By Yakubu Dogara
I consider it great honour and privilege to be invited as the Guest Speaker at this all-important August summit of eminent religious leaders and top-notch politicians from across all the States of the Federation.
Permit me to start by profusely thanking all those involved in putting together this summit and all the delegates who have sacrificed time and their busy schedule in order to honour us with their presence, which we do not lightly esteem.
I understand we are here to talk about our nation and how political choices may impact our faith and likely exacerbate the escalating parlous security situation and stymie our match towards an inclusive, peaceful and prosperous nation.
Not a few have expressed concerns about national outlook on all presidential tickets. Also, not a few worry that the debate was becoming corrosive, and of course, with this kind of spitting of bilious views into the political wind, there was bound to be lots of nerves in the air.
When we talk about a Muslim-Muslim ticket; God forbid that we should be understood to be objecting to Muslims or that we don’t want Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to be president.
It is not about Senator Kashim Shettima either, but it about what is right and what is wrong. It is about justice, fairness and equity.
It is about Nigeria; it’s diversity and how it can be harnessed in an inclusive manner for the greater good of all of us. Be that as it may, some of us really wanted Asiwaju to be president because he has sacrificed much for our Party, the APC and for what he represents to so many people.
So, our position cannot be against Muslims or Islam. That fact cannot be denied in any way.
But when it comes to choosing between the love and admiration I have for an individual and what is right and what I believe represents my vision for Nigeria, my choice will clearly be for the latter.
After all, my rise to the position of Speaker was never going to be possible without the support of some Muslim members who believe that our diversity must be reflected in national positions for the unity, peace and advancement of our dear country.
What gives me more hope about the Nigeria project is that there are many of our Muslim brothers and leaders who did not only warn the APC, but have had to call out the APC for adopting a Muslim-Muslim ticket which resulted into the Party ructions we are witnessing today.
In 2015, when we were called “janjeweed party”, my response was usually very simple. I could then say that, His Excellency, John Odigie-Oyegun was the chairman of my party and my Vice-Presidential candidate was Pastor Yemi Osinbajo.
We don’t enjoy that luxury anymore as the President, Senate President, Speaker and his deputy; Senate and House Leaders; National Chairman and the Deputy National Chairman; Presidential and the Vice-Presidential candidates are all Muslims, leaving the Christians with just the position of VP Osibanjo and Deputy Senate President Omo-Agege at that level in a Country whose population is fairly split between Muslims and Christians.
Granted this scenario, can any God-fearing Muslim, Christian nay even the amoral and the atheist say this is fair, just and righteous?
Does this represent the act of a just God? This is the real context of objections from the Christian community not just the Presidential ticket and the VP slot.
For me, it is a rude awakening and I am so happy it happened sooner than later. The very fact that they said we should not worry about a Muslim-Muslim ticket while a Muslim-Christian ticket gave them sleepless nights should make you worry the more.
To worry about a Muslim-Christian ticket while counselling others not to worry about a Muslim-Muslim ticket is the very textbook definition of cognitive dissonance and an attempt at gaslighting gullible Christians. Truth must be told that anyone who is not bringing us together is consciously tearing us apart.
Furthermore, I do not want to speak to the argument that there is no Christian competent enough to be Vice-President because as we all know, that is hogwash. It only speaks to the need to deliberately exclude – whereas the need now is for inclusion.
The other funny argument in the media is the claim that without a northern Muslim on the ticket, elections cannot be won. The implications of that argument are quite unambiguous; Northern Muslims don’t vote for the South – even if the candidate is a Muslim like them – and, of course, don’t vote for Christians.
However, nothing can be further from the truth. If you stretch this argument further, it may lead to questions such as, “if Muslims in the North don’t trust a southern Muslim for any reason(s), why should Christians in Nigeria trust a Muslim from the South and North?”
These are the kinds of arguments I hate to engage in and which we must avoid if we hope not to injure the health of our Republic.
