By Abdu Rafiu
The position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and several commentators on the controversy surrounding the choice of Vice President in the next dispensation is understandable. What would have passed without a whimper some years ago is today an issue. In 1992 when Moshood Abiola, MKO, picked Babagana Kingibe as his running mate in the June 1993 presidential election, there was no resistance from the Christian Association. Indeed, in quarters that resistance was thinkable, it was rejoicing. Abiola, a Muslim, thus ended up with sharing the presidential ticket with Kingibe, another Muslim and a highly regarded technocrat. But the story is not the same today; the environment was not as toxic then as it is today. The nation has never suffered from the kind of ethnic and sectarian divide with which it is assailed in these times. It is strongly believed that the waves of insecurity sweeping through the country have religious undertones. Earlier this month on a Sunday 05 June to be precise, St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, came under terrorists wielding all manner of weapons and throwing bombs at worshipers. A total of 40 persons were killed and about 87 were injured, distributed to St. Louis Hospital, Federal Medical Centre and two private hospitals, all in Owo. It was an unmitigated evil.
The Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, in a mournful state, said of the attack to Governors of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State and AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara on a sympathy visit: “If you get to the scene, I’m sure it will bring tears out of your eyes. These criminals, these animals in human skin, what they did was horrendous. They did not come to kidnap; they did not come to steal; they took no dime. They went into the church and shot at everything within their sight.” Dapo Abiodun who spoke on behalf of his colleagues said: “Your Excellency, this is an attack too many.”
The nation had hardly recovered from the shock and alarm triggered barely a week from the harrowing kidnapping experience of the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria and two church ranking officers when the Owo incident occurred. Both Owo killings and the Prelate experience overshadowed the abduction of 14 persons in Kaduna within the same period. Just a few days ago, a local chairman of CAN in Benue State was kidnapped from his home together with two other persons. A Bishop travelling with his wife was kidnapped between Ogbomosho and Oyo. Two days ago, four gunmen invaded Celestial Church of Christ, SBJ Oshoffa Parish, Wasinmi, Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State.
It is easy to read the minds of the Christian leaders that if all these could happen in an Administration where a Christian, a Pastor for that matter, in the person of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is Vice-President, what then happens when Christians are not represented at such a high level in which a Muslim is President and Head of Government? It is expected that a Vice-President would be the confidant of his principal. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC; while Atiku Abubakar is the one waving the PDP flag, the platform he had used to ride to power in a joint ticket with Olusegun Obasanjo. Of course, there is Peter Obi who is making waves, particularly among the youths. For him, the choice of a running mate cannot pose a problem. He is unlikely to shop for a Christian deputy and he is reported to have already got into serious discussion with Rabiu Kwankwoso, of NNPP, a strongman of Kano politics, a former governor and a former minister. Atiku too cannot be said to have a problem with the choice of a Vice-Presidential candidate. He is not likely to go looking for Prof. Ishaq Akintola of MURIC for example. As I write, the latest is that he may have settled for Governor Nyesom Wike, his closest rival for the ticket in the party primaries and who has had considerable experience in governance and public service, having been Chief of Staff in River State and Junior Minister alias Minister of State at the Federal level.
The candidate that seems to have a delicate and careful choice to make is Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is flying the APC flag. He is the first Muslim from the South after MKO Abiola to secure the Presidential ticket of a major party in our land. Muslims are pressing that the Vice-President to run with him must be a Muslim, in other words a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The Christians are warning that the Vice-President must be a Christian. Islamic preacher, Sheikh Ibrahim Aliyu Kaduna, spitting fire, threatened to mobilise Muslims to vote against Tinubu on election day should his running mate be a Christian. Rebuking governors from the North for allowing Tinubu to even pick the ticket at all, he said: “Northern governors, especially Muslims amongst you, are treacherous because you have sold our destiny… Now your second error will be to pair him ( Tinubu) with a Christian from our region. This will be disastrous because we would mobilize the people to reject the ticket at the polling units.”
