The Muslim-Muslim conversation is a win-win for APC
Last week, presidential standard bearer and former All Progressives Congress national leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu chose former Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima as his running mate in the upcoming February 2023 elections. problem is the furor it has aroused and continues to arouse because both candidates are Muslims. Before the choice was made, conversation had filled the airwaves about whether to field presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the same faith for a major political party. Fairness, fairness and particular Nigerian unease dictate that such a move would be electoral suicide for the party making it. Dissenting voices over Tinubu’s choice of a running mate come from both inside and outside the APC. One could even say that the dissenting voices within the party have been louder than those outside. A number of people have since resigned their membership in disgust. Pressure continues to mount at the top level of the APC hierarchy to withdraw Shettima’s nomination, to make way for a Christian candidate to rectify what they see as a gargantuan mistake.
Therefore, Tinubu can only stick to his choice at the risk of further defections from the ranks of the APC. This, of course, is a wild claim. The former Governor of Lagos State would be unfit for command if he were to bow to such blackmail. Opposition to what has become known in the media as a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket therefore continues unabated, and will likely continue to be felt until the election. Many have written off Tinubu and the chances of winning the APC based on that alone. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated? Well, reports of impending disaster for the APC in the upcoming election following the presentation of a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket have not only been greatly exaggerated, they have been exaggerated. It became a climax designed to generate more heat than light. While some of the opponents may have valid points, many of them are simply crying wolf, unfortunately for them, and Nigeria, the country they claim to love so much. That said, it is worth delving into the effect of religion as a political phenomenon, not just for this election, but also in a broader perspective for clarity.
Firstly, religion is a hot political issue in Nigeria, only because the political elite have a habit of using it in negotiations for power and in their odious attempt to outwit each other in the electoral battleground. Yet there are regional variations in the impact of religion that the public should take into account. Most people in southern Nigeria tend to be less religiously zealous than their northern counterparts. For example, it is common to find a household, especially in the Southwest, with multiple religious beliefs happily coexisting under the same roof; as between grandfather and son, husband and wife, son and daughter, father and son, etc. Problems only arise when the exercise of a religious belief finds its way into the public sphere. When it comes to the North-South divide, there is usually a confusion between being Muslim and being Islamic. Being Muslim is a belief, a way of life and, above all, the way in which one chooses to relate to one’s non-Muslim fellow citizens. To be Islamic is to have tenacity towards faith and the thought process that comes with it. This is what allows you to identify as a Muslim without necessarily being a Muslim. Being a Muslim has never been a problem in the southern part of Nigeria. On the contrary, being Islamic has always been a problem in the northern part of Nigeria. This is what makes it fertile ground for the flourishing of Boko Haram and other religious extremist groups. Muslims are, on the whole, tolerant, empathetic and non-violent. Islam (ie political Islam) is the opposite. He has little or no ability to absorb the difference. In fact, he is fiercely opposed to pluralism. This underscores Nigeria’s soul battle in the field of religion.
What we are witnessing in the ongoing “Muslim-Muslim” conversation is in fact a debate between liberal values and political Islam. So it’s a shame that mainstream Christian leaders haven’t been more outspoken in their defense of the idea of a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket than a handful of them have been so far. The Christian Association of Nigeria, for example, should have vigorously defended the APC’s inalienable right to field any combination of religious adherents for high office. Advocating for such a cause at this time is in their enlightened self-interest, as it allows them to occupy the high moral ground, and it will also end the argument for good. Remember, the shoe will soon be on the other foot. You only occupy the high moral ground more precisely, when you defend the other lot. The right time for this is now. That said, the real reason the “Muslim-Muslim” conversation benefits the APC is that on election day, no matter how hard they try, those who wish to make religion the center of voters will fail. Religion will not be on the ballot; the economy will. According to all economic indices such as inflation, interest rates, unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure and hospitals, education manpower, etc., the APC government has failed to deliver tangible results.
Other measurable criteria include increased terrorist attacks, high numbers of random kidnappings, increased gasoline and gas shortages, power outages, and official corruption. On top of that, ethnic animosity and division among Nigerians, judicial corruption and household debt continue to rise, not diminish. The president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), nearly gave up the game the other day on television when he confessed he was eager to leave the stage for the comfort of his village, Daura, in the Katsina State. In any other political environment, any party with such a poor record would have no chance of being re-elected. However, ironically, thanks to the media, the PDP and various opposition groups, all the issues guaranteed to sway the voters’ choice are emerging. Instead, the country grapples with false questions of religion and Tinubu’s choice for vice president. This is bad news for the PDP, in particular, as the main challenger for the presidency. The choice of Tinubu de Shettima as running mate turned out to be a masterstroke in this direction. When a similar scenario presented itself in a 1992 US election, Chief Opposition Strategist James Carville exclaimed in exasperation, “Let’s focus our energies on the economy; it’s the economy, idiot! Right now in Nigeria, the APC will have a landslide victory next year, as long as the conversation remains on religion and the “Muslim-Muslim” ticket.