By Leo Igwe
The decision by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to field a Muslim -Muslim presidential ticket in the 2023 presidential elections has generated heated debates. Various religious organizations, mainly Christian and Muslim groups have reacted to this decision. They have voiced their support and opposition to the ticket. In this piece, I provide a humanist perspective on this controversy because humanists are among the stakeholders in the Nigerian project and politics. Again, Nigeria is not only a nation of Muslims and Christians. Nigeria is a nation of humanists and other nonbelievers in religion as we know it.
Humanism is a life stance for nonreligious or irreligious persons. Humanists identify as atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, nones, or religiously indifferent. Humanists are people of like minds, but they do not hold similar views. So it is expected that humanists differ and will differ in their political opinions, especially in this case. Some humanists belong to the People’s Democratic Party. Others are members of the All Progressives Congress, the Labour Party, African Action Congress, etc. Some humanists do not belong to any party at all. What I present here is a humanist viewpoint on the issue of a Muslim-Muslim ticket. It is not the Humanist perspective. What I present is not representative of the views or positions of the humanist community or association on this matter. Some humanists may agree or disagree totally or partially with my position and perspective. That is in order.
As a humanist, I am deeply concerned about the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket. And here are my reasons.
First, there is no effective separation of religion and politics in Nigeria. The everyday politics in Nigeria attests to this concern. Nigeria is a secular state in principle not in practice. Although the Nigerian constitution prohibits state religion, Islam is the state religion in Muslim majority states. Sharia is in force in various states. The state funds religious police, courts, and pilgrimages. The Islamic faith is privileged and there is no separation of mosque and state. Christianity is the state religion in Christian majority states. The separation of church and state is a paper tiger. What obtains in politics is a case of the religious-winner-takes-all situation. So, a Muslim-Muslim ticket should be of concern to any intelligent observer of Nigerian politics especially at this time in the history of the country.
More importantly, before the party announced the ticket, I had it on good authority that the northern part of the country would never accept a Christian as a presidential or vice presidential candidate of any major political party. I was told that this understanding was sacrosanct. A violation of it would not be tolerated. According to this political arrangement, any party which could win a presidential election in Nigeria must field a Muslim presidential or vice presidential candidate from the northern part of the country. Nothing short of this formula would succeed. Any political ambition that departs from this arrangement is dead on arrival. That means if a Muslim or a Christian emerges as the presidential candidate from the south, the deputy from the north must be a Muslim. I found this political arrangement troubling because it makes non-Muslim politicians in northern Nigeria second-class citizens.
So the announcement of a Muslim as Tinubu’s running mate in the forthcoming election did not come to me as a surprise. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The choice confirmed this unjust political arrangement in northern Nigeria. Otherwise, as a humanist, the religion of the presidential or vice presidential candidate is-and should be inconsequential. Nigeria is a democracy, not a theocracy. So it is immaterial if presidents and their deputies profess same or different religions or no religion at all. The president is a head of state not a head of the state mosque or church and can come from any religious or nonreligious background. Same as the vice president. The president is a political, not a religious leader. So his or her religious identity should not be an issue.
In addition, there is no correlation between good governance and religious profession. After all, those who have governed Nigeria since independence have professed Islam or Christianity. And what is the situation in the country today? What is the legacy of the religious politics that Nigeria has played since 1960? How has Nigeria fared in the light of its religious presidents and vice presidents? In the various states we have had Muslim-Muslim, Christian-Christian tickets, haven’t we?
Parties have successfully fielded Muslim-Muslim tickets in Muslim majority states, Christian-Christian tickets in Christian majority states, and Muslim-Christian or Christian-Muslim tickets in states with a mix of Christians and Muslims. What has been the situation in the various states? Have these religious permutations brought any extraordinary development and progress to these places? What value has the same and mixed religious tickets added to politics and governance across the country? Thus, in terms of idealpolitik, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is of no consequence.
But as a humanist, I am also a realist. I am aware that it is a different issue when it comes to realpolitik in Nigeria. I am deeply concerned over the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket because, in practice, politics is overwhelmingly religion-based and religion-driven. Religion is politicized and politics is religionized. In terms of realpolitik, religion matters. Religion is everything. Many years ago, a former Nigerian president said that nobody could oppose Islam and succeed politically in Northern Nigeria. The same could be said of Christianity in the southern part of the country. So who says religion does not count in Nigerian politics? It does. Religion is a tool to ensure political legitimacy and success. Nigerians largely vote along religious lines. The religious pattern of voting and politiking is not changing any time soon. Politicians factor religion into their decisions and actions. Politicians pander to religious sentiments to mobilize votes; to acquire and retain power.
The choice of a Muslim running mate for the presidential flag bearer of the APC was not based on competence and capability as stated. No, it was not. It was a realpolitik move. There were Christian and other non-Muslim politicians in northern Nigeria competent enough to serve as Tinubu’s deputy. But the realpolitik in northern Nigeria did allow the APC to choose any of them. The Muslim-Muslim ticket is based on an arrangement that no non-Muslim presidential or vice presidential candidate of a major party would politically win in northern Nigeria. Muslim votes were a strong factor in the choice of APC’s vice presidential candidate.
Whatever the case, in a democracy, parties field candidates of their choice. APC has decided. But the people are the ultimate judge. APC has chosen a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Now, it is the turn of the people to decide. The Muslim-Muslim ticket would have to be tested. The ticket would be subjected to the will of the people come February 2023.