Muslim-Muslim Ticket: MKO Abiola Was No Tinubu 

On July 10, 2022, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, Bola Tinubu announced former governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, as his running mate on the party’s presidential ticket. As expected, the reaction to the announcement has been mixed, with supporters of the two candidates justifying the decision to pick Shettima, while others – including members of the APC – have expressed outrage over the decision, decrying the party’s insensitivity to the feelings, and fears, of non-Muslims. 

It’s been made clear that the rationale behind the decision was simply the potential electoral numbers that a Muslim northerner can bring to the ticket, a number the party desperately needs. While the outrage of the displeased non-Muslims is valid, they must recognize that the choice of a running mate for Tinubu and the APC is not theirs to make, and the concerned candidate and party will act according to their perceived most helpful option. Tinubu and APC have simply said that a Muslim running mate to the Muslim presidential candidate is what they feel is the most helpful for their cause in 2023. 

Anyone that is displeased with the choice, especially those who are not members of the party, must recognize that the most they can do is to be displeased. Taking offense, as many have done, is perhaps overreaching. While politics, or democracy, is largely about the representation of various interests, the most crucial element has, over time, been the numbers. For aggrieved members of the party, it must be acknowledged that they probably didn’t do enough to convince party stakeholders of the significance of their potential contribution to the 2023 cause. Tinubu and others who made the Shettima choice must, however, tread with caution. 

Dismissing concerns and grievances of those opposed to the Shettima choice, stakeholders and supporters of the ticket have told Nigerians to remember the June 12, 1993, presidential election in which a similar thing happened. In the “June 12” election, the acclaimed winner, MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) picked a fellow Muslim, Baba Gana Kingibe, as running mate. Despite the Muslim-Muslim ticket, MKO Abiola went on to win the election, though he never reached office, after the infamous annulment of the election by then military president Ibrahim Babangida. Thirty years later, Tinubu and the APC want to replicate that feat, naively thinking that MKO Abiola could be compared to Tinubu, and/or that Nigeria in 1993 can be compared to Nigeria in 2023. 

Tinubu and his VP Shettima receive party flag

On a personal note, Tinubu and his supporters have been insulting the Yorubas in Nigeria’s Southwest, comparing Tinubu to  MKO Abiola, and especially the former Premier of Nigeria’s Western region and one of the founding fathers of the country, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who has been widely described as the “sage”. Unlike the incumbent president Mohammadu Buhari, who was clothed in the garment of “integrity” in a deliberate effort by his handlers – including Bola Tinubu – to deceive unsuspecting voters in 2015, Obafemi Awolowo earned the “sage” tag with his outstanding performance as the western region’s Premier. 

A sage, in simple definition, is someone acknowledged to be profoundly wise; a person famed for wisdom. In other words, someone celebrated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience. In government and other areas where resource management is critical, a sage would be someone who demonstrates significant prudence, vision, and selflessness. At a time when crude oil, a blessing-turned-curse, had not become Nigeria’s main source of revenue, Awolowo proved to be prudent, visionary, and selfless in the management of the limited resources of the Western region, and because of his generally acknowledged brilliance in governance, he has been widely described as “the best president Nigeria never had”. 

In a relatively similar way, MKO Abiola rose from penury to become exceptionally successful in his career and business. In addition to his brilliance and success, Abiola was unusually generous, to everyone who came across him irrespective of class, ethnicity, or religion. His widely acknowledged philanthropy actually played a significant role in his victory at the June 12 polls. In the pursuit of public office, a contestant is usually expected to demonstrate a sound understanding of issues, and courage to do the needful if elected. In the June 12 election, MKO Abiola left no one in doubt about his sound understanding of the issues of governance and the numerous challenges Nigeria faced – which it sadly still faces, and in worse proportion, today – and his courage to fix things. 

Of the many reasons for the election’s annulment, Abiola’s courage to do the needful was a significant factor, something his political enemies – both within and outside the country at the time – could not afford to risk. This is not to suggest that Awolowo and MKO Abiola were saints, no one is. Those two men were simply able to demonstrate that their positives far outweigh their negatives. Had Awolowo been allowed to be president and able to replicate his regional performance at the federal level, he probably would have been to Nigeria what Lee Kuan Yew was/is to Singapore. On the international stage, Awolowo and MKO Abiola – with their brilliance, eloquence, and stature – would have, no doubt, represented Nigeria to the pride of the country’s citizens. 

Abiola and His VP candidate, Baba Gana

While their supporters continue to paint black as white, Tinubu and Shettima cannot bring such representation to the international stage. Even when Tinubu was younger and healthier, he never demonstrated soundness of thought at the level Awolowo and MKO Abiola did. And now that he is physically weak, Tinubu has shown on several occasions that his mental health and capacity are on a fast decline. Being sick is no crime, sickness is a significant part of human existence. But old age-related sickness is not something that should be promoted or excused in a presidential candidate, given the demands of that office. Of the many sad lessons Nigeria and external observers must have learned about Nigeria and governance since 2015, the grave impact of ill health is one that should play a role in anyone’s electoral choice in 2023. 

