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Separate religion and politics, says El-Rufai

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By Abraham Adekunle

Nasir El-Rufai has asked the media to take religion out of politics.

As the 2023 elections draw near and political analysts are speculating that the All Progressive Congress (APC) may field a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, has asked the media to separate Religion from Politics in Nigeria. El-Rufai argued that religion does not matter when competence and ability to pilot the affairs of the nation are involved. He said, “When I get into a plane, I don’t ask the religion of the pilot. When I go to the hospital, I don’t ask for the doctor’s religion.”

El-Rufai made this statement barely a week after the primary elections of the APC, which was held at Eagle’s Square, Abuja on June 7, 2022 and through the night. On June 8, 2022, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and one-time senator for Lagos West Senatorial District, emerged as the flagbearer candidate for the APC for the 2023 presidential election. Tinubu is a Muslim from the South, so the religion of his running mate will have a great effect on his popularity and the ease of wooing the electorate in the North as well as the South East.

Nigeria’s different religions makes people sensitive.

Nigeria is a country of about 200 million, but there are only three main religions recognized by the people: Christianity, Islam, and traditional religion. Of these three, only Christianity and Islam are mainstream. Nigerians are sensitive where politics is concerned. Few weeks ago, there was a lot of outrage on Social Media after the killing of Deborah Samuel at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto by Islamic fundamentals who claimed that she had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad. Also, there have been rumors and hearsays making rounds on social media and among the Christian populace of an Islamization agenda in Nigeria.

So, it is not surprising that Nigerians are sensitive when religion and usually tribal sentiments are whipped up by politicians and citizens. Because of the religious and tribal undertones of political standings, the North and the South have had to balance the equation since 1999 by electing a Muslim president and a Christian vice president or vice versa. Even after the death of President Musa Yar’adua, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had to nominate a Northern Muslim, Nnamadi Sambo as vice president.

Asiwaju Tinubu is making consultations on whom to choose.

After winning the presidential primaries of the APC, Tinubu is tasked with choosing a running mate. He and stakeholders of the party have intensified consultations on choice of running mate. Governor El-Rufai’s name has been mentioned as a potential running mate for the APC presidential flag bearer. There have been speculations that El-Rufai made a case for competence and delivery instead of religion because he is likely to be on the ballot. But he has denied this. He says, “The candidate will choose his running mate. He will evaluate many factors, and the best we can do is to give him space and time, and advise and guide him to make the right choice.”

Other names which have been listed as potential running mate for Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu are: Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu; Kano State Governor, Abdulahi Ganduje; Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; and Malam Kashim Ibrahim-Imam. The two prominent factors which politicians, political analysts, and the electorate, expect Tinubu to consider are Religion and Tribe. To gain the votes of the Northern masses, Tinubu must be able to appeal to their sense of religion by not only picking a Northern running mate but also ensuring the running mate is of the right religion. If he picks a Northern Christian, there will be an outrage, the same thing in which El-Rufai is speaking against. There have been speculations that the North will not support a Northern Christian as his running mate.

“I don’t look at the issue from the perspective of religion.”

When he was asked how Nigerians would react to a Muslim-Muslim ticket, El-Rufai said he did not look at the issue from the perspective of Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian. “I don’t think the business of governance has to do with religion.” He said Nigerians should look for the best person for the job and who will get the job done. In Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai has a Muslim deputy governor. He said he picked a very qualified and competent woman as his running mate in the 2019 elections, but people have decided to look at it as a Muslim-Muslim ticket. He said that despite people’s pessimism, they won overwhelmingly.


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