ECWA on its part said: “Given the pluralistic configuration of Nigeria, we have seen deliberate effort since independence to preserve the peace and unity of the country by ensuring that the Presidency is balanced in terms of religion and region. In the First Republic, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Muslim/North was the Prime Minister while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Christian/South) was the President under the parliamentary system. Under the presidential system, we have had Shehu Shagari (Muslim/North) and Alex Ekwueme (Christian/South); Olusegun Obasanjo (Christian/South) and Atiku Abubakar (Muslim/North); Umar Yar’Adua (Muslim/North) and Goodluck Jonathan (Christian/South); and Nnamadi Sambo (Muslim/North) and currently Muhammadu Buhari (Muslim/North) and Yemi Osinbajo Christian/South).
“It is against this backdrop that we are calling on all the political parties to maintain this balance for the 2023 presidential election and to caution those who are brazenly advocating for a Muslim/Muslim ticket to reconsider their unrealistic stance.
“Our position on this is that we do not, and will not support a Christian/Christian ticket or a Muslim/Muslim ticket as this is capable of plunging the country into deep and irredeemable crisis. It is pertinent to restate unequivocally that the corporate existence of Nigeria is founded on the principle of justice, fairness and equity. We must, therefore, do away with primordial sentiments that seek to divide and destroy us and embrace the ideals of peace, love, unity and progress.”
The National Chairman of CAN, Dr. Samson Ayokunle similarly asked parties to resist the temptation to fly a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2023 general elections. He made it plain that such a step would be disastrous for the nation. Bishop Wale Oke speaking on his behalf, said: “It will not fly. It will not stand. The candidate who will emerge is the one who works with the Church”. He went on to say: “Please, do not alienate the Church. If you embrace equity, fairness and justice, the Nigerian electorate will reward you with their votes at the polls and they will give you support.”
From the foregoing pronouncements, it is obvious that Bola Tinubu must be at a crossroads. Forging the way forward will require first understanding the nature and character of the flag bearer. Who is he and what are his records? What are his credentials? Where is he coming from? As a party man, he has fully involved governors of the Northern extraction to consider the subject and advise him. The President, Muhammadu Buhari has also met with the said governors to rub minds. I will come back to this presently. First, yes, Bola Tinubu is a Muslim, but is a liberal one, consistent with the culture of his people in the South West, where spiritual values anyone may profess is not an issue. There is hardly any family that cannot boast of Christians and Muslims and indeed in the older generation, of animists, if not in the nuclear family, certainly in the extended family circles. Bola Tinubu himself is an example. His wife, Oluremi, is not only a Christian but a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church. Tinubu himself was present at her ordination at Redeemed Christian Church Camp, to give her support and rejoice with her. The wife of Raji Babatunde Fashola, Abimbola, is a Roman Catholic. Fashola’s 88-year-old mother is a Roman Catholic, so is her grandmother. Abiola Ajimobi, a former governor of Oyo State was until his last moment on earth married to a Christian, Florence. Dr. Funsho Amosun, wife of Ibikunle Amosun, the former governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun who is a Muslim, is daughter of a Bishop in Osogbo.
The case of Bola Tinubu is even unique. Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu initiated and instituted the yearly Christian interdenominational prayer and thanksgiving session featuring songs and prayers which takes place at the beginning of the year at Lagos State House, Marina. It is usually a gathering of Bishops, Reverends, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church, and several other ranking priests. There is no year Bola Tinubu does not participate in the sessions when he was in the saddle. The programme has been sustained by succeeding First Ladies of Lagos State backed by their husbands.
In his Administration, almost a majority of members of Bola Tinubu’s cabinet were Christians — Professor Idowu Sobowale; Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; Wale Edun; Akinwumi Ambode; Dele Alake; Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Akabueze Ben; Michael Bamidele Opeyemi; Kemi Nelson; Femi Lanlehin; Joe Igbokwe; Babatunde Fowler and Architect Towrey. Mr. Pedro was Deputy Governor; Dare Akin Sunday now a minister, was media adviser. The Speaker of the House of Assembly was Dr Mamora Olorunnimbe, a Christian. Several others headed state agencies. Mrs. Remi Tinubu attended Our Ladies of Apostles, Ijebu-Ode; Kemi Nelson went to Anglican Girls Grammar School, Ijebu-Ode. Dr. Mamora is a product of Ijebu-Ode Grammar School. Yemi Osinbajo attended Igbobi College, an Anglican school; and Idowu Sobowale attended Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, the school Professor Aliyu Babs Fafunwa attended in Lagos. Justice Bola Ajibola is a product of Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta, as MKO Abiola was. Olusegun Obasanjo attended BBHS, Abeokuta as well.
