Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has said 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 over religion and ethnicity, hence his decision to run with a Muslim/Muslim ticket.
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 criticism from the Christian Association of Nigeria and other interest groups for picking a Muslim as a 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.
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 that they are part of the government?
“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 an unpopular decision in some quarters, he was confident of winning the election in March.