As Opposition leader, you carry great responsibility; to campaign for the top job in any country is onerous. You are the standard-bearer for your politics, your party and the beliefs both hold dear. Anyone who has ever run a campaign to win an election knows how big a task it is.
A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair
Having Atiku Abubakar in any political contest heralds the presence of ‘a ferociously effective election-fighting machine’ due to his vast experience in Nigeria’s politics. In the same book where I quoted the above epigraph, Tony Blair said: “The first rule in politics is that there are no rules, at least in the sense of inevitable defeats or inevitable victories. If you have the right policy and the right strategy, you always have a chance of winning. Without them, you can lose no matter how certain the victory seems.’ Of course, Atiku does not lack the right policy or the right strategy in his desire to occupy the highest office in the land.
Unfortunately, politics in Nigeria is hardly about policy. Strategy, yes, and even that is more on how to manipulate the process and “vote” in the stead of the electorate. But what is “most grievous and most bitter” is the employment of ethnicity and religion as a strategy to ascend the throne.
The number of innocent souls mown down during the farmers-herders debacle was huge, and the killings stopped as suddenly as they started especially at the time when politicians became busy with electioneering in the run-up to this year’s elections. Did the cessation of the carnage have something to do with political gladiators?
Amid the ‘riot of celebration’ in the country after (the Independent Electoral Commission), INEC’s declaration of Muhammadu Buhari as the President-Elect, there is need to look at the role played by ethnicity and religion in 2019 general elections.
The politicians found in the farmers-herders crisis, a crisis of their own manufacture, a means to a bloody end – with the aid of the conventional and the social media currency was given the false narrative of a Fulani President using his kin to decimate Christians as part of an elaborate plan to Islamise Nigeria. This message was widely preached in places of worship by men of God quoting copiously out of context from the scriptures to stoke up the embers of ethnic hatred and religious disharmony. One pastor was seen and heard on video goading his flock to kill any Fulani that strayed into the church premises.
False prophets and preachers related what God told them about the general elections, that 2019 is the year of decision in which the Christians will decide the leadership of the country to end Muslim domination and place an iron lid on the Islamisation plan in Nigeria, that President Buhari should not seek reelection otherwise he will die. ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hope. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord”.’ Jeremiah 23:16
There was no abatement of the false exhortation from the pulpit for deliverance against Islamisation even after Atiku Abubakar, a Fulani and a Muslim emerged as the standard-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The pulpit knighted and anointed him as the messiah of the persecuted Christians of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “to liberate the children of God” from another Fulani Muslim, Muhammadu Buhari and presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Mental aberration!
Atiku Abubakar’s demeanour and pronouncements did not belie the apostolic mission assigned him by the church. Every time he spoke there was that tint of affirmation of division and disunity in the country. He said: “…the leader Nigeria needs urgently is one who can unite the country and heal the deep wounds, not another Buhari who would further divide Nigeria and deepen the wounds,…”
The fact that Buhari’s running mate, Osinbajo is a pastor did not lighten the ferocity of the Islamisation storm. There were calls “on (the) General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye to strip Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of his pastorship” for exposing the misrule, embezzlement and corruption of the Goodluck Jonathan-led government. He was further maligned as “a fake man of God” and “a pastor only by name” for insisting that “it was impossible for anyone to Islamise Nigeria, as claimed by Christian interests.”
Socio-cultural organisations came out to endorse the candidature of Atiku Abubakar, and some of Buhari which compounded the situation as internal strife set in splitting members into two – the ones issuing the endorsement, the others repudiating it.
Some Muslim organisations endorsed Muhammadu Buhari of the APC as their presidential candidate and urged their followers to vote for him, not least the Sheikhs that pocketed ample share of the largess of the Jonathan government and now dread what the impending return of a Buhari government portends. The mimbar (pulpit) was transformed into a campaign platform for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Many Muslim, as well as some Christian leaders, paid solidarity visits to the Presidential Villa to register their support for the reelection bid of Buhari. Of course, the presence and participation of a trifle of Christian leaders did not alter the division of the PDP as a party for Christ and the APC as a vehicle for the Islamisation of Nigeria.
Honesty, I do not see any difference between Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari in the way they conduct themselves as Muslims in public. This is not to undermine their concealed commitment to their religion if there is any, but I am trying to establish a point. I really cannot say who between the two loves Islam more than the other. I am not speaking concerning their competence, integrity or willingness to fight corruption. I am referring to their relationship with their religion as Muslims. I have observed the Juma’ah prayers with both of them on different occasions, together or singly, at the Abuja National Mosque. My understanding is that both of them are wary of exhibiting any Islamic trait for fear of being tagged Islamists, probably. None of them ever commences a speech with bismillah (in the name of Allah) or suffixes future undertakings with inshaa Allah (if Allah wills). I concede these are not the criteria to ascertain a firm believer from a weak one, but in a country were Christian public officers commission projects “in the mighty name of Jesus”, there is nothing wrong where a Muslim in government uses words of similar import.
The church must by garlanded with roses for effective proselytising in favour of the PDP candidate to such an extent that Christians, especially in the South, were willing to lay down lives for a Fulani Muslim from the North. About a hundred Christians were killed in the South-East, South-South and South-West regions in election-related violence – ballot box snatching or shootings. Conversely, no one was killed from the North, at least during the period that actual voting lasted, trying to help their kinsman be president.
After the declaration of Muhammadu Buhari as the President-Elect by INEC, a scion of my late Sheikh’s family posted a statement on his Facebook page, a statement more deserving of a Secondus than a sheikh, in which he said: “Truly Atiku Abubakar should be saluted for his dogged stand against authoritarian leadership tendencies. He has saved the nation is a way only history will vindicate him. I, therefore, urged him to reject the fake results, no credit should be given to falsehood and seek redress in the court of law, the same way, the president did in his previous attempts, he knows better when injustice is served.”
It is indeed disheartening that the above averment came from somebody who has advocated for the opposite of what he is now urging Atiku Abubakar to do. He has once advised Buhari against seeking redress in the courts after the 2007 elections as that was not the best way to settle disputes between two Muslims. It was unfortunate then that Buhari did not heed to the Sheikh’s advice; that did not affect the fact that it was the right counsel. When Muslims were angry about his taking part in the reconciliation between Atiku Abubakar and Obasanjo after the former’s emergence as the PDP candidate, the Sheikh supported his participation with the “Hilful Fudhul” (League of the Virtuous) incident which established an alliance among Makkans against injustice. Thus, he said reconciliation among people of whatever creed is the task of every believer. Based on this, encouraging Atiku to concede victory would have been more honourable to both parties rather than urging him to go to court and challenge an election adjudged free, fair, peaceful and credible by local and international observers.
Religious leaders, Muslim and Christian, have failed the nation lamentably in the 2019 elections. They made themselves susceptible to debasement by being partisan. Men of God are not men of gold. They are parents of all regardless of party affiliation, repositories of good counsel and spiritual guidance. But whenever they lean towards a candidate or his political party, they lose the deference their flock accord them.
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