The argument that the imperative of “competence and capacity” makes a Muslim-Muslim ticket possible and politically viable is not only deceptively sinister; it is the very definition of bigotry. It is a bigoted argument because it essentially says “competence and capacity” are exclusively a Muslim northern trait and that Northern Christians are incapable of “competence and capacity.” This is not only false; it will never be espoused in the other direction of a Christian-Christian ticket on account of competence by the same northern Muslim characters now glibly pushing the false narrative of capacity. The claim, it should be added, insults, devalues, and dehumanizes millions of northern Christians and is inspired by a familiar ethno-religious supremacy. It is not only El-Rufai who is advancing this bigoted and supremacist position. A cruder, more violent version is already in circulation in the form of Hausa language hate sermons warning that northern Muslims will not allow “arnan Arewa” (northern infidels) and “Inyamuri” (derogatory name for Igbo) to get close to power.
One particularly virulent video made the rounds on social media few days ago. Historically, Northern Muslim supremacists regarded northern Christians as inferior vassals. So the thought of a northern Christian being Vice President, being at least nominally above northern Muslim governors, and being a heartbeat from the presidency is unacceptable to their bigoted minds. I respect the more sincere, if unflattering and self-indicting, argument put forward by some Northern Muslims that northern Muslim voters would not support a southern (Yoruba) Muslim candidate unless he/she picks a northern Muslim as a running mate. I study Northern Nigeria for a living and I know this to be true, so, whatever other motivation inspires this argument, at least it is faithful to the toxic combination of religious and ethnic behaviours and choices of the northern Muslim electorate.
But this is not something to be arrogantly declared or celebrated. It is something to be lamented and overcome. One other point needs to be made. When some northern Muslim elites assert this fact, they almost do so with pride and they seem to gladly align themselves with a reality that ought to trouble and shame them. This is sad and deplorable because they seem not to realise that the assertion that northern Muslim voters would not support a ticket without a Muslim northerner confirms their co-religionist kinsfolk as narrow-minded, conceited Muslims who regard Muslims from other regions of Nigeria as inferior Muslims. They seem not to realise or refuse to see and condemn an extremist mindset which says if you’re a Muslim presidential candidate from the South, your Muslim bona fides are questionable and can only be authenticated if you choose a northern, Hausa-speaking Muslim as your running mate. This reality should trouble the northern Muslim elite who, for its own enlightened self-interest, should worry about the disruptive effects of such puritanical extremism. Already, sectarian extremism, intolerance, and puritanical violent vigilantism are tearing the region apart and are now spreading to other parts of the country.
Ethno-religious supremacy and intolerance of the type fueling the warnings and threats against a southern Muslim-northern Christian ticket provide the ideological breeding ground for more violent kinds of extremism such as Boko Haram, Ansaru, and ISWAP. People should be careful about what they endorse, tolerate, or slyly justify for politically expedient reasons. Northern Nigeria is still paying a heavy price for a similar maneuver of conveniently cuddling extremism for ephemeral political purposes. What they incubate and legitimize for political reasons today could consume them (and us) tomorrow.
• Moses Ochonu is a Nigerian academic, historian, author and professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.