How 2019 elec­tions are be­com­ing ‘re­li­gious’

Weekly Trust - - Front Page - Hamza Idris, Muideen Olaniyi, Ab­bas Ji­moh, Saawua Terzungwe & Oz­ibo Oz­ibo (Abuja), Yusha’u A. Ibrahim (Kano) & Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan)

With the main glad­i­a­tors of the 2018 elec­tions clearly Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari (APC) and ex-vice pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar (PDP), the po­lit­i­cal games have al­ready com­menced. How­ever, go­ing by the land­scape re­cently, re­li­gious an­gles are be­ing in­tro­duced, to vary­ing de­grees. Daily Trust Satur­day sheds some light on the trend.

Many prom­i­nent re­li­gious lead­ers have taken po­si­tions by their out­right align­ments to po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates, not nec­es­sar­ily at the na­tional level, but in many states. In the past cou­ple of months, mosques and churches have turned into cam­paign grounds were politi­cians be­siege in search of “bless­ing”, and cler­ics openly giv­ing di­rec­tives to faith­ful to cast their votes for cer­tain can­di­dates. Some cler­ics have even gone to the ex­tent of in­vok­ing the wrath of God on fol­low­ers who fail to heed to their di­rec­tive.

Just on Thurs­day, the Catholic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence of Nige­ria (CBCN) banned Catholic priests and faith­ful of con­se­crated life from en­gag­ing in par­ti­san pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing be­com­ing a mem­ber of any po­lit­i­cal party. The Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, Catholic Sec­re­tar­iat of Nige­ria (CSN), Rev. Fr. Ralph Madu, who gave the or­der in Abuja on be­half of the Catholic Bish­ops, frowned at the pub­lic al­ter­ca­tion be­tween Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka and a for­mer Anam­bra State gover­nor and the vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the PDP, Mr. Peter Obi.

The in­ci­dent oc­curred on Dec. 2 at Fr. Mbaka’s ado­ra­tion ground in Enugu, on the is­sue of pa­tron­age in re­spect of the forth­com­ing 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

Mbaka had pre­dicted fail­ure for the Atiku/Obi joint ticket. In a vi­ral video, he re­buked Peter Obi for not ex­e­cut­ing a pro­ject for his church, warn­ing him of the con­se­quences. Nige­ri­ans who re­acted to the vi­ral video were quick to share di­ver­gent opin­ions con­cern­ing Mbaka’s state­ment. Some com­mended Obi for stand­ing his ground and not mak­ing fake prom­ises at the al­tar of God de­spite pres­sure from the priest.

That was what prompted the Thurs­day rep­ri­mand by the Catholic Bish­ops. Ac­cord­ing to Rev. Fr. Madu, the Bish­ops con­demn, “the shame­ful sce­nario on an ado­ra­tion ground,” say­ing the in­ci­dent does not have the sup­port of the Bish­ops Con­fer­ence of Nige­ria.

“As has al­ways been our stand, the Catholic church in Nige­ria as clearly stated in their Au­gust 7, 2018 di­rec­tives, re­mains apo­lit­i­cal and does not sup­port or sub­scribe to any po­lit­i­cal party. Our con­cern is for a peace­ful elec­tion process seen to be free, fair, cred­i­ble and just, and a demo­cratic gov­er­nance that guar­an­tees peace, jus­tice, eq­uity, among oth­ers,” he said.

In the run up to the 2015 gen­eral elec­tions, the fiery Fr. Mbaka had blazed the trail by en­dors­ing then­can­di­date Muham­madu Buhari of APC, a Mus­lim, and even can­vassed sup­port for him against the then in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan, a Chris­tian. In a scorch­ing New Year’s Eve ser­vice, Mbaka had told Jonathan to “re­sign or be voted out over Nige­ria’s alarm­ing in­se­cu­rity and cor­rup­tion.” Ear­lier, the same Mbaka had lauded Jonathan for “do­ing well.” He also lam­basted those blam­ing the pres­i­dent for not res­cu­ing more than 200 school­girls ab­ducted from Chi­bok in April 2014 by Boko Haram mil­i­tants.

