Weaponising Bigotry In Nigeria’s Civic Space: Enough Is Enough – The Companion, Lagos District

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Northerners, Muslims and Christians, have led Nigeria; but no Muslim from the Southern part of Nigeria, including Yorubaland, has ever been allowed to rule Nigeria.”

Since 10th of July, 2022, when a Muslim, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), the presidential flag-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), announced his choice of Senator Kashim Shettima, the former Governor of Borno State, as his running mate for the 2023 Presidential elections, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), abutted in large measure by a section of the Nigerian media that has hooked, like the ant in the sugar box, onto sensationalism and religious bigotry, and continued to excoriate and pillory Muslims, APC and BAT.

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Through its vociferous and vitriolic campaigns against the person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the APC, CAN has, once again, sought to bring the sacred into the service of the profane. The Association has shown that it CAN not, and probably never will, free the church in Nigeria of politics and politicking. It has instead deployed the most virulent rhetoric of hate, chosen to sing songs of Beelzebub and opted to dance to the drum of Armageddon in the build-up to the coming elections.

Northerners, Muslims and Christians, have led Nigeria; but no Muslim from the Southern part of Nigeria, including Yorubaland, has ever been allowed to rule Nigeria. With the benefit of hindsight, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida might just (as he often claims) has been a tool to thwart Moshood Kashimawo Abiola’s victory based on religious gang-up of the military oligarchy. No right-thinking person (except CAN even at that time) has ascribed religious partisanship as reason for Abiola’s election victory, made possible by his political engine-room dominated by Christian political heavy-weights.

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Muslims believe the choice of Vice President is simply a product of political calculation, especially of votes.

Given the quantum and quality of repartees and rebuttals which CAN’s rhetoric and overwhelming air of vanity have elicited, we had thought that its leadership would soon dial down its speech that pulsates with Faustian blood. We had also hoped that its agent-provocateurs, conflict entrepreneurs and prebendal purveyors will have a rethink, toe the path of decency, and allow politicians to conduct their business in line with global best practices and as provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.

However, these few but highly vociferous elements have taken our restraint for granted. Rather, they have become more emboldened by the day, spewing hatred and promoting religious bigotry. We have now noticed that, unfortunately, those that are considered fellow compatriots and some of whom have been partakers of Nigerian Muslims’ benevolence have also joined the fray. The latter have decided to run with the hares, hunt with the hounds and side with those who consider it their birthright to determine the destiny of our nation.

But we must pause to consider the arguments, the gripe and the groan of CAN and its fellow travelers against the so-called Muslim-Muslim ticket. Largely the arguments boiled down to three: argument from competence, argument based on national integration and arguments from history.

2.0 Arguments from Competence against the Muslim-Muslim Ticket

Late in the Month of June, 2022 and before the announcement by Bola Tinubu of Kashim Shettima as his running mate, two prominent members of the APC from the North, namely Hon. Yakubu Dogara and Mr. Babachir David Lawal, started promoting their ambition to be picked for the same position. Indeed, a press conference was organized on the 24th of June by the Coalition for Peace and Progress where it was declared ex cathedra as follows:

“It is important that the future Vice President must be a Christian that can transcend primordial sentiments bordering on religion and the twin evil of tribalism and sectionalism. We have unanimously come to the conclusion that the best person most suited to hold the position of the future Vice President under the APC, is none other than the Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogora, former Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives of Nigeria.”

Dr Lawal Babachir, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation from Adamawa State equally threw his hat into the ring. In his speech to the hurriedly assembled and unregistered “Northern Christian Forum of the APC” that he and Dogara convened, Mr. Babachir Lawal authoritatively declared, in part, as follows:

“The main purpose of this historical narrative is to let you know that for the APC, a Muslim-Muslim ticket has been a long-term political strategy and not a one-off decision. Thus, all this talk of competence as the reason for the choice of the Muslim VP is balderdash and diversionary. This is a calculated anti-Christian exclusion agenda that is being implemented.”

In other words, Mr. Babachir Lawal would want the whole world to know that he was an active participant in a “calculated anti-Christian exclusion agenda” that eventuated in the election of BAT as APC presidential candidate at a contest in which senior pastors of popular churches in Nigeria such as the Redeemed Church and the Latter Rain Assembly Church were strong contestants.

