• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Controversy over clerics’ endorsement of candidates

2023 Nigeria’s presidential election: Matters arising

As the presidential and National Assembly elections draw closer, a controversy has emerged over endorsement of candidates by religious leaders.

Nigeria, being a highly religious country where decisions and actions of citizens are influenced by their faith, such endorsements, as controversial as they may be, can determine voting patterns.

A new poll by POLAF, a not-for-profit organisation, shows that guidance from religious leaders is among the factors that will influence Nigerian voters’ choices during the forthcoming elections.

According to the survey, four of 10 respondents are certain that their positions on candidates are made, three of 10 believe vote buying would influence their choice for voting, while the remainder awaits guidance/direction from religious leaders, market associations, trade unions, etc. on the choice of candidate.

A cleric, Paul Adefarasin, senior pastor of the House on the Rock church, has been trending on Twitter in recent days, drawing fire from many tweeps, after he denied endorsing any presidential candidates.

“I have come across some random and unauthorised communications making the rounds that have been ‘stitched together’ by unscrupulous individuals who are unaware that by virtue of my office, I must remain non-partisan,” he had posted on Twitter on Friday. “I will never ask you to cast your vote for a particular candidate.”

The most preferred candidates and parties involved in the presidential election, according to the survey, are Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party.

Some of the candidates have garnered endorsements, openly or covertly, from religious leaders.

Last year, religious leaders, comprising Islamic clerics and bishops in their hundreds, visited the National Secretariat of the Labour Party and asked Nigerians to reject the presidential candidates of the APC and PDP.

In his address to members of the National Working Committee of Labour Party, Sheikh Muhammad Murtala Muhammad, leader of the Islamic delegation, said they rejected the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC because it does not engender peace and unity in a secular society like Nigeria.

He therefore called on Christians and Muslims alike to join hands together to vote for “those that are ready and prepared to take Nigeria out of the present situation”.

In his speech, Archbishop Leonard Bature Kawas, leader of the Christian delegation, said it was unfair for Atiku to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, another Muslim northerner after spending eight years as president.

Just on Tuesday, four days to the election, over 100 clerics and prophets in Rivers State had declared support for APC’s Tinubu.

The religious leaders under the aegis of Rivers Pastors Unite for Tinubu said this after a meeting in Port Harcourt on Monday.

According to them, the APC presidential candidate is the only person with the capacity to solve the myriad of challenges plaguing the country.

The Coordinator of RPUT, Sunday Edimeh, who read their resolution, said none of the candidates had supported the Christian community as much as Tinubu.

Read also: Elections in Nigeria: End of military era and the big business of polls

Edimeh, who is also the founder of One Life Bible Church based in Port Harcourt, however said their position applied only to the presidential election and had nothing to do with the governorship and other elections in Rivers State.

While quoting the scriptures, Edimeh urged the Christians to stand for the truth and reciprocate Tinubu’s good deeds to the Christian community by mobilising votes for him across the country.

He said: “None of the leading presidential candidates has supported the Christian community as much as Bola Tinubu. He has sown only good seeds on the soil of the Christian community and such should never be dismissed.

“We call on fellow clergymen and women to stand with the truth at this time. We are aware that a presidential candidate is playing up the Christian agenda but the pertinent question is before now, how has he uplifted the Christian community?

“The choice of a running mate does not in any way pose a threat to the Christian community. Hence let us dissociate from the cold-hearted proclivities of political transition, which seek to orchestrate needless divisions based on religious grounds. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has not presented any conduct to suggest his non-tolerance for the religious sentiments of all Nigerians.”

According to the POLAF poll, many respondents are more interested in what the aspiring candidate will do for the country, as 95 percent have rated the current government performance as the worst ever.

According to the report, 30 percent of the respondents said nothing can possibly change their choice of preferred candidate as their minds are already made up.
Further analysis shows that 20 percent of the respondent choice are determined by the campaign/manifesto presented by the candidate.

Ten percent are willing to sell their votes during the election, while five percent of the respondents’ decisions are based on the influence of their family, friends, leaders, and religion.

“Most concerning amongst respondents are the high rate of unemployment, insecurity, and poverty nationwide, ranking as a concern to the economy,” the organisation said in the poll report.

The survey was conducted via telephone conversations with 3.1 million respondents spread across 165 local government areas in 20 of the 36 states, cut across the six geopolitical zones within a period of eight months (July 2022 – February 2023).