By Femi Fani -Kayode
I am very fond of Dr. Babachir Lawal and I have great respect and affection for him but I beg to differ with him on this issue. What he has said is simply not true and those that espouse and share the views that he has expressed are playing a dangerous and divisive game. Unlike him I do not see a Muslim/Muslim ticket but rather a Tinubu/Shettima ticket. They are both human beings and Nigerians before being Muslims. We should at least accord them that consideration and respect.
I believe that one of the most mischevous, cruel, illogical and uncharitable things we can do is to measure a man’s worth by his religious faith alone and refuse to see anything in him other than that. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shettima, his running mate, may be Muslims but their faith does not define them. What defines them is their character, vision and ability to perform well in office and their commitment to a united, peaceful, fair, just, equitable and prosperous Nigeria. Another thing that defines them, though to a lesser extent, is their ethnic nationality and where they come from in the country.
In this case one is a Yoruba (from the South Western zone) whilst the other is a Kanuri (from the North Eastern zone), both proud and noble ethnic groups with a rich, civilised and ancient cultural and historical heritage and empire which go back thousands of years and neither of which was EVER conquered, subjugated or occupied by any other African ethnic nationality or power in their entire history. These are the things that are relevant and that define each of these two men and not their faith.
In any case, how can conceding the position of the Vice President which, with all due respect has limited powers, to a Muslim constitute a threat to our great and mighty Christian faith and how can it overwhelm the wishes and aspirations of the 110 million Christians in our country? This seems to me to be far-fetched and absurd.
It is true that for many years the practice has been to balance the ticket and pair Christians and Muslims when it comes to leadership positions and governance in this country in order to make adherents of both faiths feel secure. Yet other than the comforting optics one wonders just how much security such an arrangement really afforded adherents of both faiths?
Did it stop Boko Haram and ISWAP from killing both Christians and Muslims respectively? Did it stop Christian mobs and militias in the North killing Muslims over the years? Did it stop Muslim mobs and militias slaughtering Christians in the North? Did it stop Christian secessionist, in the guise of unknown gunmen, targetting and murdering both Christians and Muslims in the East?
Did it save the life of the young lady Deborah in Sokoto when she was hacked to pieces and burnt alive or that of the young man Gideon Akaluka when he was beheaded in Kano? We have tried this balancing formula for many years and it really does not seem to have provided the intended results or worked too well.
Consider the plight of Northern Christians over the last 22 years even though we have had two Christian Presidents over that period of time and a Christian Vice President who happens to be a Pastor over the last seven.
Again consider the plight of Muslims in the core North and the Middle Belt over the same period of time even though we have had two Muslim Presidents and two Muslim Vice Presidents.
When barbaric acts and unspeakable atrocities are committed against defenceless civilian populations, including women and children and when people are targetted for their faith or ethnicity without consequence, surely it is a failure of leadership and nothing to do with the religious faith of the President or his Vice.
Given that, perhaps it is time to try something new and provide a more innovative approach. Perhaps it is time for us to start focusing on factors other than faith when it comes to electing our leaders.
Besides which, from an intellectual perspective, when it comes to matters of leadership and national issues and practices nothing is cast in iron and nothing is static: we are meant to evolve. Leaders ought to be elected on the basis of their quality and competence coupled with their ability to attract and deliver as many votes as possible and not their faith.
Anything less than that is an emotional rather than a rational approach. Today we have a Muslim/Muslim ticket vying for power at the center and tomorrow, by God’s grace, we shall have a Christian/Christian one.
That is progress and let me remind the skeptics that this has just been achieved in Osun state, where a Christian/Christian ticket won the Governorship election and it happened in Kaduna state a few years ago when a Muslim/Muslim ticket did the same.
In either case the Heavens did not fall. Thankfully there are Christians all over this country from both the North and the South who are in the APC and who do not share Lawal’s view. There are also millions of Christians who are not affiliated to any political party all over the country that disagree with him.
The truth is that it would serve our interests better as Christians to negotiate for and insist on key positions in the incoming Government of Bola Tinubu for members of our faith in return for our votes rather than continuously whining and lamenting, threatening fire and thunder, labelling him as an anti-Christ, indulging in mass hysteria, delusion and fear-mongering and acting as if Christianity would face an existential threat under his watch.
