By Femi Fani-Kayode
”The last notable Christian-Christian ticket was Awolowo-Umeadi in 1979 and the last notable Muslim-Muslim ticket was Abiola-Kingibe in 1993. You can figure out the rest. But let the optimists know that reality always trounces wishful hope in political contests. Chief Femi Fani-Kayode’s advice that we get real must be directed where it truly belongs – to the leadership of the APC’’- CHIEF KAYODE SAMUEL, FACEBOOK, 29th MARCH, 2014.
I thank my brother Kayode Samuel for his contribution and I shall take his advice and direct my counsel to the leadership of the APC and to the Nigerian people in general. That is the purpose of this essay and so important is the subject matter under consideration that I would urge as many as possible to find the time to read it from the beginning to the end.
Chief Akin Osuntokun, the Bashorun of Oke-Mesi, the former Special Advisor to President Olusegun Obasanjo and the highly celebrated columnist for Thisday Newspaper is one of my closest brothers and friends even though we tend to disagree on virtually everything. He is a very complex and interesting person who has a penchant for speaking the bitter truth. He is blunt to a fault and brutally frank and he manages to give as good as he gets in any argument.
I respect him immensely for a number of reasons, one of them being his unquestionable loyalty to his friends regardless of their circumstances, political views and party affiliation. Simply put, he is capable of maintaining a good relationship even with those that he disagrees with politically. I say this because most of Akin’s friends like Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Alhaji Kashim Imam, Mallam Uba Sani, yours truly and a host of others have left the PDP yet we still meet virtually every other night as a group and slug out politics and current issues.
Even though Akin is invariably the lone voice in a hostile sea at such meetings, he always holds his own and stands his ground in a most admirable and spirited manner even when things get rather heated up. His loyalty to and support for President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration is second to none and I have often wondered how difficult things would have been for us if Akin and his likes were the ones speaking for this government.
He is an intellectual par excellence and one of the most under-utilized assets that the PDP has in their armoury. Yet I often marvel about how well he stomachs the attacks and intellectual ripostes that he suffers from those of us that are no longer in his political party but that have the rare privilege of still being in the inner circle of his friends.
That is what makes Akin special. That, together with the fact that more than any other person that I know, he can tell his friends the bitter truth about themselves and point out their mistakes. You can count on him for that. And the strangest and most uncanny thing is that nine times out of ten he has been proved right.
Today I shall take a cue from my brother Akin and tell a few bitter home truths to my own friends and political associates in the APC. Whether this will break or enhance our friendship and association remains to be seen. I hope that it does not have any negative consequences for our relationship but if it does I have absolutely no regrets. After all the greatest gift and virtue that a true friend and brother can offer is truth and wise counsel. That is what real friends are supposed to do even when that truth and counsel is unpleasant and painful to hear.
The subject of my counsel is the suggestion by some that our party the APC should consider fielding a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2015 Presidential election. Even though the party leadership itself has not expressed such an intention and even though the matter still remains in the realms of speculation, as someone recently pointed out, I can confirm to you that quite a number of people within the party are discussing it privately and are actually considering it.
As a matter of fact some are openly advocating and canvassing the idea. Whether we like to admit it or not this is the subject of heated discussions in many party circles today with some party leaders being for it whilst others are against it.
Consequently the party would do well to issue a statement on the matter and tell us whether they are in a position to rule out such a course of action or not. If they refuse to do so the speculations will simply continue and, like an insidious cancer, the matter will eat away at the very soul of the party and eventually squander its fortunes.
It is in order to avoid this and for that very reason that I deem it fit, wise and appropriate to make my views on the matter known to the world, regardless of what the consequences of doing so may be for me. The outcome of this exercise and the reaction to my counsel will determine whether I am indeed in the right political party or not.
Let me start by stating loudly and clearly that I have nothing against Muslims. As a matter of fact I am very proud of the fact that I have both Muslims and Christians in my family. So strong is the Muslim influence in my extended family from my mother’s side that I, together with all my siblings have at least one Muslim name. Mine is Abdul Latif, which I am told in Arabic means ”servant of the All Gentle”, and I am very proud of it.
This is a name which my friend and brother Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, in an attempt to crack a joke about me and my ”one eighth” Fulani bloodline, mischievously reduced to ”Boda Lati” in one of his celebrated articles and I am still trying to find it in my heart to forgive him for that.
I also have many friends from both the south west and the north who are Muslims and who can testify to the fact that I have nothing against Islam. I am talking about people like my dear brother Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, our current Minister of State for Defence, who I not only grew up with in Lagos but who I also cut my political teeth with in 1990 when we both joined the defunct NRC and people like Governor Tanko Al Makura of Nassarawa state who formed and led the youth wing of the defunct NNC with me in 1989.
The reason that I have gone to great lengths to point out my strong links and family ties with the Islamic faith is simply to prove that I have nothing against Muslims and that the great faith of Islam is part and parcel of my proud and noble heritage.
Yet despite my deep respect for and affinity with Islam and in spite of my fondness for all those that have espoused that ancient and noble Abrahamic and monotheic faith, I would be the first to say that it would be most improper and politically inexpedient for anyone to suggest the idea that any political party in Nigeria today should present a Muslim/Muslim ticket in next year’s Presidential election.
