Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress APC held its national convention earlier in March this year where it elected who would be the party flagbearer in next year’s general elections.
The majority of party delegates voted for Bola Tinubu, a Muslim former governor of Lagos state. That decision plunged the party into several weeks of debates and controversy on who will be the party’s vice presidential candidate. Many wondered if Tinubu from southern Nigeria, would decide to pick a vice from the plurality Muslim north thereby creating a Muslim Muslim ticket.
Nigeria has an unwritten rule where power alternates between the north and south, and between Muslims and Christians, the two dominant religions in the country. Between 1999 and 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian from the south served as president with Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim northerner serving as his vice president. Then Umaru Musa Yar’adua served as president with his Christian vice, Goodluck Jonathan until he died in 2010. Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner has been serving as president since 2015 with his Christian vice, Yemi Osibanjo. This religious harmony is what Tinubu and his planners might bring to a halt if his Muslim Muslim ticket gets elected to office next year.
The problem with a Muslim Muslim ticket in today’s Nigeria
Tinubu’s calculations are simple, he is very popular in southwest Nigeria because he is from that region, and if he can join forces with the Muslim north, his electoral victory is assured. But this syllogism falls apart for a couple of reasons.
Nigeria is a very diverse country, with over 250 tribes and ethnic groups, most people are most familiar with the oversimplified map that divides the country into the three major ethnic groups of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Even in this oversimplified map, the Hausa Muslim north does not have the majority, they have a plurality. This means that the Hausa Muslim north does not outnumber the other regions if they combine their numbers.
This was why Muhammadu Buhari lost in all his three previous attempts to be president. In all those attempts, he did get the votes from the northern Muslims, he only succeeded when he was able to get votes from the southwest and northcentral.
Tinubu’s decision to pick Kashim Shettima to appease the northern Muslims had the unintended but expected consequence of alienating northern Christians and Christians in general who do not want to accept a Muslim Muslim ticket in a country where they make up almost half the population. The Christian population in northern Nigeria is not insignificant.
If you divide Nigeria into northern and southern states, of the 19 northern states, at least 3 states Plateau, Benue and Taraba have an outright Christian majority population. Kwara, Kogi, Nassarawa, and Niger all have a Christian population between 35-45%, and these states are all liberal states unlikely to vote along religious lines. Kaduna, Bauchi and Adamawa each have a Christian population of at least 30% of the residents. The total population of Christians in the 19 states that make up northern Nigeria should be at least 30% and APC stands a real chance of loosing that entire block of votes.
Tinubu has plenty of problems, the least of which is the fact that he is old and sick. Then there is the fact that Muhammadu Buhari has been unable to improve the country’s security, economy, infrastructure or improve the country’s corruption perception and Tinubu is campaigning to continue this legacy. Tinubu is already a hard sell, further alienating half the country will only make his candidacy even harder to sell.
The better alternative
The APC has a better and more marketable candidate in Yemi Osibanjo. The fact that he was a Christian from the south, and would have paired perfectly with any Muslim northerner. He is relatively healthy and more eloquent compared to Tinubu.
Yemi Osinbajo was a missed opportunity for the APC, but still when they decided on Tinubu, a Muslim from the south, his vice presidential pick should have been a Christian from the north. A northern Christian candidate would have secured almost 30% Christian vote for the APC in the north and avoided these Muslim Muslim ticket crises in the country in general. The northern Christians have the numbers, if they decide to combine forces with other regions most especially along religious lines, they can cost the APC this election.