• Monday, July 15, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Keeping the sanctity of the church in electoral contest

businessday-icon

“Religion is the opium of the people” is one of the most frequently paraphrased statements of Karl Marx, a German economist. In Nigeria, everything is given a religious coloration. Employment into the nation’s civil service, admission into federal schools, appointment into political offices, etc, have always followed religious consideration even though the country is a secular state.

It is said that there is nothing wrong with politicians canvassing votes from various religious blocs in the country in as long as the method that is employed does not impugn the sanctity of that faith.

Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) gave the go-ahead order for the commencement of electoral activities by political parties for the 2015 general election, one major issue that has largely determined the fate of many of those having aspiration for one office or the other is their religious inclination.

It has also become one of the major issues some critics are pointing at over the candidacy of Muhammadu Buhari, as the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC).  Concerns have been raised in some quarters over Buhari’s perceived extremism in religious matters.

A good number of Nigerians, especially from the south see him as a man capable of dragging the country further into Islamic circles; and despite the efforts by the APC to allay such fears that such is not possible in a democratic setting and that given the check-mating functions of the National Assembly, Buhari would not engage in such things; such insinuation appears to have has stuck.

Although the Christian community in the country has always wished one of their own is in control of the affairs at the highest level of government, most times, the Pentecostals are averse to any member of theirs going into partisan politics. They would always prefer that their members are appointed into government without them standing elections. This is so, because they believe that the system is very corrupt for a true and practising Christian to be involved in.

When in 2011, Tunde Bakare, founder of Latter Rain Assembly, decided to run as vice presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) with Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate, the owls began to howl. Bakare was called several names and branded a backslider by the same people clamouring for Christians in government.

Chris Okotie’s involvement in politics has over the years lowered his estimation in the eyes of some Pentecostals who say openly that it is either that the founder of the Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) has lost his call for soul winning or he had no call in the first place. The greatest attack came from the Christian community.

Now, in a move to win the sympathy of the Christian community, the APC settled for Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and former attorney-general and commissioner for justice in Lagos State. Osinbajo is a senior pastor and chairman of the governing board of the Redeemer’s University.

His entrance into the highest level of politics in the country may have divided the Christendom. While some people believe that the pastor would garner substantial votes from his church which boasts of millions of worshippers, some others are of the opinion that such may not be the case.

A member of the denomination, who simply identified himself as Segun, said that he had been following Osinbajo since he was the attorney-general of Lagos State, but said he did not think the pastor would ever be involved in politics to be considered as a vice presidential candidate under any party. According to him, Osinbajo’s popularity among members of the Church would likely work in favour of the APC at the presidential election.

“If we want to leverage on his popularity within the ranks of our denomination, he is a very popular man, and as I was told, he is one of the members of our church’s Board of Trustees (BoT), which gives him a stronghold on the denomination,” Segun said, adding, “I give it to the party for sourcing out such a reliable and upright man in Professor Osinbajo. And honestly, I never thought of voting for anybody before, but because of him, I am going to vote for APC next year.”

But a female member of the denomination chose to differ, noting that she did not expect such a highly placed cleric to involve himself with certain elements in the party.

The woman, who pleaded anonymity, said: “If you look at the setting of the political party, they have great ideals and a unique blend. But, the individuals involved would not have made a good company for Professor Osinbajo. I think he is way too good to associate himself ‘openly’ with all of those people in the name of politics. No matter how we want to look at it, he is likely to sway when the chips are down, otherwise, he may not last within their ranks.”

Fatai Ayandeji, a psychologist by training, expressed disappointment with the church in Nigeria, which he said was playing to the gallery.

According to Ayandeji, “What I am yet to understand is the reason for the double-standard the church appears to be playing in matters concerning politics in the country. It is the church that is always ready to quote the Bible passage that ‘when the righteous is in power the people rejoice.’ Now that somebody in that mould is coming out as vice-presidential candidate, we are hearing people saying partisan politics is not good for born again Christians. What does that mean? The Bible says that faith without work is dead in itself. Why must the church think certain positions are for ‘unbelievers’, yet when such ‘unbelievers’ decide to do whatever they like in power, the church is the first to condemn and engage in endless prayer and fasting?

“My take is that we can halt the perennial leadership deficit this country has been experiencing by allowing those with the fear of God to exercise power; this will also take care of the corruption problem that has held the country bound for decades.”

Leonard Umunna, general overseer, Bible Life Church, said he did not believe the Buhari/Osinbajo alliance would be in the interest of the church.

