As we approach the elections, especially the presidential election, some members of the political elite wants to make religion the dominant issue instead of focusing on the governance and development challenges facing the country. In their myopia and diversionary tactics, they have focused on the religious backgrounds of some of the president aspirants. They erroneously proclaim that there will be Armageddon if certain candidates are victorious at the poll. In their efforts to stop such candidates, their religion and the part of the country they come from are being demonized. They have consequently introduced the religious backgrounds of the presidential tickets of the two main political parties, the PDP and APC, as an issue. This has manifested in the discourse of a Muslim-Muslim or a Christian-Christian ticket. While they argue for a balance of the two dominant religions in the presidential tickets, they are silent on the need for gender balance in the tickets. These campaigns further divide rather than unite our people.
Since independence the political class has exploited religion and ethnicity to further their interests – those that have private jets and stolen our oil money do not belong to one religion.
None of the two dominant religions has a monopoly of political leaders who are bad or good. Since independence in 1960, both Christianity and Islam have had their share of their adherents who were bad or good Heads of State. They raped and presided over the collapse of the country. Heads of States who professed either of these religions are culpable for the underdevelopment, pervasive corruption and criminality that characterized the Nigerian state. Nigerians, both muslims and christians from North and South, have been impoverished because of the mismanagement and looting of our commonwealth.
The little progress in the country is equally attributable to Heads of States/Presidents who happened to be either Christians or Muslims. But they did not do so in furtherance of their religion but in line with their oaths of office to work for Nigeria’s progress and prosperity. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Christian, was generally acknowledged as a good leader. One of his legacies was the free education system he introduced in the old Western region. The beneficiaries of these were not only Christians or Yorubas- all residents of that region, including the areas that became the Midwest region, had free education based on the free education policy of the Action Group government. Similarly, General Murtala Mohammad was acknowledged as a good leader. In his short reign, he laid a good foundation for Nigeria’s development, which unfortunately was squandered by subsequent regimes. Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos, a muslim, has transformed Lagos. The benefits of this accrue to all Lagosians, muslim and christian alike.
The point is that religion or ethnicity does not determine good leadership – a presidential ticket with people with the same or different religions can be good or bad leaders. Therefore in the 2015, the religious background of a presidential candidate and the running mate should not be the basis of how people should vote.
While the secularity and unity of Nigeria matter, the religious and ethnic backgrounds of a presidential candidate and his running mate do not matter. In next year’s election, Nigerians do not need a Christian or Muslim president, neither a Southern nor Northern president. Nigerians do not need an Igbo, Ijaw, Tiv, or Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani or any other ethnic president. They do not need a religious and ethnic president, but Nigerians need a president and vice president who are patriots and nationalistic; and who will rise above ethnic, religious and regional interests. Nigerians need a president and vice president who are incorruptible and those who will lead the fight against corruption. In the next election, Nigerians does not need a “religious and tribal” president but one that is godly, humane, competent, honest and incorruptible. Our people, need a president that will be fair to all Nigerians irrespective of his/her religious background. Nigerians need a president that will be able to protect their lives and property; a president that will put the welfare of our people first. Our people need a president that will not abdicate his responsible but one that will stand with them in critical moments. These are the issues that should determine how we vote in the next election, not religion or ethnicity. We must all care about the competency and patriotism of the next president and vice president, not their religious and ethnic backgrounds! As the Dalai Lama reminds us, “irrespective of doctrinal and other differences, all major world religions are concerned with helping individuals become good human beings”. We cannot therefore disqualify any Nigerian from being a president and vice president because of their religion. And as the Dalai Lama rightly pointed out, religion is something we can do without but we cannot do without the basic spiritual qualities of compassion, kindness, affection, honesty, truth and justice for all.
In the 2015 elections, the electorate should vote for a presidential ticket that will improve our healthcare system; our education sector – one that will invest in quality education at primary, secondary and tertiary level and would work vigorously to end the perennial strikes that have paralyzed our universities. As citizens, our votes would determine our future – don’t vote your fear, vote for your dreams, hope and future, irrespective of the religious and ethnic background of the presidential candidate and his running mate. Nigerians have to vote for a presidential ticket, who as president and vice president will unite rather than divide the country on the basis of ethnicity and religion. How the next president and vice president worship God should not influence your vote. Your vote is not for a religion but for better governance and the development of the country.
Good leadership is imperative now more than ever if the country is to progress; to transform the economy, to create jobs for its teeming youth, establish a strong manufacturing base, process and export finished products; reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment; improve and establish quality health and education systems; improve our infrastructure – roads, water and electricity. Improving power supply and addressing the insecurity, kidnapping and terrorism require good leadership. These are the issues that should determine who you vote for in the next election. No one religion has a monopoly of people with good leadership attributes to tackle these challenges. There are Muslims and Christians, and even atheists that have the ability to address these issues. To demonize one religion or ethnic group is a disservice to the country and its people. The 2015 presidential elections demand that the electorate rise above ethnicity and religion and vote for the best candidate and ticket.
Nigerians must reject and ignore those who want to make the elections an ethnic or religious affair, instead of focusing on the governance and development challenges facing the country. This is diversionary. Each and every Nigerian has to make informed choices and reject this divisiveness and ember of disunity that is being fostered by some among us. Consider the following: imagine that you are critically ill and required an organ transplant to survive and the only organ donor that matches you is from a different religion, will you reject the organ? Will you stop a doctor and her team from saving your life because they are not from the same religion as you?. The next presidential election is about life-saving – your life, your family’s, your friends’, the country’s! Vote for a presidential candidate and ticket that will best protect and promote the future of your children!
We should focus on our common humanity and citizenship rather than religion and ethnicity. The collapse of our healthcare system affects most Nigerians, except the rich, equally, irrespective of religion and ethnicity. The effective response to Ebola virus is beneficial to all Nigerians; and the teams at both federal and state levels comprised of officials and medical personnel from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. What this shows is that citizens benefit equally once you have a competent team. To illustrate the point further, thousands of people die yearly from fatal accidents on our roads. The poor state of the roads is largely due to poor leadership and governance at all levels – faithfuls of both religions and from different ethnic groups that have held leadership positions are culpable for the poor state of our roads. The fatalities caused by bad roads are not based on religion and ethnicity. Similarly, the poor management of the aviation sector has resulted in plane disasters, including the most recent Dana airlines crash which claimed the lives of our compatriots from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The development impacts of good or poor leadership are non-discriminatory. Everyone benefits from good leadership, just as most citizens suffer from poor leadership. A competent and patriotic president and vice president are what the country need now more than ever. This should determine how we vote in the next election and Nigerians must support the presidential ticket that will present competent leadership.
The 2015 election should be about about good governance and development, not religion and ethnicity. Nigerians must therefore support a presidential candidate or presidential ticket that will provide competent leadership, irrespective of their religious and ethnic affiliations, to improve their life and unite the country. The election is about the future of the country. Let’s make a rational choice for competence, let us shun sentiments and the fear and prejudice that drive it.
Dr. Edigheji, a development and political consultant based in Abuja, uses the twitter handle @omanoe