At the time that Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his celebrated “I have a dream” speech in 1963, he spoke of an America in which its citizens would not be judged or condemned by their race or colour of their skin. He urged that every citizen be judged “by the content of their character.” As I reflect on the sagacious words of MLK, I too have a dream; a new dream about my motherland, Nigeria.
I have a new dream that one day from every corner of this great nation, my country folk will see themselves primarily as Nigerians. I have a new dream that I will wake up in a nation where none of us will be judged by the features on our faces, the languages we speak, our accents, the traditional regalia clothing us, the region of our indigeneship, the ethnic tribes of our parents, or the religion we submit to but by the content of each of our characters.
Since the pronouncement that the ruling APC was going to float a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the 2023 presidential election, with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the flagbearer and Kashim Shetima as running mate, there has been outrage and a sense of exasperation amongst many Nigerians. The Christian community and, some Muslims have been up in arms about the insensitivity of such a decision in light of the current atmosphere in the country.
A great majority of Nigerian Christians feel marginalized, short-changed, disrespected and offended. They feel as if they are footnotes in a drama where they are witnessing the Islamization of a nation that is supposed to be theirs in equal footing.
As the debates and fallouts continue, it has become my new dream that we, Muslims, especially in the ruling party, especially from the north, do not waive aside the disapproval of the composition on the ticket or minimize the concerns of the Christian community as being oversensitive. As long as we turn a blind eye to the anger of our brethren, act as if the ire of our Christian neighbours is not justified, then this country, beyond the noise of a Muslim-Muslim ticket and beyond any election, will forever be tainted. The fact that some believe Asiwaju’s decision is part of some elaborate underground master plan cannot be wished away by those of us who are certain that it isn’t.
As a northern Muslim, Hausa/Fulani who fully understands and supports the reason why Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was compelled to pick a fellow Muslim as his running mate, I also thoroughly understand the anger from the Christian community, especially those of Northern Nigerian extraction. As much as I would want the Christian community to pause and take a minute and not view Asiwaju’s choice through religiously jaundiced lenses, it pains me that a vast majority of the Muslim community, especially from the North are being highly insensitive and vaguely hypocritical towards the Christian community.
This ambivalence has forced me to confront what I would be feeling if I woke up and the flagbearer of the political party I had committed to support was a Christian who had picked a Christian running mate. On the face of it, I honestly would not have a problem with that combination if I believed that the decision was necessary and made in great wisdom. However, at my very core I continue to question whether I would nurse some consternation as to what it would portend for me and my immediate community.
If the Christian community, primarily of northern extraction, is so distraught about the prospect of a Muslim-Muslim presidency in spite of the rationale behind its conception, despite the fact that the vice-presidential nominee is their fellow northerner, perhaps the Muslim community needs to be more introspective and look inwards.
Northern Nigeria is an entity encompassing over half the population of this country; with widespread water resources, vast land, fertile agricultural soil, abundant natural endowments awaiting development, amongst so many other virtues. Once upon a time, Arewa produced the most selfless, patriotic leaders, but today it is an entity in disarray, a ghost of its former self, crying out for redirection; desperate for salvation. Our leadership now almost seems at odds with the spirit of building a strong, united, and virile Arewa.
It is a pity that since our independence, the north is forced to continuously refer to Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto whenever asked to produce a northern leader of selflessness, courage, distinction, dedication and detribalized sentiment. Sir Ahmadu Bello was able to unify the various diverse tribes found in the north. Never did he discriminate based on tribe and always, he would encourage people to practice their religion regardless of what it was. He taught the north to understand and value its differences and look upon them as its strength by accommodating every “dan Arewa” who shared his vision to fortify and modernize the north.
Unfortunately since Sardauna, the north has not functioned in this way. For a long time, systematic differential bigotry and nepotism have characterized the manner in which the north has applied itself against itself. Along tribal but especially religious lines, northerners have gone to war with themselves and it goes both ways. And perhaps because the Hausa, Fulani or Kanuri Muslims are the majority within the northern population, it would almost be expected that the non-Hausa/Fulani have felt like the second wheel in the states that they are a minority and in the general affairs of the north. And while northern Muslims share the same sentiments in states such as Plateau, Taraba and Benue where the persecuted Muslims are the minority, we cannot pretend that there isn’t a perceived marginalization of northern minorities by the largely Hausa/Fulani Muslim northern oligarchy. This true state of affairs in Northern Nigeria invariably injected itself into Asiwaju’s decision and forces the hands of fate.
From the moment Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the primary election of the APC, there was a high prospect that the APC presidential ticket would comprise two Muslims. This does not speak to the fact that Asiwaju is trying to enact some sort of Machiavellian agenda or because there isn’t a northern Christian who has the capacity to fill in as vice president. Far from it. Asiwaju’s burden is one in which he needs to deliver victory to the APC in the 2023 presidential election. And in order to do that, he must garner the support of the voting mass in the core Northwest and Northeast. Call us narrow-minded, intolerant, illiberal or unexposed, the majority of the voting public in these areas, which happen to be Hausa, Fulani or Kanuri Muslims are not open to the probability of having a representative on a presidential ticket that is not a direct reflection of themselves. This is the reality of the region as presently composed. Thus, if Asiwaju Tinubu hopes to get the support from this vital voting bloc, he is left with no alternative than to choose a Northern Muslim. That is the burden that Asiwaju carries within the context of contesting for a presidential election in 2023. That is the burden that the North has to correct internally by going back to the Arewa values Sardauna tried to espouse in us.
I have a new dream and in that dream Nigerians will toe the line of honour and integrity and be objective on issues. As long as we obey the law, protect fundamental human rights and ‘’live and let live’’, it should not matter what our respective beliefs are. So long as we try to respect each other and understand the whims and caprices that make our brothers and sisters anxious and try to explain our differences with compassion and consideration, the suspicion rearing its ugly head right before our eyes will be a thing of the past. When people feel free, liberated, protected and respected, they prosper. That is where, in my new dream, we go… the path to prosperity.
My new dream is that Nigerians will immediately appreciate that the unity from which we were fashioned is the only road that leads to lasting success; politics should never be a harbinger to that unity. And it is that unity that will change our perceptions about the paths that providence leads us down.
What Nigerians must realize now before this religious debate permeates the atmosphere any further is the need to truly understand each other. Religious dichotomy has never gotten anyone anywhere and cannot take Nigeria to any space that will produce anything positive for any of us. At this very time in Nigeria, in the future of the land our forefathers envisioned for us, there are many conditions of injustice that must first be addressed and that have nothing to do with how one prays, which holy book one believes in or which name the flagbearers of our political parties bare before we ever enjoy a nation in which all are afforded their inalienable rights.
The Nation online