Nigeria 2023: Tinubu’s team bets the farm on a Muslim/Muslim ticket

By Akin Irede
Posted on Friday, 7 January 2022 12:10

Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, speaks at a party meeting in Abuja
Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, speaks at a party meeting in Abuja Febuary 17, 2015 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Ahead of the 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria, frontline candidate Bola Tinubu is planning to break with tradition by picking a fellow Muslim as his running mate in order to receive support in the predominantly Muslim North. It is a move which is unsettling many in the predominantly Christian South. Several associates of the former governor have revealed to The Africa Report how Tinubu plans to win if he gets the APC Presidential ticket -- including on how he plans to capture the South-South vote.

In his recently published autobiography titled, ‘My Participations’, Bisi Akande, a former interim Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), narrated in detail how his bosom friend, Tinubu, almost emerged the running mate to Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in 2007. Akande said Atiku, who is also a Muslim, promised to pick Tinubu as his running mate.

When Atiku emerged as the Presidential candidate of the Action Congress, he said he reneged and decided to pick a Christian from the southeast, Senator Ben Obi.

Akande also claimed that in 2014, after the formation of the APC, Buhari promised to make Tinubu his running mate if Tinubu helped him to win the APC primary. Tinubu embraced this idea and went ahead to support Buhari.

However, after winning the primary, Buhari, a staunch Muslim, reneged on his promise, claims Akande. Buhari argued that it would be wrong to have a joint Muslim ticket in a polarised country like Nigeria.

The book also revealed was that Tinubu had no problems with two Muslim candidates running on a joint Presidential ticket.

Tinubu’s challenge

Tinubu is one of the few southern Muslims in the country that has a clear shot at the Presidency. Others are former Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who is currently the Minister of Works and Housing and former Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who now serves as the Minister of Interior. However, both Fashola and Aregbesola lack the political base to win the Presidential primary. Every other southerner with a Presidential ambition is a Christian.

Historically in Nigeria, persons of the same faith hardly ever run on a joint Presidential ticket because of national divisions. When a Muslim person runs as a Presidential candidate, their running mate must be a Christian and vice versa.

But this has been challenging for southern Muslims: strong northern Christian politicians that could be paired with such southern Muslims are scarce.

This was the same challenge faced by southern Muslim politician MKO Abiola in 1993 when he had to pick a northern Muslim running mate, Babagana Kingibe. Although they won the election, it was eventually annulled by the military government.

Like MKO, Tinubu has the money and the connections across the country to win a Presidential election. The challenge is that, like MKO, he will find it a struggle to find a Christian politician from the north he can pick as running mate.

Aware of Tinubu’s current predicament, some groups supporting the emergence of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have begun exploiting it.

A coalition of northern groups under the aegis of the Arewa Consensus Assembly, while endorsing Osinbajo in Kaduna on Wednesday stated, “The joint conference states that it is abhorrent, unacceptable and roundly rejected by Nigerians that the presidential and vice-presidential ticket will be dominated by candidates of the same faith, such as Muslim/Muslim. Under no circumstances should any aspiring or hopeful political party or candidate be a consideration in the current national state of Nigeria.”

Muslim/Muslim option

Despite the challenges, politicians close to Tinubu have already begun campaigning for him and trying to convince Nigerians to vote based on competence and not religion. The Director-General of the Tinubu Support Group (TSG), Abdulmumin Jibrin, from the Muslim dominated Kano State, argues that a Muslim-Muslim ticket does not matter – people are more focused on capacity than religious affiliations of candidates.

“For me, it doesn’t matter. If you bring a Christian-Christian presidency or a Muslim-Muslim presidency, for me, personally, it doesn’t matter. Even within the party and my TSG, we have had this conversation,” he told local media. He, however, failed to say categorically if this would be the strategy.

Jibrin, who was the campaign director for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, during the internal election to pick leaders in the House, said when he was managing the campaign, many said they would lose because Gbajabiamila, who is a Muslim, picked Idris Wase, a fellow Muslim, as the deputy speaker but they emerged victoriously.

The calculation

Sources in Tinubu’s camp told The Africa Report that the ‘Lagos godfather’ would most likely pick his running mate from Kano, the state that has produced the highest number of votes for the APC in the last two elections. In 2015, Buhari garnered 1.9 million votes in Kano which identifies as an Islamic state.