“What I can say is that the church should watch it. There is a price to pay for every success. They must watch it. Given the type of politics we play in Nigeria, Professor Osinbajo will see real politics as soon as they win the election; that time, the real thing will emerge. What he never bargained for will emerge. That’s why I said any pastor going into elective position in Nigeria must hear clearly from God. From what happened to Bakare and Chris Okotie, it does not appear that they really heard from God before they ventured into politics. If you are a true pastor, you are the leader of all, because God has placed their souls in your hands. Your primary concern should be to look after their souls for the kingdom sake. You must remember that Christians who made it to the top, politically, in the Bible days, for instance, Daniel, Joseph, Esther etc, made it by appointment and not by election,” he said.

Nigeria is said to have over 250 ethnic groups, each with its own language in one of several language families. Split religiously, about 50 percent of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, 40 percent is Christian, and the remainder adheres to indigenous beliefs.

Ahead of the 2015 general election now fixed for March 28 and April 11, 2015, it appears that the church has become a campaign ground for politicians. Candidates of various parties visit worship centres where they are given opportunity to use the pulpit to canvass for votes.

In the last few weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan has visited a number of churches, across the country, particularly in Lagos and Abuja, the seat of power. He has been to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Lords Chosen Charismatic Revival Movement, the Living Faith Church, Ota, Ogun State, among others.

Jonathan, while in these places, was said to have addressed the large congregations, urging them to pray for the peaceful conduct of the election and worthy outcomes. He had also submitted himself to prayer as he knelt before the clerics.

Shortly after he emerged the APC vice presidential candidate, Osinbajo, along with Buhari attended the end of the year thanksgiving service organized by the Lagos State government at Alausa, Ikeja. At the event, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Church was incidentally one of the guest ministers at the event.

There were rumours that the presence of Pastor Adeboye at the thanksgiving service was a tactical endorsement of Buhari/Osinbajo ticket by the Redeemed Church. This was quickly debunked by the leadership of the church.

The duo (Buhari and Osinbajo) had also gone to the Redeemed Camp along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for worship; again their presence fuelled another round of insinuation.  

What may not be totally incorrect is that Osinbajo’s entrance into the race may have boxed some worshippers and indeed, some members of the Christian community into a corner, where they may be battling to make up their mind on who to vote for. And this is the real reason there appears to be apprehension in PDP and APC on where the pendulum of victory will swing. Hence, the endless visitation to churches!  

Rufus Nnorom, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, said he was happy with Jonathan’s humble disposition in visiting churches and soliciting prayers for electoral victory from the presiding pastors of those worship centres.

“I don’t have any problem with Jonathan visiting the churches or any politician for that matter doing so. You should know a man by where he seeks solution to his problem. If you are conversant with your Bible, you will agree with me that God delighted more in those kings that consulted with Him than those who were looking elsewhere for help. I don’t think He has stopped doing so. If Jonathan or any other politician is going to the church to seek prayers, it is very commendable. What he does with electoral victory at the end of the day is a different thing entirely,” Nnorom said.

However, a young pastor with one of the new generation churches said: “They have divided the church of God. Before 1999, the Church was largely neutral and limited its participation only to intercession for the nation and for peaceful election. But you can now see how candidates pick running mates from the clergy as well as how the parties are using religion as a campaign tool. This has brought the church huge embarrassment and opprobrium. Like the Bible would say, ‘Jesus is wounded in the house of his friends.’ And people who do not respect God blaspheme Him through the attitude of the church which appears to have left their real calling for worldly pursuit. Look at how they are accusing pastors of collection huge amount of money as bribe from some politicians. Is it what we are supposed to be doing as men of God? My take is that ministers should not allow themselves to be used by politicians to gain votes.”

An analyst says that there is nothing wrong with politicians going to the church to mobilise votes since church is part of the society, emphasising however, that the “problem is with the priest using the pulpit to campaign for politicians. Priests must be apolitical. The feelers we are getting are not befitting of some leaders of many churches today. The church should win the world and not the other way round.”

A pundit advised that at all men of God must be interested in nation building and remain true to their calling. “Whatever anybody is doing, one important consideration is to build a solid foundation. The Bible says, if the foundation is destroyed what shall the righteous do? A lot is expected from religious leaders and they must not allow themselves to be deceived into taking sides. They are God’s spokesmen on earth and they must remain apolitical. They must, through their utterances, advice and prayers help in nation building. Any inclination to politics will not only affect their calling, it will also endanger the flock they have been called to lead,” the pundit said.

 

Zebulon Agomuo