Nigeria is clearly one of the most religious countries in the world, with every street, every corner boasting of either a church or a mosque. The business of religion is also perhaps one of the most lucrative in Nigeria with many religious groups noted more for commerce, hustling, and mass hypnotism rather than piety with a yawning gap between private and public morality as the people commit atrocities in the name of GOD.
Religion has always been a driven wedge among Nigerians, Religion Etymologically is driven from the Latin word “Religare” which means “to bind together” but rather than bind the people of Nigeria together religion has divided them along sectarian lines. It’s the oxygen of devious power politics, mass murder, terror, and the plague of amorality. The storm is still raging across the country especially within the Christian community after the presidential candidate of the APC Asiwaju Bola Tinubu unveiled Senator Kashim Shettima Northern Muslim as his running mate. It has generated a lot of controversies.
In normal circumstances and going by the convention the candidate is generally expected to choose a running mate from the Christian faith to balance the geopolitical permutations and create a feeling of belonging to most ethnic and religious groups in the country. In any event, such a combination will appear to give vent to the constitutional requirement that appointment and indeed elections of officers of the country should reflect the federal character principle as enshrined in section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution as amended. This is just an academic exercise as there is no clear provision in the constitution that presidential candidates and their running mates should reflect certain religions.
In 1993 the SDP (Social Democratic Party) presented a Muslim-Muslim Presidential ticket in the persons of late Chief Moshood Abiola from the south and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe from the north. Their election was adjudged the freest and fairest ever was however annulled by the military before the winners could be sworn in. There was indeed no record of protest from the Christian population in the country then. In fact, the result already certified showed clearly then that the Abiola-Kingibe SDP ticket did better in Kano Constituency than their opponent in the NRC Bashir Tofa– Sylvester Ugoh ticket. In the same vein Tofa- Ugoh ticket did better than Abiola- Kingibe in the south-south stronghold of SDP Rivers State then. Such was the beauty of political diversity in the country we seem to have lost to poor leadership at the moment.
Similarly, in 1979 Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria ran a Christian-Christian ticket, all southerners, Ogun-Anambra ticket with Philips Umeadi. Also, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe presidential candidate of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) picked his running mate from Southern Kaduna that was Dr. Ishaya Audu a Christian. That was once upon a time in Nigeria. Under the Shehu Shagari Administration, Shagari was a Muslim and a Fulani but the Senate President, The Speaker House of Representatives and all his Service chiefs were Christians. The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) did not take religion into consideration hence its adoption of the Christian-Christian ticket.
The constitution states that before a presidential candidate is deemed nominated, he must choose a Vice president who will run with him on the same ticket but there is nowhere in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria where religion is a factor or characteristic as to who becomes the president or who becomes his running mate. We must endeavor to put Nigeria first and not toy with anything that will divide us into religious or ethnic grounds. There is no doubt that Senator Shettima is a competent man. He is educated, experienced, articulate, and fit. He has served as a commissioner five times in his state Borno in different ministries, Governor for eight years, and a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a two-term Governor in Borno state, Shettima enjoyed the support of the Christian community throughout his tenure. In fact, the Borno chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) testified “In the history of Borno state there is no Governor that has been fair to the Christian community as much as Governor Kashim Shettima” (Vanguard July 12, 2022).
The Constitution further emphasizes integrity, national ethics shall be discipline, dignity of labor, self-reliance, and patriotism. The argument is that a Yoruba Candidate from the southwest needs to generate electoral support from the core northern Muslim electorates to win. The reasoning in the APC camp is that the 2023 election might be a close call with the labour party taking significant southern and Christian votes and kwankwaso’s NNPP and Atiku’s PDP taking a bigger chunk of the votes in the core north, therefore it’s an analysis and a political calculation and not a religious motive.
It’s unfortunate when we should be scrutinizing the Quality of the agenda and indeed manifestoes of our presidential candidates, we are not asking questions about the capacity of our candidates to take the country out of the economic predicament we are focusing on their religion. Religion, ethnicity, and geopolitical zones should not be the yardsticks for measuring the competency and capability of a candidate but rather, the implementation of projects based on a track record in the areas of the economy, security, education, and infrastructure should be the leading factors in selecting a particular candidate regardless of political party affiliation.