Election season is upon Nigeria and political activities have taken centre stage. Based on the sentiments emanating across the country, there is little doubt the 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria would be influenced less by tangibles like the condition of the public education system, insecurity, the state of infrastructure or the economy. But more, by intangibles like ethnoreligious sentiments and affiliation.
The Presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu picked former Governor of Borno and serving Senator, Kashim Shettima as his running mate. This decision generated a lot of condemnation because it makes their candidature the same faith ticket; not the first of its kind in Nigeria’s political history, but a daring, or as some would say, insensitive move in the tensed polity of today’s Nigeria.
Ethno-religious tensions in Nigeria are presently on steroids and the need for inclusive, symbolic representation can’t be discountenanced. Hence, those who perceive the ticket as an affront to the religious diversity of the country can’t be faulted. Also, competency can’t preclude religious balance as the two aren’t mutually exclusive and no religion can claim exclusive preserve of competency. That’s why arguments in support of this same faith ticket cannot honestly be premised on competency but rather on political expediency.
The real reason behind the same faith ticket is — political expediency and every other reason is specious. It’s no longer news that what is most important for a candidate and a party confronting an election is a winning strategy because clinching political power is the sole purpose for establishing political parties. So, when viewed from the prism of political expediency the same faith ticket exposes the realities of the ability to generate votes, voter demographic and political strategy all of which need to be considered to emerge victorious.
In choosing a running mate Bola Tinubu was in a catch-22 situation because the conventional North-South binary in Nigeria presupposes that the North is largely Muslim, and the South is largely Christian. What this implies is that Christians are minorities in the North and Muslims a minority in the South. As a Muslim from the South contesting for the Presidency, he’s swimming against the tide of the convention. Therefore, a presidential ticket with two minorities is akin to running a race from a handicapped position.
From the angle of political strategy, we can deduce that to checkmate the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the Presidential candidate of the PDP, the APC Presidential candidate’s choice of a running mate from the same geopolitical zone as Atiku (North East) to counter his strength is a deft strategy as it’s an attempt to split whatever bloc votes the PDP candidate would expect from his geopolitical zone. It is a tactical offensive to share the votes of the PDP candidate from his origin.
In the build-up to the forthcoming election, there’s a lot of outcry in support of the Presidency rotating to the South based on the elite consensus that the Presidency should rotate between the North and South and a prevailing perception that President Buhari has mismanaged the diversity of the country. Should Atiku emerge victorious in the election, Nigeria could witness 16 uninterrupted years of Presidency from the North. Reducing a president to his native identity is pedestrian and distracts from the substantive but not acknowledging Nigeria is an abode of identity politics is denying reality.
Back to the “Muslim- Muslim” ticket, there are no grounds for Muslims to consider the same faith ticket as a form of triumphalism nor should Christians see it as an existential threat to the practice of their faith. The same faith ticket is a strategy to win an election, not an Islamisation agenda. The same faith ticket doesn’t in any way represent Islam or even the interest of Muslims as the candidates can’t be described as exemplifiers of the ideals of pristine Islam nor are they going to Aso rock to strictly represent the interests of Muslims. Rather, what the ticket implies is that the ruling party understands the voting behaviour of its stronghold and is pandering with the selection of a candidate with a shared identity as a form of manipulation to curry votes.
The scaremongering and sensationalism are needless because Nigeria is almost evenly distributed between Muslims and Christians, such that none through state sanction can forcefully convert the other or successfully persecute the other adherents for the practice of religion. The cries and condemnation of the ticket provoke the thought that victory is a fait accompli when the option of voting against it exists. Interestingly, the APC wagers that those condemning aren’t APC-inclined voters hence, their condemnation is irrelevant. The only way to protest this decision in a way that would teach APC a lesson is to vote against the party and make it lose. A victory for APC, even with the criticism their ticket has caused, only confirms their permutation.
The inability to deduce that politicians jostling for power are merely appealing to sentiments that could translate as votes would cause a rude shock should APC emerge victorious and Bola Tinubu and Shettima have to overcompensate/ bend over to whittle down the perception that their sectional given the proclivity of Nigerians to interpret security, socio-political and economic issues through the ethnoreligious lens.
Ideally, Nigerians ought to be evaluating candidates on the content of their character, quality of their vision, antecedents, pragmatism, past accomplishments and capacity to combat our many existential challenges. Nigeria is at a precipice because insecurity is rife, the economy is in shambles and inflation is biting hard on the common man. The faith of a candidate and his running mate, whether the same or different can’t automatically solve our problems. But the reality check is public discourse is steep in ethnoreligious affiliations and sentiments that tamper with reasoning. Therefore, till the election is conducted next year, Nigeria’s polity would continue to reverberate with sentiments for or against Tinubu’s gamble.
Notably, Tinubu’s resort to political brinkmanship has dispassionate calculation written all over it and it has pissed off prominent members of his party from the Northern Christian extraction who have vowed to oppose it because they feel sidelined. Despite this disunity in his party, his campaign exudes chutzpah that perceives the sensibilities being rattled by the same faith ticket as collateral damage of an impending victory. We can regard the outrage of these rebel members as performative but can’t help but wonder if this opposition, should it prevail till the election, would hurt Tinubu’s chances considering that the parts of Northern Nigeria with a significant Christian population have been PDP inclined from 1999 till date.
Nonetheless, Tinubu’s choice is being hailed by his supporters as a political calculative and strategic decision that makes victory within their grasp but what happens after victory?
The strategy could well turn out to be wrong and backfire. It could provoke a strong opposition driven by negative sentiments and propaganda that galvanizes Christian voters around the federation against his candidature even penetrating the South-West geopolitical zone, his stronghold, denying him bloc votes to complement what he envisages from the North and other parts of Nigeria to earn the national spread that would guarantee him victory.
The election is less than 7 months away and no analysis is cast in stone. However, Tinubu’s political brinkmanship would not be devoid of consequences, be they positive or negative. In my scenario analysis below, I state a few of them:
- That his strategy works out and his choice of a running mate garners him enough votes in the North to complement his expected bloc votes from the South-West to guarantee him a national spread that could lead to a victory.
- That his strategy backfires and his stronghold the South-West, not immune from the negative sentiments and propaganda that trails his same faith ticket splits their votes and affects his chances of having bloc votes.
- That his strategy backfires and the Northern Muslim demography whom he’s enticing with his choice of running mate doesn’t vote for him and settles for either Kwankwaso or Atiku two other Northerners contesting the Presidency.
- That he clinches a pyrrhic victory and the ethnoreligious cleavages of the country are accentuated upon his win, making the polity difficult to govern and secure.
On a final note, ethnoreligious sentiments have had an overbearing influence on Nigeria’s politics from time immemorial. Nigerians care less about tribe and religion in endeavours other than politics and this is because the countrys disunity is exacerbated by political elites who collaborate on a pragmatic level to consolidate their positions of power but are skilled at fanning the embers of division to attain power. Little wonder why political inclusivity is always discussed in terms of prebendal/identity politics not developmental spread nor economic prosperity.