Aside Mbaka, pop­u­lar Mus­lim cleric, Sheikh Ah­mad Gumi, has said he had no re­grets play­ing a role to rec­on­cile for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo, and his for­mer deputy Atiku.

De­spite what other cler­ics said, Gumi ac­knowl­edged his right to en­dorse any can­di­date for the 2019 elec­tions, while de­scrib­ing Obasanjo as “a leader wor­thy of em­u­la­tion.”

“First of all, the neg­a­tive re­ac­tions that greeted our visit to the Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary, Abeokuta, came mostly from so­cial me­dia that is in­fested with agents of gov­ern­ment where an in­di­vid­ual can em­ploy nu­mer­ous iden­ti­ties based on eth­nic­ity, re­gion, re­li­gion, etc. It is a nat­u­ral in­stinct in us to make peace as hu­mans,” he said.

Daily Trust Satur­day re­calls that some re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights in the coun­try had all met with Obasanjo on the “al­tar” of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. These in­cluded the Gen­eral Over­seer of the Liv­ing Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo, Catholic Bishop Matthew Has­san Kukah, PDP Na­tional Chair­man, Uche Se­con­dus, and PDP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Atiku Abubakar.

Re­call fur­ther that these men had at one time or an­other spo­ken of their reser­va­tions about the APC lead­er­ship at the cen­tre, hence their claim that they were only play­ing con­cil­ia­tory role was not con­vinc­ing to many, in­clud­ing those sym­pa­thetic to the APC.

On his part, Bishop Oyedepo de­nied en­dors­ing Atiku. “I was only in­vited to make peace. I have never be­longed to any po­lit­i­cal party and will never be­long to one. Our goal is to se­cure the glo­ri­ous des­tiny of our na­tion by pay­ing what­ever price it re­quires,” he was quoted as say­ing. Like Oyedepo, Bishop Kukah “worked to rec­on­cile, not en­dorse.”

“My fo­cus all along had been with Obasanjo as I had never brought Atiku into what I was do­ing. Quite for­tu­itously, a chance meet­ing changed the tide in favour of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” he said.

An­a­lysts be­lieve that in de­vel­oped, west­ern democ­ra­cies, elec­tions pro­vide a plat­form for

en­gag­ing on mean­ing­ful, is­sues­based ar­gu­ments, in clear vari­ance to what ob­tains in de­vel­op­ing democ­ra­cies such Nige­ria’s, where elec­tions most times stim­u­late eth­nic and re­li­gious fer­vour. Ac­cord­ing to them, most po­lit­i­cal par­ties and politi­cians lack ideologies to cam­paign on, hence their des­per­a­tion in “con­script­ing” re­li­gious lead­ers as cam­paign tools.

A lec­turer in the Depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, Bayero Univer­sity, Kano, Dr Sa’id Ah­mad Dukawa opined that the is­sue of merg­ing re­li­gion with pol­i­tics is not healthy for democ­racy in Nige­ria, or any­where else. “The trend is meant to pro­mote ha­tred among ad­her­ents of the two ma­jor re­li­gions of Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity, which can dis­turb peace and in the end af­fects the unity among fol­low­ers of the re­li­gions. And of course with­out unity, no coun­try could de­velop. It is also meant to di­vert the at­ten­tion of the elec­torates from is­sues-based pol­i­tics, which in re­al­ity is the best prac­tice any­where in the world, to at­tend to problems of the peo­ple ir­re­spec­tive of their re­li­gion or eth­nic back­ground,” he said.

Dukawa there­fore charged re­li­gious lead­ers to fo­cus on in­ter­ro­gat­ing politi­cians and iden­ti­fy­ing who among them is se­ri­ous, so that they could tell their fol­low­ers to vote for such can­di­date. “Our re­li­gious lead­ers should un­der­stand that all the prophets sent by God, the Almighty from Adam to Muham­mad (SAW) lived in multi-cul­tural so­ci­eties and they brought good­ies to their sub­jects in­clud­ing those that fol­low them and those that have not. Af­ter all, the Nige­rian Con­sti­tu­tion is clear about the is­sue of Mus­lim/Chris­tian ticket. So, by preach­ing against fol­low­ers of other re­li­gion, you have vi­o­lated the teach­ings of your re­li­gion, and con­sti­tu­tion.”

