At the time that Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his celebrated “I have a dream” speech in 1963, he spoke of an America in which its citizens would not be judged or condemned by their race or color of their skin.
He urged for every citizen to be judged “by the content of their character.” As I reflect on the sagacious words of MLK, I too have a dream. A new dream about my motherland, Nigeria.
I have a new dream that one day from every corner of this great nation, my country folk will see themselves primarily as Nigerians. I have a new dream that I will wake up in a nation where none of us will be judged by the features on our faces, the languages we speak, the tonation of our accents, the traditional regalia clothing us, the region of our indigeneship, the ethnic tribes of our parents, or the religion we submit to but by the content of each of our characters.
Since the pronouncement that the ruling APC is going to float a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the 2023 presidential election, with Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the flagbearer and Alhaji Kashim Shetima as his running mate, there has been outrage and a sense of exasperation amongst many Nigerians. The Christian community and, to some extent, some Muslims have been up in arms about the insensitivity of such a decision in light of the current atmosphere in the country.
A great majority of Nigerian Christians feel marginalized, shortchanged, disrespected and offended. They feel as if they are footnotes in a drama where they are witnessing the Islamization of a nation that is supposed to be theirs in equal footing.
As the debates and fallouts continue, it has become my new dream that we, Muslims, especially in the ruling party, especially from the north, do not waive aside the disapproval of the composition on the ticket or minimize the concerns of the Christian community as being oversensitive. As long as we turn a blind eye to the anger of our brethren, act as if the ire of our Christian neighbors is not justified, then this country, beyond the noise of a Muslim-Muslim ticket and beyond any election, will forever be tainted. The fact that some believe Asiwaju’s decision is part of some elaborate underground unsecular master plan cannot be wished away by those of us who are certain that it isn’t.
It is my new dream that my people take it upon ourselves to accommodate the fears and fury of our Christian brethren and gently convince them of the reason behind the choice that Asiwaju made. We must be more accommodating because more than anyone, we should understand that, had the situation been reversed, we are unlikely to support a Christian-Christian presidential ticket at this very time in Nigeria, under this very same circumstance.
As a Northern Muslim, Hausa/Fulani who fully understands and supports the reason why Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was compelled to pick a fellow Muslim as his running mate, I also thoroughly understand the anger from the Christian community, especially those of Northern Nigerian extraction. As much as I would want the Christian community to pause and take a minute and not view Asiwaju’s choice through religiously jaundiced lenses, it pains me that a vast majority of the Muslim community, especially from the North is being highly insensitive and vaguely hypocritical towards the Christian community.
This ambivalence has forced me to confront what I would be feeling if I woke up and the flagbearer of the political party I had committed to support was a Christian who had picked a Christian running mate. On the face of it, I honestly would not have a problem with that combination if I believed that the decision was necessary and made in great wisdom. However, at my very core I continue to question whether I would nurse some consternation as to what it would portend for me and my immediate community.
In my new dream Nigerians of like minds will be able to rise above the primitive reasoning of ‘us and them’ that gives way to kneejerk vitriol spewing along ethnic and religious lines. I dream that we overcome ethnic bias, nepotism, tribal discord and religious dichotomy. We must be able to see things through Nigerian eyes; to be objective on issues, empathetic to others, understanding of apprehensions and appreciative of who we are and what we each bring to this colourful cluster of personalities that make up our beautiful geographical expression.
If the Christian community, primarily of northern extraction, is so distraught about the prospect of a Muslim-Muslim presidency inspite of the rationale behind its conception, despite the fact that the vice-presidential nominee is their fellow northerner, perhaps the Muslim community needs to be more introspective and look inwards.
Northern Nigeria is an entity encompassing over half the population of this country; with widespread water resources, vast land, fertile agricultural soil, abundant natural endowments awaiting development, amongst so many other virtues. Once upon a time Arewa produced the most selfless, patriotic leaders, but today it is an entity in disarray.
A ghost of its former self, crying out for redirection; desperate for salvation. Our leadership now almost seems at odds with the spirit of building a strong, united, and virile Arewa.
