A Lagos-based lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, speaks with BABATUNDE TITILOLA on the rumoured Muslim-Muslim ticket by political parties ahead of the 2023 presidential election, highlighting the need to promote equity, law, and convention, and ensure the country is not divided by ethnic and religious sentiments
What do you think about the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket in the political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress?
It is a project that is dead on arrival. We can only imagine what would happen if the situation is reversed and people canvass for a Christian-Christian ticket. That would sound somehow considering the current template we operate in Nigeria. There are two dominant religions in Nigeria today. It is either you are a Christian or a Muslim. Even though I agree that other entities exist. If we want to talk about power rotation, we must be holistic. Once you have agreed that power should shift from the North to the South, the consideration of the issue of faith must come. This is because balancing the equation means that the person who was occupying that position in the past, Major General Mohammadu Buhari (retd.), is by all accounts, a Muslim.
So if power is shifting from the North to the South, it should also shift from the Muslim to the Christian. Otherwise, there is no basis for agitating for power rotation if we are not going to implement it to the letter. The APC has, in its wisdom, elected Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as its presidential standard-bearer and Peoples Democratic Party has elected Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate. Both of them are Muslims. But we cannot reject what the parties have done through democratic means. The best we can do is to ensure they balance the equation of power by picking Christian running mates because this is what is expected both by law and by convention. Under Section 15(2) of the constitution, it is clearly stated that there should be no discrimination in the balancing of power. In Section 14(3) of the same constitution, the founding fathers said power should not be concentrated in the hands of a particular section of the country either a tribe or faith.
It has been said that religion should not be a determinant for a running mate but competence and leadership qualities. What do you think about this?
It is unfortunate that discussions focusing on leadership have dovetailed into ethnic and tribal considerations. But that is the reality of Nigeria. We cannot run away from who we are. Governance should be about character, manifestoes, track records and agenda of the political parties and the aspirants. The reality in Nigeria is that a Muslim-Muslim ticket cannot fly in our current scenario.
People cite the MKO Abiola’s example to justify the Muslim-Muslim ticket because he also had a running mate who was a Muslim in the June 12, 1993 election. Why do you think this will not work now?
If we move from the Muslim who ruled for eight years to another Muslim’s eight years and then you take another Muslim vice president, you are provoking a religious war. And I don’t think that is proper in this country. It would not have mattered just like in 1993 when Nigerians gave their mandate to MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. But there was no Boko Haram then, no ISWAP. It is totally different now. People are afraid to go to church, church leaders are being kidnapped like in Kwara and Ondo states; people are being shot at like in Owo. In those kinds of scenarios, when you come up with a Muslim-Muslim ticket, you are just being terribly insensitive and sending the wrong message to other faith.
Who really has the say on the running mates’ ticket, the presidential aspirants or their parties?
We are all stakeholders in the political agenda of Nigeria. So it won’t be correct to say that any particular person has a say in determining the running mate of a political aspirant supported by their political party. This is because those political parties belong to Nigerians. So we equally have a say in who Tinubu and Atiku choose as their running mates. The same goes for who Peter Obi, Omoyele Sowore, and Rabiu Kwakwanso choose as their running mates. They are choosing to come and lead us
Does Muslim-Muslim ticket really have anything to do with the results of the election or can it affect the outcome of the elections?
Whether it is a Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket, such an issue has an impact on the outcome of the election. We have heard that Nigerians have already made a statement. The Christian Association of Nigeria has said we should not dream of a Muslim-Muslim ticket for any party due to our current experience in Nigeria. The Arewa has made a statement that they don’t think that a Muslim-Muslim ticket would work in this country. So I believe that the consensus of the people is clear and the reason is that they want equity and are trying to unite the country.
