By Segun Ayobolu
These are indeed interesting times in the history of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the most significant opposition political party in Nigeria’s political history. The party seeks to consolidate its position in the country’s political space. Yet, the PDP spares no effort to demonise its rival in the perpetuation of the country’s political hegemony. This is as it should be. It is up to the APC to get its act together or let the PDP, utilising its huge incumbency advantage, to perpetuate the current so obviously undesirable status quo.
The speculated possibility of the APC, picking a Muslim-Muslim ticket, possibly General Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates respectively in the 2015 election has thrust new opportunities to aim daggers at the very heart of the party. It has been so entertaining watching the absolutely fascinating Femi Fani-Kayode dance his way back into political reckoning in Abuja on this score.
The Ife political chieftain was so obviously in his elements when he was received by no less a personage than President Goodluck Jonathan at the presidential Villa in Aso Rock. On the basis of media speculations and without exhausting options for a definitive conclusion on the issue within his party, Femi Fani-Kayode has been up in arms trumpeting his Christianity from the roof tops. If the Jonathan presidency offers him an appointment, there is no doubt that the excitable chief will grab at the opportunity on behalf, perhaps, of Christians.
In his political sloganeering on the possibility of a Buhari-Tinubu ticket for the 2015 polls, Fani-Kayode has been exceptional in trumpeting his self- proclaimed Christian credentials. He is the new champion of Christianity in this regard. Fani-Kayode believes that if a Christian is not represented on the APC’s presidential ticket, then millions of Nigerian Christians will suffer grave damages. Unfortunately, he does not tell us exactly why this should be so within the context of Nigeria’s secular constitution.
President Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian. He has made a habit of peripatetic wandering from one church to the other in penitent worship of his God. But how has his religious belief rubbed off on the welfare of millions of his fellow Christians? Yes, Jonathan has led Christians to the holy pilgrimage in Israel. He was recently in Rome to pay obeisance to the Catholic Pontiff. But that has absolutely nothing to do with his responsibility as Nigeria’s head of state. His ineptness or otherwise is a question of personal ability and not religious affiliation.
President Olusegun Obasanjo before Jonathan was another leader who insensitively thrust his private religious belief in our faces. He was forever preaching and quoting scriptures to us either at the Presidential Villa Chapel or different churches across the country. Yet, he left the country much worse than he met it in every respect- economic, social, moral, material etc.
In spite of these glaring experiences, it is amazing that otherwise brilliant individuals like Fani-Kayode would make an issue of the religious colouration of a party’s electoral ticket. And this is even more inexcusable coming over two decades after Nigerians demonstrated that they had transcended such parochial considerations in the landmark June 12 presidential election.
Tai Solarin was an atheist. He refused to bow to any God. Yet, only very few could meet the exceeding moral standards he set for himself. This was a man who resigned from office as Oyo State Public Complaints Commissioner because he was caught driving without his drivers’ licence on him. The engineering genius, Professor Ayodele Awojobi was an agnostic just like the revered human rights activist and medical doctor, Beko Ransome-Kuti. Yet, they contributed immeasurably to elevating the ethical standards of society just by their personal example.
It is not professed religious belief that makes the man. It is so sad that otherwise reasonable and rational people would seek to evaluate the APC’s purported electoral ticket on the extra-constitutional basis of its religious colouration.
Now, does the forgoing suggest that this column supports the speculated APC Buhari-Tinubu ticket? Not necessarily. However, the fact of the duo being Muslims cannot be a convincing reason to discredit the combination if ultimately presented to the electorate.
Buhari is a man of sterling character and unblemished integrity. His qualities can certainly go a long way to help sanitise our society and lead us on the path to national regeneration. But, can he effectively ward off perceptions of religious fanaticism and sectional extremism that will most certainly influence voting patterns? At over 70, can he muster the energy to effectively lead Nigeria at this critical point in history? These and not his being a Muslim are the pertinent issues.
Of course, it is exceedingly absurd to campaign against Tinubu’s electoral eligibility on the basis of religion. His record as one of the most liberal, urbane and sophisticated Muslims in this political dispensation is difficult to equal. Just like the late MKO Abiola, his legacy of philanthropy transcends ethnic, regional and religious boundaries. His example of governance in Lagos between 1999 and 2007 and successful transition to the paradigm-changing Babatunde Raji Fashola administration remains unrivalled.
But then, what should be Tinubu’s political priorities at this time? Should it be to aspire to being Vice President of Nigeria or helping to build and consolidate the APC as an enduring political structure capable of contributing effectively to the institutionalising of sustainable democracy in the country? That and not his religion should be the vital question.
If Buhari and Tinubu ultimately opt not to run, there are limitless combinations within the APC that can offer Nigeria effective leadership. Competence and not religion must be the watch word at all times.
It is unfortunate that in our miracle-hungry age, the issue of religious affiliation has been allowed to shove more pertinent variables of competence and integrity to the side lines. Nowhere is this more evident than in the understandable whirl of speculations as regards BRF’s possible successor in office as Lagos State Governor.
Thus, a frequently named aspirant like Akin Ambode, a former Permanent Secretary and Accountant General of Lagos State is analysed more in terms of his religion than his easily verifiable record as a brilliant administrator and financial engineer. In the same vein, someone like Dr Obafemi Hamzat current Commissioner of Works in Lagos State is routinely telescoped by political analysts as a Muslim and not as one of the keenest, most brilliant and articulate actors in Nigeria’s current public space that he is.
We all have a duty not to abandon the political arena to opportunistic spiritual combatants like Femi Fani-Kayode. Of course, the brilliant lawyer and polemicist has found his way back to Aso Rock contention courtesy of his religious fulminations. But that for Nigeria is certainly not the way to go.
Article written by Segun Ayobolu and culled from The Nation Newspaper
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