Opinion: Atiku And Muslim-Muslim Ticket – By Segun Ayobolu

IT is instructive that the kidnappers that attacked an Abuja-Kaduna train on March 28 killing some and holding 63 others hostage and demanding a ransom of N100 million Naira for each of the victims to gain their freedom, have most disturbingly threatened to kidnap the Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state if their demands are not urgently met. The bandits have been releasing the hostages in batches presumably after the families of those involved had paid the ransom demanded. They have threatened to marry some of the women off to fellow kidnappers and terrorists while selling others into slavery the way they claimed to have done with the kidnapped Chibok female students. There are still at least 35 kidnap victims with the terrorists. These threats were made in a recent video recording in which the Bandits were featured flogging the men among the victims with the women and children weeping and looking on in helpless agony.

The attacks by bandits on an advance presidential convoy on the way to Daura, Katsina state, during the last Sallah festivities, the daring raid on Kuje Medium prison in Abuja during which hundreds of prisoners were rescued with the attackers withdrawing without suffering a single casualty and then the ambushing of a detachment of the Presidential Guard in the Bwari area of Abuja with the latter losing two officers and five other men, are indications that the threat on the lives of Buhari and Nasir el-Rufai must not be taken lightly.

It has now become a matter of self-interest and self-preservation for those at the apex of the political and military hierarchy in the country to take urgent, far-reaching steps to better and more efficiently protect lives and property not just in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, but throughout Nigeria.

In making the kidnap threats against the President and Mallam el-Rufai, the terrorists were most certainly aware that the two men are ethnic Fulani and Muslims. They did not mention any Christian leaders in their threats. They did not seek to ascertain the religious affiliation of the kidnapped train attack victims with a view to taking away only the Christians among them. Since the escalation of the violent and criminal activities of the bandits, terrorists, kidnappers and killer herdsmen across the country, no religion or ethnic group has been isolated as targets by these murderous elements. It is not unlikely that since larger parts of the North have been more vulnerable to the activities of kidnappers, bandits and terrorists than the South, it is reasonable to assume that more people, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, kidnapped or have their livelihoods destroyed up North than down South.

It is true that the Buhari administration has not been stellar in its management of the country’s diversity. In not being as inclusive as it could have been, it has allowed the country’s religious and ethno-regional vulnerabilities to become even more strained with people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious orientations drifting far further apart than ever before. For instance, critics of the administration have persistently maintained that the domination of key agencies of government in the security sector for instance particularly by members of one ethnic group and religious faith violates the constitutional principle of federal character and breeds mutual suspicion and distrust among divergent groups.

But is the administration’s orientation in this regard a function of an Islamic religious revolutionary zeal? It is unlikely. For one, the President’s style is well known. He delegates powers and responsibilities to his aides and appointees in whom he has implicit confidence and trust. These were people who stood stoutly and faithfully by Him when he had been forced into protracted political wilderness since the coup by his military subordinates that toppled his government in 1985. Unfortunately, these trusted aides who constitute his kitchen cabinet do not care one hoot about their principal’s image, reputation and legacy.

The exceedingly easy overthrow of his government in 1985 also probably explains why Buhari is very finicky about the composition of the top hierarchy of his security architecture. This may be why he has trusted key security agencies largely to people of his ethnic origin and religious faith. But it is not unusual for leaders to put people they trust in key strategic positions and as the insecurity worsens and the nation descends into sheer anarchy, it is up to the President to sack those found to be incompetent, irresponsible and unproductive and give others a chance to showcase their abilities in the interest of his legacy, the performance of his party in the next elections and the very survival of the country in the next remaining ten months of his tenure. The unsavory security situation in the country is indeed distracting attention from the otherwise many attainments of his administration in difficulty circumstances.

Asiwaju Tinubu is contesting the 2023 presidential election naturally with the intention of winning like any other politician. In picking his running mate, he must have considered all factors to guarantee him electoral victory. In any case, the choice was not made without extensive consultations with critical stakeholders in the party. That is why Kashim Shettima’s choice has resulted in far less acrimony in the ruling party than in the case with Atiku’s choice. The most important point is that no one that I am aware of has questioned the competence and integrity of Kashim Shettima. Even though with far less resources in comparison to Lagos, for instance, Shettima performed as exemplarily as governor in Borno as Tinubu did in Lagos. And a number of Christian leaders in Borno have publicly testified to all he did for Christians during his tenure as governor in Borno State.

