From Fred Itua, Aidoghie Paulinus, Fred Ezeh, Abuja and Gyang Bere, Jos
As the deadline for the submission of substantive running mates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) expires, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu appear to be sticking to their choice of Kashim Shettima as Vice Presidential candidate, in spite of pleas and agitations from Christian leaders and leaders of his party for them to rescind the decision.
This is even as Christian leaders, especially the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Catholic Bishops Conference, have renewed their hostility against APC’s same-faith ticket.
Tinubu, a Yoruba Muslim from the South West, following his emergence as the candidate of the APC, had been under pressure to pick a Northern Christian as his running mate.
There were pressures from Christian leaders and moderate Muslims from the North on the former Lagos State governor to respect the country’s religious sensitivity and diversity in picking a running mate.
Despite the pressure, however, Tinubu settled for a former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, who is also a Muslim. The choice has not gone down well with many Nigerians, notably Northern Christians, who threatened to work against Tinubu if he didn’t rescind his decision.
Their agitations seemed to have hit the rocks when President Muhammadu Buhari, who in 2015 rejected a same-faith ticket, endorsed Tinubu’s choice. APC governors and the leaders of the party, also endorsed the candidacy of Shetima, as Tinubu’s potential deputy.
Saturday Sun reliably gathered that the choice of Shettima, has pitted Christian leaders against their Muslim counterparts. It also revealed that the decision has energised the Muslim base in the North, who are comfortable with a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The source, who doesn’t want to he named, said if the current squabbles continue, it may work in Tinubu’s favour when elections hold in February, 2023.
He revealed that though Atiku is a Northern Muslim, his traditional strongholds are the South East and South South. He lamented that Peter Obi, who is the candidate of the Labour Party, will drastically reduce Atiku’s votes in the South.
He claimed that the North West, which appears to be indifferent, will play a deciding role in 2023 and may likely endorse Tinubu/Shetima.
The source claimed that Tinubu’s men have started reaching out to top and respected Islamic leaders and clerics in the North, to push the narrative during Jumat on Fridays and urge their followers to endorse a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The source some moderate Muslim and APC leaders, who are opposed to the same-faith ticket, have warned that the move could lead to a religious crisis if not properly handled.
He said Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa are the key states where Muslim clerics are being wooed by Tinubu’s men.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will see top Islamic clerics and leaders issuing statements and preaching in mosques to counter the position of Christian leaders. Once this squabble starts, it will energise APC’s Muslim base in the North.
“If Atiku and his men don’t move fast, they’ll be pushed to the defensive. Tinubu is a strategist and his men are working to change the narrative. The media will be recruited too to push this,” the source told Saturday Sun.
Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), has said as far as the 2023 election is concerned, its position on religious balancing of the presidential ticket remains unchanged.
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Most Revd (Dr) Lucius Ugorji, gave the hint while responding to Saturday Sun’s inquiry.
Ugorji who was asked if the All Progressives Congress (APC) had reached out to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria on why they chose a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket and what condition the CBCN will give to APC in order to back down on the issue, referred our correspondent to a June 14, 2022, press statement issued by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
In the statement signed by the Secretary-General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Very Rev. Fr. Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi, and the Director, Social Communications, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria noted that “it is disheartening to observe that the conduct of most of our politicians seem to be going from bad to worse as we witnessed a show of shame and heightened ugly culture of money politics during the recently held primaries.
“While all this is going on, we must not lose sight of the fact that the unity of this country has, over the years, been maintained by a delicate balancing of the religious and the regional,” the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria said.
The Catholic Secretariat said with the present glaring crisis and division in the nation, a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be most insensitive and a tacit endorsement of the negative voices of many non-state actors who have been threatening this nation’s unity and peaceful coexistence without an arrest.
“Going by the Kaduna experience, we can perceive the havoc the Muslim-Muslim ticket has brought upon the predominantly Christian people of Southern Kaduna.
“We therefore strongly advise those political parties toying with the divisive agenda to have a rethink by presenting a more inclusive ticket, while calling on all people of goodwill to resist this budding injustice that may be hatched against a cross section of the people.”
In the same vein, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has debunked reports that Tinubu, had reached out to the Association to pacify it and secure its support ahead of the elections.
Pastor Bayo Oladeji, the media aide to CAN President, confirmed to Saturday Sun that neither APC nor its presidential candidate, Tinubu, had reached out to CAN as a kind of lobbying for not meeting their demand of fielding a northern Christian as his running mate.
“Nothing like that has happened. Besides, whatever Tinubu or APC do now is already late because they know what they want to do and they have taken a decision on that. I raised several concerns long before the choice of Kashim Shettima, as APC vice presidential candidate was made public,” he said.
Similarly, chairman of CAN, Plateau State, Rev. Fr. Polycarp Lubo has declared that under no circumstance will Christians support the Muslim-Muslim ticket of APC.
He noted that unless the party reverses its decision, CAN will not encourage Christians to support the ticket in the spirit of fairness, justice and equity, taking into cognizance the peculiarity and diversity of Nigeria as a nation.
Fr. Lubo in an interview with Saturday Sun in Jos, said since the declaration, no APC stakeholder within or outside the state has reached out to CAN to solicit its support.
“We don’t have any channel of communication with the APC since the Muslim-Muslim ticket was mentioned. There is no information, no discussion and nobody has consulted us,” he said.
Fr. Lubo expressed worry that if the APC gets away with its current decision, the country will continue to run on Muslim-Muslim ticket subsequently and insisted that the ticked should be opposed.