Other unhelpful framings of the debate by the so-called pundits posits that Christians in the North are so small in number that their votes don’t count.
This strange argument seeks to reinforce the satanic agenda of dividing the church in Nigeria into North and South, and also ignores the fact and reality that Nigeria is evenly split on religious lines. These pundits are still not smart enough to tell us what is in the Muslim-Muslim ticket for southern Christians.
The argument also ignores the fact that our official policy excludes religious affiliation from census data. There is therefore no scientific basis for these bizarre conclusions. Let us now look at a model for managing diversity.
If the UK offers any example, in 2005, the Tories had only two non-White MPs. Just within over a decade, this has changed dramatically – all the way to the top ranks of the party, including the last three chancellors of the exchequer in a row: Javid, Sunak and Zahawi.
In addition, Patel was home secretary; Javid – health secretary; Kwasi – business secretary and; Zahawi – education secretary.
Before the pruning down of candidates for the Conservative Party leadership to two; six of the candidates were members of ethnic minorities. Braverman, Sunak and Javid are the children of immigrants while Chisti and Zahawi were born outside of the UK: in Pakistan and Iraq respectively; and our own Kemi was partly brought up in Lagos.
All these happened in the conservative UK where the entire population of minority ethnic group is a paltry 14% – thanks to David Cameron under whose leadership the Tories embraced the idea of “sponsored mobility” which was thought to be good for the country because it will help prevent politics from polarizing along racial lines.
As we speak, the UK may well be on the verge of becoming the second major Western democracy to have a non-White leader in Sunak. Sunak who took the oath of office as Chancellor with his hand on the Bhagavad Gita and placed Diwali candles on the steps of his office on Number 11 Downing Street, shares the same faith with just 1.03 million Britons representing just 1.6% of the U.K’s total population.
This is how democracies all over the world are managing diversities within their borders. Compare this to the US under Trump where the Republican Party was and is still in danger of becoming the party of White grievances and White reaction against an increasingly diverse America.
Is it in vain that the Democrats had to settle for a woman and a black VP in Kamala Harris? Women issues are treated as minority issues and what percentage of US population is black? Just 13.4% in case you don’t know. In these two, we have two models to borrow from; either to play the politics of exclusion which the Muslim-Muslim ticket represents or to make politics all-inclusive in order to heal our national fault lines and unite our disparate peoples for nation building. The latter must be the choice of every patriotic and sensible Nigerian.
Why do I consider the decision by the APC to settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket not a bold but bad decision? There are ample reasons but I will highlight a few for want of time and space.
It is a bad decision because it fuels inequality. We must always bear in mind that the liberty we enjoy is as rare as it is fragile. Inequality has a way of upsetting the balance due to the universal law of cause and effect.
Throughout history, every revolution has been waged to either consolidate or destroy inequality. Just like all revolutions, they first seem impossible and then improbable until they become inevitable.
When you think of revolutions, what comes to your mind? Is it the pictures of savage invasions, crushing battlefield defeats, sacked cities and unlucky rulers put to death or a cascading series of minor, individually unimportant failures which are now replete in our polity?
You may not understand the structure of revolutions until you trace the progression of the Nazis from an unpopular fringe group to the most powerful political party in Germany.
Those who are dismissive of those who built conflict generating structures such as the Muslim-Muslim ticket in a pluralistic society always end up as enablers of revolution or violent changes.
That was how Nazism was dismissed as a fringe idea that will never make it into the mainstream of civilized Germany until it led to the death of an estimated 40 million people.
It is a bad decision because it breads division which is counter-productive to our collective aspirations for a united and prosperous nation. My last check reveals that the word division is a construct of the word “vision” with a prefix “di” which means double in Latin. Just imagine what double vision does to an individual, much more a Nation.
Our national creed or motto if you like, is unity and faith, peace and progress. Embedded in this great idea is the fact that unity precedes peace and progress. The question therefore is, how do we unite our disparate peoples in a manner that ensures peace and progress? This is not the only question, it is every question.
