Last weekend the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, spoke out against what has since become President Goodluck Jonathan’s penchant for turning the church pulpit into a political platform for playing politics and making policy statements. Politicians should, he said, instead go to meet people in their villages where they live in abject poverty. The archbishop spoke this bitter truth to power in an interview with the online newspaper, Premium Times.
The warning, coming from a senior cleric who is also the president of the influential Nigerian Bishops Conference, couldn’t have been deader on target and timelier as we begin preparations for the next elections starting in February next year.
As if to underscore Archbishop Kaigama’s concern about the gravity of playing dangerous politics with religion, The Guardian published an editorial last Monday which condemned what it said was “the increasing recourse to religion by both the Presidency and the main opposition party…”
“The conversion of churches and mosques into the new political battlefield”, the newspaper said, was “a dangerous adventure that must stop immediately.”
The Guardian, like the archbishop, is right to be worried about the way some of our politicians have been using religion to divide and rule us. It was, however, wrong to say this phenomenon was new. It was also wrong to accuse the main opposition party of doing the same thing. For, while the president has been going about from one pulpit to another talking policy and politics, there has not been any report of the leadership of the main opposition party – The Guardian named no name but we all know it meant the All Progressives Congress – going openly from mosque to mosque or from church to church trying to harvest votes.
In any case, even if the main opposition party is guilty of the misuse of religion for political gain, the greater blame must still go to the president; as The Guardian itself said, even if this allegation against the main opposition party is true, the buck must stop on the president’s table as he is “expected to run the country and not ruin it.”
The way he has used religion to try and rule the country, going all the way back to even before the day in 2011 he knelt publicly before the highly influential Pastor Enoch Adeboye at the Redemption Camp, Lagos, of the Redeemed Christian Church, for blessing in the run-up to the presidential election that year, the president may yet ruin this country.
By now it should be obvious that the president and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party are determined to avoid a campaign based on the performance of his administration. This is obvious from the way his sidekicks, notably Professor Jerry Gana who needs no introduction as, among other things, the country’s longest serving minister of information, through the militant Asari Dokubo to Senator Smart Adeyemi, have been defining the basis of support for the president in terms of ethnicity, region and religion.
Professor Gana, for example, said recently that the Middle Belt where he comes from will vote for the president, apparently regardless of the man’s record of performance which, in spite of the statistics of economic growth government officials like to bandy around, has been dismal as is pretty obvious from the pervasive poverty in the land. For Gana the Middle Belt will vote for the president because, in his own estimation, it is mainly Christian and peopled by minority tribes.
Similarly Dokubo has said the South-South region himself and the president come from will vote solidly for their man simply because he is their man, and it does not matter that nothing has changed in the dismal and brutish life of the common South-Southerner in spite of all the region’s oil wealth and for all these years that their man has been president.
Again, Senator Adeyemi said in an interview in The Guardian of last Monday that the Yorubas in the North will support the president in spite of the alliance between the mainstream South-West and North-West politicians led by Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor, and General Muhammadu Buhari, former military head of state and a perennial presidential candidate since 2003. “The gang-up,” as the senator called it, “seems more or less dominated by a section of Muslims from the Southwest who are in collaboration with some Northerners, who are also predominantly Muslims.”
In what was clearly a gross misrepresentation of the Tinubu/Buhari “amalgam”, he said in the interview that those touting it as a possible winner should remember that what he said was a similar alliance between Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as Western premier and Sir Ahmadu Bello as Northern premier only led to the disastrous Western regional crisis which, in turn, eventually led to the 1966 military coup. Chief Akintola had rebelled against the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whom he had succeeded as premier on the platform of the Action Group.
Apparently the fact that Tinubu, unlike Akintola, represents mainstream politics in the South-West seems to have escaped the distinguished senator in his attempt to paint the opposition party in the false garb of an Islamic and Northern party.
It is also obvious that the senator has ignored the fact that Tinubu’s wife is a staunch Christian and a pastor in her Church and that no none who knows the Asiwaju can accuse him of being a Muslim fundamentalist in the negative manner the West has portrayed such fundamentalism.
Like Gana and Co., most of the president’s key supporters have strained themselves to create the impression that those opposed to their principal contesting next year’s election do so because he is a Christian and a minority and not because of his performance. And the president himself has hardly done anything to discourage this gross misrepresentation of the opposition.
In this the president has merely been a good student of his erstwhile benefactor, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The reader may recall how the chief, with Gana as his minister of information, foisted the live telecast of the entire Sunday Service at the Villa Chapel on NTA’s audience, something which was unprecedented in our national live. It seems since then the student has surpassed his teacher in this cynical manipulation of religion for political gain.
I believe it is naive to think religion should be separated from politics in so far as religion is about what is right and what is wrong in society. All religions tell us and basically agree on the right way and the wrong way to play politics and, for that matter, how to do almost anything. For me, therefore, what is wrong is not the mixing of politics and religion as such but using religion to cover up bad politics. And it is definitely bad politics to use religion – and for that matter ethnicity or region or anything else – to seek to manipulate and divide people, the easier to rule and exploit them.
What Nigerians want are leaders prepared to serve the public interest regardless of where they come from or what deity they worship, not leaders too full of religiosity as our leaders have been.
As president and commander-in-chief of our armed forces, Mr Goodluck Jonathan owes himself and his country the duty to take religiosity, in contradiction to religious ethics, out of our politics. Otherwise he may yet prove the prophets of doom right who say he is the last president Nigeria will have.