Between Tinubu/Shettima and Nigerian Christians – By JESUTEGA ONOKPASA

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* Photo R-L: Tinubu, Shettima*

The much anticipated parley between the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, Presidential Candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima, turned out to be most revealing in a number of truly insightful and memorable respects.

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I have heard and read many addresses by Bola Tinubu, and, he regularly and, rather spectacularly, delivers, but, his appeal to his Christian compatriots on this occasion was arguably his very best speech ever.

In all honesty and with the utmost humility, although I cannot say it settled what is quite the storm in a teacup regarding the so-called same faith ticket, I most definitely believe it should have done exactly that, if, as Christians, we are to be honest to ourselves and forthright to our fellowman.

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Regarding his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima, Tinubu had this to say to Nigerian Christians: “This man understands the value of our national diversity in all of its ramifications, including religious. He possesses the courage to stand up to those who would wreck that diversity and freedom. I know people have reacted harshly to my selection. They have done so without knowing the man or giving him or me a fair chance. The rumour that this is some plot to suppress the Christian community is untrue and unfortunate.”

I do not merely believe Tinubu but know this to be true as of the facts of the kind of man Shettima is, and, has profusely proven himself to be.

Indeed, if anyone out there is painting a picture to the contrary, it is not because it is true; it is because they are lying through their teeth.

Still on Shettima, Tinubu said: “I trust the calibre of the man. I know the great lengths he went in fighting Boko Haram in his state. He did his best to protect the Christian community and rebuilt damaged churches.”

Hearing this, I had to wonder how many of us Christians have ever contributed a dime towards building a mosque, much less actually built one from scratch for our fellow countrymen and women of the Islamic faith?

I certainly have done neither and it struck me deep and hard that this is most certainly not the sort of Muslim I should be minded to discriminate against for the Muslim in Shettima is a brother and friend to the Christian in me!

For himself, Tinubu had this to say: “I can no more suppress the Christians of this nation than I can suppress the Christians in my own household, my very family. You all know my wife is Christian and a pastor. My children are Christians. I can no more disown them and their choice of faith than I can disown myself. As a husband and father to a Christian wife and children, hearing such allegations is hurtful.”

This was by far the most touching part of his speech and one of the most beautiful excerpts from any address I ever heard.

Rather instructively, I felt very good and very bad at the same time.

I felt good because I was hearing the truth spoken from the bottom of the heart of my fellowman, but, I also felt bad because the simple truth was still not good enough for some people – the sort who would be more Christian than the Pope or more Muslim than Muhammed.

And again I just had to wonder how many Christian husbands are married to Muslim wives or, as fathers, are head of households composed of Muslim children?

In my personal experience, I have encountered a great many families in which only the father is Muslim with everyone else Christian.

Indeed, I have to struggle to recall households configured the other way round!

And I had to ask myself, are we then, as Christians, going to discriminate against the Muslim husband of our fellow Christian, whom, as husband to, and, head of their household, he nevertheless allowed to follow her own faith?

Indeed, are we, being Christians and in good conscience, going to discriminate against the Muslim father of our fellow Christians, children of his blood, whom he did not compel onto his religion?

If we were to discriminate against Bola Tinubu, the Muslim, wouldn’t we then be discriminating against our fellow Christians, his wife and children, our very own Christian brothers and sisters?

Is that how to treat fellow members of our religion?

Have we really been thinking through this matter deeply enough as the Christians we are or, at any rate, must aspire to be?

Bola Tinubu is a Muslim man to whom the very dearest people to his heart are Christians; they are his very flesh and blood!

The very dearest people to the heart of this man are our own Christian brothers and sisters, for God’s sake!

Yes, our Christian brethren up North are a religious minority in Northern Nigeria but if it is about someone who understands them and with whom they could most easily and readily bond, they are actually in good company with Tinubu, given that Tinubu, himself, is a religious minority in his own house!

As Christians, are we seriously going to fall for this utter crap that desperate politicians are whipping up the basest sentiments and stirring up the crudest machinations about in the name of same faith ticket?

Indeed, what does it even take to be a Christian or Muslim, for that matter, anyway?

That the person claims to be this or that and that’s the end of the matter?

You just call yourself a saint and we should take it to the bank, or, you crown yourself a sheikh and we should just take that at face value, swallowing it down, hook, line and sinker?

What a kindergarten paradigm for apprehending reality!

What a nursery school progression unto the ascertainment of truth!

Our Lord Jesus said “by their fruits you shall know them” and that’s the only valid standard of identification for Christians – any other criterion is mere formalism.

By the fruits borne by Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, I cannot in the good conscience of a Christian discriminate against either of them simply because they happen to be Muslims for that would be totally inconsistent with our religion.

By the fruits borne by Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, they are equally children of God like us.

How then could we, as Christians, discriminate against them, fellow children of God when a true child of God is not even supposed to discriminate against a non-child of God?

While I fully appreciate the extant religious sensibilities that frame us and rather tend to detain our progress as a nation, I’m also keenly aware that they primarily arise out of religious intolerance, a most infernal scourge that continues to plague our society.

I cannot see how the antidote to religious intolerance can possibly be more religious intolerance!

Indeed, howsoever we might had formulated our various positions in the same faith ticket debate, it would still amount to religious intolerance to oppose a Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima ticket on the basis of their religious persuasion and this is because the religious category to which they both happen to belong cannot justifiably trump the far more important question of the content of their character as individuals, including in terms of their approach to people of other religious persuasions.

Indeed, if, as Christians, we were to allow it to, we would only be most abhorrently practicing distinctly unchristian wickedness against two men who have done our religion absolutely no harm!

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a Yoruba man.

It is not as if Yorubas do not take religion seriously – far from it!

Indeed, that is just a complete and utterly baseless notion.

If anything, Yorubas take religion just as seriously as anyone else, if not more seriously, and, the notion that religion is nothing to them is as idiotic as unfounded notions come.

The difference with the Yoruba is that while they take their religion very seriously, they also happen to take religious freedom equally seriously and that is something the rest of us would do well to learn from them!

As I have pointed out elsewhere, if, as Christians, we would discriminate against a Yoruba Muslim – indeed any Yoruba Muslim, much less one with a Christian wife and children – what sort of Muslim, then, could we ever get along with?

If we would reject a Northern Muslim who built churches for our brethren up North, what manner of Northern Muslim could we ever come to terms with in a country we share with them?

According to Tinubu: “We must move the nation forward more quickly so that hatred and pettiness haven’t a chance to imbed themselves and become the main colours of the fabric of our society.”

I concur and urge my fellow Christians to do the same.

*Onokpasa, a lawyer and member, All Progressives Congress, APC, Presidential Campaign Council, writes from Abuja.

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