But it is axiomatic that in appealing to emotion and, in engaging in what philosophers refer to as argumentum ad hominem, Babachir Lawal and Yakubu Dogara only sought to deflect attention away from the critical issue of competence raised by the APC presidential candidate. Basic knowledge of semantics and political practice is instructive that all references to the category of competence gesture towards at least three matrices: Core Competences, Cross-Functional Competencies and Functional Competencies. In political practice, the first, i.e. Core Competences, are the most fundamental. They speak to an individual’s capabilities to help his party or organization achieve its strategic goals which is, in this instance, winning elections. Here, a triadic comparison of data that would evidence the Core Competencies of Babachir Lawal, Yakubu Dogara and Kashim Shettima becomes a categorical imperative. In the 2019 election, the APC got 20,471 votes in Hong Local Government, Adamawa state- where Mr. Babachir Lawal comes from, while the PDP secured 23,039 votes.

In Bogoro Local Government Area of Bauchi state where Hon. Dogara comes from, the total votes cast in the 2019 presidential election were 30,820.  In the same election in 2019 in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council where Kashim Shettima hails from, the APC polled 146,181 votes against a mere 9,632 recorded by the PDP. This represents core competences gestures towards the core values that a candidate brings to a contest. No politician would trade hundred thousand plus for a paltry 30,820 votes.

If anything, Mr. Babachir Lawal and Hon. Dogara should have taken their illogical argument to the ‘logical’ conclusion by canvassing that the APC presidential candidate should have picked his VP running mate from Southern Kaduna, which is a predominantly Christian area without regard to the fact that the area has remained a stronghold of PDP since 1999.

In other words, this whole attempt reminds one of the stupid person’s idea of a clever person and the discourse of the bigoted merchants of hate who disguise as nation-builders.

3.0 Argument based on National Integration

This argument is premised on the assumption that the choice of Kashim Shettima by the APC presidential candidate has not shown fidelity to our nation’s diversity and that it has, on the contrary, imperilled it. This is “a declaration of war”, CAN thundered. Like Pharaoh while addressing the children of Israel, emperor, rather Reverend Ayodele went further to threaten thunder and brimstone. He declared, as if it is from the CAN’s headquarters that the sun rises everyday: “CAN said loud and clear that we will teach a lesson to any party with a Muslim-Muslim ticket…” Like Goliath, while addressing David, Ayodele enthused: “we have seen eight years of instability; we need fresh water”, as if they were not active players and partakers of those who muddled the waters of progress of this nation in times past; those who used private jets to smuggle arms in and outside our country before the current leadership came on board. He has forgotten how the waters of progress and development in this nation became polluted when their members were busy collecting billions of naira to aid their ignoble but unsuccessful efforts in support of their anointed candidate during the 2015 Presidential election.

Unsurprisingly, some affiliates of CAN have issued similar inflammatory statements in their attempt to blackmail Muslims in this country.

If the PDP, whose flag bearer for selfish end has joined in condemning the choice of a Muslim Vice-Presidential nominee from the same geo-political zone is in doubt that Muslims and not BAT is the target of hate, then this assertion has let the cat out of the bag.

It has become fashionable for some pastors who have turned their pulpits to campaign grounds urging their followers not to vote for Muslims.

In deepening the discourse of anarchy and weaponization of religious bigotry, the Ogun Baptist Conference, led by Rev. Dr. Wale Oyeniyi at its 45th Annual Conference, equally charged all Christians not to vote for the APC Presidential candidate. His words: “The selection of a Muslim running mate by the APC is a display of gross insensitivity to the complexity of modern Nigeria and the entire Church…may Boko Haram, terrorists, and insurgents, their sponsors and sympathizers not win the 2023 elections.” In other words, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kassim Shettima are terrorists.

In the reckoning of these religious leaders in Nigeria today, Tinubu, whose wife is a senior pastor in the Redeemed Church is a Boko Haram member. In the estimation of these men of God in the current moment, one of the most accomplished political leaders of Nigeria, a proud son of Yorubaland, is an insurgent. As far as they are concerned, the man who led Lagos state as Governor with remarkable records of achievements, empowered more Christians than Muslims in Yorubaland, returned schools to Christian Missions (despite the huge investment of the State Government on the schools) and brought many Christians to positions of eminence and prominence, is now a terrorist.

