Nigeria is perhaps the world’s greatest victim of identity politics – the politics of who you are, where you come from, and which deity you worship.
Nothing seems to animate the primal instincts of Nigerians more than religion and tribe.
We may endure almost any hardship, and forgive the ghastly incompetence and corruption of our leaders.
We may turn the other cheek when our educational standards collapse, or blame the antics of Satan when our children die from water-borne diseases.
When our national power grid collapses as it frequently does, plunging the entire country into medieval darkness, we murmur our national shame in private.
Rather than hold our leaders to account, we prefer to leave even matters of sanitation, health care delivery, and high maternal mortality “in the hands of God”.
But the same Nigerians are prepared to kill in broad daylight or go to war over religious “blasphemy”.
We recruit our leaders, not according to their abilities or the brilliance of their ideas, but based on tribal identity, political zones, and religious faith.
But in the 2023 election circle, we must set different standards in our leadership recruitment process. We must look for competence, empathy, inclusiveness, and innovative thinking in those who seek public office.
History teaches us again and again that when we “zone” or allocate political power simply on the basis of geography, only tribal demagogues with the vilest energy would seize it.
When we vote on the basis of religious identity, then we set the stage for incompetent religious bigots to win.
President Muhammadu Buhari is perhaps the conclusive proof that a regional leader with an insular vision can never collectivize a nation, and propel it towards development.
Secondly, as we inch closer to the next general elections, the champions of “religious equity” are stepping forward with the old obsession about the religious match making of candidates.
They are arguing for and against a so-called “Christian-Christian ticket versus a Muslim-Muslim ticket “.
But Nigerians, especially young Nigerians, have seen the ultimate futility of these false religious debates.
Nigerians want competent and visionary leaders who can move the country out of its current doldrums, and inspire Nigeria to greater heights.
After all, President Buhari is a Muslim. But he has failed to stop the kidnappings or killings of thousands of Muslims over the past 7 years of his administration.
Similarly, despite being a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Nigeria’s largest Pentecostal church,Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has failed to halt the relentless massacre of Christains in all parts of the country.
In fact, the abject failure of the Buhari-Osinbajo administration is both evidence and a warning to Nigerians that even a “balanced” Muslim-Christian ticket could spell disaster for the country.
Nigeria has reached a critical inflection point where even “good governance” may no longer be enough to redeem her promise.
We need creative, competent, broadminded and audacious leaders at all levels to move the country in a different direction.
Let 2023 be the year we turned the page on tribalism and identity politics in Nigeria.
NB: Dr Austin Tam-George is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State.