When the All Progressive Party came up with the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the duo of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shetima, many in the church community kicked.
Some church leaders practically distanced themselves from the party. Many Nigerians including some Muslims also frowned at the move.
In the heat of the condemnation, the Christian Association of Nigeria came up with a template for members to follow on who to vote for ahead of the 2023 elections.
The body categorically urged members to consider their faith as they go to the polls. It distanced itself from the MM ticket describing it as an affront to Christians in the country.
Christians being persecuted
CAN’s decision was informed by the experience of Christians in Nigeria in the last couple of years.
The activities of Boko Haram insurgents have led to the near elimination of many Christian communities, especially in the North.
Though the Islamic fundamentalists have also attacked and killed Muslims, the situation in the country clearly shows that Christians are the underdog.
From January to July 2021 for instance, an NGO, Intersociety in its research findings disclosed that about 3000 Christians were killed by Islamic fundamentalists.
This year, hundreds of Christians have been killed due to their faith. This is happening with a Christian as the Vice President of the country.
Same faith ticket, the implication
With this experience, it is easy to reach the conclusion that the MM ticket is ill-advised. Perhaps CAN had thought if a Christian VP could hardly do anything to stem the tide of killings and persecution in the country, what will happen when both the president and the VP are Muslims?
So it was just in order for CAN to kick against the ticket. This is coupled with the fact that the religious sentiment in the country is still very rife.
But rather than make a U-turn and do the right thing, the APC would not be moved.
Search for endorsement
It has continued to put the party’s choice in the face of Nigerians while surreptitiously seeking the endorsement of the Christian community.
The first attempt was at the unveiling of the MM ticket in Abuja. The party allegedly hired some folks to come to the venue of the unveiling ceremony with the regalia of Bishops. This was to give the impression that the leadership of the Church was in support of the ticket.
But it backfired. Many people condemned the move while a lot poked fun. The Bishops were dubbed fake. CAN described them as “artisans that were dressed in borrowed robes”.
But the APC in a statement said they were upcoming bishops.
Forum of Northern Bishops
Recently, however, Asiwaju Tinubu took a step further to get to the top echelon of the church. This time he met with the Forum of Pentecostal Bishops of Northern Nigeria.
The Chairman of the forum is Archbishop John Praise who is the founder of Abuja-based Dominion Chapel International Churches
Asiwaju had told the forum that his choice of a Muslim running mate was altruistic.
Tinubu whose wife is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God said he was not bringing religion to lead Nigeria. He insisted he had been a friend of the Christian community all along.
His words, “My intention is to develop this country, to bring prosperity to our country. I have better qualifications, better track records, better exposure, better vision than any of my mates.”
Archbishop Praise and unanswered questions
In his response, Archbishop Praise said at the parley, “…From what you have heard and from the explanation, he (Tinubu) had given to us to, it is left for us to make our own judgement of who will better rule and handle the country. We are not committed to endorsing anybody but you should ask your conscience.’
From the response of Archbishop Praise, it is clear that he tactically underplayed the issue on the ground.
In the first place, he said nothing in the public domain about the MM ticket which many of his colleagues have punctured. Tinubu’s declaration that he is a friend of the Christian community also contradicts his choice of a Muslim running mate.
If Tinubu is indeed a friend of Christians, Archbishop Praise ought to have asked him publicly why it was hard for him to choose a competent Christian as his running mate. Or is it that no Christian has the character and competence he wants in the whole of the North?
And if he had insisted religion should not be a factor in the choice of a running mate; the next question should be: Why should region be a factor? Why should zoning the presidency to the south be an issue?
The APC could as well have allowed a northerner to be its presidential candidate.
The forum of Pentecostal bishops ought to have asked Tinubu why religion mattered in the build-up to the 2015 elections and it now does not matter. The questions can go on and on.
The meeting and its consequence
But the meeting of the John Praise-led forum and Asiwaju Tinubu to some watchers is a smear on the integrity quotient of Pentecostal pastors. And the earlier the PFN reacts to this, the better.
As it is, the PFN is quiet. An attempt to get the fellowship to talk on the issue did not yield much fruit.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Bishop Emma Isong told Church Times in a phone chat that since Archbishop Praise did not mention the PFN in the well-publicized meeting with Tinubu he would not want to comment on the matter.
“I think you should direct your questions to the Northern Pentecostal Bishops Forum. The PFN was not part of the meeting and Archbishop John Praise did not mention the PFN.” Isong said.
When reminded that John Praise who is the leader of the forum is also the Deputy National President of the PFN. Isong said, “He is playing a different role as the leader of the Forum of Northern Pentecostal Bishops and not PFN Deputy National President.”
Isong insisted that it will not be proper for PFN to comment on the matter.
A divided house
Church Times however gathered that the effort of PFN to ensure all Pentecostal Christians go along with the position of CAN on the 2023 elections, seems not to be yielding the desired fruit. Some pastors would not see any reason why they should not back the MM ticket.
It is also believed that some are having private meetings with politicians. This is contrary to the agreement said to have been reached by the PFN leadership that meetings should be done in the open; to discourage the collection of money from politicians. It will also help forestall undue insinuations.
MM ticket: CAN is not one
Indeed, the conduct of some church leaders is a testimony to the fact CAN is not one on the issue of MM ticket. This is expected as people have a right to choose.
But then there is need to worry when a coordinating body reaches an agreement. And some leaders of that coordinating body act differently.
Sadly, Archbishop Praise’s position in the PFN gives the impression he is acting for the PFN. His meeting with the APC Presidential Candidate can be interpreted to have the backing of the PFN leadership.
This may however not be the case judging from the tradition of PFN that no group is expected to speak on behalf of the fellowship.
Going forward it is expected that the PFN would react to this development. The church community may need to know if it is still in opposition to the MM ticket. There is also the need for it to dissociate itself from meetings that may cast it in a compromising light.
As it is, it is clear that the APC is working with some leaders in the PFN to ensure the success of its Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2023. This is contrary to the stance of CAN and some opinion leaders.
Except Archbishop Praise and his likes buy into the anti-MM ticket, CAN may well be overseeing a divided house ahead of the 2023 polls. And that may mean fighting a lost battle against the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC.
It is not for nothing that it is said that a house divided against itself cannot stand.