The most shocking dimension to this weaponization of bigotry for political expediency is that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. While speaking at the recent 80th Birthday Thanksgiving of Justice G. O. Shoremi, Obasanjo also charged the Christians to use the opportunity of next year elections to vote for one of them. The exclusivist and discriminatory utterances of Obasanjo, who has benefited immeasurably from the support of Muslims throughout the federation in his political career, to rally Christians to vote for a Christian is not lost on the Muslim community, particularly in Yorubaland.

He had previously demonstrated his intolerance of and contempt for Muslims when as President in 2003, he found no Muslim to appoint as Minister in the whole of the South West, South East, South-South and North Central Zones of Nigeria (except Nasarawa state). He had the temerity to call the leader of Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Mujahid Asari Dokubo, a bastard for converting to Islam from Christianity. But Dokubo rightly gave him a clap back, when he rhetorically asked the former president what his own conversion to Christianity meant since his ancestors were pagans.

For discerning Nigerians, all these vituperations against both the person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his party, the APC, have however not served any salutary purposes the least of which could have been that of promoting integration. On the contrary, it has awakened the consciousness of Muslims in Yorubaland – some of whom have begun to question their identity and destiny in the so-called Yoruba nation. They have started to question themselves: Is it because Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a Muslim that some Christians, particularly in the Southwestern parts of Nigeria, have orchestrated this campaign of blackmail, ganged up against his candidacy and are now threatening his potential presidency? Is this open treachery and plots against his nomination of Kashim Shettima as VP candidate not a pointer to a larger acreage among some Christians in Yorubaland who have for decades considered Yoruba Muslims as simpletons, birdbrains, buffoons and clowns who are fit to carry the sandals of the king and never to wear the crown?

If Christians are threatening to teach the whole nation a lesson, are Muslims who have always approached partisan politics and electioneering process from a non-religious perspective destined to receive ‘lessons’ of history, never to teach same to others?

We are not fools. Rather, we have always as Yorubas voted based on individual merits. Why would Muslims have been left with only one outgoing Governor out of the six in Yorubaland, if not that we believe religion should not be the major factor in deciding a leader of a pluralistic entity such as Nigeria. Despite the numerical strength of the Muslims in Yorubaland, the first and second Premier of Western Region were Christians. It is to their credit that the first ever Muslim Pilgrims Board was established by one of the two.

Arguments from ‘history’ against Muslim-Muslim Ticket

Speaking on the Channels Television on the 13th of August, 2022, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Archdiocese has invoked the historical in the continually widening geography qua demographics of the so-called Muslim-Muslim howling and blabbering. He said, inter alia, as follows: 

“As a Christian, I feel proud of the role we played in managing diversity and politics in Nigeria. In 1983, when General Buhari came in as head of state, he took Idiagbon. Sadly, Nigerians were very excited. Maybe that is where we should have returned to as a scene of crime (emphasis ours). It broke tradition, completely… I think we over-exaggerated our interpretation of what happened in 1993 because we always have this dubious assumption that it is evident that Nigerians don’t care about religion. But moving forward, the question I have asked my friends who are Muslims, especially those who are from northern Nigeria, is simple…: ‘Would Muslims in Nigeria or northern Nigeria be ready to make the same concession that Christians made in 1984 and 1993? And they have now been asked to make the same concession…

You have to then understand this against the backdrop of what has happened in the last seven years. When you look at the squandered opportunity; when you look at the way power has been distributed; when you look at the way this government has allocated opportunities to broad spectrum of Nigeria against the wide backdrop of the crisis that we are in now, ordinarily the least we should be talking about is whether our next president should be a Christian or Muslim (This again reveals the hidden target).

I think that as a Christian, this is totally reprehensible.

It is not acceptable to me, but that is the decision of the APC as a party.”

