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2023: Will Tinubu Swim Through The Tide Of Same Faith Ticket?

2023: Will Tinubu Swim Through The Tide Of Same Faith Ticket? %Post Title

With historical perspective of same faith presidential joint ticket in Nigeria, Nsikak Ekanem raises posers on possibility or impossibility of the All Progressives Congress (APC) changing that apparent politically jinxed trajectory in the 2023 Presidential election.

With same faith joint presidential ticket of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima of the All Progressive Congress (APC), history, as old as the advent of the presidential system of government in Nigeria, which began in 1979 when military first returned the country to civilian rule, has again been re-enacted.

Given what had been the fate of previous candidates plying for the presidential seat with a vice presidential candidate of the same religious faith, the big question hanging in the air, with either apprehension or anticipation, is whether the APC’s resurgence of history will reverse the trend of this particular history.

As a matter of fact, Tinubu is the fourth frontline presidential candidate in Nigeria with a running mate of the same religion. In the second republic, which was the first time presidential election was held in Nigeria, two foremost nationalists, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, chose fellow Christians as running mates in their respective political parties, the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

While Awo chose Philip Umeadi, a Christian from Anambra State, perhaps to checkmate Azikiwe, his age-long political rival, the legendary Zik of Africa ran with Ishaya Audu, a fellow Christian from Kaduna State. Shehu Shagari, a Muslim from Sokoto, who won the 1979 presidential election under the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), was running with Alex Ekweme, a Christian and multi-college-degree holder from Anambra State.

The next top presidential contender in Nigeria that fielded a running mate of same religious affiliation was a Muslim, Moshood Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate in the famous June 12, 1993 presidential election, who had a joint ticket with Babagana Kingibe, a topnotch diplomat from Borno State. Though, there are expressions in certain quarters at the moment that the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was of no issue, except for those that easily lose touch with history, it is still within the realm of current affairs that the Abiola-Kingibe ticket marked the first time that rousing consciousness was attached to same-faith presidential candidate in Nigeria.

While the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Bashir Tofa, who picked Sylvester Ugoh, a Harvard-trained economist and former governor of Biafran Central Bank from south-east, had less contentiousness on issue of his running mate, the choice of the vice presidential candidate of the SDP was not easily arrived at.

In what might not have been without some traces to religious crisis that erupted in the 1990s in certain part of the country under the military presidency of Ibrahim Babangida, the Nigerian Christian community did not wave off the SDP’s Muslim-Muslim ticket as inconsequential. In fact, the umbrella body of Christians in the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) did not only warn Abiola not to pick a fellow Muslim, it presented list of Christians from the north to nominate. Those shortlisted by CAN were Audu, Chris Abasyiya, Bala Takaya and Pascal Bafyau, then president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).

It was reliably gathered that President Babangida, Abiola’s friend and fellow Muslim, had also recommended Bafyau, an indigene of Adamawa State. Sequel to Abiola’s consideration of choosing either Kingibe or Atiku Abubakar, who slugged out with him and came second and third respectively at the three-man-race presidential primary in Jos, Babangida was said to have warned Abiola in Aso Rock against picking any of the two Muslims from the present day North-East, hinging that the military establishment would frown at Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Following a kind of “rub-me-and-I-rub-your-back” agreement that Abiola entered into with the powerful Shehu Musa Yar’Adua-led People’s Front block in the SDP at the party’s presidential convention, Atiku was recommended for the vice presidential candidate of the party. But after knitting the presidential ticket in his pocket, the legendary business mogul dumped the agreement in a trashcan.

Abiola had also disregarded Babangida’s advice and warning. His choice of Kingibe, who was the pioneer national chairman of the SDP, was said to have been predicated on assumption that Kingibe had political potentials to tilt votes from his part of the country to the party in the presidential election.

Again, largely on the strength of his leadership role in the emergence of governors on SDP platforms when he was chairing the affairs of the party, the former diplomat had enjoyed the backing of most of the SDP governors across the country.

Scared of his military background, some influential leaders of the SDP were said to have jettisoned Abiola’s initial personal choice of running with Dan Suleiman, a retired Air Commodore and former military governor of Plateau State, who was a member of Murtala Muhammed’s Supreme Military Council between July 1975 and March 1976.

