A man places his ballot paper in a ballot box at polling unit. (Photo by STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP)
As we eagerly await the flag off of the electioneering campaigns preparatory to the all important general elections of 2023, the political permutations and manipulations have assumed extremely tricky and fragile dimensions that are so delicate and capable of causing serious problems for our democracy, if not properly handled. In the emerging dispensation, religion and ethnic considerations have once again taken the centre stage of politicking; and, people are treating it with levity as if it is a normal phenomenon. If the ignorance of the ordinary man on the street or the retinue of political jobbers to the dangers posed by this trend is overlooked and forgiven; the same cannot be the case for our experienced/well groomed politicians and the elites who ought to know better.
Our politicians are gradually dragging us back to the era where religion and ethnicity tore us apart and greatly contributed to political instability in governance. At the early stages of the country’s democracy, political activities were largely beclouded by parochial sentiments based on ethno-religious considerations. One of the major achievements of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s (IBB) administration was the elimination of the multi-party system of ethnicized politics by the adoption of a two party system with national spread and outlook. At that period, the creation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) was the elusive and much sought solution to the fragility of our then prevailing political hullabaloo. This led to the freest and fairest election on 12th of June, 1993. Although, the outcome of that election was not eventually actualized; the basics became the foundation upon which the present Fourth Republic was laid in 1999.
Today, the dangerous and calamitous tendencies of religion and ethnic politicking is gradually been reinvigorated. Though, the proponents of the current moves are hinging their actions on the necessity for ethno-religious balancing; the way and manner in which some of them are propagating it leave much to be desired. Rather than creating awareness and conducive atmosphere for the electorates on the activities lined up for the marketability or salability of their respective candidates when the electioneering campaigns eventually kick off in earnest; they are busy confusing the masses the more and creating atmosphere of mutual suspicion across the nook and cranny of the country. Gradually, their acclaimed actions for national interest have started planting seeds of discord and cancerous wounds in the hearts of the citizenry.
As much as there is nothing bad for political and religious leaders, associations, institutions and other individuals to amicably agitate for inclusiveness or equity and fairness of representation in governance; doing so in way(s) that could send wrong signals to people of other ethno-religious affiliations is the most fretful aspects of the whole matter. Nigeria is a secular state where no particular religion is seen as the official religion. In furtherance to this, the subsisting 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides in Section 38(1) that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. In the same vein, there is no provision in the constitution or any known law where one ethnic nationality is seen as superior or inferior to the others.
However, our people have so made the situation very complicated that we now see imaginary dichotomy based on ethnicity and religion. It is so worrisome that the country is presently engulfed in fiercely political wrangling on issues bordering on the geo-political region to produce the next president. There are also agitations for a Christian president and a total rejection of a Muslim-Muslim ticket that is generally believed and seen as having the coloration of an “Islamic Agenda”. As already stated earlier, there would not have been any problem with this agitations and objections if they were backed by any law; but, there is none.
The Constitution and the newly passed Electoral Act 2022 did not in anyway make provisions for religion and ethnic considerations in the election of political parties’ presidential candidates or selections of their running mates. The same is also applicable in the election processes of the chairmanship position of the parties. If the above is the “position of the law”; then, why do people always criminalize it whenever the process does not agree or favour their ethnic or religious affiliations? If what is presently in practice is flawed and undesirable; the best way to go about it is by constitutional means through the National Assembly. Alternatively, result could be achieved by stopgap approach through discussions and negotiations to arriving at a Win-Win compromise; and, that is the beauty of modern politics. The use of threats, propaganda, force or other processes not known to the law can only compound and not resolve the problem(s).
Ironically, the same people that are very quick to acknowledging and making references to our lofty achievements of June 12, 1993 (including those that were not born or have not attained the voting age then) are also the same people that are championing the crusades condemning and crying foul against the principles upon which that achievement became possible. This review will be neutral as much as possible; but, references will be made to some individuals and their political affiliations without prejudice to anyone or group.
One of the very delicate and trending issues of concern is the opinion held in some quarters about the purported ploy by the North to remain in power. This people are hinging their misgiving on the participation and eventual victory of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the presidential primaries of the PDP as a way of denying the South from producing the next president. Though, no one has been able to show us the section(s) of the Constitution or the Electoral Act that provides for “turn by turn” or zoning amongst the regions; they are of the firm belief that the presidential position should have been reserved/zoned for the south in 2023, in accordance to an unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” within the party. However, the fact that the said Atiku was able to garner the majority of the delegates’ votes (which cut across all the regions) at the presidential primaries which was also contested by candidates from the South, is an indication that he was the most preferred amongst the lot in spite of his northern origin.
If that be the case, the issue of his ethnic background should not be held against him; unless, it could be proven that he forced the delegates to vote for him involuntarily or illegally to denying the south or other aspirants their right to be voted for or elected. Funny enough, it was this same Atiku that “stepped down” (from the second ballot during the SDP presidential primaries held at the Jos Township Stadium) to pave way for M.K.O. Abiola (a Southerner from the West) to emerge as the presidential candidate of the party and the eventual winner of the June 12, 1993 elections.
To be continued tomorrow
Oise-Oghaede wrote from Suru-lere, Lagos; and, he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.