Since his debut in politics 20 years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari had struggled to redeem his image as a religious fanatic portrayed in single news story in ThisDay newspapers.
As a special guest at the 16th National Qur’anic Recitation Competition in Gusau, Zamfara State on January 20, 2002, Buhari landed himself in the stickiest quagmire of his political career when spoke in tune with the ambiance of the Islamic gathering.
He told the Takbir-caroling audience that Muslims should thank Allah for restoring Sharia in Zamfara State and “called on Muslims across the country to vote only for the presidential candidate that would defend and uphold the tenets of Islam.”
Although Buhari was anything but religious fanatic, he however suffered every election year to prove people wrong, either by picking a pastor as a running-mate or someone from a region and religion that shouted itself hoarse about the said fanaticism.
Although at the time of the Zamfara event, Buhari had no interest in joining politics, that ‘accidental’ remark however haunted him until 2015 when he picked Pastor Yemi Osinbajo as running-mate. Without that Zamfara ‘gaffe’, probably the issue of religion wouldn’t be the major talking point every election season, and Pastor Osinbajo would NOT have been the vice president.
But that was 20 years ago, when the media was not this social, digital, interactive, diverse, hypertextual and converged in a handy device called smart phone. As soon as Prof. Farooq Kperogi dropped the bombshell on Professor Yemi Osinbajo two days ago, it was translated, in hyperbolic tone, in Hausa and Fulfulde, to reverberate in the Northern echo chambers.
If it took Buhari more than a decade to correct an impression captured in simple, straight news story, I wonder how many years it will take Osinbajo to neutralize Kperogi’s persuasive piece.
Unlike Buhari, what worsens the Osinbajo situation is the fact that he is a religious cleric.
One proverb derived from the Gospel of Matthew has it that he who “Live[s] by the sword, die[s] by the sword”. It is apparent that the spiritual sword Osinbajo used to pave his way to vice presidency, is the same sword being used to slay his political career.
On appointing a few Muslims as his aides, I will salute Osinbajo for appointing at least 6 Muslims out of his 42 aides (as of 2019). If Osinbajo had borrowed a leaf from his principal – Muhammadu Buhari – probably all the aides would be Christians. From Buhari’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Chief of Staff, State Chief of Protocol (SCOP), Chief Security Officer (CSO), Aide De Camp (ADC), Chief Detail (CD), Admin Officer (AO) to private secretary, nearly all those around the president are Muslims.
However, it is a fact that as a politician, Osinbajo is not only cashing in on Tinubu’s religious background to promote his candidacy, but trying to promote politics of religion in the country. The bitter truth is that Osinbajo is like an ambulance chaser, trying to feed on the nation’s misfortune (politics of religion) to realize his ambition.
It is also sad to hear that there is a standing rule against the employment of Muslims in Osinbajo’s legal firm, SimmonsCooper Partners, which got its highest payout of $10m when Kano State government engaged it in Pfizer Trovan test settlement case. While SimmonsCooper Partners had smiled to the bank, most of the children used as guinea pigs in the trial are still not compensated.
I disagree with Kperogi that electing Osinbajo as president will ignite religious civil war, but the truth is that having clerics in our political affairs will heighten mistrust and disunity among the people. In the North, there is a belief that Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has a secret agenda against Muslims, just as the Christians believe Northern political leaders have Jihadist agenda. In the South East, many people see Buhari administration as a reenactment of Danfodio Jihad. Most Christians in the North also live with this paranoia when Muslims are in charge.
In August last year, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State brashly raised a false alarm about a “document” on planned Jihad against the Christians. He said, “Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, were the people who attempted to kill me recently. They said Nigeria is the only country that belongs to them. It is written and I have the document. I have sent a copy of the document to the president, police, DSS. The FUNAM said they wanted this revolution in 1800 but could not achieve it through Usman Dan Fodio.”
If Ortom, who rode on the crest of Buhari to win election in 2015, could say this, what about ordinary people?
Why I believe Osinbajo presidency will not cause “religious civil war” is the fact that Nigeria has natural dampers that check the excesses of leaders. If Olusegun Obasanjo could not get a mere political agenda of tenure extension (Third Term), I wonder if religious agenda, as sensitive as it is, will succeed in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, Nigeria does not deserve an Imam or pastor as a leader, just as we do not need – in spirit of fairness and stability of the country – another Muslim to succeed Buhari in 2023.