Prof. Damian Opata

By Ikechukwu Odu

NSUKKA—–A Professor of African Fiction, Damian Opata, has urged Nigerians not to be influenced by ethnic and religious considerations in their choice of candidates for the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

The don who described ethnicism as “the habit that disregards merit and competence in favour of ones ethnic interests,” called on Nigerians to rather vote for candidates with potentials and proven track records to deliver good governance to the people.

While warning Nigerians not to delve into actions capable of plunging the nation into the abyss of division, he said that institutions such as the National Youth Service Corps, federal colleges and tertiary institutions were established in consideration of the unity of Nigerians.

He disagreed with those condemning the same-faith ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC, recalling that Moshood Abiola-Babagana Kingibe who are both Muslims won election in Nigeria in 1992.

He made the remarks during his lead paper presentation at the 2022 International Conference/Workshop organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT.

While discussing the topic ‘Reflections on the Current Political Campaigns and the Prospects of Delivering Good Governance in Nigeria, 2023,’ he identified religious bigotry, ethnicism and unprecedented youth involvement as major issues dominating political space ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.

He insisted that Nigerians must embrace confederal system of government and adopt a new constitution to place the nation on the wheels of progress.

He also said “…Take the current fixation about Muslim-Muslim ticket in APC, for instance. It is nothing but an APC strategy of winning the presidential election by APC. It is not because of the love of Islam.
The choice of a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket by APC has generated a lot of tension in the polity. Unfortunately, this tension has not been anything about quality of good governance. Because religion is laden with emotions and passions, there is this conventional understanding of “religious balancing”, such that such that if a Muslim presidential candidate is chosen from the North, then a Christian vice- presidential candidate should come from the South. I do not know how this act of balancing will shape out when a practitioner of indigenous religion becomes a presidential candidate. Other eastern religions are gradually taking root in Nigeria; I do not know how the act of balancing will take place. As it is, this religious sentiment of balancing is because there are, for now, two dominant religions in Nigeria, all of them colonial and foreign like our democracy. Only the APC chose a presidential candidate and his vice from Islam. This choice has been followed by continuing uproar as if religious belonging determines good governance.

“Ethnicism, a ‘cashing out’ on ethnicity, is the vogue in political decision making and policy formulation in Nigeria. I have already observed that it is the habit and practice of one putting his ethnicity first when making a decision that concerns multiethnic groups. It is a habit that disregards merit and competence in favour of one’s ethnic interest. In the current political context, it is the privileging of candidates from one’s ethnic place in the struggle for power at the Centre. But it is also like putting the cart before the horse. If ethnicity were the decider in the selection of candidates, each ethnic group would have been asked to submit its best and from there one would be chosen. This is the twenty-first century.

“Nigerians have embraced modernity. Different ethnic groups are living in areas that are not their ethnic roots of origin. Very many Nigerians know more of where they reside, or even born into than they know of their ethnic origin. Many that were Christians have become Muslims, and some that were Muslims have become Christians. There is inter-religious marriage in Nigeria. There are pan-Nigerian socio-cultural groups. Many events call for inter-faith service, and people embrace them. The Igbo have a proverb: Ife anacho na ite ofe bu anu: What is searched for in a pot of soup is meat. Why should Nigerians be searching for ethnicity in choosing their leaders, instead of searching for one who would govern well.

“Long ago, several institutions were established to encourage Nigerian unity. There is the National Youth Service Corps. Some state governments even promised to sponsor inter-faith marriage among youth corps members. There is quota system in admission into military establishments. There are federal colleges, federal tertiary institutions, federal civil service, etc. Some of these are platforms that can easily lead to intra-ethnic bonding. There are churches and mosques in all states and local governments in Nigeria. Why is Nigeria going back to things that divide them? Did Nigeria not have a Moshood Abiola – Babagana Kingibe ticket, a Muslim-Muslim duo? Did they not win an election considered to be one of the freest in Nigeria. That was in 1992. 30 years after, we are quarrelling about a Muslim-Muslim presidential candidate, and some groups have resorted to press conference condemning such a development. My political affiliation is PDP, not APC. Let the debate be about the potential of candidates to deliver good governance, about proven track records, about experience, about selflessness and altruism, about vision, etc.
“I think that we should first seek the kingdom of good governance before the alleys of religion and ethnicity,” he said.

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