Can a deal really be negotiated and cut? Is this doable? In my view it most certainly is and this is the time to start such talks and open such discussions and negotiations rather than playing to the public gallery and grandstanding.
Those that doubt that this can be achieved should consider the innovative and unique power-sharing arrangement between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and read up on what is known as the ‘Lebanese formula’.
After their prolonged and horrendous civil war which raged through the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s this negotiated formula and settlement, which was enshrined in their constitution, brought relative peace to that hitherto beleaguered nation.
For the record, no-one can undermine or eliminate Christianity in Nigeria even if they wanted to do so and neither is anyone trying. Our faith teaches us that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church” so why panic? It teaches us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind”, so why the fear? It teaches us that “Christ in us our hope in glory”, so why worry? It teaches us that “the battle belongs to the Lord” and that “all things work for good for those who love Him”, so why the doubt? It teaches us that “the righteous shall live by faith”, so why the lack of faith? We are too big and too strong to harbour such fears and our God is too mighty.
Bola Tinubu’s incoming Government will be one of the most liberal, rational, reasonable, compassionate, caring, progressive and Christian-friendly administrations in the history of our country and we have absolutely nothing to fear. I can vouch for that and I am prepared to stick my neck out for it.
If it had been otherwise I would have been the one to lead the charge against him and neither would I hold anything back because my faith is everything to me.
In addition to this, consider the following.
For the last 62 years the people of the South West more than any other have stood by those that are known as the Northern minorities which include the Northern Christians. It seems strange that when it is time for them to reciprocate that support, gesture and affection and stand with a son of the South West for the presidential election some of these people are opposing him on the grounds that he has chosen a Muslim as his running mate.
They have shouted about domination at the hands of the Fulani since time immemorial but today they are saying they would rather support yet another Fulani for President than a Yoruba. Does this make sense? Is there not a contradiction there?
For the first time in the history of our country the key players and ruling party in the core North, including the Fulani, has not only agreed but insisted on conceding power to the South and it is a few Northern Christians that are now opposing this on religious grounds?
Is it because Tinubu is a Muslim?
When some advocated for power shift to the South they never said it must shift to a Southern Christian and neither would that have made sense.
They said it must shift to the South, whether Christian or Muslim and that is the right and proper thing to do. We must rise above these petty differences and attempt to unite our people rather than divide them.
A nation that has 20 Christian Governors and only 16 Muslim ones cannot be Islamised and neither will it allow for the oppression, killing and elimination of Northern Christians from the political and economic system.
A country in which a Chirstian/Christian ticket just won a Governorship election in Osun state which is 50 % Muslim cannot be Islamised and neither will it allow for the oppression, killing and elimination of Northern Christians from the political and economic system.
A country in which every single Governor in the South, since the Osun election, is a Christian cannot be islamised and neither will it allow for the oppression, killing and elimination of Northern Christians from the political and economic system.
A country led by a man like BAT who, though a Muslim, has as many Christians as he does Muslims in his family, including his wife who is a Pastor in a Pentecostal Church cannot be Islamised and neither will it allow for the oppression, killing and elimination of Northern Christians from the political and economic system.
And as a matter of fact there is no historical record of Yoruba Muslims hiding in bushes and forests and killing Northern or Southern Christians, so why the fear and hate? Why the attempt to generate panic and hysteria?
Why the suggestion that under BAT, Christians are faced with an existential threat? Why the misrepresentation of intention? Why the demonisation?
Was it not BAT that gave Lagos state public schools back to the Christian Missions? Was it not him that gave more land to some of the largest Pentecostal mega-Churches to build on than any other Governor in the history of Lagos? Was it not him that ensured that the last two Governors of Lagos state were practising Pentecostal Christians?
Was it not him that ensured that for the last two presidential elections a Pentecostal Christian Pastor from the South West that he nominated was elected as our Vice President? I could go on and on. We must rise above this faith-baiting and fear-mongering and instead seek to build bridges of unity, peace and harmony.
It is not about having a Christian or a Muslim leader, it is about having a righteous leader that will protect the interests of every Nigerian regardless of their faith. A Tinubu/Shettima Presidency would do precisely that. Of this I have no doubt. God bless Nigeria.
Fani-Kayode is a former Minister of Aviation.