Lagos State has the largest number of registered voters, over 6.5 million, but it usually has a low voter turnout. Historically, anyone who wins Kano and Lagos State wins the Presidential election because the number of voters in the two states, over 12 million, is the equivalent of about eight states combined. Apart from Lagos and Kano, two other states with a huge voter population are Katsina and Kaduna. The four states have a combined voting population that is almost the equivalent of the entire southeast and south-south regions which are predominantly Christian.

“Tinubu has no choice but to pick a northern Muslim as his running mate. He is the godfather of Lagos State so he has Lagos votes already. If he picks a strong Muslim candidate from Kano, he will have Kano support. Lagos and Kano have over 12 million votes, that is almost 15% of the total number of voters in the current voter register of 84 million”, says a close associate of Tinubu.

“All the 12 Muslim northern states will also support Tinubu if he picks a northern Muslim because they won’t mind voting a Muslim President and Muslim Vice-President since these individual states have Muslim governors and Muslim deputy governors”, he continued.

Another associate of Tinubu who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to The Africa Report, recalled that in 2019, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State broke with tradition by picking a fellow Muslim as his running mate in order to solidify his base and he won the election.

“Governor El-Rufai contested on a Muslim/Muslim ticket in Kaduna and he won the election when it had become obvious that the Christian part of the state would not support him. What he did was to solidify his base and appeal to the Muslim majority part of the state and it worked. This formula will also work for Tinubu” he argues.

South and Middle Belt

But while Tinubu’s Muslim/Muslim strategy may boost his chances in the North, this could alienate the Christian states in the South as well as the Christian minority areas of the North commonly referred to as the Middle Belt. How could Tinubu navigate such a challenge?

“The Southwest has never really had a problem with two Muslims contesting on a joint Presidential ticket. They are very liberal when it comes to religion. The southwest will be happy to have Tinubu on the ballot because he is also a Yoruba man from the southwest,” a member of the TSG explained.

On the South-South and southeast challenge, the politician told The Africa Report that these two regions have the lowest number of votes and has traditionally voted for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“Rivers State is the only state in the south-south and southeast that has over three million registered voters. The others don’t usually produce huge votes as shown in the last elections. And there is huge voter apathy in these regions because of the secessionist IPOB movement.

In the 2015 and 2019 elections, the 11 states in these regions refused to vote for the APC. So, even if Tinubu picks a Christian running mate, they still would not vote for him. Attempting to win these states is like a Republican trying to win in New York which is the base of the Democrat party. It is a tall order,” he said.

As regards the votes in the Middle Belt region, the campaign official said these states also have sizeable Muslim populations, especially in Plateau and Taraba states.

“We know it will not be an easy campaign but this is the surest path to victory at the moment. We will run an intense media campaign to prove to everyone that Tinubu is not a Muslim fanatic. He is married to a Christian who is also a pastor in one of the biggest churches in the country. He has also supported Christian candidates in the past. He is liberal and I think this should convince some voters,” he said.

Religious groups react

But the Christian Association of Nigeria says it will not entertain a Muslim/Muslim joint ticket by any political party this year.

“Already Christians are being killed even though two Muslims are not running Nigeria. Imagine how bad it will be if we have two Muslims in power? Any political party that picks two candidates of the same faith for a Presidential election will fail. We also will not encourage a Christian/Christian ticket,” says Rev. Bayo Oladeji, a Spokesman for the Christian Association of Nigeria.

But the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs – which is the apex Islamic organisation in Nigeria – told local PUNCH Newspaper that Muslims are more concerned with capacity than any other consideration.

“As Muslims, we have no choice but to continue to supplicate to Allah to grant that only Nigerians who possess the requisite capacity, integrity, sagacity, empathy, positive attitude, passion, administrative acumen, zeal for selfless service, etc., shall eventually triumph at both their respective party primaries and subsequent general elections, at all tiers of government in Nigeria,” says the Director of Administration, NSCIA, Zubairu Ugwu.

Tinubu’s spokesman, Tunde Rahman, said that Tinubu was yet to formally declare for the presidential race because he was, “engaging in intense consultations and deliberations with the various stakeholders”, and as such speculation over his presidential pairing was “putting the cart before the horse”.

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