Bola Tinubu was the first governor to return mission and private schools to their owners. Christian missions were the greatest beneficiaries. It is the spirit of liberalism that Governor Gboyega Oyetola took to Osun State. When sectarian tension mounted and was about to get out of hand following Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s misguided extremism, Bola Tinubu rushed to Osogbo, held meetings with Christian leaders, assuring them that he would look into their grievances. He did. No sooner Oyetola, his protégé, assumed office than he returned the schools to their original owners. I am aware the governor of Kwara State, AbduRahman AbdulRazaq, has contacted Oyetola for some tutorials on his magic which dramatically ended sectarian hostilities in Osun state.
The point I am getting at is to demonstrate the nature and culture of the society in which Tinubu grew up and to show that the Christian Association and Christian leaders in general have no problems whatsoever as far as Bola Tinubu is concerned.
What duties in any case are assigned to the Vice-President even though it is a joint ticket he and the president hold? Is the office a threat to any organisation outside the purview of the President? Certainly no. The office of the Vice-President is largely for political correctness and symbolism to infuse in other parts of the country some geographic identity. He is to assist his principal. The Vice-President is assigned duties by the President. It pays if both work collaboratively and the principal accepts advice of his deputy. They do not have to agree on most issues. But the President has the final say. For example, it does not appear that President Buhari and Osinbajo are on the same page on the issue of the state police. Osinbajo said a long time ago the following: “The nature of our security challenges is complex. Securing Nigeria’s over 923,768 square kilometres and its 180 million people requires far more men and materials than we have at the moment. It also requires continual re-engineering of our security architecture and strategies…We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and community policing methods are the way to go.” The President’s position is different, which is why despite nation-wide clamour for the establishment of state police by even Nigerian Governors’ Forum past and present, we do not have state police with the President setting the machinery in motion and using his clout with the National Assembly to rush necessary legislation through establish the institution. In 2019, according to Press reports, the Presidency announced the replacement of the Economic Management Team which the Vice-President chaired with Economic Advisory Council to be headed by Professor Doyin Salami. The Salami Council would be reporting directly to the President. Yemi Osinbajo is too cultured to want to drag any issue and bring about disharmony in the Presidency. The person with the power is the President and the buck stops on his table.
What the Tinubu Think Tank is to consider is which sections are more likely to show greater understanding. It is in the South and the Middle Belt where considerable, indeed larger populations of Christians are. In a democratic order and contestation, a party will consider where it has solid territory. Where is solidly APC territory apart from South West? It is certainly North East and North West. To maximize its muscle and have a harvest of votes, it is in those zones to which Tinubu will be headed. In consideration of his liberal disposition on matters of faith, I want to believe the Christian leaders will let go and Tinubu should be allowed his Muslim-Muslim ticket. Absolutely nothing to fear with the ticket.
This is said out of the understanding that politicians will go for a zone or a combination of zones that will yield them a bumper electoral harvest. Of course, the fears of Christians, particularly in Southern Kaduna, Benue and Plateau states are genuine in view of what they have been going through. It is bloodletting every now and then. Even if Tinubu settles for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, the character, the credibility of the choice matters and it should be such that will allays fears to put an end to the horrors, and put the minds of the people in the zones concerned at rest. The team must be capable of engendering reforms, including the structural, to free the people and put an end to the evil in which they are entrapped. The nation is in a cul de sac. It is searching for that person with the disposition and negotiation skills to meet the needs of the aggrieved and assuage feelings all over the country.
All said, however, the political contestation and attendant bickering, bitterness is all part of the muddle going on in the world until mankind comes to know better. The time of forbearance of the Lord is now over and purification of the earth and the beyond is raging, the gale is sweeping through all lands to rid the earth of pestilential influences and agents, including political substitution deriving from man’s so-called wisdom which is limited and is opposed to the Ordinance of the Creator.