The above title has no Christian-Christian in it because it would be me trying to please the average Nigerian who likes to balance matters like this just to please everyone. This is not what this piece is about. In fact, it is not likely to please anyone.
In 2015, Nigerians will be voting for a religious leader and his or her deputy. That obviously explains why the conversation about who the candidates should be have been about whether the candidate and running mate of any particular party can come from the same religion. From the look of it, the religious leader and his/her deputy must either be Muslim or Christian. Atheists and worshippers of gods not related to Islam and Christianity can kiss the Nigerian Presidency good bye for now. Well, except you can combine your worship of other gods with an open declaration of your faith in either of the above nationally prominent religions. This is not the first time religion has played a part in the run-up to elections in Nigeria but this is the first time a foreign spectator taking a cursory look at the conversation around politics in Nigeria today and would think the February 2015 elections will be about electing Nigeria’s new religious leader.
This did not happen by chance. It is not a thing of chance for a Christian president to dedicate specific Sundays to visit select churches in the land. What is there in fellowshipping with the brethren? You need not know that Aso Rock Villa has its own chapel to know that the “wandering” president is not exactly interested in praising the Lord at the Villa.
Politicians are intentional. If they find you useful, they use you; if they find you not so useful, they either relegate you or discard you till a later date when you’d be useful to serve their need. If they find you dangerous in anyway, they are sure to place you in the category of an “enemy”, who, in certain cases, they believe, has been paid by their detractors to make life difficult for them. They are like religio-political leaders (a.k.a called pastors, a word confused with the word “Pastor” which simply refers to a minister in charge of a Christian church). No Nigerian religio-political leader worth his/her onion has ever endorsed a candidate by openly stating to his/her audience to “vote for Mr. A and Mrs. B.” They are smarter than that. They are the ones that act the aphorism “action speaks louder than words” in its truest form. Endorsements come much more emphatic than mere words. A family that prays together stays together, a president that prays with our pastor respects our pastor. Brethren, what shall we then say to these things, if one humbles himself before our man of God, should we then not lift such a man up with our votes? Yeah! It works!
Jonathan’s handlers know that irrespective of what happens elsewhere, the President will be competing against a Muslim. In a country like ours perennially divided along ethnic lines, the President is amassing as many Christian votes as possible and no one can say he is not trying hard enough. What that does is to further polarise and divide the country but no prize is too much to pay to retain power for him. If you are faced with the prospect of competing against a Fashola (Muslim, it must be stated for the sake of this point) who comes to the table on the strength of his records as the Governor of Lagos State, your best bet would be to introduce issues into the space that leave no room for the discussion that matters.
A Boko Haram ceasefire was reportedly brokered in Saudi Arabia. It turned to be a hoax but it did serve several purposes, it changed the tune of the national distraction before giving way to Israel. Those who press the switch of distraction know the ON/OFF button so well the nation seamlessly gets distracted with so much as going as far as creating fuel scarcity. That is the ultimate shot for when we the people get overly excited about our right to look for the missing $20bn.
Nothing just happens, certainly not in politics where sacking doctors only means a chance to be thanked for “reinstating them,” thus further confirming you as “a listening leader.” With the chances of someone like Fashola, for instance, being on the ticket almost limited to a vice-presidential candidacy, it certainly helps to prepare the grounds for hatred, distrust and suspicion that’d be made to greet a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The agenda is simple enough; look at me, a Christian up against the “demons of the north.” To avoid a case of plagiarism, one must credit the source; that was a phrase used at a prayer session where the President was one of the congregants answering, Amen!
The masses do not shape public debate, they debate what the propaganda machines of the political parties put out there. The Muslim-Muslim debate that is currently raging the country was put there by those hell-bent on making sure the conversation goes nowhere around “competence” and the “capacity” of prospective candidates. We are now debating what they want us to debate. No one is expected to ask question around why Nigeria’s fuel subsidies will rise in 2015 despite dwindling oil prices. Questions will not be asked around how some N2.6tn got “spent” on subsidising fuel in 2011 but such questions can be avoided if mud gets thrown into the water as much as possible. Who will ensure the 2015 elections will be about issues: the over 10 million children out of school; the over 16 million/year housing deficit; new budget finance sources in the face of tumbling oil prices. Who will ask questions about power and why despite its unbundling, it continues to be a burden? What is the hope for solar and wind power generation for those millions of Nigerians not connected to the national grid? Of course, these are not important questions. The most critical question is the religion of the candidates; that is what will determine their competence.
An enlightened citizen wants to know about the competence, character, capacity and mental strength of prospective candidates but not so for the masses. The truth is, the majority have been made to see these elections with their religious eyes. That is the reason why those who set the agenda made sure on-looking religious eyes do not fail to see men they reverence almost as much as God. Those who allowed the religious debate to gain ground must now accept their defeat; that issue has come to play a role in these elections and it will. Whether the next president and his deputy are Christians or Muslims is not the last thing on my mind, it is not on my mind at all. Competence over idiocy irrespective of the religion idiocy claims. The question is, is this question on the minds of the masses? Yes. And it will matter. Then, Nigeria will likely pay again because any country that chooses its leaders without consideration for his or her competence has chosen the path of underdevelopment. But of course, all we can do is pray after that. Like we have always done. All is well. Really.
This piece was first published in the Punch Newspaper and is republished here with permission from the author. Views expressed are solely the author’s