Nigeria is full of endless and unnecessary drama. As life flows out of one contestation, we kindle another one that will reverberate and keep us busy for another fortnight. Within this period, more serious countries are tackling issues that improve the standard of living of their people and better position their countries in the comity of nations. Someone may argue that discussions about the choice of leaders are as critical as anything; I agree. The question is, however, about what motivates these arguments and the result that we get from them. We shall return to this point shortly.
Between most of May and last week, the issue was about zoning. Which of the southern and northern parts of the country would produce Nigeria’s next president? Of course, we focused attention on the ruling All Progressives Congress and the dominant opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party. This focus is because they are the two parties with a presence in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and even beyond. They have become the behemoths, whose shackles Nigerians will most happily have off their necks in 2023. But that is a story for another day.
The most appalling drama came from the ruling APC. There, the shenanigans shifted from total unpreparedness to the ventilation of the entitled mentality of players. It all finally culminated in the emergence of Senator Bola Tinubu on Wednesday.
The latest drama is about the choice of running mates for the presidential candidates. Again, the most drama is in the APC, which has a southern Muslim candidate. The party does not seem to have much confidence in the capacity of a northern Christian to deliver the quantum of votes needed to win the elections in the predominantly Muslim North. APC is now at a crossroads, even as leaders of Christian pressure groups, and defenders of the rights of people, fly in and out of temper over this issue.
But as some people have asked, why should the religion of candidates worry members of a society in dire need of competent leadership? From what Nigerians have seen in the past seven years (23 years, in fact), when we have had the perfect religious and zonal balance that we crave, shouldn’t competence, no matter where it comes from, be our primary aim? Why is the average Nigerian so concerned about the faith professed by their leaders when it has nothing to do with their capacity for effectiveness?
The answer is in the all-around dishonesty of our leaders. And as it concerns this extant issue, two of those tendencies are most critical.
One is the inability of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to give every Nigerian a sense of nationalism. Right from the very start, Buhari left no one in doubt as to his inability to manage Nigeria’s diversity. At the beginning, for instance, he had all Nigerians under lock and key. There are arguments that some parts of the country, which didn’t vote for him, were not in his support, but what a leader needed to do in that circumstance is to win the confidence of those people! But the president chose the contrary. He started by declaring that different sections of the country would be treated according to how they voted for him and has lived by that promise, producing the most divided country ever. Added to that is the persecution (perceived and actual) and killing of Christians in several parts of the country without as much as a single person being brought to book for these crimes. The average Christian feels unsafe in his country and might be a bit comforted that someone represents his faith at the highest level of government. Fair right? I reckon it is.
But two quick points impeach this argument. Regardless of the form of persecution Christians may point to under Buhari, the vice president is a Christian of no mean stature. Yet, nothing has changed! So, how does having another Christian vice president help?
This situation is also a testimony of the retrogression that current political leaders have brought upon us. In 1979, Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the South-West was the candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria, while Chief Philip Umeadi from the South-East was his running mate. Similarly, Prof Ishaya Sha’aibu Audu, a northern Christian, was the vice-presidential candidate of the Nigerian Peoples Party, where Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, another Christian, from the South-East was the standard-bearer. These gentlemen didn’t win the elections but they showed that the knowledge, industry and intellectual capacity of nominees were more valuable than ethnic and religious considerations. Again, in 1993, Nigerians voted Chief MKO Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. It’s shameful that today’s politicians have led us here.
The second point, which should make every Nigerian sad, is that those who have turned the country into a killing field do not spare Muslims. While many more Christians have lost their lives in many parts of the country, substantial numbers of Muslims have been killed, abducted, raped and subjected to a good deal of inhuman behaviour as well.
For instance, news broke on Tuesday that a mob comprising northerners set a prostitute ablaze for having a Holy Koran where she practised her trade in Lagos. Guess what? This lady was of northern extraction!
The challenge facing Nigeria is more about the failure of government to be fair, enforce the law, educate the people and deal with poverty sustainably than the faith of the president and his vice!
Nigerians can also read through the hypocrisy of our leaders and see the vested interests that drive their arguments. For instance, how can anyone who campaigned that it was unfair to keep power in the North after eight years dismiss arguments that a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be untenable? How is it that when the question of balancing the presidential ticket came up, people remembered the importance of competence, while that did not come up when the South/North zoning discussions were ongoing?
If the 12 northern governors who fought for a shift of power to the South truly wanted to be fair, their insistence would have been about zoning the presidency to the South-East rather than throwing it up for anyone within the South to grab. So, what is fair about South-West, which would by 2023 have had eight years of presidency and eight years of vice presidency within a 23-year period, getting the presidential ticket when one zone has had no opportunity at all?
So, rather than fairness, self-interest and convenience, dictate the judgement of most of those who are in political offices in Nigeria, regardless of what language they speak or creed they practise. Nigerians must, therefore, understand that these 12 northern gentlemen did not support Tinubu because of God (or love for southern Nigerians), each of them has an inherent gain, which time will reveal in the execution of that project. Citizens must, as a result, unite on what their own gains should be.
While it is tempting, fashionable, even just, to join the clamour for religiously sensitive presidential tickets, Nigerians must seek more than these intangible qualifications in the choice of leaders.
What we need are fair-minded, competent, compassionate, visionary leaders who love humanity and are indeed God-fearing. For the three most prominent ways of worship in Nigeria, fairness to all men is central to the service of God. What we have, however, are men and women whose love and service of God do not go beyond their lips and pockets. Therefore, whether they are Christians or Muslims, only a few of those elected to offices in Nigeria are faithful to their oaths of office. And when you are unfaithful about the promises made to the electorate, you deceive yourself to think you serve God.
One other thing those who want Nigeria’s progress must understand is that most people currently see government as a bazaar. So, when they talk about zoning, they mean democratising opportunities to plunder the country, the zoning of corruption, nepotism and all those things that set the country back. Those who want a leap for Nigeria cannot allow themselves to get imprisoned in that cocoon of self-centeredness. May we find the grace to make decisions that will permanently change Nigeria for the better.