It is a pity that since our independence, the north is forced to continuously refer to Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto whenever asked to produce a northern leader of selflessness, courage, distinction, dedication and detribalized sentiment. Sir Ahmadu Bello was able to unify the various diverse tribes found in the north. Never did he discriminate based on tribe and always, he would encourage people to practice their religion regardless of what it was. He taught the north to understand and value its differences and look upon them as its strength by accommodating every “dan Arewa” whom shared his vision to fortify and modernize the north. Unfortunately, since Sardauna, the north has not functioned in this way. For a long time, systematic differential bigotry and nepotism has characterized the manner in which the north has applied itself against itself. Along tribal but especially religious lines, northerners have gone to war with themselves and it goes both ways. And perhaps because the Hausa, Fulani or Kanuri Muslims are the majority within the northern population, it would almost be expected that the non-Hausa/Fulani have felt like the second wheel in the States that they are a minority and in the general affairs of the north. And while northern Muslims share the same sentiments in states such as Plateau, Taraba and Benue where the persecuted Muslims are the minority, we cannot pretend that there isn’t a perceived marginalization of northern minorities by the largly Hausa/Fulani Muslim northern oligarchy. This true state of affairs in Northern Nigeria invariably injected itself into Asiwaju’s decision and forces the hands of fate.
From the moment Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the primary election of the APC, there was a high prospect that the APC presidential ticket would comprise two Muslims. This does not speak to the fact that Asiwaju is trying to enact some sort of machiavellian agenda or because there isn’t a northern Christian who has the capacity to fill in as vice president. Far from it. Asiwaju’s burden is one in which he needs to deliver victory to the APC in the 2023 presidential election. And in order to do that, he must garner the support of the voting mass in the core North-West and North-East. Call us narrowminded, intolerant, illiberal or unexposed, the majority of the voting public in these areas, which happen to be Hausa, Fulani or Kanuri Muslims are not open to the probability of having a representative on a presidential ticket that is not a direct reflection of themselves. (This is an area I would like to explore further in future). This is the reality of the region as presently composed. Thus, if Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu hopes to get the support from this vital voting bloc, he is left with no alternative than to choose a Northern Muslim. That is the burden that Asiwaju carries within the context of contesting for a presidential election in 2023. That is the burden that the North has to correct internally by going back to the Arewa values Sardauna tried to espouse in us.
I have a new dream and, in that dream, Nigerians will toe the line of honor and integrity and be objective on issues. As long as we obey the law, protect fundamental human rights and ”live and let live”, it should not matter what our respective beliefs are. So long as we try to respect each other and understand the whims and caprices that make our brothers and sisters anxious and try to explain our differences with compassion and consideration, the suspicion rearing its ugly head right before our eyes will be a thing of the past.
When people feel free, liberated, protected and respected, they prosper. That is where, in my new dream, we go… the path to prosperity.
My new dream is that Nigerians will immediately appreciate that the unity from which we were fashioned is the only road that leads to lasting success; politics should never be a harbinger to that unity. And it is that unity that will change our perceptions about the paths that providence leads us down. What Nigerians must realize now before this religious debate permeates the atmosphere any further is the need to truly understand each other. Religious dichotomy has never gotten anyone anywhere and cannot take Nigeria to any space that will produce anything positive for any of us. At this very time in Nigeria, in the future of the land our forefathers envisioned for us, there are many conditions of injustice that must first be addressed and that have nothing to do with how one prays, which holy book one believes in or which name the flagbearers of our political parties bare before we ever enjoy a nation in which all are afforded their inalienable rights.
I am Hannatu Musa Musawa, a proud Muslim Hausa Fulani Herdswoman from Musawa, a rural village in Katsina and I am an APC member fully in support of the presidential candidature of Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Alhaji Kashim Shetima. I come with a new dream that understands the need to reach out to fellow Nigerians who may notperceive things the way that I presently do. ‘Perception is reality’ and ‘perspective is everything’ so I appreciate the need for effort in trying to adjust people’s mental impression of the Muslim-Muslim ticket with utmost good faith.
And so I extend my hand in friendship across the Niger, through the Benue and up to the pulpit and plead for peace and unity, ask for patience and understanding and offer my explanations and justifications. I assure the Christian community that there is absolutely nothing to fear in Alhaji Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s choice of competence, courage, eloquence, loyalty, knowledge, integrity and fundamental political sagacity.
I have a new dream about Nigeria and I must say, it is far from being comprehensive. But at least it paints a picture of what kind of Nigeria I want to see amidst this recent controversy.
So, even though we face all sorts of challenges in our nation today, I still have a new dream which is deeply rooted in the original Nigerian vision of our forefathers. All Nigerians from all tribes and all religious affiliations are equal and should not be judged by their political decisions but only by the content of their character.
I have a new dream today! And in that new dream the giant of Africa transcends political discord, ethnic and religious misunderstandings to stand as one and take its rightful place in the committee of great nations; where all people from every corner of the Niger, Christians and Muslims will join hands and sing in their wonderful native tongue: “United at last! United at last! Thank God Almighty, we are united at last!”