Sheikh Aminu Ibrahim Dau­rawa, a renowned Is­lamic scholar in Kano and Com­man­der Gen­eral of Kano His­bah, said re­li­gious lead­ers need to con­sider cer­tain things in han­dling this kind of sit­u­a­tion. “They need to hide their choice in re­spect of can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal party. Re­li­gious lead­ers should not show their fol­low­ers which po­lit­i­cal party they like, or which among the can­di­dates is their choice. This can cause divi­sion not only be­tween Mus­lims and Chris­tians, but even among his fol­low­ers be­cause they too have their choices,” he said.

Dau­rawa said re­li­gious lead­ers should in­stead en­lighten their fol­low­ers about politi­cians in terms of qual­i­ties and qual­i­fi­ca­tions, to help them choose the best among all the can­di­dates con­test­ing.

The PDP Na­tional Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­tary, Kola Olog­bondiyan told our cor­re­spon­dent in a tele­phone chat yesterday, that what is hap­pen­ing is part of the elec­tion­eer­ing process, say­ing cler­gy­men are also Nige­ri­ans. “I read the state­ment cred­ited to Car­di­nal Onaiyekan that Nige­ri­ans have not got­ten a re­li­able pres­i­den­tial can­di­date yet. And af­ter mak­ing that re­mark, he also said Nige­ri­ans must not give up de­spite the reser­va­tion he ex­pressed. I am also say­ing that Nige­ri­ans should not give up. Our own can­di­date is best suited for the task ahead. I be­lieve so be­cause he un­der­stands the nu­ances and problems of the na­tion and he had got the ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing been vice pres­i­dent for eight years. I have not seen re­li­gious lead­ers who have come out to cam­paign, but there are some who are mak­ing their views and opin­ions pub­lic. So, as they have not come out openly to cam­paign, I can’t be judge­men­tal,” he said.

On its part, the rul­ing APC ex­pressed op­po­si­tion to any form of cam­paign that fo­cuses on re­li­gious be­liefs to the detri­ment of com­pe­tence of can­di­dates. The party’s Na­tional Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­tary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a phone in­ter­view with Daily Trust Satur­day, said the rul­ing party would an­chor its 2019 elec­tion cam­paigns on the char­ac­ter of can­di­dates and its stew­ard­ship in three and a half years.

Issa-Onilu said: “As the rul­ing party, we com­pletely ob­ject to any at­tempt by PDP or any party for that mat­ter to throw up is­sues that do not unite this coun­try. We are very cer­tain that Nige­ri­ans are not also pre­pared to be taken through that route again. We agree to en­sure that in our cam­paigns, the is­sues of re­li­gion and tribes are de-em­pha­sised com­pletely be­cause Nige­ri­ans are in­ter­ested in is­sues that mat­ter to their life. From what we have seen in re­cent times, the PDP cam­paign is about throw­ing up just any­thing they could lay their hands on be­cause they don’t want to dis­cuss is­sues. Each time we men­tion a road that we have done, we are re­mind­ing Nige­ri­ans of the 16 years of waste un­der PDP. So, the is­sue of re­li­gion will not fea­ture in our cam­paigns.”

In 2015, when the pres­i­den­tial con­test was be­tween a south­ern Chris­tian pres­i­dent, Good­luck Jonathan and Muham­madu Buhari, a Mus­lim can­di­date from the north, the role of re­li­gion in the elec­tion was much more pre­dictable, and many feared that the coun­try’s unity might be stretched to its lim­its. It was keenly con­tested with pal­pa­ble ten­sions but a win­ner emerged at last. How­ever, shortly af­ter Pres­i­dent Buhari and ex-VP Atiku emerged as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of APC and PDP, re­spec­tively, pun­dits as­sumed re­li­gion will play lit­tle or no role in the run up to the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion since both can­di­dates are Mus­lims.

The sit­u­a­tion is the same with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who be­lieved those look­ing for fault lines to cause dis­af­fec­tion would fail this time around.

At a re­cent func­tion in Abuja, Na­tional Chair­man of the APC, Com­rade Adams Osh­iom­hole, said: “Eth­nic and re­li­gious sen­ti­ments that char­ac­terised the 2015 elec­tion wouldn’t be fac­tors in 2019. The two can­di­dates are from the North and they are both Mus­lims. Peo­ple are now go­ing to look at char­ac­ter.”