On the worsening value of the country’s currency, the Naira, especially in comparison to the U.S dollar, Tinubu says he is not bothered because Nigerians don’t earn their wages/salaries in dollars. If we were to excuse his recent obsession with corn and beans – as the solution to Nigeria’s many problems – what sense would it make to excuse his glaring folly on the naira-dollar subject? While importation is not, in itself, a bad thing, it has been proven to lead to disaster if/when it significantly outweighs a country’s export. Nigeria is a country dependent on imports. To trade in the international market, you need the dollar, and Nigeria’s main source of that foreign exchange, oil, is quickly drying up, with its negative impact on the naira. Due to this and other factors, the naira has lost more than 300% of its value under Buhari and Tinubu’s APC, yet Tinubu is not bothered. 

Tinubu and his supporters have said – some out of mischief, others out of ignorance – that the man built Lagos into what it is today. Lagos is, today, Nigeria’s economic hub, and one of the largest economies in Africa. But it did not become so because of Bola Tinubu. Lagos has actually always been the commercial hub of Nigeria, even before Tinubu’s birth, and the main reason for Lagos’s economic credentials is its geography. Through its strategic geographical location, Lagos is the link between the international market and Nigeria’s import-dependent economy. In the first three decades of Nigeria’s independence, Lagos was the country’s federal capital territory (FCT), attracting significant infrastructural investment in the process. 

Due to the geographic advantage and its attendant benefits, Lagos has attracted migrants from far and near and continues to do so. Tinubu and his proteges recognized this huge potential and cashed in on it in taxes. Tinubu and his proteges have jointly raised the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) from the N600 million per month Tinubu said he met in 1999 to about N50 billion per month today. They must be given credit for it, and have been claiming credit for it. But it should not stop there, one should ask them how they have allocated the funds. What impact has this huge IGR had on the state? How has it benefited the state and the taxpayers? How has it made the life of ordinary Lagos residents better than it was in 1999? These are, however, not questions Tinubu and his supporters are willing to answer. 

Lagos Metropolis

Lagos is currently ranked the second worst city to live in the world, just behind war-ravaged Damascus in Syria. In third place behind Lagos is another war-torn city, Tripoli in Libya. Quality of life, job opportunities, violence, security, medical care, environment, education, infrastructure, and the availability of efficient public services are some of the factors considered in making the list. While Syria and Libya have been rocked by violent conflict for more than a decade, Lagos has not experienced any war in the same period. Isn’t it strange then, that it ranks high on the infamous list, especially considering that for more than two decades now, Lagos has been governed by Tinubu and his proteges? No thanks to Buhari and APC, Nigeria today ranks in a similar position to Lagos on various sorry lists. 

Tinubu wants to continue from where Buhari has taken Nigeria and wants to replicate Lagos at the federal level. Either way, Nigerians would be sorry. A Vice-President is a potential president, so it is equally important to examine any candidate’s running mate, and in this case, Kashim Shettima. A look at the persona of Shettima and records would help anyone see the rationale behind the outrage that has followed the announcement of Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate. Shettima has been widely alleged as a Boko-Haram sympathizer, and it is because of how he has conducted himself since becoming a public figure. As governor of Borno state in the 2011-2019 period, Shettima’s alleged link to the Boko-Haram terrorists was in the news after escapee kingpin of the sect, Kabiru Sokoto, was said to have been arrested in the then Borno state governor’s house in Asokoro, Abuja. Borno state governor at the time, in 2012, was Kashim Shettima. 

Two years later, during the abduction of 276 female students in a Chibok secondary school on the night of 14 April 2014, Shettima’s alleged complicity was again brought to the fore. Prior to the abduction, the federal government was said to have written to the then Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima to alert him on the impending terrorist attacks on secondary schools in the three North Eastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa – advising and expecting the governor to take necessary measures to beef up security in/around schools. According to reports, Shettima ignored the warning, leaving the innocent schoolchildren to their fate in the hands of the evil Boko-Haram terrorists. Some of those abducted girls are still in captivity today, after almost ten years. 

One of the major issues that have concerned Nigerians for a while now is the subject of restructuring the country to a true federal state, correcting the unnecessary concentration of power in the federal government, and making the confederating units more self-reliant. This is projected to trigger healthy competition, as well as complementary relations, among various confederating units who would have the right access and jurisdiction over their own affairs and resources. The ruling APC, Tinubu’s and Shettima’s party, actually sold restructuring to Nigerians in 2015, but have ignored the subject since getting to power. The impact of the current set-up of the country, which is anything but federal, has been even more glaring under the disastrous administration of Buhari and APC. 

