By Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim
It is the realization that Nigeria’s presidency cannot be won by the sole or combined agencies of personal fame, resources or regional influence that informed the ideation of a merger of political parties that eventually birthed the APC.
And the essence of this merger, as it were, was the pursuit of a formidable confluence between Nigeria’s most politically active blocs – northern and south-western regional voting blocs. This resulted in the officiation of an alliance through the instrumentality of a transnational political platform capable of displacing the political hegemony of the PDP. And the central representative figures of the two voting blocs were unarguably Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Evidently, the merger would not have been successful without the uncompromising commitment and consensus of these central figures. Lack of such a consensus was the sole reason why attempts at the merger failed in 2011. And the eventual consensus was what translated into a successful merger that ousted PDP in 2015. One could say both of them are indispensable for as far as the merger is concerned.
In both instances, the dynamics of running mate selection constituted a major challenge; one that stalled the entire merger process in 2011 and almost jeopardized the efforts again in 2015 if not for last minute compromises. And for the purpose of this article, our referential premise would be the events that characterized the selection of a running mate for Buhari in 2015.
The resumption of merger talks was principally premised on the assurances of improved mutual understanding and primacy of deliberation and mutual agreement on all issues before implementation. Resultantly, the issue of VP selection was agreeably deferred to the ACN side of the merger. And being the leader of the ACN and a southerner, Bola Tinubu was the first point of call.
However, such a supposition was put to test by the concern of certain stakeholders largely from the non-ACN merging parties over the feasibility of flying a Muslim-Muslim ticket to victory against the PDP. And based on this singularity of a justification defined strictly on the bases of religious [in]compatibility questions, Tinubu was dropped for Osinbajo whose credentialed affiliation to the leadership of Nigeria’s Christian establishment was seen as a suitable match to Buhari’s perceived religious fanaticism.
7 years later, the same political platform faces same dilemma. Tinubu, the initial choice of Buhari’s running mate in 2015 and flag-bearer of the APC for 2023 presidential elections is faced with the daunting task of choosing a running mate. The dynamics that defined his emergence was largely characterized by ethnic considerations and the process of choosing his running mate seems to be greatly saturated by the influence of the overbearing conflict of ethno-religious interests.
Ironically, the hypocritical ultimacy of political convenience as against principle has never been this blatant. Scores of politicians who vehemently opposed the idea of a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2015 are seen today to be championing the cause. Even more perplexing is the dismissal by some of these supporters of issues of religious affiliation(of the running mate) as irrelevant. This group’s advocacy centers around the supposed primacy of merit and capacity to deliver without deference to ethno-religious considerations. The contradiction here is that same group agitated for a Tinubu presidency in fulfillment of a zoning agreement strictly based on an ethno-regional arrangement.
As the elite slug it out, they keep deliberately torrenting the conflict down to the level of the masses whose minds have over time fallen victim of manipulative conditioning by the elite. As a result, the Christian establishment and followership, especially in the North demand uncompromisingly that the VP be picked amongst their brethren. While the Northern Muslim establishment and followership in the usual feeling of mutual insecurity and distrust have threatened to actively oppose a ticket with a Northern Christian as VP.
It sadly almost seems as though whoever clinches the VP slot officially and institutionally enhances the presence and validity of the religion he belongs to. But is that accurate? How is a peasant Muslim farmer going to be better off with a Muslim as VP? And how’s the Christian peasant farmer in the opposite situation? What of security? Buhari is president yet the North suffer from insecurity the most. What of Justice?
This conflict is largely an in-house Northern conflict. And we’ve consistently been falling victim to these manipulative tendencies because we’ve failed to understand certain political and social realities. But the most important among such realities is the glaring yet often forgotten fact that the allegiance of almost every elite in Nigeria is more to the power superstructure than it is to religion.
“This game of masks!”, as Yusufu Bala Usman, of blessed memory, described it only adopts religion as a manipulative enabler and agency for continued relevance within the power cycle. That is all! Religion should not be a manipulative tool. And it is high time we understand that it is never about religion but about power and the spoils that accompany its acquisition. The Muslim community should also be able to distinguish between manipulation and genuine allegiance to religious interest.
In his seminal work ‘Leadership and Governance in Nigeria: The Relevance of Values’ whose content is drilled in philosophical and ethical theorization of Sokoto Caliphate’s breed of leadership and public policy with an exposition of the imperative of pillaring contemporary political and social value systems on the pristine belief systems and culture of our people; Mahmud Tukur, of blessed memory, explained that affiliation and allegiance to the Islamic belief system and values formed the foundational basis of community identity during the caliphal era. He puts “working hard in co-operation with fellow members to achieve the higher values of society or service in the interest of the community’s raison d’etre” as the archetypal basis of communal belonging.
Muhammadu Sanusi II in his review of Tukur’s work deduced Islam – as a corpus of teachings(and values) rather than of actions of persons – to be the definitive basis for identity of the Northern Muslims. To quote his deconstruction of this principle, “… the fact that a “northerner” or a “Muslim” or a “Fulani” is the subject of a political issue is not sufficient to make that issue a “northern”, “Islamic” or “Fulani” one. The bottom line is how consistent is the issue at stake with the teachings of Islam as incorporated in the value-systems underlying the caliphate. In effect, every other identity is subsumed under our Islamic identity, and the Islamic values are the ones worthy of defending. These are not to be sacrificed in the name of “nationalism” or “northern politics” or even “Muslims”.
I find these delineations very instructive for it exposes religious manipulative systems and presents us with the philosophical framework for subjecting our political actions as Northern Muslims to intellectual scrutiny. It provides the basis for validation(or not) and examination of the consistency of our collective actions with the pristine Islamic value-systems. In the context of this article, it affords us the opportunity of examining the consistency of our agitation for VP slot(supposedly in the interest of religion) to our foundational Islamic values; is having a Northern Muslim Vice President fundamentally an Islamic interest? And are the Muslim northerners considered for the slot worthy of supporting strictly based on Islamic affiliations and considerations? Will fielding them in anyway lead to achieving the higher values of the Islamic community?
These are the fundamental questions that require our dispassionate attention. By answering them, we’d be able to realize whether or not we are yet again falling for religious manipulative machinations. It will also reveal to us those social and political realities of ours that render us susceptible to this manipulative tendencies. However, one thing is clear, that the divarication and fragmentation of the formerly United North (into Muslim and Christian North) is our greatest source of susceptibility to manipulation and even marginalization. Even as the Union was not devoid of internal skirmishes, we were presentable as a United, influential front externally. This dichotomization only weakens our influence and negotiating position of advantage.
Our collective problems as the North do not respect such bifurcations same way the results of incompetence of both Muslim and Christian political leaders of Northern extraction do not too. And good and ethical leadership are not exclusive preserves of any of the two religions. In fact, there’s a strong convergence of both religions on issues of political values, leadership ethics and principles of good governance. Insecurity; poverty; economic underdevelopment; inefficient educational and healthcare systems; infrastructural inadequacies; etc are our collective challenges and our collective resolve should be of getting competent leaders to reverse the situation. Ours should be geared towards sustaining and consolidating the unmatched northern political negotiating base and influence and leverage that to ensure we force the leadership to stick to their side of the social contract.
To these manipulative elites, religion is only but an agency for the sustenance of relevance and power for self-aggrandizement. We must rise above such manipulative machinations and focus on building a formidable consensus capable of enforcing on the leadership a Northern agenda for development regardless of who becomes VP.
Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political/public affairs analyst, he writes from Zaria and can be reached via email@example.com.