How­ever, that pre­dic­tion might likely turn out to be a huge mis­cal­cu­la­tion, as from all in­di­ca­tions, there is no gain­say­ing that the vot­ing pat­tern of Nige­ri­ans in 2019 will once again re­flect re­li­gious un­der­tones, even if in a dif­fer­ent man­ner.

In Nige­ria, the role of re­li­gion in elec­tions is a mixed bag. Ahead of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, re­li­gious lead­ers have played both con­struc­tive and de­struc­tive roles. Some Mus­lim and Chris­tian cler­ics have been on the fore­front for a peace­ful elec­tion. Some have even urged their fol­low­ers to vote ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tions. Oth­ers, how­ever, have done the op­po­site.

In some states, such as Kaduna, the de­ci­sion of Gover­nor Nasir el-Ru­fai to pick Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, a fel­low Mus­lim and a fe­male as his run­ning mate gen­er­ated a lot of furore, fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion of a sec­tion of the elite, re­li­gious lead­ers, and politi­cians in the South­ern part of the state to pass a ver­dict that their peo­ple should not vote for the APC and its can­di­dates.

The Chris­tian As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria (CAN) in the state has asked all their mem­bers not to vote for el-Ru­fai, say­ing the gover­nor no longer de­serves their votes.

The same “Kaduna ac­tion” had caused a stir in Ek­iti State where gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion was held re­cently. Ham­mer­ing on the de­ci­sion of Gover­nor Kay­ode Fayemi to pick a fel­low Chris­tian as run­ning mate, many cler­ics from the other side of the di­vide are call­ing him “a fa­natic,” say­ing there are enough Mus­lims in Ek­iti to de­serve the deputy gov­er­nor­ship slot.

Sim­i­lar nar­ra­tives have reared their heads in Plateau and Benue states, where some cler­ics be­lieve the is­sue of Mus­lim-Mus­lim ticket should be a fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing who gets what in 2019.

The Chief Imam of Univer­sity of Benin Mus­lim Com­mu­nity, Prof Bun­yamin Ayinde, said in an ideal set­ting, be­ing a Chris­tian or Mus­lim is not an is­sue, but ad­vo­cat­ing for good gov­er­nance.

The PRO, Ibadan Angli­can dio­cese, Ven­er­a­ble Dr. Wole Ogun­seyinde, said he didn’t be­lieve in such de­vel­op­ment, adding that it is time for Nige­ri­ans to work to­gether re­gard­less of their re­li­gious back­ground.

Speak­ing on the is­sue, the Con­vener of Good Gov­er­nance Team (GGT), Tunde Sal­man, said while re­li­gious lead­ers, like other cit­i­zens, may have per­sonal pref­er­ences and opin­ions on pol­i­tics, they should be more cir­cum­spec­tive in their ex­pres­sion. “Open par­ti­san­ship given that they oc­cupy spa­ces that must al­ways be pro­tected as neu­tral is not good for the polity,” Sal­man said.

Se­nior Pas­tor of the Omega Fire Min­istries World­wide (OFM), Apos­tle Johnson Sule­man, has proph­e­sied that un­less Nige­ri­ans pray for the coun­try, the 2019 elec­tion will not hold. In a chat at his church, the cleric had said: “Tell Nige­ri­ans who wish to see democ­racy sus­tained, to pray for our lead­ers and work for peace; tell the lead­ers too to pray and be hon­est with the peo­ple they are serv­ing. Other­wise, elec­tions may not hold in Nige­ria in 2019. That is what God has shown me.”

If the tempo of pol­i­tics in Nige­ria ahead of the 2019 elec­tions is any in­di­ca­tion of what’s to come, then Nige­ri­ans may have not heard the last of a mix­ture of re­li­gion and pol­i­tics.

Al­haji Atiku Abuakar

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari


From left: Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Has­san Kukah; for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo; Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of PDP, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar and Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, dur­ing the end of a meet­ing be­tween Obasanjo and Atiku at the Oluse­gun Obasanjo Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Oc­to­ber 11

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