Beyond the Muslim/Muslim Ticket By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, our country witnessed something unprecedented some 21 odd years ago. It was the audacious move by Chief Moshood Abiola who chose to appoint a fellow Muslim, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, as his Presidential running-mate for the June 12 1993 election. It appeared sacrilegious in a country that has always been sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines. The decision caused so much commotion in the ranks of the Social Democratic Party at that time. Indeed, Papa Adekunle Ajasin, elder statesman and former Governor of Ondo State, was so infuriated that he put a call through to Abiola and scolded him in strong words. A no-nonsense man, he was quoted as telling Abiola “…with this your unacceptable decision, you’ve murdered Christ a second time!” Abiola, a master at dousing tension with powerful wise-cracks was said to have replied “Baba, mi o si ni Calvary sir…” (I was not in Calvary sir). Papa Ajasin and other enraged leaders allowed Abiola to carry on with his gamble but I doubt if it was as simple as we tried to play it.
Even for us Abiola’s foot-soldiers at the time, what he did was a dangerous taboo. The news was broken to us by Dr Doyin Abiola, our boss at Concord newspapers, who invited Dele Alake, Segun Babatope, Tunji Bello and I to her office where she dropped the bombshell. According to her, “Daddy called from Abuja and asked me to tell you guys that he has changed his mind about picking a Northern Christian as his Vice Presidential candidate.” We all sank into our seats, in total shock and utter disbelief. The sad part was that we had earlier gone to town telling our media friends that Abiola was going to run with a Christian. We wondered the wisdom behind this damaging volte face. How were we to confront our colleagues with this apparent monstrosity?
Dr Abiola lectured us a bit on what her husband had taught her over time: “Daddy believes that if you must convince anyone about anything, the first person to convince is yourself… He has already convinced himself that the Muslim/Muslim ticket was doable. It is now up to you guys to convince yourselves.” It was more of an instruction than an argument or persuasion. By the time we picked ourselves up to brace up to the atrocious challenges we were sure to face, we received another salvo from Dr Abiola: “Daddy is set to flag off his campaign in Kaduna without announcing his running-mate” This was getting interesting.
Not only was Chief Abiola under intense pressure to pick a Northern Muslim he was also being inundated and suffocated with names of potential candidates by lobbyists and godfathers. It was such a big mess. But I think the SDP Governors won the day when they got Abiola to announce their choice of Kingibe. The rest is history. The didactic message from my preamble is that some seeds of discord were already planted in SDP from that moment on. I seriously suspect that many of those who lost the argument and the bid on that occasion only went away to nurse their injuries quietly but never forgave Abiola in the real sense. When the major conundrum erupted, it was like payback time.
History has a way of repeating itself. There are serious rumblings within the major opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC). The cause is the believable rumour that some powerful forces may have decided to try a Muslim/Muslim ticket again in the next Presidential election of 2015. A Nigerian journalist asked me on a flight to New York last week if I thought it was possible. Of course, Nigeria is a nation of possibilities. This epistle you are reading sums up my analysis during our long flight.
It is easier for a Muslim/Muslim ticket to work than that of a Christian/Christian. The heavily populated geo-political zones in Nigeria namely North West, South West and North East each have a large Muslim presence. Also the North Central is thickly populated by Muslims. The South East belongs almost totally to Christians just like the South South minus Edo State where we have pockets of Muslims. What is my verdict? A Muslim/Muslim ticket can win an election in Nigeria over and over again. The way Nigeria is currently configured makes it very practical and realisable. You and I can protest to high heavens and till kingdom comes, but the stark reality is that democracy is a game of numbers.
What I just postulated is not mere theory. We have seen the actualisation of it in the annulled mandate of June 12. There is a caveat however. Muslims or Christians are not likely to vote automatically for candidates on the basis of religion. Christians are as sharply divided as Muslim sects, though Muslims are likely to be more cohesive. I have lost count of how many Christian denominations there are. The Pentecostal churches seem to be more liberal than the Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witness, Methodists, and other old generation sects.
Religion is actually not the number one agenda on the list of politicians. It is money, raw cash. Money unites enemies on a regular day. On awkward days, its force is even more potent because the dark forces only have to deploy a greater amount of money and they are surely liable to have their way.
The second item on the political agenda is power. The in power holds the aces. He deploys the perks and largesse of power as he feels. The greatest of the greats eat from his palm. Some juicy appointments can instantly transform a certified pauper into a certificated billionaire. No one can compete with PDP on that level. The third is ethnicity or where you come from. The Nigerian commonwealth is a giant cake being rotated amongst the majorities. Jonathan’s emergence which catapulted a lumpenproletariat from a minority zone into a position of absolute authority was either a deliberate accident or a complete miscalculation on the part of our Mafia dons. Now that he has grabbed power for a region that perceived itself as downtrodden, it has become difficult to dislodge him.