Seeing how governors have been claiming helplessness in the face of ravaging insecurity – with the excuse that security agencies are under the control of the federal government while cashing in on the insecurity through humongous monthly security votes – you would expect that going into the 2023 elections, restructuring would be a subject that well-meaning candidates would be giving serious thought. But with the arrogance and insensitivity often displayed by his principal on issues, Shettima in response to a question on the subject, during a recent interview with Channels Television, said; “Restructuring my foot, let’s restructure our minds, let’s restructure our quality of governance. When people are talking of artificial intelligence, when others are talking of robotics engineering or nanotechnology, we are talking of restructuring the federation. Our problem is not an issue of devolution of powers, let’s be very honest”. That is the potential president of Nigeria if Tinubu wins in 2023 but, for whatever reasons, is unable to complete his term. 

While the challenges of Nigeria and Nigerians in 1993 are still here, even worse, as we head towards the 2023 general elections, it is naive for Tinubu and the APC to compare his choice of running mate to what MKO Abiola did in 1993. In the June 12, 1993 election, Nigerians couldn’t wait to get rid of the military, and MKO Abiola successfully convinced Nigerians, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, or other factors, that he was the best president Nigeria could have at the time; that he was the one – of the two presidential candidates then – who could fix Nigeria’s numerous challenges; and that he was the one with the record – on a personal note – to show that anything could be achieved if the will is backed by effort. Add these to the fact that Nigerians in 1993 were not so sharply divided along various lines, as they are now, no thanks to Buhari and Tinubu’s APC. 

Actually, like the military in 1993, a significant percentage of Nigerians now want to get rid of the APC. Buhari is, perhaps, the luckiest president to have governed Nigeria, in terms of goodwill. The support he enjoyed from Nigerians prior to his 2015 electoral victory and after he assumed office remains unrivaled. Even into the early days of his second term, when he had already ruined Nigeria significantly in all spheres of life, Buhari still enjoyed wide support. And until recently when some of his supporters saw that continued association with him could hurt the chances of their new god, Bola Tinubu, Buhari was still being serenaded as the best thing that has happened to Nigeria after crude oil. 

In addition to the sorrow, tears, blood, and misery that have been Nigeria’s reality under him, Buhari and APC set another unpleasant record. Successive governments, including Buhari’s, have always relished an increase in the price of crude oil on the international market and decried low prices. But under their unrivaled mismanagement, Buhari and APC have told Nigerians that the increase in the price of crude oil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not benefitted Nigeria. Buhari and APC met Nigeria’s public debt portfolio at around N12 trillion in 2015, today it is more than N40 trillion. It has also been reported that Nigeria now makes less revenue than what it pays to service its numerous debts. 

When the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan tried to remove the petrol subsidy in January 2012, Buhari, Tinubu, and others who are now in the APC shut down Nigeria, falsely claiming that there was nothing called a subsidy. But since assuming power in 2015, Buhari and APC have been removing the same subsidy whose existence they mischievously denied in 2012, stirring up emotions and anger in the unsuspecting ordinary citizens against Jonathan and his equally less than impressive government. But despite Buhari and APC’s claims of partial removal of subsidy, which has contributed to why a liter of petrol now sells for N200, subsidy payment is said to have exceeded what Nigeria, under Buhari, makes in revenue. 

While lamenting the country’s current precarious fiscal condition in a report last month, Buhari’s minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said in the first four months of 2022, government revenue of N1.63 trillion was less than the N1.94 trillion needed to cover debt-service payments. Bloomberg, on August 5, 2022 reported that “Nigeria said it owes 20 trillion naira ($47 billion) to its central bank and the obligations are yet to be added to the African nation’s outstanding public debt, according to a report by the budget office. The debt figure is as of March 31, the budget office said in a document giving details of the country’s expenditure plans from 2023-2025 and posted on its website Friday. The outstanding public debt is at 41.6 trillion naira.”  

With such horrifying records, Tinubu and his party should be apologizing to Nigerians, not asking for a continuation of the misery. To add salt to the injury inflicted on Nigerians, Tinubu and APC have flown a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a country sharply divided along religious lines, in a period when people have expressed fears over the alleged Islamization plan of some people. Nigeria being a secular state with several religious faiths, religion should not be a part of the subjects of an election, but because of the unrighteousness of politicians who regularly exploit religion as a means to their evil ends, religion has become a significant factor in elections. While MKO Abiola was able to convince electorates in 1993 that a good candidate surpasses all other considerations, including religion, Tinubu has been marred by ill health, allegations of corruption, public distrust, and arrogant desperation. Time will tell if he’s able to replicate the MKO feat or not. 

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