Bishop Kukah’s resort to history as premise for his disavowal of Kassim Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate cannot be credited with any amount of authenticity. Equally slippery and lacking in rigour is his description of Buhari-Idiagbon regime “as a scene of crime” because the then Head of State and his deputy were Muslims. But elementary lessons in regime change in this country furnish enough data that military putsches are usually not tea party events where public opinion and democratic voices count. But perhaps more critical for history is Kukah’s selective appraisal of same-faith leadership that this nation has witnessed when he said: “I think we over-exaggerated our interpretation of what happened in 1993 because we always have this dubious assumption that it is evident that Nigerians don’t care about religion”. Did Bishop Kukah suffer from amnesia?

This question is urgent because until the recent ascendancy of political-Christianity persuasively described by Ebenezer Obadare, Nigerians, particularly Muslims, never cared about the religious affiliation of those who ruled over them insofar as good governance was guaranteed. Many Christian media had always taunted Muslims with Abiola/Kingibe and Buhari/Idiagbon as if there were no Christian/Christian pairing in Nigeria’s history. For the avoidance of doubt, since independence, both Muslims and Christians have led Nigeria for almost the same period of time. In fact, two of the three former Heads of State with the longest period of service were Christians – Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The Muslims in Yorubaland voted massively for Christian-Christian ticket of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Umeadi Philip in 1979 presidential election. We have had, in the past, same-faith ticket in different circumstances as summarized in the table below:

S/

NO

Name of Head of

State/President

Period/

Tenure

Deputy/Vice

Other Major

Appointments

Remarks

1

General Johnson

Thomas

Aguiyi- Ironsi

(Christian)

Jan 1966-

July – 1966

Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe

(Christian)

Adetokunbo Ademola, CJN (Christian)

Christian-Christian

Combination

2.

General Yakubu

 Gowon

July 1966-

May 1975

Vice Admiral Akinwale Wey

(Christian)

Note also that Chief Awolowo

(Christian) served as Vice Chairman of FEC.

Adetokunbo Ademola

CJN (till 1972)

(Christian)

Christian- Christian

Combination

3.

Maj. Gen.

 Muhammadu

 Buhari

(Muslim

Dec 1983-

August

1985

General

Tunde

Idiagbon

(Muslim)

CJ George Sowemimo

(Christian)

Muslim- Muslim Combination(Christian)

The victory of Chief MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe in the 1993 election pushed this primordial consideration into the backwaters despite the campaign of calumny from the same quarter of CAN during that period. Ultimately, the will of the people of Nigeria prevailed then; it shall prevail now and forever too.

Further, in the Southwest region here, the following data shows leadership disposition since 1979 till date:

S/NO

State

State  

Governor

Deputy

Period/

Tenure

Speaker

Chief

Judge

Religion

1.

Oyo

Chief Bola Ige

(Christian)

Chief S.M Afolabi

(Christian)

1979-1983

Chief Mokolade Gbolagunte

Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly

(Christian)

Justice Emmanuel Olawuyi Fakayode, Chief Judge (Christian)

Christian-

Christian Ticket

(all the 4  topmost positions were Christians)

2.

Lagos

Alh. Lateef Jakande

Alh. Rafiu Jafojo

1979-1983

Rt. Hon. Oladosun Oshinowo, Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly (Christian)

Justice Joseph Adetunji Adefarasi, Chief Judge (Christian)

Muslim- Muslim Ticket

(2 of the 4 were Christians)

5.

Osun

Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola

Erelu Olusola Obada

2003-2010

Rt. Hon. Rafiu Adejare Bello, Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly (Muslim)

Hon. Justice Fasasi Olaniyi Ogunsola,Chief Judge (Muslim)

Christian-Christian Ticket

(2 of the 4 were Muslims)

6.

Ondo

Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN

1. Agboola Ajayi

2. Hon. Lucky .O Aiyedatiwa

2017-Date

Hon. Oleyelogun B. David

Speaker House of Assembly

(Christian)

Justice Williams AkintorayoChief Judge (Cristian)

Christian-Christian Ticket (with not less than 35% Muslim population

(All the 4 Christians)

7

Ekiti

Kayode

Fayemi

(Christian)

Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi

(Christian)

2018-2022

Hon Funminiyi Afuye Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly

(Christian)

Justice Oyewole Adeyeye, Chief Judge (Christian)

Christian-Christian Ticket (with not less than 29% Muslim population (All Christians)

8

Osun

Mr. Demola Adeleke

(Christian)

Prince Kola Adewusi

(Christian)

