Nigeria 2023: Will Tinubu’s Muslim/Muslim ticket mirror MKO’s win?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 11 July 2022 15:09

Bola Tinubu (photo: @officialABAT)

After months of speculation, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, who is a Muslim, has picked a fellow Muslim as his running mate, to the chagrin of Christian conservatives. Will he be able to emerge victorious in next year’s election?

In 1993, billionaire businessman Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), a Muslim from Nigeria’s southwest, emerged as the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and went ahead to nominate Babagana Kingibe, a Muslim from Borno State in the northeast, as his running mate. This was at variance with the established political tradition in Nigeria where a presidential candidate and running mate are usually from different ethnic and religious divides.

However, MKO, known for his philanthropy and connections across the country, was able to defeat his opponent, Bashir Tofa, of the National Republican Convention (NRC), by a landslide, winning even the Muslim dominated Kano State, which happened to be Tofa’s home turf.

That 12 June 1993 election, which was tagged the country’s most credible, would later be annulled by the military regime after which MKO would be detained for four years and later lose his life under mysterious circumstances.

Fast forward to 2022, nearly 30 years later, Tinubu, who happened to be an associate of the late MKO, has now adopted this strategy. The Lagos godfather, who is also a Muslim from the southwest, has picked Ibrahim Shettima, a Muslim senator from the northeast who just happens to be from the same Borno State as MKO’s running mate.

The winning strategy?

Although Tinubu’s decision has been criticised by Christian conservatives, his supporters say the Muslim/Muslim strategy was the only winning method because of the dearth of popular Christian politicians in the north. Prior to his decision, the northwest governors had met him and insisted that he pick a Muslim running mate.

The gamble by Tinubu’s team, therefore, is that with a Muslim northerner on the ballot, he will be able to deliver these votes.

Nigeria is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. This sentiment usually determines how people vote, especially in the north where religion and politics are one and the same.

The country has six zones: three in the south and three in the north.

Even though the north has a Muslim majority, the south is dominated by Christians. The northeast and northwest subregions have 12 states that enjoy a considerable Muslim majority. These states, which practise Sharia law, also constitute about 35% of the registered number of voters and also have a larger voter turnout than the south. The 12 states have all been voting for northern Muslim presidential candidates since 2003. 

The gamble by Tinubu’s team, therefore, is that with a Muslim northerner on the ballot, he will be able to deliver these votes.

In the southwest where Tinubu comes from, there is a balanced mix of Christians and Muslims. The southwest zone also holds about 18.5% of the total number of registered voters in the country. With Tinubu as the only major presidential candidate from the southwest, it is expected that he will win most of the votes in that region.

Should Tinubu win the majority of the votes in the southwest, the northeast and the northwest, which hold a combined 53.5% of total number of votes, then he stands a very strong chance of becoming the next president of Nigeria.

Aminu Hayatu, from the Political Science Department at Bayero University Kano, tells The Africa Report that while it is important for political parties to promote diversity, winning elections remains the ultimate goal.

“Diversity is good but political parties as agencies through which votes are galvanised will always be interested in what kind of formation will best give them the votes that they need to win elections,” he says.

Atiku factor

One factor that could dim Tinubu’s chances is the candidacy of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim northerner who is the presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Aware of the voting advantage of the north, the PDP picked Atiku as its candidate even though he is also an ethnic Fulani Muslim like President Muhammadu Buhari.

Atiku, who is also from the northeast, is banking on a majority of the northern votes to win. Tinubu will therefore have to rely on his running mate to help him to nullify Atiku’s advantage.

In an interview with The Africa Report, however, Atiku’s Spokesman, Paul Ibe, says the former vice-president could win convincingly regardless of Tinubu’s strategy.

“Atiku’s constituency is not just in the north, but it is Nigeria as a whole and that explains his vision of one people, one Nigeria. He cannot be pigeonholed to a region or a state. He is not a regional leader. He appeals to both north and south. No one has this sort of nationwide appeal,” he says.

The gambit 

Tinubu’s decision to field an all Muslim ticket means he is sacrificing the Christian votes in the southeast, the south-south and the minority Christian areas of the north commonly referred to as the Middle Belt. These Christian dominated areas are: Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Plateau, Benue and Taraba. Incidentally, these are states that usually vote for the PDP in presidential elections.

In fact, aside from Plateau, Taraba and Benue, the PDP has been winning the aforementioned states in all presidential elections since 1999.

An associate of Tinubu therefore tells The Africa Report that the Lagos godfather may be willing to sacrifice these areas in favour of the larger voting areas of the Muslim north.

“These states are states that traditionally do not vote for the APC. They would still not vote for Tinubu even if he picks his running mate from there. Besides, the fact that Peter Obi is very popular in these areas means he will split Atiku’s votes which will be in Tinubu’s advantage,” he says.

However, Tinubu will still have to deal with an emerging storm in the APC as the northern governors are said to be upset that he did not pick one of them as his running mate despite the role they played in his victory at the primary.

Changing times

Although Tinubu hopes to win just as MKO did in 1993, Christian conservatives believe Nigeria has since changed and having an all Muslim ticket is unacceptable.

The country has been under attack from Islamist terrorists in the last 13 years, a development that has heightened anti-Islamic sentiments among Christians especially those in the north who are victims of these attacks.

A Muslim/Muslim ticket in present-day Nigeria is fuel for Boko Haram, the incentive for ISWAP and a call for more terrorists. There is no better way to insult our sensibilities.

Daniel Bwala, a staunch APC member who is from northern Christian minority, immediately resigned his membership of the party in protest of the Muslim/Muslim ticket.

“At this point in Nigeria, where we have divisions along fault lines, it is imperative that a governing party will do the right thing and have a balanced inter-faith ticket… The decision of the party is a flagrant abuse of the principles of democracy, inclusiveness and fair play and that is why I use this occasion to announce my resignation from the APC,” he said on a live television programme, adding that he was certain that Tinubu would lose.

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a rights lawyer and senior advocate, also tells The Africa Report that the Muslim-Muslim strategy of 1993 may threaten the peace and unity of the country.

“A Muslim/Muslim ticket in present-day Nigeria is fuel for Boko Haram, the incentive for ISWAP and a call for more terrorists. There is no better way to insult our sensibilities,” he says.

Will Tinubu’s gambit pay off or end in humiliation?

However, Tinubu has called on Nigerians to move past religion and focus on more important issues as they did in 1993. He strongly believes he can replicate MKO’s victory.

“In 1993, Nigerians embraced Chief MKO Abiola and a fellow Muslim running mate, Babagana Kingibe in one of our fairest elections ever held. The spirit of 1993 is upon us again in 2023. As such, the ticket we present today represents a milestone in our political history. It symbolises our party’s determination to be a leading light among political parties in Africa,” he says.

Will Tinubu’s gambit pay off or end in humiliation?

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