Northern Christians and Nigeria’s 2023 elections

Over the years, I have maintained an opinion that the Nigerian state is sitting precariously on the tripod of religion, ethnicity and region. We need to restructure the state’s instruments and our minds because this trip will fail us soon. Several scholars agree about this.

Yusufu Turaki, a Professor of Social Ethics, who has devoted his time to the study of the Nigerian political legacy from the colonial era, through the military era and to the civilian era, concluded that “The British founded Nigerian politics upon three major pillars, which have become Nigeria’s political Goliaths. These three Goliaths are Ethnicity/Tribalism, Regionalism/Sectionalism and Religious Bigotry.”

He added that as a result of these faulty triune foundations, Nigeria suffers from the political problem of “Leadership-Followership cum Ethnic-Regional-Religious Syndrome.” (Yusufu Turaki, Elections and The Middle Belt/Northern Minorities, March 2015).

Ademoyo of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, reviewed President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments and concluded that Buhari’s understanding of moral rectitude is pivoted on the three fulcrums of ethnicity, regionalism and religion, which has resulted in backwardness (Buhari’s Croynism and Irredentism: Why Nigeria Remains Backward, Adeolu Ademoyo, Premium Times, September 13, 2015). A tripod, as we all know, is three-legged and, therefore, it is an unstable structure. It can topple over easily. One of these three legs is religion and the Nigerian Northern Christian is somewhere at the weakest point of this religious leg.

Prof. Farooq Kperogi, in his March 5, 2020 article titled, Tinubu, Dogara and the Prison and Poison of Religious Politics, opined that the two most disadvantaged groups of people in Nigerian politics are Northern Christians and Southern Muslims. He also said that these two groups are “structurally invisible, politically subjugated, and told to be content with their political and symbolic marginality.”

His submission aptly describes the plight of the Northern Christian – not recognised in governmental structures, not considered politically valuable and told to shut up.

Dr. Karl Kumm, a German missionary and founder of the now flourishing Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), recommended to Lord Lugard the carving out of a “Middle Area” way back in 1911 when he saw the level of marginalisation of the Northern Christian.

 Due to numerous complaints of marginalisation in appointments and sitting of developmental projects by both Southern and Northern minorities (Northern minorities were Christians and traditionalists), the British colonial administration decided in 1957 to look into the matter by setting up the Willinks Minorities Commission.

One of the commission’s recommendations was the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the 1960 Independence Constitution. These rights can today be found in Chapter IV, Fundamental Rights, of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While the problems of Southern minorities were addressed through the creation of the Mid-West Region in 1963, the problems of Northern minorities (Christians and traditionalists) have persisted. Northern Muslims in the Northern House of Assembly blocked the Motion for the creation of a Middle Belt Region out of the old Northern Region.

The United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), a political party during the First Republic, fought for equal rights for Northern minorities, especially Christians. Lord Lugard’s policy of Indirect Rule had uncannily placed people under Muslim Emirs who were not defeated in the 18th Century Fodio jihads. The Middle Belt Movement sprang up as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created out of frustration and the necessity to put pressure on government and politicians to ensure all citizens are equals irrespective of religion or tribe.

A Northern Christian has never been elected president or vice president. His highest appointment has been Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, who are merely glorified leaders, among equally elected legislators. Genocide, ethnic cleansing and land-grabbing are ongoing phenomena from Independence to date, mainly in Zuruland of Kebbi state, the Southern part of Kaduna state, and many Christian parts of Nasarawa, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Bauchi and Adamawa states. Perpetrators of unprovoked killings, destruction of farm crops and forceful land occupation are hardly ever arrested let alone prosecuted by security agencies.

Nigeria’s four-yearly cycle for leadership change has fallen on this year, 2023. The Presidential and National Assembly elections took place on 25th February 2023, while those of State Governors and members of State Houses of Assembly held on 18th March 2023.

Halfway through the elections, the Northern Nigerian Christian is already wondering what could be in store for him over the next four years. Will his perpetual relegation to an inferior and inconsequential status continue or will it be corrected?

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC has been declared winner of the presidential election by the election umpire, INEC. With Tinubu’s same-faith ticket (president and vice-president both Muslims), the Northern Christian is already asking many pertinent questions: Will Tinubu’s government be favourably disposed towards Northern Christians in the sharing of top political offices and dividends of democracy? Having been considered not well enough for the position of vice president by him but only good enough to be the director-general of his campaign, will the Northern Christian’s voice be heard in Tinubu’s administration? What should the Northern Christian now do to guarantee his relevance and proper status in the political future of Nigeria? What should the Northern Christians do now?

Prof. Farooq Kperogi made several predictions in another article published in the Tribune Newspaper on September 21, 2019 and titled, Why Bola Tinubu Can Never Be Nigeria’s President. Some of these predictions have come to pass while others have not. He boldly predicted that Tinubu can never become the President of Nigeria and proffered reasons to buttress his assertion. Today, Tinubu has been declared the winner of the 25th February 2023 presidential election, although several political parties are presently challenging that declaration in court.

In the same article, Kperogi said if, in the unlikely event that Tinubu clinches the nomination of the APC, he would be well-advised to pick a Northern Christian as running mate to “balance” his ticket. Tinubu picked a Northern Muslim as his running mate, yet he has been declared the winner. Is it true then that the Northern Christian is not an essential balancing factor in the Nigerian political equation?

Be that as it may, Tinubu’s same-faith ticket has catalysed the fusion of Northern Christians, their Southern counterparts and a motley assemblage of youths across the country in a new and unforeseen political movement who have christened themselves the ‘Obidients’  after Mr. Peter Obi. For the Northern Christian, the push has certainly come to shove. He has decided to take his destiny into his hands. In direct response to Tinubu’s preference for a fellow Muslim as his running mate, many Northern Christians left his party, the APC, including prominent ones like Engr. Babachir Lawan, one-time SGF, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives and Barrister Daniel Bwala.

Again, Kperogi said in the same article of September 21, 2022, that if Tinubu picked a Northern Muslim running mate, he would be alienating Igbo, Southern ethnic minorities, and Northern Christians from his camp. Kperogi has been proved right. Tinubu’s choice of a fellow Muslim as running mate has unwittingly brought Northern Christians into a structureless ‘Obidient’ political alliance with Southern minorities and youth of all shades as evidenced by the huge number of votes garnered by Peter Obi’s Labour Party in many states including Lagos, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and all the South-eastern. The birth of ‘Obidients’ is a much-welcome revolution to the Nigerian political landscape, especially for Northern Christians.

The purpose of this disquisition is to urge whoever becomes the next President of Nigeria not to make the mistake of underestimating the political relevance of Northern Christians, but to ensure that they are duly recognised and represented in his or her government. Kperogi’s words in his September 2022 article appropriately describe my heart’s desire and so I will borrow them to conclude:

“There is no justification for any demographic group in the country to be condemned to marginality in perpetuity, to be permanently locked out of the highest office in the land because of the accidents of the faiths they’re born into or that they choose to practice.”

Rev Pam writes from Abuja via: [email protected]