No doubt, the much-awaited 2019 poll has come and gone. But the ripple effect lingers on. To any keen observer, the election threw up a number of critical issues that deserve in-depth prognosis while waiting for another four years. Or else we may be repeating same mistakes without learning from history.
It is incumbent on the Independent National Electoral Commission and indeed all Nigerians to learn from the flaws of the recently-concluded elections which was the most long-drawn because of the new developments of declaring elections inconclusive; a term completely alien to our previous elections in earlier republics.
No one can deny the fact that it was the worst in the annals of electioneering in this country most especially in terms of brazen manifestation of vote buying with the electoral victory going to the highest bidders despite INEC’s pretensions to the contrary.
The spate of electoral violence in some states such as the South-South region and in particular Rivers State where the civil society was over-militarised cannot go unnoticed. In core northern parts of the country, it is unfortunate that the phenomenon of underage voting became the norm. Not only that, while the Electoral Act made it incumbent on INEC to observe party primaries, lack of internal democracy tore virtually all major political parties apart with the wounds yet to heal in many cases where candidacy issue is still being slugged out in law courts. Beyond that, the pathetic unprecedented high rate of apathy is indeed unfortunate in the last election too.
The thrust of this piece, however, is the debilitating influence of religion on the 2019 election. This has never been the case in all previous elections in this country. Thus, is it apposite to delve into the nexus between politics and religion especially in a plural and deeply divided society such as Nigeria? If care is not taken, the concomitant effect of religion vis-à-vis national integration in our elections may be untoward for the nascent democracy and stability of Nigeria’s convoluting federal structure.
Nevertheless, political philosophers all took dim view of religion and politics. ‘On my arrival in the United States of America, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention’. Tocqueville reports in Democracy in America (I, 308).
Tocqueville’s wonder embraces admiration as well as surprise. Though religion is not formally a part of the American political system, Tocqueville goes so far as to describe it as the first of America’s political institutions by virtue of its indirect effects upon political life (I, 305). Tocqueville on the other hand citing the American experience proposes that democracy can indeed become a friend of religion and may even be crucial to its vitality.
Be that as it is, and coming back home, despite the fact that 1999 Constitution (as amended) stipulates that Nigeria is a secular state and should be in all ramifications, the percolating influence of religion on the body politic makes power sharing to take two dimensions. The formal and the informal; for the latter where a governor is a Muslim, the deputy is automatically a Christian. Aside from few states of the federation where the citizens are predominantly either of the two contending faiths. While at the federal level, the federal character principle got extended to embrace informal power sharing. A Muslim or Christian presidential candidate normally does go all out in search of a deputy of the opposite faith. This is not just for the beauty of it but rather as a vote catching mechanism. While one cannot easily forget that religion was not really a deciding factor in the past as the late Moshood Abiola/Babagana Kingibe was a Muslim/Muslim ticket, it’s like contemporary Nigeria’s political firmament has been taken over by religious inclinations and avowed bigots in the polity.
Perhaps the odd one out is Kaduna State where the Governor – Mallam Nasir el-Rufai – opted for a Muslim/Muslim ticket on the ground that even if he were to pick the Pope, he knew Christians would not vote for him. He was cashing in on the asymmetric population size of Muslim/Christian in Kaduna State which no doubt is injurious to national integration and religious harmony.
Though Karl Marx (of blessed memory) postulated that ‘religion is the opium of the society’, advocating that government should avoid it (religion) as much as possible and allow the citizenry to engage themselves in whatever faith they may profess individually or collectively, but in contemporary Nigeria, both the state and government are enmeshed in manipulating religion for selfish reasons; making arrant nonsense of the secularity of the country.
Meanwhile, God in His infinite mercy saved Nigerians from the debilitating role of religion in politics in the last poll. The country was on the verge of going the way of Sudan or Somalia torn apart by religion. The voting pattern in the presidential election was tainted by religion rather than free choice. The two major presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, are Muslims, while the two vice presidential candidates are Christians.
This was supposed to be a dilemma for Christendom but with the perception of most Christians either rightly or wrongly painting the ruling All Progressives Congress as an Islamic party capable of Islamising the country perhaps for the negligence in handling the Fulani herdsmen imbroglio.
At the end of the day, most Christians voted for the Peoples Democratic Party despite the media war of calumny against the PDP which ordinarily was badly discredited before the general elections. But this was not just happenstance as the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Catholic Mission cum notable Christian religious leaders mobilised against the ruling y APC. The usual norm of neutrality by our religious leaders was completely jettisoned by clerics.
An objective analysis of the presidential election result glaringly revealed that Christian-dominated states in the South-East, South-South, South-West and the North all opted for PDP.
This is unprecedented in voting patterns in Nigeria. One state in the South-West that tasted the venom of jaundiced religious inclinations in making electoral choices is Oyo State. The Christian community was of the view that the informal power sharing was breached in the state. The incumbent governor being a Muslim for eight years was mentoring and sponsoring another Muslim to take over from him. As if to add salt to an injury, the three senatorial candidates in the state happened to be Muslims. This became a campaign issue which was used to swing votes against the APC.
In my personal interaction with some Christian leaders in the state, they confided in me that they were far from being comfortable with the sense of alienation they had before the elections in terms of choice of candidates which was tilted in favour of Islam.
Interestingly, Moslem clerics in a live telecast during the last Maolud celebration asked the APC governorship candidate to affirm his Islamic faith before he could enjoy the support of Muslims in the state. APC lost virtually all critical elections at a roll – presidential, senatorial seat contested by the governor and the governorship election badly too.
From the foregoing, it needs be emphasised that the relationship between religion and democracy would thus appear to require careful management.
It may take ‘eternity’ for Nigeria to operate really as a secular state. This is because sufficiently educated people who are supposed to know better as a guiding light to society operate as religious bigots how much more an ordinary folk.
Dr. Ojo is the immediate past Chief of Staff to Oyo State Governor