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Nigeria Decides: What a Muslim-Muslim ticket says about us

The odds always favoured Bola Tinubu picking someone male and Muslim from the East or West of the North of Nigeria, and with the announcement of Kashim Shettima as his running mate on the All-Progressives Congress (APC) presidential ticket in 2023, two political statements have been declared. The first, through the reaction to this decision, is that a ticket with two Muslims is unelectable in 2023, and the second is that a Christian northerner is unelectable at the presidential level.

Tinubu was clear in the statement announcing Shettima that he did not take into consideration sentiments about fairness in religious representation, political culture since 1999 nor the constitutional requirement for diversity representation captured as Federal Character in the 1999 Constitution. Instead, he made the choice because “I believe this is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians…”.

There is disbelief, and not without cause.

Tinubu’s famed desire to be running mate to Buhari for the 2015 elections is well documented and at least one reason the Buhari-Tinubu ticket did not fly then was due to fears by APC members that a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be rejected at the polls. Two, for better or for worse, electoral permutations have been analysed ad nauseum in the media and a supposedly strategic move is that Tinubu needs to partner with a northerner who is Muslim in order to improve his chances of winning the votes of northerners – as if the North is not made of people who have voted for people with a religion and culture different from theirs.

Those who support the Shettima decision argue that competency matters more (they have no response to the reality that Nigeria has many competent people to fit every criterion) and point to the fact that in 1993, Nigerians voted the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. There are at least two things to consider with this argument i.e., that Nigeria today is not the Nigeria of 30 years ago. Social cohesion is frayed along multiple fault lines, even within states and communities, and religious intolerance has increased as evidenced most recently in the murder of Deborah Samuel and the over 10-year onslaught by Boko Haram, a terrorist group reportedly intent on creating an Islamic state in Nigeria.

Another consideration is the context within which the 1993 elections held. General Ibrahim Babangida had by that time jerked the country around with his almost interminable transition to civil rule plans and Nigerians wanted to be rid of him. Besides, the Abiola-Kingibe Social Democratic Party ticket was more exciting to voters than the only other option represented by Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Ugoh of the National Republican Convention.

The reaction is revealing.

If social media is to be believed, people are implacable about the choice of Shettima as APC vice presidential candidate. One would think that the majority who are aggrieved, APC members or not, would simply look to the 17 other parties with more representative presidential tickets.

Unless…there is a real fear or acceptance that Tinubu will win in 2023, legitimately or in a way that undermines the integrity of our elections. Maybe the fear is a self-imposed mental defeat i.e., that regardless of voters’ desires and all we know, Tinubu will win. That, in effect, we are helpless.

If that is the case, i.e., that Tinubu will win without Nigerians, then it does not matter who he picks as his running mate in the first place – electable or not, he can use the tried, tested and well-known ways of winning elections. This raises another question: if this is what many believe of him and his engagement with the electoral process, then would manipulating the elections to engineer a win be more acceptable as long as his ticket is balanced? Are balanced tickets that ‘represent’ us the reason why we have turned a blind eye to years of compromised elections?

Balanced tickets have not provided us with the accountable governance we need and maybe we are looking, entirely, at the wrong things. Whose interest does it serve for Nigerians to tear themselves apart, unable to collaborate and organise due to distrust of diversity? What myths are faithfully nurtured and kept alive that feed into our acceptance of how elections are won?

Low voter turnout – due to disgust with the system, withheld permanent voters’ cards or difficulty registering; violence at the polls; intimidation; ballot snatching; and compromising electoral officials have resulted in elected representatives without a mandate to lead – how do those elected by only a third of eligible voters, sometimes less than 200,000 votes in states, have the credibility, to take the political decisions that need to be made to move Nigeria away from its extractive state?

There are three options for those who are genuinely worried and/or upset about further damage to our social cohesion. One, ignore the APC and its unbalanced presidential ticket. Two, channel all energy into ensuring the 2023 electoral process will be as free and fair as possible in order to protect the integrity of our elections. Three, ensure the largest voter turnout in history.

Ayisha Osori, author of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’, will be writing for Business Day for the Nigeria Decides 2023 series every fortnight on Wednesdays

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