BusinessDay

Muslim-Muslim ticket: what’s the fuss?

On October 1, 1960, when the British Union Jack gave way for Nigeria’s Green-White-Green, it was a signal of great hope for Nigeria. It represented the end of colonial rule and a pathway for Nigeria, with its vast population and diversity in ethnicity, religious beliefs, language, inter alia, to realize its potential and truly become an exemplary giant of Africa.

With this hope, the first indigenous administration began with Tafawa Balewa as the head of government. However, against expectations, there were ethnic rivalries and political issues, notably the January 1966 coup d’état, the July 1966 bloody countercoup, and the civil war, and the first republic collapsed, ushering in thirteen years of military rule.

The second attempt at democracy in 1979 ended abruptly, as yet again in 1983 the civilian government of Shehu Shagari was sacked by the Jackboots and brass hats. Nigeria was under military rule until 1993 when General Babangida created two political parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republic Convention (NRC) to contest in the 1993 general elections for a civilian government.

Moshood K.O. Abiola, a businessman from Ogun state and a Muslim at the time, contested on the platform of the SDP and had as his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, another Muslim. The NRC on the other hand had as its flagbearer, Bashir Tofa, a Muslim with Sylvester Ugoh, an Igbo Christian as his running mate. According to a 1993 report by the human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, on election day, which was July 12, 1993, more than thirty percent of registered voters went to the polls, which was a significant turnout in a country where many potential voters had become disillusioned by years of government’s discouragement of popular participation and incessant manipulation of the transition. The Nigerian Election Monitoring Group commended Nigerians for the “visible high degree of political maturity and patience in the conduct of the presidential elections. With very few exceptions, it was reported that the voting went smoothly and fairly. In this untainted atmosphere of unity and desire for change, Abiola emerged as Nigeria’s president-elect with Kingibe. And there were no reports of any brows raised or fuss about a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Nearly 30 years after, the presidential flag-bearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one time Lagos state governor, has chosen his running mate, former governor of Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima Mustapha. However, this Muslim-Muslim ticket has seen widespread criticism since its announcement. When did a Muslim-Muslim ticket become a concern for the electorate? When did the religion of the candidate become such an important aspect of our secular country? What happened in the past 30 years to create this degree of unsettlement? Three main reasons have been identified and are expatiated on below.

1. The Military to Civilian government exchange

Before the 1993 elections, the military government had ruled for almost ten years. The maladministration, absence of the rule of law, and general high-handedness that characterized military rule was something that Nigerians at the time were desperate to forgo – a desperation one might say is akin to that felt in the 2015 elections which ushered in the President Buhari administration. A change of government through democratic means was therefore the paramount thought of the electorate. Nigeria wanted a new government where public opinion mattered and one where democratic principles would be observed. However, the position is quite different now, where all candidates are being evaluated on the basis of their ability to uphold democratic ideals.

2. The rise of unconstitutional elements based on Islam

Over the years, several sects that claim their causes have credence based on Islam, including Boko Haram, have committed unconstitutional acts, and have continued to rise unfettered, without any disavowal by most Muslims in government or religious authority.
The country is rife with kidnappings, killings, and lack of security justified solely on the professed beliefs of one religious group. As of today, over 1000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria. Furthermore, repentant members of the sect or those that were arrested were granted amnesty, not punished. And even at present, the allegations against Shettima, a man who is in the running to become the Vice President of the nation, are still yet to be effectively investigated. Although to give the man a piece of the Agave flower, the former governor allegedly rebuilt a church for Christians living in Borno state when it was razed down by members of Boko Haram.
The continuous and unaddressed flagrant disdain for the constitution and the rule of law presents a pressing burden on many, particularly those with different beliefs. If this is the current state of the nation, what will happen with two Muslims in the highest offices in the land?

Read also: PFN says Muslim-Muslim ticket will further polarise Nigeria

3. The reputation of the candidates

At the time when Abiola contested to be Nigeria’s president in 1983, he was known as a philanthropist and someone who would lead an efficient administration. His success in his many businesses also showed his prowess in management. While Tinubu and Shettima may have many attractive qualities, several allegations have arisen against both – Tinubu with the allegations of corruption including a history in drug dealing and, as earlier mentioned Shettima, with harbouring terrorists. None of these gives the discerning electorate any confidence that should these candidates succeed, the leadership would be characterised by adherence to the rule of law, the democratic ideals of freedom of religion, and the vision of our founding fathers for this nation.

Legal considerations of a Muslim-Muslim ticket in today’s Nigeria

Flowing from the above, there is a great concern about what this union spells for Nigeria’s constitutional secularity.
Some say that the provision of section 15 (3) (d) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is being contravened. The section provides that it is the duty of the state to promote or encourage the formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious, or other sectional barriers. Although this section does not speak directly to the union of a president and his running mate, it is still important that ethnic and religious diversity are reflected in the country’s topmost offices. Also, section 15 (4) of the Constitution imposes on the State, the duty to foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.

Although there are no express prohibitions on the choice of a running mate in an election, the spirit of the law as espoused in section 15 (4) is to the effect that the organs of government have a duty to foster an environment where ethnic and religious conflict is not the order of the day.
Still, there are those who insist that there is no cause for alarm because there are constitutional provisions that guarantee that Nigeria remains a secular state. Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution provides that the government of the Federation shall not adopt any religion as a state religion. Also, Nigeria has been a member of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, an organization for countries having a Muslim majority and who are members of the United Nations Islamic countries and yet Nigeria maintains its secularity.

However, Section 9 of the Constitution provides that the National Assembly has the power to alter the provisions of the Constitution. Giving the mandate to govern Nigeria to a group of persons who share similar interests, thoughts and feelings about critical aspects of our democracy provides leverage to amend, review, or make certain laws which may not be in the interest of the nation. According to Section 9(2) of the constitution, a two-thirds majority vote by the National Assembly is enough to amend some provisions of the Constitution, in some cases, even less. It provides that only a two-thirds majority of all members in either the House or the National Assembly shall be passed to alter any provisions of the Constitution except Chapter IV of the Constitution which provides for Fundamental Human Rights. The Constitution by its provisions envisages some sort of balance, a sense of belonging among the different tribes, tongues, and cultures in Nigeria, more so, to ensure unity of the over 180 million persons with different thoughts and ideals.

Conclusion

The Nigeran Electorate yield great power. Without the evidence of the electorate voting in elections, there can be no democratic government. This is the essence of democracy – the people can choose how they wish to be governed and choose persons who can carry out their mandate.
Having two Muslims or Christians in the highest office in a secular society ordinarily should not be an issue. The advantage of a multi-ethnic and religious society such as ours is that principles from several perspectives can be introduced for the holistic development of the nation and its people. For instance, the Sukuk bonds, which are now a major source of funding for governments and organisations are based on Islamic principles, and no one has raised a shout decrying Muslim policies in the government. Non-Muslims and Muslims alike benefit from these bonds and so does the nation. The issue arises when there is no basis for faith that the power of the office would not be abused in the interest of religious beliefs.
Principles that are restrictive, impede freedom and do not enhance development or progress, no matter they stem from, will always be met with resistance. Therefore, it is imperative that the focus should be on the issues that affect the day-to-day of most Nigerians, irrespective of belief systems – food, shelter, security, power supply etc – devoid of any sectional sentiments or loyalties.

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