I have said it privately in countless political meetings and I will say it publicly today. Please mark it- the biggest mistake that my party, the APC, can make is to field a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2015 Presidential election. If we do that we will not only offend the Christian community but we will also lose the election woefully. This is not 1993 and whether we like it or not we must accept the fact that religion plays a major role in our politics today. This is not the ideal but it is the reality that we have to accept and live with.
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 that 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. I for one would NEVER support a ticket that presents two members of the same faith no matter what the consequences would be.
This country belongs to both Muslims and Christians- we are all one and we must ensure that we do not hurt the feelings or the sensitivities of one another either advertently or inadvertently. As they say ”the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Let us be mindful of our actions, deeds and words, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, and let us ensure that we do not confirm the terrible stereotyping that those that are against us are trying to label us with.
Unlike some who only joined the political fray a few years ago, I have been in politics in this country for a total of 24 long years and during that period of time I have learnt a thing or two. The first lesson that I have learnt and which must be appreciated is the ability to distinguish between an ideal and reality. It is laudable to pursue an ideal and we must do all that we possibly can to enthrone it but it is disastrous to ignore the realities on the ground no matter how unsavoury or distasteful that reality may be.
The ideal, which we all desire and which we all seek to enthrone, is to play the type of politics in our country which has no recourse to religion and where a man or woman’s faith is entirely their own affair. Yet the reality is that to ignore the religious sensitivities and differences of the Nigerian electorate is a manifestation of, at the very best, political naivety of the highest order and, at the very worst, dangerous, self-depreciating and self-destructive ignorance. Simply put, religion SHOULD NOT be a factor in our politics but in reality it IS a factor.
To those who say that the APC will produce a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate that have ‘’integrity, capacity and competence’ and that the religious faith of those two candidates does not matter, I have only the following to say. The ‘’integrity, capacity, competence’’ and all those other laudable qualities are virtues that can surely be found in adherents of both the Muslim and the Christian faith.
They are not the exclusive preserve of the adherents of one faith alone. You can find Muslims that have these qualities and you can find Christians that have them as well. It therefore makes perfect sense to present one of such people from each of the two major faiths as a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate respectively.
This is especially so given the fact that Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country which suffers from severe religious tensions and periodic sectarian violence and which has at least 80 million Christians and Muslims on both sides of the divide living side by side. We are already sitting on a keg of gunpowder and to ignore one side of the religious divide and treat them with contempt and disdain may be the trigger that causes that keg to explode.
Presenting a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the 2015 Presidential election ticket, no matter how cleverly rationalized, defended or justified in the pursuit of an ideal or in the name of ‘’political correctness’’, will be a terrible insult to the 80 million Christians that are part and parcel of this country and it would result in their voting, en masse, for another party. My candid advice to those that are thinking that way and that are moving in that direction is that they should perish the thought and that they should do so very quickly.
As far as I am aware the APC is not an affiliate of Al Qaeda and neither is it a Boko Haram party, a Janjaweed party or a Muslim Brotherhood Party. I have had cause to say so and to defend the intellectual integrity and what I consider to be the multi-religious and secular ethos and composition of the party on numerous occasions. And of course it is a pleasure, a duty and a privilege for me to do so simply because that is what I honestly believe and because I happen to be a secularist myself. Like millions of others from all over the world I believe that religion ought to have no place in the running of the affairs of any country.
However that does not mean that we ought to ignore the very delicate religious balance that we have in Nigeria or that we should play havoc with it. To do so would be disastrous for the fortunes of the party and for the future of our nation. As a matter of fact we would be opening the gates of hell and we would be courting catastrophe. Anyone that doubts that should consider the ugly events that are unfolding in the Central African Republic today or that took place in the Sudan before the country broke into two. We must never allow such things to happen in Nigeria by any act of commission or omission.
As far as I am aware the APC is a party for both Muslims and Christians. It is a vehicle for change and not one that seeks to give the impression that Christians don’t matter or that they are second class citizens. If I am wrong then those that claim to know better or that believe that they own the party should please tell me. If it is a party where faith and religion has no place, as some would have us believe, then they should please let us know. We have an image problem which we need to deal with.
Permit me to share just one example of the factors that have sustained that image problem. We have a leading member of the party from Borno State that has been consistently accused of being the sole founder and originator of Boko Haram.
In fairness to the individual concerned the allegations about his personal involvement in these ugly events remain unproven yet all the same they remain serious and grave and they cannot be ignored for much longer. He must provide direct answers to these serious allegations so that, if they are all false, we can make it our business and duty to defend him. Until then, being in a political party that harbours and attracts the sympathy and support of such a person puts some of us in a very awkward position.
If such things do not make some people uncomfortable they certainly make me very uncomfortable. This is especially so given the atrocities that Boko Haram has perpetrated against both Christians and Muslims in our country in the last three years. Whether we like it or not we must go out of our way to try to let the world know that we are not a party of Muslim fundamentalists and closet Islamists and if we choose not to bother to do so it simply means that we are arrogant and that we have lost touch with reality. (TO BE CONTINUED)