[ ] The Monday Column One-religion ticket can win
The political actors and newspaper columnists who rushed in the last two weeks to say that a presidential election ticket made up of two adherents of the same religion cannot win in Nigeria have not thought about this matter very carefully. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have written about religion and politics because I, for one, will not cast a vote for or against anyone on religious grounds. However, I am intellectually provoked by the firm assertion of some commentators that a one-religion ticket cannot win an election in Nigeria. It can, under some circumstances.
The flurry of commentaries was sparked off by a newspaper story which said the opposition APC is planning to field what in Nigerian politics is called a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket in 2015, i.e. General Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. “Religious balancing” is a very sensitive matter in Nigerian politics. It is taken for granted that the presidential ticket of every major political party must include one adherent each of the two major religions. Given this sensitivity, I was personally amazed that APC did not vigorously deny the story. Its tepid response allowed Femi Fani-Kayode, for one, to say that APC is trying to promote one religion over another. Some other commentators worsened matters by saying there is nothing wrong with a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Well, I am not saying it is a good thing or a bad thing. All I am saying is that in theory such a ticket or its obverse, a Christian-Christian ticket, can win an election in Nigeria.
The first reason for saying a onereligion ticket can win an election in Nigeria is because it has happened before. Usually, the best evidence that something can happen is if has happened before. Many Nigerians appear to believe that this scenario will not happen precisely because it happened before. Soon after the ill-fated June 12, 1993 election, the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] did say that it would not condone a MuslimMuslim ticket again. It did not however say if it will tolerate a ChristianChristian ticket. No one can say for sure that the extraordinary combination of circumstances that produced the Abiola-Kingibe ticket in 1993 will never happen again in Nigeria.
Anyway, let us remember that some of the wisest men in Nigerian politics did not believe that a two-religion ticket was needed to win the Nigerian Presidency. I refer here to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Since his death in 1987, Chief Awolowo is described by many media writers as “the Sage.” One of the sagely things he did in 1978 was to nominate Chief Philip Umeadi, an Enugu lawyer, as his running mate on UPN’s presidential ticket.
Awolowo was not a man who did anything without careful study. He reckoned that there were five registered political parties in the Second Republic and three of them were going to nominate Northern Muslims as their presidential candidates. He must have reasoned that the Northern vote will be split into three. In which case if he could unite the South under his candidacy, he could win the election. This calculation nearly paid off because Awo got 4.9 million votes in the 1979 presidential election compared to Shagari’s 5.4 million. If his gambit of nominating Umeadi as his running mate had delivered even half a million more Igbo votes, Awo would have topped the race even though he still had a problem with spread, having got one quarter of the votes in only 6 states out of 19.
Awo’s hopes of winning the highest number of votes were upset by the late entry into the race of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who quickly lured away all the Igbo votes. As it happened, the brilliant Zik arrived at the same calculation as Awo did. There were three Northern Muslim presidential candidates but there was not one Northern Christian on any ticket. So Zik picked the eminent Professor Ishaya Audu from old Kaduna State as his running mate. He probably calculated that Audu’s choice could deliver the entire Northern Christian vote which, added to the Igbo vote, could become the largest bloc of votes with the Yoruba going one way and the Northern Muslim vote split into three. It was a very good calculation on paper but it did not work mostly because, up until that time, the Southern minorities voted mainly for Northern candidates whom they saw as a bulwark against Igbo domination. Up to that time.
Now, when a politician is making electoral calculations based on religious bloc votes, he must worry about the flip side. Harold Lasswell said in his
Politics: Who Gets What, When and How
classic 1935 book
that it will be advantageous for an American candidate to get all the Roman Catholics to vote for him, “provided that does not unite all the Protestant vote against him.” This is because in the US, Protestants are much more numerous than Catholics. In Nigeria, no one knows for sure whether there are more Muslims than Christians or vice versa because the National Population Commission excluded religion and tribe from the census questionnaire. Even though the leaders of both major religious blocs regularly claim that they are in the majority, no one can prove it.
From rough observation however, one can say that the two major religious blocs in Nigeria are roughly equal in population and electoral power. In theory therefore, if one bloc were to unite its votes while the other bloc splits its votes, the former bloc will win. The key issues here are unity versus split. Some commentators are also assuming that religion is the major or even the only basis upon which Nigerians cast their votes. I hope they are wrong.
There are other things to remember. Assuming, just assuming that there are more Muslims than there are Christians in Nigeria, does that automatically translate into majority votes? Of course not because during elections, INEC does not use census figures but registered voters. It is therefore possible for a religious bloc to be in the majority in the overall population but to be in a minority on the voters’ register if for any reason its potential voters did not turn up to register.
Even if they did turn up to register, that is different from turning up at the polls. Turning up at the polls is also different from casting a valid vote. If for some reasons such as heavy rains in their locality, fuel shortage, fear of violence or the like, voters who ordinarily belong to that bloc did not turn out to vote, then the bloc would have been transformed into a strategic minority despite its absolute majority in the voters’ register.
Let us even assume that members of one religious bloc are in the majority, that they all registered and they also turned up at the polls. How about the way they will vote? Assuming they vote strictly on religious grounds, there could be several candidates of their faith so their vote could well split. There are 26 political parties in Nigeria today, so there will be several Muslim and several Christian presidential candidates. It depends therefore on whose vote is split the most.
There are two ways in which a onereligion ticket can win an election in Nigeria. The first condition is if voters cast votes strictly along religious lines and the other bloc records a greater split in votes. The second, much more pleasant condition is if majority of voters decide to vote for that ticket for reasons other than religion. No one should therefore say that a one-religion ticket cannot win an election here. However, since I am not a sage, I am not advising anyone to try it.