Of course, our strength is not in numbers but unity. You are not strong because you are many, you are strong because you are united. Nigeria cannot survive if we merely tolerate each other or if the happiness of one group is the unhappiness of the other group.
But if we are united, we will be indomitable. And if all of us: Muslims, Christians, atheists, the old, the young, women and men work together and pray together in unity: believe me; we will be invincible. On the corollary, many are the Nations and Empires that could not withstand divisions.
The largest construction project ever on earth – the erection of the Tower of Babel came to an abrupt halt due to divisions. The almost 3200 years long recorded history of the Egyptian empire collapsed due to divisions when Cleopatra the last Pharaoh killed her brother Ptolemy the 13th who was a joint heir to the throne and married another of her brother, Ptolemy the 14th before she had him also killed so that her son can succeed her as the pharaoh.
The all-powerful Roman Empire just like the British Empire after it, decayed and died not on account of invading armies but just because they could not withstand the contradictions within.
Need we say more about Yugoslavia and the USSR?
The US too is currently struggling and if they don’t invent ingenious ways to heal divisions, the US dominance, just like all the other empires before, might soon become history.
If we think we can encourage divisions in the scale we are witnessing and not see what those Empires and Nations saw, then we are of all men and women most miserable.
In addition, the inability to distinguish the Nigeria of 1993 from 2022 gave me cause to fret the more. An indispensable attribute of a leader in crisis is to be able to recognize a departure of events from routine to novel.
The inability to spot an infliction point in moments of gripping visceral fear across the nation represents an irredeemable fatal error of judgment. There has never been a time in our history that we are as divided.
We are battling terrorism, banditry, kidnapping for ransom, secessionists and all manner of challenges.
Consequently, anyone who thinks that events in Nigeria in 2022 are not novel but routine as they were in 1993 is totally incapable of finding solutions to challenges currently ravaging our dear nation.
As for the nodding dogs who have sold themselves to lying spirits by deliberately believing in lies or are refusing to accept the truth, rebuke them in love.
We may, after all, be dealing with fallen angels. We must never forget that every generation has its own Jannes and Jambres who withstood Moses; its prophets of Baal who withstood Elijah; its Sanballats and Tobiahs who withstood Nehemiah; it’s Esaus whose profanity will drive them to sell their birth rights; its Gehazis who will surrender to seducing spirits in order to feed their greed; its Hamans who will plot to annihilate Gods people: the list goes on.
On this class of people, the scripture has already placed a curse, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20. But just as those they withstood overcame, we will also overcome if we faint not.
The harder they try to make us bow to the golden image of greed, the more we should chant to their chagrin the answer given by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – who said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up”.
In closing, let me reiterate the fact that we are here to talk about what is right and what is wrong.
To my mind what is right is not just to win elections but to unite Nigerians both now and after the elections so that we can collectively build a Nigeria that works for all regardless of creed.
As President Obama warned, “if you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you are not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later”
This is spot-on because anyone who wins an election by dividing us would have to keep us divided in order to govern us. This is not what any reasonable and peace-loving Nigerian wants.
As long as God remains the God of justice, may we continue to resist injustice to our sinews, no matter who is for or against it because it is the requirement of the just God.
Let us go out from this summit with the resolve to seek out our Muslim brothers and sisters who believe in unifying our people in order to usher in the much need peace and advancement for Nigeria to unleash her true potentials.
I am sure we will jointly agree on a platform that would advance our collective search for unity, peace and development. Believe me, the only alternative is the road to Yugoslavia. God forbid! If we want to see Nigeria exalted, we must insist she does the right things.
Thank you for listening. God bless you and may God bless Nigeria.
Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara
Speaker of the 8th House of Representatives. He spoke as Guest Speaker at the APC Northern Christian Leaders Summit, held in Abuja on July 29th, 2022.