When the British Union Jack gave way to Nigeria’s green-white-green on October 1, 1960, it was a signal of great hope for Nigeria. It represented the end of colonial rule and a way for Nigeria, with its vast population and diversity in ethnicity, religious belief, language, among others, to fulfill its potential and truly become an exemplary African giant.
With this hope, the first indigenous administration began with Tafawa Balewa as head of government. Contrary to expectations, however, ethnic rivalries and political troubles, notably the January 1966 coup d’état, the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and the civil war, and the First Republic collapsed, ushering in thirteen years of military rule.
The second attempt at democracy in 1979 ended abruptly when in 1983 the civilian government of Shehu Shagari was again fired from the jackboots and brass hats. Nigeria was under military rule until 1993, when General Babangida formed two political parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC) – to run for civilian government in the 1993 general election.
Moshood KO Abiola, a businessman from Ogun State and at the time a Muslim, competed on the platform of the SDP and had as running mate Baba Gana Kingibe, another Muslim. The NRC, on the other hand, had Bashir Tofa, a Muslim, as its flag-bearer, with Sylvester Ugoh, an Igbo Christian, as his running mate. According to a 1993 report by the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, on election day, July 12, 1993, more than thirty percent of registered voters went to the polls, which represented a significant turnout in a country with many potential voters and was caused by years of discouragement Government has become disillusioned with popular participation and the incessant manipulation of the transition. The Nigerian Election Observation Group commended Nigerians for “the evident high level of political maturity and patience in conducting the presidential election. With a few exceptions, voting went smoothly and fairly. In this genuine atmosphere of unity and desire for change, Abiola emerged with Kingibe as Nigeria’s President-elect. And there were no reports of raised eyebrows or fuss over a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Almost 30 years later, All Progressive Congress (APC) Presidential Flag Bearer Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos State Governor, has chosen his running mate, former Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima Mustapha. However, this Muslim-Muslim ticket has met with widespread criticism since its announcement. When did a Muslim-Muslim ticket become a problem for voters? When did the candidate’s religion become such an important aspect of our secular country? What has happened in the last 30 years to create this uncertainty? Three main reasons have been identified and are discussed below.
1. The exchange between military and civil government
Before the 1993 elections, the military government had ruled for almost ten years. The maladministration, lack of rule of law and general self-importance that characterized military rule was something Nigerians at the time were desperate to do without – a desperation, one might say, akin to the 2015 election that left office of the President ushered in Buhari administration. A change of government by democratic means was therefore the primary thought of the electorate. Nigeria wanted a new government where public opinion matters and where democratic principles are respected. However, the situation is very different now that all candidates are evaluated on the basis of their ability to uphold democratic ideals.
2. The rise of anti-constitutional elements based on Islam
Over the years, several sects that claim their causes have Islam-based credibility, including Boko Haram, have committed unconstitutional acts and have continued to rise unchecked, unchallenged by most Muslims in government or religious authorities.
The country is riddled with kidnappings, murders and a lack of security justified solely by the professed beliefs of a religious group. To date, over 1,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. In addition, repentant cult members or those arrested were given amnesty, not punishment. And even now, the allegations against Shettima, a man running to become the nation’s vice president, have yet to be effectively investigated. To give the man a piece of the agave flower, the former governor was reportedly rebuilding a church for Christians living in Borno state when it was being torn down by members of Boko Haram.
The ongoing and unaddressed blatant disregard for the constitution and the rule of law poses an urgent burden for many, particularly those of other faiths. If this is the current state of the nation, what will happen with two Muslims in the highest positions in the country?
Also Read: PFN Says Muslim-Muslim Ticket Will Further Polarize Nigeria
3. The reputation of the candidates
When Abiola took office as Nigerian President in 1983, he was known as a philanthropist and someone who would run an efficient administration. His success in his many businesses also demonstrated his managerial skills. While Tinubu and Shettima may have many attractive qualities, multiple allegations have been leveled against both – Tinubu with corruption allegations, including a history in drug trafficking and, as mentioned, harboring terrorists. None of this gives the discerning electorate confidence that, should these candidates win, leadership would be characterized by upholding the rule of law, democratic ideals of religious liberty and our Founding Fathers’ vision for this nation.
Legal Considerations of a Muslim-Muslim Ticket in Contemporary Nigeria
From the above, there is great concern about what this union means for Nigeria’s constitutional secularity.
Some say that the provision of Section 15(3)(d) of the 1999 Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution is being violated. The section provides that it is the duty of the state to encourage or encourage the formation of associations that cross ethnic, linguistic, religious or other section-specific barriers. While this section does not speak directly to the union of a president and his running mate, it is still important that ethnic and religious diversity be reflected in the highest offices in the country. In addition, Section 15(4) of the Constitution imposes on the State the duty of fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity among the different peoples of the Federation, so that national allegiances prevail over sectional allegiances.
Although there are no express prohibitions on electing a candidate in an election, the spirit of the law as espoused in Section 15(4) is that governmental bodies have a duty to promote an ethnic and religious environment where conflict is not on the agenda.
Still, there are those who insist that there is no need to worry because there are constitutional provisions guaranteeing that Nigeria remains a secular state. Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution provides that the government of the federation may not adopt any religion as the state religion. Also, Nigeria has been a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an organization for Muslim-majority countries that are members of the Islamic countries of the United Nations, and yet Nigeria maintains its secularity.
However, Article 9 of the Constitution provides that the National Assembly has the power to amend the provisions of the Constitution. Granting the mandate to govern Nigeria to a group of people who share similar interests, thoughts and feelings on critical aspects of our democracy provides leverage to amend, review or enact certain laws that may not be in the interest of the nation lie. According to Article 9(2) of the Constitution, a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly is sufficient to amend some provisions of the Constitution, and in some cases even less. It provides that only a two-thirds majority of all members in either the House of Representatives or the National Assembly can change provisions of the Constitution, with the exception of Chapter IV of the Constitution, which provides for basic human rights. The constitution provides in its provisions a kind of balance, a sense of belonging between the different tribes, languages and cultures in Nigeria, even more to ensure the unity of the more than 180 million people with different thoughts and ideals.
The Nigerian electorate yields great power. There can be no democratic government without proof of voter voting in elections. That is the essence of democracy – people can choose how they want to be governed and choose people to carry out their mandate.
Two Muslims or Christians in the highest office in a secular society should not normally be a problem. The advantage of a multi-ethnic and religious society like ours is that principles from multiple perspectives can be brought forward for the holistic development of the nation and its people. For example, the Sukuk bonds, which are now a major source of funding for governments and organizations, are based on Islamic principles, and no one has been vocal in denouncing Muslim policies in government. Non-Muslims and Muslims alike benefit from these ties, as does the nation. The problem arises when there is no basis for believing that the power of office would not be abused in the interest of religious beliefs.
Principles that are restrictive, impede freedom, and promote neither development nor progress will always meet with resistance. Therefore, it is imperative that the focus be on the issues that affect the everyday lives of most Nigerians, regardless of belief systems – food, shelter, security, electricity, etc. – without any sectarian sentiments or allegiances.