Muslim-Muslim presidency and matters arising

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*The Muslim-Muslim tag team, Shettima, Tinubu

Simon Kolawole

The victory of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the February 25 presidential election has answered one or two questions about our nationhood — but it has, at the same time, left many salient and latent issues hanging. Now we know a south-west Muslim can be elected president of this ethno-religiously complex country. Before, it appeared if a president was to come from the south, it had to be a Christian. If it was the turn of the north, it must be a Muslim. But with a southern Muslim president about to be inaugurated, can a northern Christian one day be president? We shall see. The way things stand, though, it still appears a northern Christian cannot be president or vice-president.

Religious balancing was one dilemma Tinubu faced in picking his running mate. It was the same scenario in 1993 with Bashorun MKO Abiola, who was faced with choosing either Alhaji Babagana Kingibe or Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Christians wanted religious balancing at a time of serious mistrust in the country over fears of Islamisation, with frequent tragic crises between Muslims and Christians particularly in Kaduna and Kano states. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) presented Abiola with a long list of northern Christians to choose from, but no-one was sure of their electoral weight. Abiola settled for a Muslim-Muslim pairing and still won the election, although it was annulled.

A second question rising from this election is: when will a south-easterner become president? Mr Peter Obi’s run appeared to have offered the best chance since we started having presidential elections in 1979 but the math did not work out. Although he won convincingly in the south-east and was brilliant in the south-south, the candidature of a south-westerner appeared to have limited his foray into the zone and it hurt him a bit. The biggest drawback, though, is that he didn’t get massive votes in the north. He won only two states — Plateau and Nasarawa. Incidentally the two north-central states made up the former Plateau state where Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe also won in 1979.

With a Muslim-Muslim presidency set to be inaugurated on May 29, we are faced with a nightmare scenario on the sharing of positions. This must be giving Tinubu and his All Progressives Congress (APC) a few sleepless nights. In a sense, the south-west and north-east have taken the No 1 and No 2 slots, but there are many other interests that have to be factored into the sharing of the symbolically key federal political appointments. We can propound as many theories as we like on the need to downplay “ethnicity and religion” and emphasise “merit and competence”, but we all know we would be lying to ourselves. We cannot ignore emotive issues in a complex polity like ours.

What will normally be considered as key positions include senate presidency (No 3) and speakership of the house of reps (No 4). The Chief Justice is No 5 but is non-political. Deputy senate president (No 6), deputy speaker (No 7) and secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) are also key in the balancing game at the federal level. Many states also do the balancing act by using senatorial districts, religion, ethnicity and other yardsticks in sharing positions. A state like Delta has perfected moving the governorship from one senatorial district to the other in the spirit of power rotation. In underdevelopment politics, balancing is a major instrument of achieving some political stability.

Tinubu will have major headaches to deal with because it is not just about religious balancing but also ethnic and regional. For instance, what will the south-east get? In the “tripod” tradition, the position of senate president would be their natural pick under the circumstance. The last time they had that position was from 1999 to 2007, when President Olusegun Obasanjo (south-west) and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar (north-east) held the top two positions. The emergence of the south-south as a major political force ahead of 2007 elections effectively displaced the south-east from the equation. Ordinarily, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s deputy would have been a south-easterner.

The south-east produced No 6 and No 7 under President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. However, Rt Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (north-west) disrupted the geo-political balancing by taking the No 4 that had been zoned to the south-west. He did it in connivance with Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) against a Yoruba woman. We now had both the No 2 and No 4 coming from the north-west. The south-west did not get any of the top seven positions or SGF. I overheard some Yoruba leaders say Jonathan marginalised the south-west that gave him 62 percent of their votes in 2011. This probably turned them against him. Yet, it was not his fault that Tambuwal betrayed the PDP.

As the APC won in 2015, the south-east, which had put all its eggs in PDP’s basket since 1999, got No 6 even if not by official design. President Muhammadu Buhari (north-west) and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (south-west) took the top two positions. Senator Bukola Saraki (north-central) and Hon Yakubu Dogara (north-east) staged a coup against the APC, in collusion with the PDP, to take the No 3 and No 4 positions. The south-east, as noted, got No 6 — deputy senate president — through the same coup. With the APC fully taking back the national assembly in 2019, the south-east found itself in no man’s land with not a single slot in the top seven or SGF. APC has to deal with this.

It will be argued in APC’s closets that since the south-east did not vote for the party, they should not expect to share in the topmost positions. This, I guess, could also be based on the need to “reward” the regions that ensured victory for Tinubu and the APC. How will you accommodate the north-west and the north-central that voted for Tinubu and, in a sense, made him president? If you look at the results as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — even though there are disputes by LP and PDP that will go to the elections tribunal — APC got only 128,000 votes in the south-east. Many will surely come up with an argument about political loyalty and its reward.

