Muslim Or Christian Presidential Candidates: What The Constitution Says ,By Issa Aremu



rp_Aremu-300-150x150.jpgWith its limitations, 1999 constitution guides our democratic process. Yours comradely  insists that quantitatively Nigerian democracy has come a long way in the past 15 years. With 4 transitional presidential elections, scores of governorship elections  and as many as 70 million registered voters, this is the largest democracy in Africa. We can debate the quality of elections, but we cannot deny that this is a country of elections.

Nonetheless,  this democracy requires quality control which is only possible with the urgent application of the spirit and content of the constitution with all its imperfections.

Both former Heads of State General Muhammadu Buhari and President Olusegun Obasanjo are respected statesmen. However both of them were  wrong to have recently introduced albeit inadvertently “religious” innovation to the nomination process of the candidates for the President and the Vice President of the Federal Republic. In his recent interview with The Cable online newspaper, Buhari reportedly said”; “I have not absolutely closed my mind to picking a Christian or Muslim as running mate if I get the ticket.  Because I firmly believe that Nigerians, having gone through what they have gone through, realize it is not a matter of religion, but a matter of Nigeria…”

In a quick sensational reaction (which made many to even know that General Buhari made such comment!) former President Olusegun Obasanjo accused  General Buhari of the usual alleged religious sensitivity for being indifferent to a “religious balance” in presidential nominations.  According to Obasanjo; “Sensitivity is a necessary ingredient for enhancement of peace, security and stability at this point in the political discourse and arrangement for Nigeria and for encouraging confidence and trust… It will be insensitive to the point of absurdity for any leader or any political party to be toying with Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket at this juncture…”

The point cannot overstated; both former Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo were wrong to have brought issue of religion into a purely political partisan nomination process.  This controversy is unnecessary, unhelpful and diversionary from core governance issues begging for answers.

The Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution does not define citizenship of Nigeria in terms of religion. “Christians”, “Muslims” are not known to the constitution. Muslims are only mentioned in relations to sharia courts not security and welfare which is  the objective of governance. Constitution talks of the people and citizens of Nigeria. Chapter VI of the constitution says there shall be the President of the Federation who shall be the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.

The criteria for qualifications do not include religious profiling. A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President once he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; he has attained the age of forty years; he or she is a member of a political party (note; not a religious associations by whatever names) and is sponsored by that political party; and he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. An election to the office of President is conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission and not by any religious or ethnic groups. The Seventh Schedule of the constitution says President and his or her Vice President will take Oaths that bear Allegiance to Republic of Nigeria, preserve, protect and defend the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The oath of allegiance of the President is not to any religious or ethnic groups. Chapter III of the Constitution also defines citizens of Nigeria not in terms of their religious profiling. The intrusion of religion into Nigeria’s politics is a clear threat to democracy causing violent eruptions and threatening peace. The Federal Government must be firm on the secularity of the Nigerian state. Nigerians must avoid any entanglement with or manipulation of religion. The President and Vice President Nigeria needs are the ones that appreciate  Chapter II of the constitution and subscribes to the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy which among others says the State ( and certainly statesmen) shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution.

“(a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy; (b) control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare,freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social  justice and equality of status and opportunity; (c) without prejudice to its right to operate or participate in areas of the economy, other than the major sectors of the economy, manage and operate the major sectors of the economy.”

Both Generals Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo are encouraged to be statesmanlike and talk in terms of the spirit and content of the constitution not their divisive preferences. Religion is purely a private affair.

The two great faiths; Islam and Christianity are not at war. Nobody should invent religious balancing as if there is any imbalance along religious lines. It is unconstitutional to introduce “religious balancing” into power sharing arrangement of the politicians. What Nigerians desire is good governance to be driven by good politicians with tested democratic civil mindsets and democratic programme.

Issa Aremu mni

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