Religion and politics in Nigeria
On the 20th of October, 2011, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, called an extra ordinary meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) to discuss the state of the nation. In that meeting, he called on the Religious leaders to use religion to promote peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. President Jonathan counseled that the pulpit should not be used by Religious Preachers to promote hate speeches as that could lead to violence and killing of innocent citizens. This concern of President Jonathan was taken seriously by the Nigeria InterReligious Council and became part of the agenda of the meeting of NIREC at Ilorin on December, 2011.The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also warned against hate speeches by political aspirants, party faithful and other stakeholders during political campaigns (https://www.legit.ng)
Even with the warning of INEC and the statements by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) that religious leaders should not be partisan or show preference for a particular political candidate, the 2015 elections had records of some Men and Women of God who took over the political space akin to the professional prophets of the Old Testaments of the Bible. Some Religious Preachers became either professional Seers for some politicians or campaign agents for the highest bidders making money a form of deity. Now, the game has started again and some professional prophets are already giving their agenda for prophesies and oracles to declare who will win the 2019 elections. This political and religious commerce is so shameful hence we must take seriously the counsel of the incumbent President as reported in the front page of Guardian (Saturday, December 1, 2015) that Nigerians should not politicize Religion. The President observed that there are those who seek to divide Nigerians with religion for their own advantage.
The relationship that had existed in Nigeria between Religion and Politics could be perceived as a kind of symbiotic and mutual extortion. This relationship has nothing to do with Inter-Religious conflict but the impression given is that Christians and Muslims are struggling for leadership position to outwit each other. In this context, the call by the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and President Buhari should reposition religious leaders to give hope to Nigerians instead of trading on politicians with the sale of fake prophesies, miracles and visions. Religious leaders must not forget this prophesy of Ezekiel: “Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own imaginations” (Ezekiel 13:3). Religion and politics has a historical relationship for the wellbeing of the citizens. The religious and political leaders have complementary roles to work as agents of God, the King of kings to create happiness and joy for humanity.
The religious leaders have the vocation to promote mutual relationship between the people and those God has chosen as political leaders. This relationship is captured in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). The governing authorities in Paul’s letter are the ideal leaders who are conscious that they are elected by the people for the people. A true politician is a fellow citizen with the people and a servant of the citizens. The Prophets directed the kings to serve the people in justice. They encourage the kings who were truly servants of the people and rebuked the kings who exploited the people. The true prophets did not relate to the kings for material rewards. The prophets did not make themselves act as if they were God. They only
1. Honour. God honours those who serve Him. John 12:26, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. MY FATHER WILL HONOR THE ONE WHO SERVES ME.”
Honour does not come from what you acquire; it comes from service. For many, honour is elusive because they serve self. But if you truly want to be honoured, you must acted as God’s agents for the good and welfare of the people. Their mission was to lead the kings and the people to the vision of the true God. History could prove that it is difficult to separate religion and politics as long as the politician seeking a political office belong to one religion or the other.
Both the Religious leaders, Secular leaders and the citizens must seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. By so doing, every other thing will be given to them (Matthew 6:33). God changes times and seasons. God alone deposes kings and raises up others to replace them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning (Daniel 2:21). The people through credible elections are therefore God’s instrument to choose a credible leader or to remove a bad leader. Consequently, whoever sells votes or takes part in electoral fraud is betraying the gift of God in him or her to share in the king making role of God. For God to use any government to save a nation, the people must reject the devil who wants to rule the world through his agents. Some people believe that to be successful in politics, the politician must belong to a secret cult of Satan. Our politicians can prove this wrong by putting God first in their political career and ambition. The politicians must prove that they are called to be Saints and Nationalists.
It is sad that some people are still obeying Satan by promising to change stones to bread for the people who have no wisdom to respond that “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Some people today desire a religious or political ruler who can show that he or she is powerful and can do extraordinary things like jumping down from the top of the pinnacle instead of telling Satan, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” So many now obey the devil who promised them the wealth and luxury of the world saying, “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Unfortunately, many do not have the faith like Jesus to say, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Matthew 4: 1-11).
A government can give meaning to the life of the citizens by doing the will of God with the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). The political history of Nigeria has shown that promises are like butter with which some politicians prey on the electorate as if they were eating bread. Nigerians must not be deluded to think that a change in government will transform the nation into paradise. What Nigeria actually needs is a change of attitude and interior conversion to be better human beings who care for the common good. Jesus lived by words and example in correcting the pagan world. The apostles continue in this spirit by giving clear evidence to the gospel’s transforming power with their witness of life and responsibility to government (Romans 13:1-2).
The mission of the Church is to change the hearts of the people by words and actions. The Church must be a model in transforming the hearts of people by ensuring that the politics within the Church is ideal and worthy of emulation by the secular world. Otherwise, the voice of the Church would not be strong enough like the true prophets to correct the ills of the society. The Church must be a model through ecclesiastical governance to have the moral courage to preach against the sins that are putting the citizens in pains and penury. Political parties cannot be the Saviour of any nation as long as inter-party differences promote hatred between brothers and sisters. The salvation for all mankind has been manifested in Jesus Christ. May God through our human cooperation, give peace and rebirth to Nigeria in distress.