Competence over tribe except in Nigerian polls

Saturday January 14 2023

PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar (left), Labour Party's Peter Obi (second left), APC running mate Kashim Ibrahim Shettima (second right) and the New Nigerian People's Party candidate Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (right) attend a ceremony as 18 candidates signed a pledge to ensure peaceful elections in Abuja, Nigeria on September 29, 2022. PHOTO | ANADOLU AGENCY / AFP


A Nigerian bishop cracked me up last week preaching about the upcoming Nigerian presidential elections, whose candidates are Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba (South West of Nigeria) Muslim, Atiku Abubakar, a northern Muslim and Peter Obi, an Igbo (South East Nigeria) Christian.

Why are their origins and religious persuasion important? It is because of the peculiar nature of Nigerian politics. There has always been the unwritten law of a rotational presidency.

Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba Christian, handed over to Musa Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim. When Obasanjo was president his vice president was Atiku Abubakar — a Muslim from the North, while Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, deputised Yar’Adua.

When Jonathan was president, his vice president was Namadi Sambo, a Muslim from the North. President Buhari is a Muslim from the North and his deputy has been a Yoruba, Yemi Osibajo.

Now come 2023, according to this unwritten and unspoken law, the presidency should go to the South south, specifically the south east because Obasanjo and Osibajo are Yoruba. The only non-Yoruba candidate is Peter Obi, an Igbo.

The kingmaker’s turn


However, unwritten and unspoken laws are amenable to the wishes of the powerful. Tinubu has been a kingmaker. When he was governor of Lagos state, the current vice president was one of his cabinet members. It is generally accepted that his effort is what made Buhari president. He is now running for the office of the president on the premise that it is his turn – rotation be damned. Even though Nigeria has not had an Igbo head of state since Aguyi Ironsi who was assassinated on July 29, 1966.

Then to make it more interesting, Tinubu’s running mate is another Muslim from the North.

One Bible verse asks that if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? Obviously, nothing. Because the foundation of Nigerian politics was built on tribe and religion and not on competency and capacity, we will have to live with the consequences.

What if the fathers had pushed competence instead of tribe and religion? It won’t have mattered to anyone. After all, in 1993 Chief Moshood Abiola — a Yoruba Muslim had a fellow Muslim as his running mate and people voted for them and they won across the nation.

Politicians discovered that the tribal or religious card, sparked emotions and so they just stuck to the script. Even in every other area of our existence — corporate, sports, or entertainment — tribe or religion have proved irrelevant.

Now, we must mentor a new generation to build new foundations based on competence, equity and justice.

Foundations are seeds that will grow until harvest time. If the foundation serves your purpose right now, will you want to live with consequences of the foundations you lay today?

So, let’s go back to the bishop. He asked his congregation if they were all set to vote and if they had their voters’ cards to which they all answered in the affirmative by a show of hands.

He then prayed for them thus: “May your children and children’s children develop the character of the person you are voting for.”

Not one person said Amen. Not one. And that dear friend is the consequence of a foundation not based on competence but on tribe, religion and personal interest. These same people will pray for God to do something in Nigeria but when they had the opportunity to do something through their votes, ancient foundations hijacked their logic and paralysed them. Next time you pray for something, first look inwards and ask what foundations are dictating the proceedings in your head.

Wale Akinyemi is the founder of the Street University.