A former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has warned political parties and their leaders against the ideaof fielding either Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian as presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the February 14, 2014 election.
He said in a terse statement made available to journalists in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Sunday that such idea was dangerous given the current happenings in the polity.
Although he made no mention of any political party or politician in the statement, he appeared to have alluded to an All Progressive Congress presidential aspirant, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s comment on Saturday that he was not opposed to a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Obasanjo’s statement read, “Sensitivity is a necessary ingredient for enhancement of peace, security and stability at this point in the political discourse and arrangement for Nigeria and for encouraging confidence and trust.
“It will be insensitive to the point of absurdity for any leader or any political party to be toying with Muslim- muslim or Christian-Christian ticket at this juncture.
“Nigeria cannot at this stage raise the spectre and fear of Islamisation or Christianisation. The idea of proselytisation in any form is a grave danger that must not be contemplated by any serious-minded politician at this delicate situation in Nigeria, as this time is different from any other time.
“Therefore, disregarding the fact that there are fears that need to be allayed at this point will amount not only to insensitivity of the highest order but will also amount to very bad politics indeed.”
Buhari had in an interview published on Saturday by an online newspaper, TheCable, said he had an open mind on a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The presidential aspirant argued that he had shown in the past that he was not a religious fundamentalist by picking Christians as his running mates. His former running mates are a former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo (late); an ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke (late) and Tunde Bakare.
He had said, “Nigerians will always uncover impossible room for manoeuvre for politicians. I had to face one of the governors during one of our party’s meetings [over the issue of religion].
“In 2003, I chose Okadigbo as my running mate. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. In 2007, I picked Ume-Ezeoke. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. And in 2010, I chose even a pastor. Pastor Tunde Bakare.
“Honestly, what do Nigerians want me to do? If they don’t believe I’m not a fundamentalist, what else can I do?”
He added that the late MKO Abiola, a southern Muslim, picked Babagana Kingibe, a northern Muslim, as his running mate in the 1993 presidential election.
The Muslim-Muslim ticket won the election generally considered as the fairest and freest election in Nigeria.
Buhari is believed to be looking in the direction of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, who is also a muslim, as his running mate.
Fashola had since distanced himself from reports that he might be Buhari’s running mate.
When contacted, the Director-General, Buhari Support Group, Alhaji Umaru Dembo, said, ‘‘I do know the context in which what was said was said. So many people have been trying to cast the APC in a religious garb. What I can say is that when the issue of the ticket is decided, the party will look at other issues. Right now, talking about the running mate is a distraction.’’
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, however, told one of our correspondents that it had “noted” Obasanjo’s advice.
He said, “We appreciate the fact that the problem confronting our nation today is one that requires a patriotic Nigerian who has the capacity and competence to deal with. We however note the former President’s advice.”
Mohammed added that the party had always pledged to be guided by the 1999 Constitution and its guidelines in taking decisions on issues that affect the generality of Nigerians.
“What we’ve always said is that our party will be guided by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and will be guided also by our own guidelines and also will be guided by what we believe is in the best interest of Nigerians,” he said.
The APC had lost some of its prominent members who claimed that the party leadership was planning to field Muslim-Muslim candidates for the 2015 presidential election.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh, said the party had decided to keep off religious issues and focus on politics.
“At this point in time, due to what is happening in the nation, the PDP has refrained from commenting on religious matters. We want to keep religion out of politics. We are focused on politics. We do not want to make comments on religion,” Metuh added.
The ruling PDP has already endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian as its presidential candidate. Vice-President Namadi Sambo, a Muslim whom the PDP leadership described as a member of its winning team, may still run as Jonathan’s deputy.
APC, PDP legislators, others disagree
However, the caucuses of the PDP and APC in the House of Representatives differed on the issue.
The Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the character of the presidential candidates should be the focus and not the religion.
He explained that Nigeria could have “all-Muslim” candidates or “all-Christian candidates.”
Gbajabiamila added, “For us, it doesn’t matter whether it is a Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket.
“What people are looking out for is development and good governance.
“We should be looking at the character of the person and what he can offer, not his religion.”
But, the PDP caucus praised Obasanjo for bringing the issue to the fore.
The Deputy Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, said members were in support of Obasanjo.
“The former President spoke well. We are totally in support of what he has said.”
A former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Shuaib Oyedokun, also commended Obasanjo for the statement.
Oyedokun said, “This statement from him is commendable. We must however be reminded that Nigerian had done this in the last by fielding Muslim/Muslim ticket.
“We must know that there are some states in both the South and the North that are either predominately Christians or Muslims and because of this, it would be difficult to do balancing.”
In the Senate, Kabiru Marafa said it was “left for the parties to design their permutations for winning elections and for Nigerians to say yes or no to them during the polls.”
Marafa recalled that the late Abiola and Kingibe, both Muslims, contested for election on the same platform.
“They ran together and their election is still a point of reference in Nigeria. There was no crisis. In fact, people voted overwhelmingly for them across the country,” he said.
The lawmaker argued that it would “have been better if the former President had advised his own party not to do so because of the fear of losing an election.”
Also, Senator Boluwaji Kunlere, said that Obasanjo “should avoid such advice now especially when a political party is already being accused of bringing about a religious agenda.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Fred Agbaje, said while he agreed that “Obasanjo’s pronouncement on any major nation issue cannot be ignored,” he (Obasanjo) “should not arrogate to himself, the title of Mr. Know-it-all.”
Agbaje said, “What is Obasanjo saying? Haven’t Nigerians voted Muslim-Muslim ticket before even though the power-that-be did not allow it to stand? What Nigerians need are competent leaders, and they could be Muslim-Muslim, Christian-Christian, female-female, male-male, male-female or female-male.
“Nigerians need leaders that will solve many of the nation’s socio-economic woes, unemployment, corruption, armed robbery, kidnapping and the general state of insecurity in the country.
“Obasanjo should not see himself as the only person having the panacea to the nation’s problems.”
However, the Trade Union Congress advised the political class to avoid any controversial issue such as a Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket.