Last Sunday night, a former military Head of State, and now the All Progressives Congress, presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was quoted on Channels Television as saying that, he did not mind fielding a Muslim as his running mate if, his party, the APC, thought this would be a good strategy to win the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria.
In the interview, Buhari recalled that Gen. Yakubu Gowon as the Head of State in the seventies “filled his government with Christians”, “Buhari/Idiagbon” were Muslims when they ruled in the 80s, and that “Nigerians voted a Muslim/Muslim” in the M.K.O. 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 fuelled by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
First, Buhari seems to have totally ignored the changing role of religion in our national, local, even domestic lives. In the 70s, religion was not an issue, and views were not influenced by religious outpourings. That has drastically changed over the years, starting from the early 80s when the Maitasine riots swept through some parts of Northern Nigeria, 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 the Head of State, or the Nigeria of 1983 when Buhari and Idiagbon were military rulers, or the Nigeria of 1993 when Abiola and Kingibe ran a Muslim/Muslim ticket. The Christian community in Nigeria has fears of a perceived Islamisation agenda, based on the ongoing 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 Abiola, because nobody saw him purely as a Muslim, though they knew him as a practising 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 Abiola making donations to churches and Christian organisations. If MKO resurrects today, Nigerians across religion persuasions would still cast their votes for him.
Abiola was loved by Christians and Muslims, when he contested the Presidency. Buhari will do himself a lot of good if he realises that some Christian communities do not love him the way they loved Abiola. Comparing himself to an Abiola, would therefore be a suicidal political miscalculation as well as falsification of history. Buhari is not an MKO, and can’t enjoy the benefits of an MKO.
Babatope Babalobi is the Coordinator of the Movement for Revolutionary Change firstname.lastname@example.org,+2348035897435