We don’t want to go back to the ethnic and religious lines that seem to divide us. A person trying to propose a Muslim-Muslim ticket is only trying to fan the embers of tension. There is no basis for it. In our current situation in Nigeria, it cannot work. So they should know that we are stakeholders and we have a say. If any party should defy what we have been saying, that party will pay for it on the day of the election. Some of us are already preparing cases to be filed. If anyone of them dares the people of Nigeria to pick a Christian-Christian ticket or Muslim-Muslim ticket, we will meet them in the court of law.
The PDP presidential aspirant is a northern Muslim while the APC aspirant is a southern Muslim. By calculations, how do you think both aspirants should solve the running mates issue in a way that boosts their chances of emergence?
Tinubu had his eyes opened before he threw his hat into the contest. It wasn’t today that he converted to Islam. He was born a Muslim, and we knew him to have always been a Muslim. So at the time, he was preparing to run for the primary election, we already knew he was a Muslim. I don’t think this issue should even arise at all. Right from the time he signified his interest in this election, he should have known that he has no choice but to pick a Christian running mate. So it is not our making that he found himself in this particular quagmire.
But it is the people who are misadvising him that are talking about Muslim-Muslim ticket. And the Northern Muslims should not say they don’t accept Southern Muslims as genuine Muslims. I believe there is universality in the doctrine of faith. I believe Buhari represented both Northern and Southern Muslims. He has been president from 2015 till now. That means he represented all doctrines of Islam and all interests of Muslims across Nigeria. And I never saw any Southern Muslim rejecting him as a Muslim. So it will be a problem for us to think that the Northerners consider the Southern Muslims inferior in terms of faith. Can we say Tinubu is not Muslim enough because he is not from the North? Otherwise, this debate should not arise at all. He represents the Islam faith and he is a Muslim presidential aspirant. He cannot at the same time choose another Northern Muslim as running mate just to satisfy the Northern Muslims.
The North is usually where votes are high. However, lately, the South, particularly the South-West is witnessing some artiste-advocates driving the permanent voter card registration. Do you think the South is ready to compete in terms of votes recorded during elections?
I think we have this misconception about the superiority of political power; whether some regions are more politically active while some are docile. This should not come up when we are considering the issue of the progress of a country. That is why there is diversity. For instance, people are more active in terms of education and professionalism in the Southern part of the country. But that does not stop us from implementing federal character to lower marks for Northerners when students want to apply to universities. We cannot say we should do everything by merit because the Southerners are more enlightened in terms of their love for education. Otherwise, everybody in the university would be a Southerner.
So in order for the country to move forward, we implemented federal character to consider some states that are educationally disadvantaged. That is why you see people in the South who write UTME, score very high but cannot gain admission. But you see people in the North who write the same exam, score lower marks and gain admission. We needed to slow down those who are educationally active in the South for the Northern people to catch up. So if you claim that you are politically active in the North, you cannot use that as an advantage when you are getting other advantages from the South. So the debate shouldn’t arise at all by saying a particular state or region has block votes of four or five million. Once you agree to present a common aspirant for the APC, all Northerners should rise up and show their solidarity.
The Progressive Northern governors’ forum insisted that they want power to shift to the South. They should follow up that resolution by canvassing support for their person. Otherwise, it will become hypocritical if they mislead Asiwaju to believe he is their aspirant when they cannot get their followers to vote for him. That would not be fair. So I do not even think we need to consider whether there is a drive for PVC or there is no drive. Those who brought Asiwaju as their aspirant should mobilise their members to vote for him.
What is your take on the issue placeholder candidacy, the Tinubu-Masari APC ticket?
I believe that the issue of placeholder or temporary candidacy has no place under the constitution or Electoral Act. Once a candidate has been nominated for the office of the governor or president, he has to, at the same time, nominate his deputy or vice president. Once that is done, they are tied together. There is no provision for replacement. In particular, I believe it is an attempt to deceive Nigerians and create the impression that it was because of the urgency of the situation that made them to impress upon us the ticket of the same faith. So it was just a clever strategy by the ruling party to force its ticket on the people of Nigeria. That is the reason why we are advocating that Nigerians should reject it.