By Babatope Babalobi
Last Sunday night, former military head of state and All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential aspirant, General Muhammadu Buhari, was quoted on Channels Television as saying that he does not mind fielding a Muslim as his running mate if his party, the APC, thinks this would be a good strategy to win the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria. In the interview, Buhari recalled that General Yakubu Gowon as Head of State in the seventies ‘filled his government with Christians’, ‘Buhari/Idiagbon’ were Muslims when they ruled in the eighties, and ‘Nigerians voted a Muslim/Muslim‘ in the MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe Social Democratic 1993 presidential ticket; and ‘nobody complained’.
There are several imports and lessons from Buhari’s reaction to the possibility of a Muslim/Muslim ticket by Nigeria’s leading opposition party- the APC. I think this is his first response since the controversy started, and was fueled by Nigeria’s unofficial kingmaker- Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
- First, Buhari seems to have totally ignored the changing role of religion in our national, local, even domestic life. In the the seventies, religion was not an issue, and views were not influenced by religious coutpourings That has drastically changed over the years, starting from the early eighties when the Maitasine riots swept through some parts of Northern Nigerian, to the more recent Boko Haram socio-religious genocide predominantly in Northern Nigeria.
- One expects the retired General to know that Nigeria of 2014 is different from Nigeria of 1975 when Gowon was Head of State, or the Nigeria of 1983 when Buhari and Idiagbon were Military rulers, or the Nigeria of 1993 when MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe ran a Muslim/Muslim ticket. The Christian community in Nigeria has fears of a perceived Islamisation agenda, based on going the persecution, mass murder, and massacre of their colleagues in the North by a group of extremists of religious extraction known as Boko Haram.
- By choosing to ignore the dominant role of religion in contemporary national life in Nigeria, Buhari either deliberately embarked on political irrationalism for his political advantage or portrayed himself in the eyes of his detractors, as a person stubbornly committed to his religious persuasion, even when this is to his political disadvantage.
- Buhari had a golden opportunity with his recent interview on the possibility of a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the APC, to prove that he is tolerant of other religious tendencies, but he messed it up. His comments in the interview may be insensitive to the views of other religious adherents.
- As a Christian, a Muslim/Muslim ticket may not be an issue for me, but the characters of the person that holds the ticket matters.. I am ready to vote for a Muslim/Muslim in present day Nigeria, if I believe the holders of the ticket are religiously tolerant and will keep religion out of the state as much as possible, or as much as required. Christians voted massively for the Late MKO Abiola, because nobody saw him purely as a Muslim, though they knew him as a practicing Muslim. As far as the time I was in primary school, many years before he declared his Presidential bid, I have read stories in the media of Late MKO Abiola making donations to churches and christian organisations. If MKO resurrects today, Nigerians across religions persuasions would still cast there votes for him.
- MKO Abiola was loved by Christians and Muslims, when he contested for Presidency. Buhari will do himself a lot of good if he realizes that some christian communities do not love him the way they loved MKO. Comparing himself to an MKO, would therefore be a suicidal political miscalculation as well on falsification of history. Buhari is not an MKO, and cant enjoy the benefits of an MKO.
- I hope the APC would be wiser and dumped the possibility of a Muslim/Muslim as speculated by Buhari. The party should be aware that it is already labelled an Islamic party, and a presidential ticket that does not respect religious interests would accentuate this label.
- In conclusion, I believe a Muslim/Muslim APC ticket especially if the ticket is headed by a Buhari, would be a walk over for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, as most Christians would end up voting for President Jonathan no matter how bad his first tenure of governance is perceived. A word is enough for the wise.
*Babalobi is the Coordinator of the Movement for Revolutionary Change (MRC). He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and phone no 234=8035897435