Elected

To be sworn on 27 Nov., 2022

Hon. Timothy

Owoeye, Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly

(Christian)

Justice Oyebade Adepele, Chief Judge (Christian)

Christian- Christian ticket in a Muslim majority state (All the 4 are Christians)

It is evident that Muslims have always demonstrated high level of tolerance and accommodation of their Christian compatriots to the extent Christians have been elected Governors even where Muslims were (and are still) in clear majority. These include: Kwara (Cornelius Adebayo, 1983) Adamawa (Boni Haruna, 1999-2007), Kaduna(Patrick Yakowa 2010-2012), Ogun (Olabisi Onabanjo1979-83), Olusegun Osoba (1992-1993 & 1999-2003), (Gbenga Daniel 2003-2011; Dapo Abiodun (2019-date), Lagos-Sir Michael Otedola 1992-1993; Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu 2019-date, Osun Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Erelu Obada: 2003-2010 and Oyo: Bola Ige 1979-1983, Omololu Olunloyo – 1983, Kolapo Ishola- 1992- 1993, Alao Akala 2006-2011 and Seyi Makinde 2019-date.

At a point in 2011, there were equal numbers of Muslim and Christian governors in Nigeria, despite the fact that each state independently elected its governors.  While four of the 19 governors in the Northern zones were Christians, four of the 17 governors in the southern zones were Muslims. Two of the Christian governors in the north were involved in separate air mishaps. These accidents have also highlighted the tragicomic nature of religious politics in Nigeria. As a result of these accidents, the Muslim deputies of the two governors had to take over, one temporarily and the other permanently. One of the remaining two Christian governors in the north then informed a church congregation that the accidents, which reduced the number of Christian governors in the north, were the result of a spiritual onslaught against Christians. He worried that he might also be a victim, but he was reminded that his deputy and the third in command in his state were also Christians. He chose to gloss over the fact that a Muslim governor in the north was also then in the hospital as a result of a fatal road accident and two governors in the south were not in office as a result of ill-health. The deputies of the three ailing governors were Christians which belies the claim of an Islam-inspired spiritual war theory. The baseless devilish speech of Bishop Kukah at the funeral of Gov. Yakowa is also along such fetish claims. 

No Christian majority state in the country has ever elected a Muslim Governor. The two Christian majority states in the South West, namely, Ondo and Ekiti have continued to maintain the Christian – Christian Ticket despite significant Muslim population in the two states.

The Companion is deeply concerned by this incessant attack on the APC presidential candidate for his decision to pick Kashim Shettima as his running mate. This unsavory development, to put it mildly, shows lack of reciprocity, betrays a mentality of impunity and entitlement on the part of some Christians. The latter have historically benefitted from the clear-headed approach of Yoruba Muslims to governance issues, a trend recently demonstrated in the way they voted in large numbers for the PDP candidate in the recently held Osun state gubernatorial election. Ironically, what Muslims in the Southwest have continued to be rewarded with has been disproportionate representation in political offices at both state and federal levels of Government compared to their Christian compatriots.

Let the Yorubas know that Yakubu Dogara, Babachir Lawal and Mathew Kukah are part of those who clandestinely set the North on fire of religious antagonism and hatred. The Yoruba Muslims urge all those who have ears to realize that the fire being ignited by these agents of destruction can lead to a situation which would make Yorubaland a theatre of war not only in the society but within the family. Those who destroyed theirs should be prevented from destroying ours. A word is enough for the wise.

While calling on Nigerian electorate to consider the pedigree and the stellar qualities that each of the presidential candidates would bring to governance before casting their ballots, we encourage CAN to continue its campaign of calumny, bigotry and blackmail against any or all Muslims and their interests, since it CAN not, like the leopard, change its skin. For the Muslims, open your eyes and recall that while Muslims are encouraged by Islam to be fair to all, some representatives of our counterparts have, so far, demonstrated hatred.

And (remember) when (they)… plotted against you: to imprison you, or kill you, or expel you (from your home, Makkah); they are plotting and the Almighty is plotting too; and He indeed is the best of plotters (Quran 8: 30)

Abdul-Ghani Adegbenga Abdul-Majeed  ( Amir)  

Mukaila Tajudeen Akolade ( Public Affairs Secretary)

THE COMPANION,Lagos District

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