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2023: Muslim-Muslim ticket, a far greater evil than another northern president

One thing is becoming clearer about next year’s presidential election. Unless a third force succeeds, Nigeria faces two disastrous choices. One is another president from the North, succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari. The other is a Muslim-Muslim presidency, with both the president and the vice-president being Muslims.

Put specifically, Nigeria would either have a President Atiku Abubarkar, a northerner, or a President Bola Tinubu, a Muslim, with a Vice President Kashim Shettima, also a Muslim. Either outcome would severely undermine the unity and stability of Nigeria, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

Let’s be clear. The best outcome for Nigeria next year is neither victory for Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, nor victory for Atiku, the candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Rather, the best outcome is victory for Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, and his technocratic running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, founder and pro-chancellor of Baze University, Abuja.

Let’s be clear. The best outcome for Nigeria next year is neither victory for Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, nor victory for Atiku, the candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP

Why? Well, there are two reasons. First, an Obi/Baba-Ahmed victory would ensure the presidency doesn’t just go to the South, as it should, but to the more-deserving South-East. Second, although an Obi/Baba-Ahmed presidency won’t be flawless and won’t radically transform Nigeria – that can’t happen unless Nigeria is properly restructured – it would nevertheless be a breath of fresh air, a departure from the self-centred politics that Nigeria’s professional or career politicians have traditionally epitomised.

But, more importantly, an Obi/Baba-Ahmed victory would prevent the absolute disaster and national and international shame that a Tinubu presidency or, to a lesser extent, an Atiku presidency would inflict on Nigeria. Make no mistake, Tinubu and Atiku are too tainted – Tinubu, far more tainted – to be Nigeria’s president, which is why character and integrity in public life must be critical issues in next year’s presidential race.

Well, I repeat: a victorious third force is the best outcome for Nigeria in 2023. Elsewhere, this won’t be wishful thinking. In 2017, a hitherto political neophyte, Emmanuel Macron, then aged 39, formed a brand new party – En Marche! – and defeated candidates of the two main parties that had dominated French politics for decades. So, a third force can cause electoral upsets and succeed in truly democratic and enlightened societies.

But Nigeria is not a truly democratic and enlightened society. Its politics is driven by a cult of personality, unexplained wealth, slush funds and primordial sentiments. Thus, while, for the good of Nigeria, one wishes for a victorious third force next year, it won’t happen unless there’s a miracle, unless Nigerians show game-changing sophistication at the poll. But if an Obi/Baba-Ahmed victory proves a mirage, then Nigerians must brace themselves for either of two disasters – a Tinubu presidency or an Atiku presidency! But that raises the question: Which is worse?

Put it this way, if Nigeria faces a choice between two evils, 1) another northern President or 2) a Muslim-Muslim presidency, which is a greater evil? Well, I say unequivocally: a Muslim-Muslim presidency. Why? Well, let’s start with another northern President.

In May, I wrote a piece titled “2023 Presidency: Nigeria risks escalating instability without power rotation” (BusinessDay, May 16, 2022). I argued that if another Northerner succeeded President Buhari in 2023, Nigeria would be more unstable. That was also the position of the Southern Governors’ Forum and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, which called for the presidency to return to the South.

But the critical question was: if power shifted to the South, where in the South? Of course, it should be the South-East, the only geo-political zone in the South that has not produced president since 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule. Surely, if fairness demanded that the presidency should go to the South, then the same fairness demanded that it should go to the South-East.

However, the fairness argument had no traction with ambitious politicians across all the six geo-political zones nor with the two main parties, which blatantly ignored the rightness of the South-East’s case. Thus, APC gave its presidential ticket to Tinubu, the moneybag from the South-West, while PDP gave its own ticket to Atiku, thereby throwing up the possibility of another president from the North in 2023.

But why is another northern President a lesser evil? For me, the key factor is the South-East and the question is: What’s their shortest route to the presidency, assuming Obi doesn’t win next year? Well, the answer is a northern President!

Consider this. Atiku once said, if elected, he would do only one term. Many don’t believe him. He’s too much a politically-ambitious and power-obsessed politician to be trusted to keep the one-term-only promise. But even if he does two terms, the fact is that power would return to the South in 2031. That would allow the South-East to have another crack at the presidency within eight years. By contrast, if Tinubu becomes president and does two terms, power will first return to the North in 2031 before returning to the South in 2039.

So, with a President Tinubu, the Igbo would wait another 16 years for the presidency, making it 40 years since 1999. But with a President Atiku, they would wait eight years. Surely, anything that shortens the Igbo’s route to the presidency must be better than anything that lengthens it. That’s why, despite being a terrible idea, another northern President in 2023 would be a lesser evil.

Which brings us to a Muslim-Muslim presidency. How bad? Well, extremely bad! First, I condemn unreservedly the utter claptrap that nothing is wrong with a Muslim-Muslim ticket because it’s competence that matters. By that warped logic, there must be nothing wrong with a Northerner-Northerner or a Southerner-Southerner ticket or, indeed, an all-male cabinet because it’s all about competence. Truth is, those mouthing the utter baloney that competence trumps ethnic and religious diversity are self-serving sophists, who, as Plato put it The Republic, “prize rhetorical success over philosophical truth.”

Read also: Tinubu 2023: Muslim-Muslim ticket is more

Nigerian politicians must hang their heads in shame for their utter hypocrisy and double-speak. Recently, in response to Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State urged Nigerians to choose competence over religion. Yet, the same Akeredolu was the most vociferous voice against another Northerner succeeding President Buhari, saying that the South should not vote for any presidential candidate from the North in 2023. So, why should Nigerians choose competence over religion, but not competence over ethnicity? Why is ethnic diversity more important than religious diversity?

Tinubu justified his choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket on the same spurious ground of competence as if there’s no single competent northern Christian. Of course, as we all know, it wasn’t about competence but about electoral calculations. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State recently told Muslim clerics: “We have advised him (Tinubu) to pick a Muslim deputy and he has agreed.” Alhaji Tanko Yakasai said Tinubu won’t win with a northern Christian, and APC’s national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, said the Muslim-Muslim ticket is “the reality of our politics.” So, it’s all about electoral fortunes, not the national interest!

But if Tinubu wins next year, he will set a dangerous course in religious disharmony. First, Nigeria would be utterly unstable under a Muslim-Muslim presidency, a tinderbox waiting to explode. Second, assuming Tinubu wins and does two terms, he would be succeeded by a Northern-Muslim president. That means that from 2015 to 2039, Nigeria would be under a Muslim presidency for 24 consecutive years. Is that sustainable?

Truth is, a Tinubu presidency would be catastrophic for ethnic and religious harmony. A President Tinubu would lengthen the Igbo’s route to the presidency by 16 years and entrench Muslim hegemony over Nigeria by 24 continuous years. Which is why an Atiku presidency would be a lesser evil than a Tinubu presidency!

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