Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State says 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.
He added that there was a need for competence to be given priority ahead of religion and ethnicity, hence his decision to run with a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2019 governorship election.
El-Rufai, who was a guest on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily programme on Thursday, said Nigeria ought to divorce religion from politics.
The governor, 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.
El-Rufai, who is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, said even his outgoing deputy, Yusuf Bala Bantex, who is a Christian, was treated like an outcast because he was in the APC.
Defending his action, however, el-Rufai said, “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.
“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.”
The governor said his choice of a female Muslim running mate would help Kaduna State to see beyond politics and religion.
El-Rufai said the federal character principle in Nigeria was stifling development.
He said 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 said information made available to him showed that the Peoples Democratic Party, which ruled the state for 16 years, never won any election in the state but always rigged its way into power.
He added, “I want to assure you. One, I want to win this election so I am not going to take a foolish decision to make any point. I want to win the election for my party and the President.
“Those that are making the argument that I must have a Christian running mate have not been able to justify it, based on history.
“From 1992, we have had more violence in Kaduna than before. The presence of a Christian deputy did not change anything.
“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.”