Aside the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket mentioned by Babangida to Abiola, Atiku was unacceptable to the former military president because he was seen to be a surrogate of Yar’Adua, who was favoured to get the SDP’s presidential ticket before the military government cancelled the presidential primaries of the two parties and barred him along others in SDP and NRC from contesting for the country’s topmost job.

Though, Nigeria did not have definite designation for number two citizen until 1975, the sensitivity for religious balancing of the two major religions regarding the office of head of state and deputy was first given cognizance under Mohammed’s military junta, which a southern Christian, Olusegun Obasanjo, with the nomenclature of Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, was deputising.

However, had Zik’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), acceded to Awo’s Action Group (AG), for a coalition government, Nigeria from the Independence era, would have begun its indigenous political leadership with first and second in command belonging to the same religion. Awo had conceded to be Deputy Prime Minister under the premiership of Zik.

Curiously, Zik, who was the beautiful bride after the general election that ushered in the first republic in 1960, turned down governing the country with Awo and rather formed a national government with Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which saw him ascending the throne of ceremonial President while Tafawa Balewa of the NPC was the Prime Minister. There was neither the office of Deputy Premier nor Vice President in the only era Nigeria practiced parliamentary system of government between 1960 and 1966.

After the assassination of Mohammed in the Buka Suka Dimka failed coup of February 13, 1976, Obasanjo became the Head of State while Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, was made Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. In fact, it was the need of satisfying righteousness of religious balancing that Theophilus Danjuma, a Christian from the north, conceded his number-two man in the military hierarchy to Yar’Adua, who was his junior.

The consciousness of pairing persons from the two different religious faiths for the position of head of state and deputy had brief interregnum between 1984 and August 1985 when Muhammadu Buhari, then a Major General was the Head of State following his successful ousting of Shagari government on December 31, 1983. He was deputised by Tunde Idiagbon, a northern Muslim, who occupied the office of Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters.

With the overthrow of Buhari through a palace coup on August 27, 1985, Babangida returned to the Murtala-Obasanjo leadership arrangement. Ebitu Ukiwe and Augustus Aikhomu that deputised him at different times of his eight-year administration were southern Christians. Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government did not have an office for the deputy.

With Oladipo Diya, a southern Christian, as his Chief of General Staff, Sanni Abacha followed in the footsteps of Babangida. So also was Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was deputised by Mike Akhigbe, another Southern Christian.

Though, it was not advanced as one of the reasons for annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, feelers in certain circles adduced that Abiola’s disregard to Babangida’s admonition might have had hands in the military’s decision to thwart the popular mandate given to him to be Nigeria’s president. The former military president had after leaving office mentioned that it was a collective decision by the military leadership and that his hands were tied.

Babangida does not remain the only topnotch northern Muslim against Muslim-Muslim ticket or the reverse of Christian-Christian ticket. In the book, My Participation, the autobiography of Bisi Akande, the former interim National Chairman of APC stated that Buhari was pressurised by northern governors to drop Tinubu as his running mate in the 2015 to avert a Muslim-Muslim presidency. Referring to a conversation he had with Buhari, Akande stated: “He (Buhari) said he was under pressure from some governors from the north, including those who were Muslims.”

If what Akande stated in the book is worth working on, what has changed between then and now in Nigeria for one to assume that those who were against Buhari running with a fellow Muslim for the presidency has made volte face regarding Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim presidential candidacy?

What about the vociferous opposition of northern Christians in the APC led by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal?

Notwithstanding that Abiola won the June 12, 1993 election, still widely adjudged as freest and fairest ever in Nigeria, given the political impasse and calamity that trailed the election, is it historically logical for Tinubu to tie his presidential fate to, and bask in euphoria of a possibility of remaking, the famous June 12 history?

Tinubu’s quest to become Nigeria next president with a fellow Muslim as running mate is undoubtedly a resurgence of history.

Would the APC presidential candidate change the course of history of the same faith ticket by mounting the podium along with Shettima on May 29, 2023? Dicey as it appears, Tinubu’s teeming supporters would hastily conclude that it is doable just as millions of other Nigerians would not reserve their doubts.

•Written By NSIKAK EKANEM 

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