As I noted, when you solve one problem, another will surface. Thus, a third question will be: now that Muslims have No 1 and No 2, should Christians have legitimate expectations to take No 3 and No 4? If either position is zoned to the predominantly Muslim north-west, the candidate is most likely to be a Muslim. Sure, there are Christians in the north-west— particularly Kaduna, Kebbi and Zamfara states — but something will have to change for a north-west Christian to be seen as truly representing the interests of the zone. I often chuckle when we make zoning sound so straightforward, but the little details can be knotty even if they are hardly publicly acknowledged.

In sum, that a Muslim-Muslim ticket has sailed through might have answered a certain question about southern Muslims, but it has raised other issues around the perceived imbalance and marginalisation in the federal set-up. There are interests we currently overlook or subsume under broad group interests that may one day come to the fore and hurt the nationhood project. Christians who supported APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket despite intense pressure from church leaders will expect a prize. Zones that ditched one of their own to support Tinubu will look forward to a prize. The south-east will, logically, want inclusion despite having not voted for APC. Things are complicated.

Luckily, it is not my problem. The headache is for Tinubu and his party. My central concern is that we need political stability so that we can focus on the issue that urgently matters: jobs, jobs, jobs. We cannot tackle insecurity and social unrest if young people are jobless. An idle hand is tempting the devil. We cannot have peace and prosperity when the factories producing terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals continue to operate at full capacity. We need robust economic policies that will get millions of our young people to work. The security agencies can only do so much in tackling insecurity and related crimes when unemployment and poverty keep ravaging the nation.

For as long as we are at daggers drawn because of mistrust and mutual suspicion, we will not be able to direct our energies towards addressing the basic issues tearing at our society. Feelings of marginalisation and domination will continue to set the tone for public debate, far above issues that have to do with education, healthcare, security, clean water and motorable roads. We will continue to keep yelling at each other over one appointment or the other while the things that matter will continue to remain unaddressed as we keep putting out one fire after the other in various parts of the country. We need a peaceful country to make progress. We can do with less distraction.

Nevertheless, here is my own contradiction: while I keep talking about inclusion and balancing, I know, at the back of my mind, that our major issues are more economic than political. I believe that if Nigeria is running well — meaning we have jobs, feel safe, enjoy stable power and get decent education and health care — we will talk less about balancing. It is a baggage of underdevelopment. But we can have a two-way interaction between the economic and the political, both mutually reinforcing each other until we exit the pit of underdevelopment. Before then, we have to keep trying to make everyone happy. Tinubu has his work cut out for him. He needs all the wisdom.

And four other things…

Design error

Dr Oyeyemi Kale, former statistician-general of the federation, expects Nigeria’s GDP to contract by at least N10 trillion in Q1 of 2023 because of the naira redesign policy. “This is because about 40 percent of Nigeria’s N198 trillion GDP in 2022 is informal of which about 90 percent is cash-based. Further 30 percent of formal sector GDP is cash-based. This means N106.9 trillion of the total too is cash-based. There is nothing new or wrong about currency redesign or cashless policy if done for the right reasons and at the right time,” he tweeted. He was DG of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for a decade, so he should know the score. And this is to say nothing about the human cost. Brutal.

Mixed messages

Mr Peter Obi appeared to be sending mixed messages to his followers before the governorship elections. In one instance, he seemed to be saying “Obi-dients” should vote for LP candidates. In another, he appeared to be saying they didn’t need to vote for candidates just because they were flying the LP flag. He actually told his supporters not to vote “blindly”. I think I can understand his predicament — there are LP candidates he would not want to endorse because of their baggage and there are non-LP candidates he would love to see as governors. But partisan politics can be tricky. You just have to support your own — else you will be shooting yourself in the foot. Realpolitik.

Rivers of fun

Is there a more exciting state like Rivers when it comes to the politics of 2023 elections? On the current form, I would say no. In the presidential election, it was very clear that PDP was working for APC and APC was working for PDP. Chief Nyesom Wike, the state governor, openly rebelled against PDP’s candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, after losing the presidential primary to the former vice-president. Meanwhile, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi, the APC leader in the state and former governor, has never been a fan of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his party’s flag bearer. There were loud whispers that he and his supporters backed Atiku. It is a case of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Drama.

RIP, Ismaila Mabo

I was a bit emotional on learning of the death of Ismaila Mabo, former coach of the Super Falcons, the female national team. He led the team to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2000 Summer Olympics and 2004 Summer Olympics. Their quarter-final outing in the 1999 World Cup remains our best so far. Mabo and I were quite close in 1994/1995 when he was assistant coach to the late Paul Hamilton. I was reporting female football then and he always readily granted me access to interview the players. His brother, Yakubu — who died in 1991 — scored the first goal at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, in 1972. At 78, Mabo lived to a ripe old age. I liked him very much. He was so fatherly. Goodnight.

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