BusinessDay

2023 elections: Church not sitting on the fence

While Israel’s economy has been boosted over many decades by visitors on pilgrimage, especially Christians from across the world, Nigeria is appearing on the global religious tourism map because of its thriving Pentecostal churches.

From Living Faith to Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) to Christ Embassy and Synagogue of All Nations, Pentecostal churches have experienced significant growth in recent decades in Nigeria.

Bode Onitiri, a commercial lawyer and public analyst, said the awakening in politics by Pentecostals in recent times is necessitated by the need to fight back, especially unfair representation in political leadership and the persecution of Christians in the northern part of the country and also to remind religious bigots of the secularity of Nigeria.

“By all standards, the Christian and Moslem population is equal and Pentecostals want this equality and freedom reflected in everything in the country, especially politics and that is why they now encourage their members to join politics for their voices to be heard and also to influence policies in the right directions,” Onitiri said.

Joshua Itagema, a former executive of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said while CAN is the umbrella body of Christians in the country, it has not been as engaging and confrontational as Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), the umbrella body of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.

“For the five years Ayo Oritsejafor, founder and senior pastor of Word of Life Bible Church, Warri, Delta State, was the president of PFN, the church confronted the government on several issues. He brought militancy to PFN and the government listened. Since then the influence of Pentecostals has been growing,” he said.

Tunde Bakare, founding pastor and serving overseer of The Latter Rain Assembly; Chris Okotie, founding pastor of Household of God Church International Ministries; Jerry Gana, a Pentecostal layperson and former information minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo, among others, have been flag-bearers of some political parties in presidential elections in the recent past.
Yemi Osinbajo, a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, is the current vice president of Nigeria.

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“The Christians in Nigeria, especially the Pentecostals, are coming out in droves to join politics unlike before. I will not be surprised that Deeper Life, which seems the most conservative of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, will soon allow members to join politics because there is a mind shift by the Church in Nigeria as its existence in being threatened by extremists in the North,” Nkuma Kalu, a retired clergyman, said.

On February 28, 2022, the RCCG, established the Office of Directorate of Politics and Governance, with the aim of helping to muster support for members with political ambitions, and also directed its branches to appoint a provincial officer across its levels for the new department.

While the new office came as a surprise to many, Pastor Olaitan Olubiyi, RCCG head of media and public relations, said that it was no surprise as the directorate is to sensitise members of the church for active political participation.

“This wouldn’t have happened in the ’80s and even Catholic Church with all its membership strength and European roots couldn’t muster the courage to float and support a political platform. I think the Pentecostals have realised the mistakes of shunning politics by the early churches and are bent on correcting them. They can do it because they have numbers, money, influence, social media all they need,” Hassan Ogeyi, a Muslim interest group activist from Okene, Kogi State, said.

Furthering the move by RCCG, the PFN has been encouraging Pentecostals across Nigeria to obtain their Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) ahead of the 2023 general elections.

At its National Executive Council meeting on June 16, 2022 in Lagos, the PFN declared June 26, 2022 as PVC Sunday across Nigeria.

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