Other minorities in the country see him as a rallying or focal point. It is now no longer easy to discountenance the minorities or relegate them to the background. Power-play in the Republic has changed and there is a new Sherriff with his full complement of dogged and loyal Deputies in town. The President thus holds three of the four aces for becoming maximum ruler in our terrain. These are money, power and the area you come from. The fourth is religion. The President certainly has enough resources to gather as many Muslims as Christians if he plays his cards right. He therefore has the unparalleled privilege of having the capacity to hold all the aces!
While the opposition seems to have the numbers on paper, mainly because the generality of the people who appear to be fed up with the ruling party, the choice of very controversial candidates may capsize their boat. Politics is like a game of football. You need both strikers and defenders to win. Only a foolish team would play the Brazilian style in a game against Brazil. APC has a guaranteed 60 to 70 percent of angry army of unemployed and very bitter youths just waiting to connect with the better candidates they know only APC can unleash. It cannot afford to try and match PDP cash for cash or insensitivity for insensitivity. It must dare to be different even at great sacrifice to personal ambitions.
The game would be sweeter for APC, with a combination of experience and youthfulness, so as to tap into the abundance of restless youths plaguing our political landscape looking for salvation in the form of a leader whose ideals and vision are rooted in the 21st century. Therefore, as a rule, one of the candidates for President or Vice President should currently be in service. Neither must have been out of touch for too long. That would be like recalling Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu or Stephen Keshi to come and play for Nigeria in the 2015 World Cup. Our coaches must be more creative and imaginative than that.
The opposition must be sensitive to the deep religious sentiments in Nigeria today. A government that preaches change must never be seen to seek to trample on rights and freedom of the people. Even if a Muslim/Muslim ticket can win in the long run, we must not run the risk of stoking the embers of religious conflagration. We already have enough problems in our hands, we should not add to it. To assume that Christians won’t mind a Muslim/Muslim ticket is a subtle way of turning them into inferior minorities. This type of insensitivity led to the collapse of law and order in the South/South where the militants had to take the law into their hands. The money that should be used for developing Nigeria in general is now being squandered on some nebulous amnesty program. We would have saved ourselves from this outlandish hocus-pocus if we had distributed our resources with simple common-sense.
This leads me to the next thesis. This is the first time the region that produces our golden eggs would be allowed to manage the poultry. The opposition seeks to sack their Farm Manager for several reasons all bothering on lack of effective leadership. The people of the South/South are insisting their son must serve the eight years of two terms permissible under our Constitution. Would it not be reckless to remove him and not give the zone at least the number two slot which may even be taken to be only a token gesture by those concerned? It is almost certain that Nigeria would know no peace if and when it happens that the South/South has lost out to other regions, so soon after the miracle that catapulted Jonathan to power, without the opportunity to at least play second fiddle. This perfidy will be compounded by ignoring the religious background of the region and its strong Christian affiliations. It will be like adding insult to injury. This is the crux of the matter.
The whole hullabaloo of angling for power in Nigeria is about gaining access to the oil wealth. How fair would it be to kick Jonathan out without having one of their own on the new ticket? I’m convinced APC has found itself in a volatile quagmire. How it wriggles out would depend on its willingness and readiness to think beyond politics of self and embrace politics of equity, justice and fair-play. There are many stars from every part of Nigeria who have the requisite brilliance to lead us out of the present mess. I would not say that Jonathan must remain in power by force, whether he performs or not, but we must also discourage any attempt to side-line the region that has suffered most despite its huge contributions to Nigeria’s development. It would have been easier to suppress this sentiment if our country was very normal but we are very far from it.
As a matter of fact, APC has a lot of convincing work to do in the Niger Delta in particular. It is not going to be an easy task persuading them to abandon the number one position for even number two. To suggest a worse position than number two would be tantamount to rubbing raw pepper to a fresh wound, and an affront of the worst order. Nigeria is already in its most delicate state and hanging so precariously right now. There is no guarantee that even the north would not see the intrusion of the South West into the current permutation as a surreptitious way to return to power so soon after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years in office.
Those who genuinely love APC must speak up now. Many people are not speaking out for fear of ex-communication but we know the views mostly expressed in private. APC will fail if the people cannot see any serious difference between its operatives and the people they wish to replace. In this regard, the alarm raised by Femi Fani-Kayode should not be dismissed offhandedly. Forget the messenger and let us deal with the message. It does not matter to me if Femi has other personal motives. He has voiced out loud and crisp what many people are discussing in hushed whispers. His missive is strident and clear, in the dramatic fashion only patented for him.
The change we want can only be thrown into the Atlantic Ocean by APC. Many have decided to try them out under an uncommon article of faith. But it is doubtful if APC itself appreciates the magnitude of the burden it is expected to shoulder. They have done extremely well to have come this far. Their fall would be too cataclysmic and we may not recover from it for several decades.
Sadly for Nigeria, we would have been sentenced to many more years of retrogression.
That would be democracy despoiled and another hope aborted.
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