Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has defended his decision to run with a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the forthcoming elections, saying he is aware that 67 per cent of Christians in southern Kaduna will not vote for him in the governorship election even if he picks the Pope as his running mate.
Appearing on a ChannelsTV programme on Thursday, El-Rufai said Nigeria ought to divorce religion from politics.
“What if I tell you that no matter who I choose as my running mate, even if I choose the Pope, 67 per cent of the Christians in southern Kaduna have made up their minds that they will never vote for me,” he said.
“This is what the polls show.
“So, for me, that is not the issue. The issue is this: Kaduna State is divided, it needs to be united. The way to begin to unite it is to take religion or ethnicity off the table.
“Since 1992, every deputy governor of Kaduna has been a Christian. What has it done for the state? Has it united the state? Has it assuaged the feelings of the Christian minority?
“My current deputy governor is a Christian and I didn’t pick him because he is Christian. I picked him because we were colleagues from university and I know him to be a brilliant, focused and just man. But, did that change anything?
“In fact, what it did was to bring disrespect to him. No one respected him in southern Kaduna because he is in what they call an Islamic party.
“So, there are complicated issues in Kaduna, which people sitting from a distance will not understand.”
El-Rufai, who said the federal character principle in Nigeria was stifling development, added that although his decision to pick a Muslim running mate was unpopular in some quarters, he was confident of winning the polls come March.
The governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress who is a Muslim, had come under harsh criticisms from the Christian Association of Nigeria and other interests groups for picking a Muslim as running mate.
But he remains defiant, saying: “Even when a Christian, Patrick Yakowa, of blessed memory, was governor, it did not stop the violence, the intolerance and the insensitivity. In fact, it exacerbated it.
“In Kaduna, in my view, the way to heal and unite the state is to completely remove religion and ethnicity from the state; but we cannot change three decades of intolerance in the state.”