerians. That is why many people do not see PDP as the solution despite all the shortcomings of the APC-led government and the economic and security challenges confronting Nigerians.
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 by the APC Presidential ticket. Last week, Asiwaju Bola Ahmad Tinubu, a devout Muslim from Lagos, won the APC Presidential primary election with a landslide to qualify as the party flag bearer in the 2023 presidential election. As is the tradition, Alhaji Tinubu, a southerner, is expected to pick a Northerner as his running mate.
But there is also another tradition. Christian flagbearers usually pick Muslim running mates, and Muslim flagbearers choose 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 Yaradua/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 reasonable 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-Rufai, 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 because democracy is about the choice of the majority, a choice characteristically influenced by many factors, including 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 organized by my colleagues in Political Sciences Department.
The position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is the most uncouth and uncivilized. CAN thinks they have a monopoly for violence and always use threats instead of valid logic. Suppose their position was backed by sound logic. In that case, all they have to do is present their arguments to Nigerians including Christians and non-Christians like every other individual and group does. 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 peace-loving Nigerian Christians have lost faith in CAN and are no longer controlled by its rantings.
The fact is, any step taken by a political party preparing for an election is carefully handled to attract majority votes from the electorates. This includes the choice of its flagbearer and their running mate, its manifesto, which, unfortunately, most 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 realizes 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. Still, 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 %, while three are Christians representing 15.8 % in the North and 8 % nationwide. Of the 58 senators from the North, nine are Christians representing 15.5 % in the North and 9 % in the entire country. In the North Central geopolitical zones, there are more Muslims than Christians. Four of the North Central elected governors are Muslims, with the other two being Christians.
These figures mean Northern Christians are a tiny minority compared to their Northern Muslim compatriots. Their number is even smaller when the country is considered as a whole and much smaller if we remember 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 the 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 about 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 of 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. Yet, when commissions of enquiry are set up, the grievances of the Northern Christians have always been that emirs dominate them, 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. In their efforts to give Christians maximum opportunity, Muslim politicians were once suppressed to allow a Christian to become the governor. Where in the whole of the Christian world has this ever happened?
Moreover, chiefdoms were created for them by the Ahmed Makarfi administration to address Christians’ complaints of being traditionally ruled by emirs. After all these overtures, 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 Governor, much less a Governor. Attacks on Muslim communities in Plateau and Southern Kaduna only ceased because of the Fulani herders who, unlike the Hausa, would always take revenge when attacked. When the intolerant Christians realized it was a war they could not win, they had to declare peace.
That does not mean Muslim travellers are not intercepted in Plateau and massacred. We are very much aware of the murder of General Idris Alkali by Lafendeg non-Muslims. Yet, 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 the Defence Headquarters to ensure that the culprits were not punished. Today, not even a fly of Plateau state has been convicted due to the murder of General Idris, a high-profile Muslim Army General.
Those pushing for Lalong to become Asiwaju’s running mate are probably ignorant of this. Suppose Lalong, who is only a Governor can successfully follow up to ensure that murderers of Muslims are not punished. What would happen if, tomorrow, he sits as the Acting President with full control of the country’s security apparatus and a similar thing happens?
Now take Babachir Lawal and the more charismatic Boss Mustapha. Both are from Adamawa State and were appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari only because he is Buhari, the darling of Northerners. The only question I have here is whether they have the political strength to defeat Atiku in their state. Certainly no. Outside Adamawa, other rules apply.
This write-up is not meant to malign any politician. On the contrary, 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 the National level due to unnecessary inferiority complex and hate towards their Muslim neighbours. Of course, there are outstanding ones among them as no rule exists without exception. However, the collective behaviour of a community is used to assess 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 Abdussamad Jibia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.