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The standard flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has assured the christian community and the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that he has no intent of pursuing any religious agenda if elected in 2023. Adedayo Akinwale writes
With less than 100 days to the 2023 elections, the Presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, is not relenting in his effort to convince the christian community, especially the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that he would not pursue any religious or ethnic agenda if elected president of Nigeria.
Following the decision of Tinubu to pick the former Governor of Borno state, Senator Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim from the North-east as his running mate, all hell was let loose. Not only did Tinubu face stiff opposition from the christian community, his erstwhile allies have also turned and mobilised against him to ensure that his decision to field same faith ticket would be a decision he would regret.
The former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara have not hidden their displeasure about the same faith ticket.
To Lawal, the introduction of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by the APC was a wicked plan to further create divisions within the north. He said for all lovers of unity in this country, especially in the north where they are most affected, the same faith ticket must never succeed.
He vowed that they would make sure they defeat it in such a resounding manner that nobody in his right senses would ever think about it again, while insisting that they are determined to kill it.
In the views of Dogara, the adoption of the same faith presidential ticket by APC was antithetical to Nigeria’s quest for nation building. The former speaker, therefore, called on Christians to resist the temptation to waste their votes in the 2023 general election as, according to him, “Every Christian knows that our God does not tolerate waste. It is unchristian-like for the church to waste anything given to us from above as we own nothing except what is given to us from above.”
Similarly, CAN had said Christians across the country would consider the decision by any political party to field a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket as a declaration of war against the freedom of religion, as well as the peace and security of the country.
In the same vein, the Catholic Church in Nigeria said foisting a Muslim-Muslim presidency on the country would threaten the existing fragile unity and cohesion among the people. It said any attempt by any political party to present a Muslim-Muslim presidential candidacy would amount to tacit endorsement of the negative voices of many non-state actors, who have been threatening the country’s unity and peaceful coexistence.
Realising that the opposition against the same faith ticket was formidable and determined to ruin his life long ambition, Tinubu, in the company of Governors Hope Uzodinma (Imo), Abdulahi Ganduje (Kano), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, and former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume, among others, last week again met with the leadership of CAN.
The presidential candidate for the first time revealed that some of those opposed to his choice of running mate in APC had lobbied for the position but were rejected. He said if it was impossible for him to Islamise his home, then, he could not Islamise the country.
Tinubu said, “I did not choose Senator Shettima so that we could form a same faith ticket. The ticket was constructed as a same progressive and people-based ideology ticket. I offer a confession. I selected Senator Shettima thinking more about who would best help me govern. Picking a Christian running mate would have been politically easier. But the easy way is rarely the right one. The selection of a running mate is at once a very momentous yet very intimate decision.”
While seeking to address the fears of Christians regarding threats to Nigeria’s secularity by the APC presidency, Tinubu said both his family background and track record as governor could bail him out as someone who was not biased.
The presidential candidate said as governor of Lagos state, he partnered the Christians to improve lives and foster education. For instance, he said he returned mission schools to their owners –most of whom are Christians, while also instituting yearly Christian Denomination Service at the governor’s residence as New Year approaches. He said this tradition continues in Lagos.
According to him: “More importantly, we fostered an atmosphere of religious tolerance and inter-faith collaboration. My cabinet was diverse and talented. In the exercise of government, I did not give a thought to whether a team member was Christian or Muslim, Yoruba, Igbo or Arewa.
Tinubu said he had never lent himself to baseless prejudice and discrimination, adding, “To do so would be a recipe for failure in the governance of a diverse society and I am not a man that is familiar with failing. I never chased people out of Lagos nor made them feel unwanted. Under my administration, Lagos welcomed all comers and continues to do so today.”
The former governor described the rumour that he and his running mate, Shettima, had a hidden plot to suppress the Christian community as untrue and unfortunate.
He posited, “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.”
But CAN, which appeared to have soften its stand on the same faith ticket of the ruling APC insisted on policy that would address the crisis of development in the country, including such issues as state police or fully decentralised police authority, clear and unambiguous religious neutrality of the Nigerian state, enforcement of fundamental rights of all Nigerians, as well as economic and social rights.
Other demands made by CAN included the fact that there should be ethnic and religious representation in the military and security agencies and self-determination for all Nigerian people.
In addition, CAN maintained its stand against RUGA, insisting that ranching is the only way to ensure peace among communities. It said there should be no open grazing but rather a modernisation of animal husbandry and local control of the local economy, including waters, rivers, and forests.
CAN said it was resolute on the creation of a new constitutional order on the basis of equality, justice, and self-determination. The christian body said if there was determination to create a new social compact between Nigerians of different religious, ethnic, and social groups, the promise of a great, peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria would be recovered.
However, CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, said the idea of the interaction was to review the understanding of the Nigerian crisis of development and governance and collectively find a lasting solution.
Okoh said CAN insisted on its Charter for Future Nigeria, which tried to highlight salient issues bedevilling the country. He added that the charter started with a diagnosis of Nigeria’s problem and located it primarily in an incoherent constitutional and institutional framework that defined governance and social and economic interactions in Nigeria.
He said: “In this interaction, we will present the highpoints of this strategic document and listen to your response to the issues they raise. This is a conversation by concerned religious community that desires the best for its country. Our interest is that all candidates clearly understand the concerns of Nigerian Christians and propose policy and programme to address those concerns.
“For avoidance of doubt, we present the policy that would address the crises of development in Nigeria as follows: state police or fully decentralised police authority, clear and unambiguous religious neutrality of the Nigerian state, enforcement of fundamental rights of all Nigerians, including economic and social rights, restructuring to decentralise governance, equitable and enforceable sharing of executive positions.”
Okon added that as an association of Christian citizens, who believe in this country and continue to pray for its unity, peace, and prosperity, CAN has spent time to review the problems that hinder peace and progress in the country and are hereby making suggestions on how best to improve them.
According to him: “We have consulted with Nigerians of diverse religious, ethnic and social identities on the problems of the country and the solutions to them have been articulated in the strategic document we call, the Charter for Future Nigeria”.
Okoh said incoherence was the main reason the country today was almost submerged in the chaos of insecurity, instability, and economic stagnation.
The christian body said it believed that with this kind of respectful and sincere conversation, they would find lasting solutions to these crises, adding that the engagement with other presidential candidates would continue in the days ahead.
On the demand by a member of CAN’s strategy committee, Sam Amadi, that he should respond point by point to the issues raised in the CAN Charter for Future Nigeria, the APC candidate said he would rather reply to them later.
“Let me look at those things and provide answers to them, if there are remaining questions, I will try as much as possible to send you an addendum,” he said.
While CAN might have soften its stand against the same faith ticket, the christian body was non-committal and conscious not to endorse the candidacy of Tinubu or his running mate as it hopes to have similar conversation with other presidential candidates in the days ahead at its secretariat in the Federal Capital Territory.