OPINION – APC and religious shadow that won’t go away

Nigeria has weighty issues that should be the focus of this 2022/23 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, the decision made by Tinubu has kept on taking the attention of Nigerians away from the critical issues of survival that should occupy their minds.

By Azuka Onwuka

Since the presidential primaries were conducted between late May and early June, the two big political parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, have been embroiled in controversies. Some of them are circumstantial, but most of them are self-inflicted.

The breach of the rotational presidency arrangement in the PDP with the election of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is from the North, as its presidential candidate at a time it should be the turn of the South, specifically the South-East, is the main cause of the dissatisfaction in the PDP. The second is the poor management of the defeat of the Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.

The reasoning behind PDP’s disregard for its zoning arrangement by electing Abubakar as its presidential candidate at a time its chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, is also from the North, tells that “only a northerner can defeat the incumbent APC.”

However, the crisis facing the APC seems deeper and intractable. Unlike the PDP, the APC zoned its presidential ticket to the South, even though it did not go the whole hog by zoning it to the South-East, which is the only zone in the South that has not had its turn since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Having won the primaries, Senator Bola Tinubu, who is a Muslim from the South-West, was expected to select a Christian running mate from the North so as to reflect the approximate 50-50 Muslim-Christian balance in Nigeria. He was advised to do so by many individuals and groups.

Eventually, he chose Alhaji Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim from the North-East. The reasoning behind it is that the chances of Tinubu winning the election would be brighter with a Muslim from the North, given that Northerners, who are mainly Muslims, would most likely vote because of a Muslim running mate than a Christian running mate. The implication is that Tinubu, as a Muslim from the South, is not “Muslim” enough to represent the interests of the Muslims from the North.

There have been fierce reactions since the announcement of Shettima on July 10 as Tinubu’s running mate. Some APC loyalists have parted ways with the party in anger.

The import of Tinubu’s overlooking of the Northern Christian community in his choice of a running mate is that a Northern Christian is not good enough to be the President of the country. If Tinubu and those who share his view believe that the North will not vote for him if he has a Christian running mate, it means that a Christian from the North can never be the President of Nigeria for the same reason that the North will not vote for a Northern Christian. It is a huge slight, which Christian Northerners like the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, former Secretary to the Government of Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, and many others find too hard to take.

The second implication is that a Nigerian president can be elected without the input of Christians. If this succeeds, it will become the norm.

Given the backlash that followed that action, the APC postponed the public presentation of its presidential running mate. With the benefit of hindsight, the reason for that postponement has become obvious. Earlier, the PDP, Labour Party, New Nigeria People’s Party and other parties had presented their running mates without any fanfare. But the APC chose an elaborate presentation, ostensibly, to prove those who oppose the Muslim-Muslim ticket wrong. And so, on July 20, many men and women dressed as priests and bishops attended the presentation.

Their appearance raised eyebrows because they were not known in the Nigerian Christendom. There was something out of place in both their dressing and carriage. Most of their vestments were rumpled. Some were over-sized. Some were too wide around the collar, indicating that the wearers were not the real owners. Some of the skullcaps or zucchettos were too small. Then those who wore the attire of Catholic priests wore the wrong colours which were out of tune with the Christian season, while some wore attire which should not be worn outside the church or a particular church rite.

In addition, after the event, they refused to speak to the media and even covered their faces with their bags when the media persisted. One even attempted to smash the recording device of one of those who was videoing them.

It was alleged that those were not priests and bishops. There were even claims that some of them were Muslims in real life. The APC and the Tinubu-Shettima campaign were accused of trying to prove too hard that they had the endorsement of Christians, thereby hiring some people to dress up in priestly garb. This was seen as disrespect to Christianity, an act that could have led to riots if a Christian presidential candidate had done it to the Islamic faith.

The Tinubu Campaign Organisation responded that the people were indeed ministers of God but “upcoming” ones yet to be known across the country. However, the campaign organisation did not explain why they wore wrong vestments, oversized vestments, rumpled vestments and the like.

Inviting those people to the presentation of Shettima was completely unnecessary. There are two things open to Tinubu: either to accept that he was wrong and replace Shettima, if it is still possible, or to simply forge ahead with him. Trying too hard to prove that he has the support of Christian clerics will lead him into more mistakes.

Even though it is the right of Tinubu to choose whoever he likes as his running mate, while it is the right of Nigerians to decide, through their votes, if they support that or not, the decision of Tinubu to deviate from the traditional Christian-Muslim ticket at a time like this when Nigeria is facing religious tension and violence has unnecessarily thrown up the issue of religion to the fore in the presidential discourse.

Nigeria is facing existential threats from religious-cum-ethnic militias in addition to unprecedented economic hardship. In the past three weeks, the capital city of Abuja has been under attack repeatedly. First, gunmen attacked the Kuje Custodian Centre and released detained terror suspects and other inmates. While they operated at the prison for hours, there was no report that security operatives responded to them. Weeks later, they attacked the 7 Guards Battalion of the Nigerian Army Presidential Guards Brigade, killing three members. Then some days ago, they attacked a military checkpoint at the entrance into Abuja. Their message is that they are no longer contented with operating at the fringes.

Last week, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, announced that in the first quarter of 2022, Nigeria’s total revenue stood at N1.63 trillion while debt servicing stood at N1.94 trillion, a difference of over N300 billion. The implication is that Nigeria needs to borrow more money to service its debts. Last week too, for the first time, the dollar exchanged for over 700 naira, fuelling fears that it could go beyond one thousand naira before the end of the year.

Aviation fuel is scarce. Airlines are wailing. Petrol is scarce. Diesel is scarce. By July, the national grid had collapsed six times this year. Companies find it hard to run their production lines because of non-availability of electricity and scarcity of fuel to power their generators. Inflation was 18.6 per cent in June, compared to 17.71 per cent in May.

Therefore, Nigeria has weighty issues that should be the focus of this 2022/23 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, the decision made by Tinubu has kept on taking the attention of Nigerians away from the critical issues of survival that should occupy their minds.

Onwuka is a newspaper columnist and author.

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