Anytime we bring religion and tribe into politics we run into trouble. This is so, not because these two phenomena are not important in our configuration. It is, because, at the end of the day religion and tribe have nothing to do with the price of bread in the market.
Christians and Muslims patronise the same market. There is no tribal or religious colouration to the naira note. It is the same quality in the hands of Muslims and Christians. When the chips are down, people think of life first before allegiance to their faith.
But politicians know how to play on these elements for their selfish purpose. They bring up the issue when it suits them; also use it to sway voters. That is the reason why the 2023 presidential election is an interesting exercise for discerning minds.
At the end of the day even when politicians tried, those two elements have not in any way affected the way the average Nigerian thinks. Only the gullible, negligible segment was swayed.
After the presidential election
The outcome of the presidential election shows that all the leading contenders got votes from all over Nigeria. They all had 12 states each in their kitty.
But many have accused The presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi of riding on the back of the Church to garner votes.
These same people are blind to the MM ticket of the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. From day one, it was clear Tinubu had to choose a die-hard Muslim from the North for political exigency.
Critics of Obi are also blind to how some Islamic clerics promoted the MM ticket and told Muslims to vote for their own.
Unfortunately, many Christians have joined in the narrative and have come openly to condemn pastors for voicing out their choice. They make it look as if pastors don’t have the right to prefer a candidate.
Yet, on the eve of the election, the Muslim Rights Committee led by Prof Ishaq Akintola wrote to the Muslim North not to forget their agreement on the need to get a Muslim from the south to be the president of Nigeria. Christians who go about social media fuming that some pastors are overly partisan did not see that.
They close their eyes to the many video clips of Muslim clerics urging their members not to deny their faith and that they should vote for the MM ticket.
Christians who condemn pastors for standing up for their choice are blind to the open endorsement of Tinubu by the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Bishop Stephen Adegbite. They fail to see Pastor Dayo Israel, a pastor in RCCG whose brazen support for Tinubu is unparallel.
They fail to see the likes of Pastor Chris Onayinka who is not ashamed to identify with Tinubu. They do not see Bishop Kayode Williams doing public prayers and intercession for the success of a Tinubu presidency.
But they complain about Paul Enenche and Prophet Isa El-Buba who have openly voiced their support for Obi. They condemn Pastor Yinka Yusuf and Pastor Sarah Omakwu for using their pulpits to promote Obi.
Should servants of God be partisan?
The truth is that both sides of the divide are guilty of using their platforms to promote their candidates. The morality of their action is another issue entirely. Is it right for servants of God to be partisan? That is one question that may remain hanging.
There is no living soul that is not partisan. But we all have varying degrees of how we express our partisanship. When the issue of justice and equity come to play, some clerics feel they have a moral right to speak up. And that is what played out before the presidential election.
In the first place, many pundits agree in principle that power must shift to the south. That was the basis for the APC choice of Asiwaju Tinubu. But some take it further and say, if a Muslim president had ruled for 8 years, it is only morally right that a Christian be there this time around. It is assumed that some of the church leaders feel compelled to speak up on this basis.
The church on the edge
The Church is however put on the edge because we are supposed to live by example. So when people go complaining about how some pastors behave during the electioneering period it tells you how relevant the church is. There are clear signs that some pastors went to the extreme just the way some Islamic clerics went to the extreme. Many have not been able to manage their emotions.
At the end of the day, it is neither here nor there. Religion and Tribe have not played any significant role in the last election. Those who claim Obi got all the votes in the east because he is Christian and from that area, forget that the All Progressive Grand Alliance has a presidential candidate and that the party is a regional party just like the defunct Alliance for Democracy. Why did the Igbos not vote for the APGA?
They also forget that in the first coming of Obi, he ruled Anambra State on the platform of the APGA. Beyond that, the East have been voting APC and PDP for years. They have voted for both the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani candidates. But this time they voted for Obi, not primarily because he is Igbo but because of his track record.
It is the personality of Obi that has endeared him to many. But his critics will make you believe it is religion and tribe. None of the leading contenders can boast of the credibility quotient he brought to the race. Former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose was on TVC a few days ago saying Obi does not give shishi. He is one character that has a semblance of morality.
He has his awkward sides no doubt. But when placed on the scale with the other leading contenders, he is better. People are free to contest that. And it has nothing to do with religion. They have accused him of the offshore pandora investment and he had explained that he wrapped up his business when he was elected governor and kept the proceeds there.
The pandora paper is the only song in the mouth of his detractors. But nobody has been able to contest the fact that he is not living off the state since he stopped being governor.
The Muslim voice for OBI
The point is religion and tribe play little role in swaying people. It was the vote of Nigerians and people who are tired of the APC-led government and who simply wanted a change that made Obi get the votes he got. Christians and Muslims voted for him. There are video clips of Muslim clerics who are vehemently against a Tinubu presidency.
One of the leading voices in Obi’s campaign is Aisha Yesufu, a practising Muslim. Obi also consistently told people not to vote for him because he is from the East or because he is a Christian. But that they should vote based on character, competence and capacity. No other candidate had the courage to say that.
It is true his constituency is in the church. Obi used the church platform and many other platforms to pass his message. It could be inferred that since he had to work with a low budget he had to use the cheapest possible means to do his campaign. This is a man that came to the scene about 8 months ago. His critics have said he does not have structure. Wisdom only dictates that he has to use some known structures like the Church. Even during those visits to churches, there was no time he asked for the votes of the people. But then it was implied.
Between Tinubu and Obi
That aside. The difference between Christians who supported Obi and Christians who supported Tinubu is that the former is loud and bold about it, while the latter is largely secretive. There were many pastors who supported Tinubu but who didn’t come out because they don’t want to offend their members and they feared being labelled as MM supporters.
The Enenches of this world, the Elbubas, Yinka Yusuf and Sarah Omakwu stood for what they believed in and went on the rooftop to shout it. But where some of them missed it is being too overly emotional about their support for the Obi candidacy.
Not about religion
Many factors informed the choice of people in the February 25 election. And I think strongly that at the end of the day, religion and tribe played little role. The Igbos have always had APGA like I mentioned earlier but never voted for their party. In fact, the presidential candidate of the APGA is also from Anambra. Why have they been neglecting their party and voting APC PDP all along at the presidential elections even to a large extent at the state level?
It goes to show you that the Obi phenomenon goes beyond religion and tribe, I believe it is a movement whose time has come.
On the other hand, those who root for Tinubu have reasons why they do so. But it is quite disingenuous to say that votes in the East and Christian-dominated zones were monolithic because of the Christian factor. There were Christians in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Delta and yet they voted for Tinubu in their numbers. That over 80 per cent voted for Obi in his state does not convey any ethnic colouration. it only goes to show how he has impacted them. One would have expected Tinubu to attract a similar following in his domain too.
Enemies of Nigeria
The point is we need to stop reading religion and tribe to people’s actions. It is true some consider religion but their number is insignificant. If another Igbo candidate with low credibility and capacity had contested the presidency, the Igbos would not have voted for him. In fact, there were Igbo presidential candidates in the just concluded election that got less than 1 per cent of the total votes.
Unfortunately, we keep playing the tribal and religious card. Already it is being played in the build-up to the governorship and house of Assembly election. It will only threaten the fragile peace that we have. Those who stir up these sentiments are enemies of one Nigeria.
By Gbenga Osinaike