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On a same-faith ticket

On a same-faith ticket

The choice of a same-faith presidential ticket has generated animated discussion. That, in itself, is not unhealthy. But unhealthy is the disregard for civility in discussions. Uncivil disregard for divergent opinions is the first step to violence.

Nigeria does not need violence. She has had and still has too much of it. If we truly desire a tradition of polite dissension, we must scrutinise every candidate for public office, insult no one because of his political affiliation, stop calling others enemies of Nigeria because of their divergent political views. We must trade not insults, we must trade ideas.In announcing and explaining his choice of presidential running mate, Candidate Bola Tinubu expressed what comes across as a noble intention, saying: “I must compose the best team possible, a team put together with but one overriding purpose: to forever establish just, capable, and compassionate governance for the people of Nigeria without regard to religion, region, or ethnic origin.” Noble as its sounds, it calls for careful scrutiny.

Nigeria’s Constitution does not forbid a same-faith ticket, that is, one in which the candidate and his running mate are of the same religious affiliation. What then is the problem? The Constitution prescribes and makes mandatory respect for the principle of federal character, that is, in appointing public officers, Nigeria’s regional diversity must be reflected. The Constitution is not silent on respect for religious diversity. Nonetheless, its respect for religious diversity is visible in its refusal to adopt and anoint any state religion. Implicitly, the Constitution calls for a prudential application that takes religious diversity into consideration in conducting matters of state.

Candidate Tinubu continued his discourse by declaring: “I have never been an indecisive man and have no present intention to become one. What I am, however, is a democrat. And a democrat must listen to, and consult with, the people and his advisors so that he may reform and govern wisely and on their behalf. This I have done.” However, it is clear that those who are apprehensive about a same-faith ticket are not persuaded that such a ticket passes the litmus test of democracy as specified in the quote above. They think they have been heard but have not been listened to. For, even though we often speak as if the two were the same, hearing and listening are not the same. Hearing is biological, listening is existential. To hear a sound is to have our auditory organs acted on. To listen is to interpret correctly the meaning of the sound that acts on our sensory organs. To hear but not to listen would fall short of the attribute of a democrat.The over-arching argument in the candidate’s discourse is the argument of competence. Thus, he said: “All my life, my decisions regarding the team around and supporting me have always been guided by the principles of competence, innovation, compassion, integrity, fairness, and adherence to excellence.”There is no reason to dissent from the argument of competence. Multiple competence is a prerequisite for leadership. A leader must be intellectually, morally and technically or administratively competent. Innovation falls under the rubric of technical competence; compassion, integrity and fairness fall under the rubric of ethical competence; while adherence to excellence falls under the rubric of intellectual competence. Thus, unlike what is conveyed in Candidate Tinubu’s version of the argument of competence, it is not that competence is one thing, innovation another, compassion another, fairness another, and adherence to excellence another. Rather, innovation, compassion, integrity, fairness and adherence to excellence all fall under the rubric of competence.If there is any doubt as to the stated intent of prioritising competence in his option for a same-faith ticket, such doubt dissipates when the candidate says: “Our focus, therefore, must be on getting the job done; and that means getting the very best and competent people to do it. In this crucial moment, where so much is at stake, we must prioritize leadership, competence, and the ability to work as a team over other considerations….“if we truly understand the challenges upon us a nation, then we must also see the imperative of placing competence in governance above religious sentiment.”Let us therefore focus on the main thrust of his argument: that the choice of a same-faith ticket is, in this instance, dictated by the prioritization of competence over religion. Beneath this argument is a contrived dichotomy between competence and religion. But we do not have to choose one of the two, we are in fact morally obliged to embrace both. Religion facilitates the acquisition of moral competence, which is one of the members of the tripodal competence I had earlier referred to in this essay. It is not that one cannot live a good moral life without religion. It is the case that religion assists us in acquiring moral competence.The argument of competence is seductively simple but patently insufficient. For, while competence is a necessary condition for leadership, it is by no means a sufficient condition. In our currently polarised Nigeria, choice of leaders must meet sufficient and necessary conditions dictated by our diversity. An argument anchored on competence alone would mistake a necessary condition for a sufficient condition.The attempt to justify a same-faith ticket on the grounds of prioritisation of competence would have been sustainable if there were no competent Christians of northern Nigerian origin, and if Christians were not lopsidedly on the receiving end of insecurity in the land. Moreover, if one were to use competence alone to decide on who is to be elected, none of the aspirants for public office in Nigeria or in any democracy can be demonstrably characterised as the most competent among their fellow citizens.Undoubtedly, building a habitable Nigeria demands leaders of competence. But we must quickly add that such competence necessarily includes the ability and willingness to manage Nigeria’s diversity. Mismanagement of our diversity has been a major impediment towards the realisation of the huge potential in this country. A same-faith ticket would be an avoidable but self-inflicted handicap in this respect. Nigeria’s diversity makes it imperative to maintain ethnic, regional and religious equilibrium in state matters. Every community should be represented at the table of decision. A same-faith ticket severely undermines the ability to maintain this balance. It dangerously plays into the hands of those who would accentuate and aggravate an already existing disequilibrium in an increasingly polarised polity.

A presidential or gubernatorial candidate has a right and duty to decide on who would be his or her running mate. Nigerians, for their part, hold the prerogative to choose their leaders. But that prerogative is undermined by an electoral process whose integrity only a few can vouch for, and whose fatal flaws are yet to be given adequate attention by necessary legislation. Ours is a country where winning an election and the “electoral value” of candidates for public office are prioritized over the need for an inclusive ticket. Those who express legitimate concerns over a same-faith ticket are simply saying it does not meet the requirement of inclusivity, a requirement dictated, not only by the diversity characteristic of Nigeria, but also by the intolerance, suspicion, persecution and marginalization that we cannot deny in past and present Nigeria. For the sake of inclusivity and representativity, a presidential or gubernatorial ticket requires two competent personalities who neither belong to the same ethnic community, nor belong to the same regional community, nor belong to the same religious community. The problem, therefore, is not the problem of a Muslim-Muslim ticket, but that of sameness of religious affiliation. Any same-faith ticket would fail the litmus test of inclusivity and representativity. The same would be true of a same-region or same-ethnic ticket.

Some have argued that religion has not helped our democracy. However, apart from the fact that the assertion has no bearing with reality, it is the case that religion plays a role in Nigerian politics. Some use is for the common good, some others for interests that are inimical to the common good. Religious sentiments, like ethnic and regional sentiments are influential key players when Nigerians vote. That is why it is difficult, almost impossible, for an Egun to become Governor of Lagos State, or a Catholic of Zamfara State origin to become Governor of Zamfara State, or even a Local Government Chairman or member of State House of Assembly in Zamfara State.A democracy that disregards or belittles and trivializes the rights and concerns of a significant portion of the population in the polity has lost its soul. Christians who are indigenes of northern Nigeria constitute a minority. The argument of competence comes across as telling them that the most competent presidential running mate cannot be found among them, and that, considering their minority status, their electoral value—and by extension, the electoral value of other minority communities in Nigeria—is negligible and dispensable. We must not fail to keep our focus on another issue, and that is: given the level of insecurity in the land, will there be a sufficiently conducive atmosphere for an election in 2023? And, if there were to be an election, given the propensity for acting in ways that are inimical to the electoral process on the part of many of our politicians, will the process be fair to the point where its outcome would be a true reflection of the will of the electorate?If the true answer to that second question is in the affirmative, then, come 2023, Nigerians will make a choice on this choice of same-faith ticket hoping that their votes will count and be respected.

Father Anthony Akinwale, OP

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