In his recent interview with Arise Television, former Vice-Presidenit Abubakar Atiku, voiced his opposition in principle to a Muslim-Muslim ticket saying that Tinubu wanted to be his running mate in the 2007 election, a request he said he did not accede to because he could not run with a Muslim as Vice President. Atiku has so far remained silent on why he reportedly sought with some desperation to become the late Chief MKO Abiola’s running mate for the 1993 presidential election but eventually lost out to Ambassador Babagana Kingibe even when he was aware the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was a Muslim. When did he become so principled on this matter? Of course, there are those who may argue that the issue of religion was not as sensitive in Nigeria in 1993 as it has become today. That is far from the truth.

There was as much uproar among segments of the Christian community against Abiola’s choice of a Muslim running mate as the clamor in the same quarters against the APC and its flag bearer today. In the run up to the 1993 election, Nigeria was embroiled in various religiously induced crises such as the country’s entry into the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) during the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, the riot in Kano against evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who was billed to hold a mass crusade in the city leading to the loss of scores of lives as well as recurrent crises in the Middle belt such as the protracted Zango-Kataf bloody violence that had ethno-religious undertones. But then, Abiola had done his strategic political calculations and he won a landslide victory in the June 12, 1993, presidential election defeating the Muslim-Christian NRC ticket of Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Edwin Ume Ezeoke; an election later cruelly annulled by military President, Babangida, who incidentally is a Muslim!

Atiku seems to make much weather of his claim that Tinubu sought to be his running mate in 2007 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) and also wanted to run as Vice-Presidential candidate to Buhari in 2015. He describes this as a pattern of behavior. But being ambitious is no crime if an aspirant’s motivation is the public good as Tinubu’s record of performance in Lagos so clearly shows.

In any case, as well documented, Atiku had only a negligible role in the formation of the AC, which gave him a platform to contest the presidency in 2007 after he had been hounded out of the PDP by President Obasanjo. Given his pivotal role in the formation of the AC, the key stakeholders in the party particularly from the South-West requested that Atiku nominate Tinubu as his running mate. True to type, Atiku did not come out clearly and courageously to say that he couldn’t run with a Muslim as running mate.
Rather, he played hide and seek with the party leaders until he sent in the name of Senator Ben Obi as Vice- presidential candidate on the brink of the deadline by INEC for all candidates to submit their nomination forms to the commission.

This pattern of seemingly vacillating behavior is again evident in the way Atiku has handled his choice of running mate for the 2023 presidential election. Rather than boldly sit down and have a one on one discussion with Governor Nyesom Wike on why he preferred Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate, he went about the issue in a surreptitious and intrigue-laden manner that is morphing into a protracted crisis for the PDP.

It is astonishing that Atiku is against a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a matter of principle but at the same time, he sees absolutely nothing wrong in the violation of his party’s constitution on the continuous rotation of the presidency between the North and the South. Indeed, the Southern Governors Forum had met on at least three occasions and they have always demanded the return of presidential power to the South after President Buhari’s two-term tenure in accordance with the rotational presidency convention that ushered in this civilian dispensation in 1999.

When asked by the Arise television team that interviewed him if the choice of the APC Vice-Presidential candidate from the North-East where Atiku also comes from, would not hurt him in the zone, Atiku replied that the Kanuris are only found in two of the North East states and that the remaining four states are Fulani just like him. This gives us an insight into Atiku’s mindset. He is banking on Fulani support in the North and also wants to play on sentiments on Muslim-Muslim ticket to harvest Christian votes in the South and Christian parts of the North.

But then Atiku forgets that it was members of the APC governors’ forum that insisted that the party’s ticket must be ceded to the South after eight years of Buhari in power as a matter of equity, fairness and justice. That is why even within the APC, attempts to foist a ‘consensus’ northern candidate on the party failed as the northern governors in particular stood stoutly on the imperative of power shift to the South. These northern governors represent what the late governor of Kaduna State in the Second Republic, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, called the “cultured North of democracy, liberation and social progress” in sharp contrast to those who “belong to the retrograde North of feudalists, crooks, parasites and foreign agents”.

What really is at the root of the country’s current challenges with terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, and religious extremism currently on rampage across the land? After all, we have had a Muslim-Christian ticket since 2015. In what concrete way has this benefited the broad sections of either Christians or Muslims in Nigeria? The fundamental cause of these problems is the ever increasing poverty, deepening underdevelopment, inequality, joblessness and other miseries in the land. Which party ticket is best placed to tackle these problems decisively and creatively with proven track record of meritorious public service and all inclusive governance before now? That is the pertinent and relevant question and not the issue of religious balance of a ticket.

– Ayobolu is a respected columnist with The Nation

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