Concerns over Muslim/Muslim ticket in APC
Indications that the APC may settle for a Buhari/ Tinubu ticket has unsettled many party members who feel it will affect its chances in the next elections. Is the party considering such an option and how real are the concerns being expressed?
In 1993, the now defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) braved the odds of religious sentiments in Nigeria and paired Chief M.K.O. Abiola with Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, both Muslims, as its presidential candidate and running mate respectively.
Before then, owing to the sensitivity of Nigerian voters to the religious persuasions of candidates, most parties have devised means of overcoming accusations of leaning towards a particular side by trying to pair their leading candidates in ways that would appeal to such religious sensibilities.
The first time the presidential system of government was adopted in 1979 and in the buildup to that year’s elections, most of the parties had what became known as a balanced ticket with the presidential candidates and running mates carefully chosen to address the issue of religion.
For the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) whose candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari won, it had Chief Alex Ekwueme, who later became the vice president as running mate, while the then leading opposition party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) had Chief Obafemi Awolowo as its presidential flagbearer and after failing to get a formidable personality he could run with in the north, chose Chief Philip Umeadi from the South East to run with him, but by 1983 dropped him for Alhaji Kura, Mohammed.
The Muslim/Muslim ticket of 1993 was the most daring as there were only two registered political parties then.
Even more surprising was the fact that it was the Muslim/ Muslim ticket that became acceptable to Nigerians as the duo of Abiola and Kingibe was believed to have won the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
In the buildup to the 2015 elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC), one of the major parties getting set to contest in next year’s general elections is said to be fiddling with the idea of going the SDP way; fielding persons of the same religion as presidential candidate and running mate.
The idea is said to stem from the fact that the two leaders of the party, General Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu are both crowd pullers in their respective regions with almost no other persons from their regions having the capacity to match their popularity.
Party strategists are said to have reasoned that substituting either or both of them is no idea compared with what both of them could achieve on a joint ticket.
Buhari, who was the presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011, polled over 12 million votes coming mainly from his northern base. He defeated the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); President Goodluck Jonathan who polled over 8 million votes in the region, with almost 3.5 million votes as he polled more than 11 million votes in the North.
The concern of the APC, according to sources within the party, is that no other candidate can put up a better showing than that from the North hence the idea to retain Buhari as its presidential candidate.
The option of having Tinubu on the joint ticket is also said to be for similar reasons. A source in the party said the APC is considering the idea of putting him on a joint ticket with Buhari to ensure his total commitment to the APC project in 2015 to avoid the kind of half hearted commitment he gave when the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) went into alliance with the CPC in 2011.
Another thing is that Tinubu is believed to be one of the strongest political leaders in the Southwest with an unequalled number of followers in the opposition party.
Though he did not contest any election in 2011, the fact that his party, the ACN, controls five states in the South West is considered a huge asset.
The South West, according to INEC’s figures, has a voting population of more than 14 million, while the North West and North East believed to be Buhari’s turf have a voting population of over 18 million and 10 million each.
The calculation of the APC stalwarts is that if the bases of the two leaders of the party could be relied upon in 2015, then they could give the party a majority in terms of votes.
But the prospects of the joint ticket have equally drawn criticisms from various quarters. A prominent leader of the APC, Chief Femi FaniKayode was about the first to go public with a different view.
Reacting to the idea of having a Muslim/Muslim ticket, the former aviation minister warned that the APC stands the risk of losing the 2015 presidential election if it ventures to make the pair a reality.
He said this is because religion is still an important factor in the politics of the country and that all must be given a sense of belonging.
“If we do that, he says, “we will not only offend the Christian community but we will also lose the election woefully.”
The former aviation minister said Nigeria has gone past the 1993 era when Abiola and Kingibe ticket defied the forces of gravity and went ahead to coast home to victory.
“Whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that religion plays a major role in our politics today. Our party must have both a Christian and a Muslim on the ticket if we want to be taken seriously in the presidential election. I implore those who think otherwise to sit down and think this through properly. We must not present a Christian-Christian ticket as this would be insensitive to the feelings of Muslims and we must not present a Muslim-Muslim ticket as this would be insensitive to the feelings of Christians,” he said.
Many say Fani-Kayode has a point as there are already allegations of religious bias coming mainly from the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that the APC bears the semblance to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.
In another widely circulated flier showing the composition of the APC leadership, a point was made that it tilted towards having a preponderance of Muslims without consideration for balance.
One of the postings for instance indicated that the two recognised leaders of the party, Buhari and Tinubu, are Muslims while the national chairman of the party, Bisi Akande, deputy national chairman (North), Bello Masari, secretary, Tijani Musa Tumsa, deputy secretary, Nasir el-Rufai, national treasurer, Sadiya Umar Faruk and national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed all belong to one religion.
The APC has however had cause to clarify that it is not a religious party and that there are many in the executive committee of the party, that are not Muslims saying they include; the deputy national chairman (South) Annie Okonkwo, Niyi Adebayo, national vice chairman South West, national welfare secretary, Emma Eneuku, national auditor, Olisa-Emeka Akamukali, and national women leader, Madam Sharon Ikeazor.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, who had cause to comment on the observation on the lopsidedness of the APC exco recently, said there was no basis for the accusation as the people being referred to are even more tolerant of other religions than the ones making the allegations.
He said both Tinubu and Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos are married to Christians hence cannot be said to be religious bigots.
But even with the explanation, it is not difficult seeing what would be the reaction to the Muslim/Muslim ticket if it sails through as many feel there is a surfeit of Christian aspirants like Rotimi Amaechi, Sam Nda Isaiah, Rochas Okorocha, and a host of others to pick from.
Analysts say, if the APC goes ahead to field Buhari and Tinubu, then it would automatically be forfeiting places like the South East, South South and parts of the North Central regions of the country which may also be moved to vote on religious lines to support President Jonathan who is likely to fly the PDP flag.
Those in the APC however are of the view that the party can go ahead with the idea given that those regions would not support the APC even if it picks a running mate from their zones. They also argue that bloc votes from the South South and South East cannot match votes from the North West, North East and South West.
Those against the arrangement have posited that there are considerable number of Christian voters in the South West who may also be moved to vote along religious lines saying in the 2011 elections, the PDP was able to penetrate the South West while harnessing almost all the votes in the South South and South East regions and pulling a considerable number from the North Central.
Why the APC seems disposed towards trying the idea is because, according to a source, in the party, it is convinced that the South West will be moved more by reasons of ethnic affiliations to vote for Tinubu.
“Once they know that Tinubu is there, they will vote, you remember how Osun State voted for Ribadu in the last election not minding his religious leaning. So if we can have the three regions, then I think the Buhari/Tinubu ticket is sellable,” the source said.
The APC spokesman, Lai Mohammed, when contacted refused to comment on the issue.