By Issa Aremu |
I agree with Emeritus, Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, that politics should be inclusive of all; the priests and the proletariat alike. Even more so for participatory democratic politics. In defence of the right of Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, to periodically damn bad governance in the country, former Abuja Archbishop observed that “…if you understand politics as to how you organise and manage the community for the common good, we are all supposed to be politicians. ….We will continue to talk. “In the whole project of nation-building and good governance, people have different roles to play. The role of Mr President is, of course, the most important in terms of organizing everything.
“But the role of religious leaders, if you are a genuine one, should be to be able to speak in the name of God. As a veteran of trade union movement, I bear witness about some class prejudice against the downtrodden when it comes to political discourse. Anytime workers demand for their rights, they are easily smeared as being “political” as if politics is the monopoly of the owning class. While business owners, employers, retired military officers and permanent secretaries are proud card carrying members of political parties, every move by organized workforce to advance their working and living life is often seen as “partisan” and dangerous by the ruling class. There was even an ouster law that once prohibited civil servants from joining political parties even when same civil servants are encouraged to register as voters and courted as voting herd. Certainly, Emeritus Archbishop was on point when he said “genuine religious leaders had a role to play in politics, which included advancing the course of the masses and speaking truth to power in the name of God”.
Plato once observed that “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” And that is where my agreement with the respected Archbishop ends. Reading through the recent “manifestos” ( or are they “Easter messages”?) of both by dear friend, (sorry Comrade Bishop!) Matthew Kukah and Pastor Tunde Bakare, it’s clear that Nigeria is not short of political clergy men with “Star Words” of significant political and partisan impact than the full time politicians. Indeed the statements of both at Easter elicit almost feverish reaction of the Presidency than ever predictable opposition’s diatribes. If we recall past Christmas/ graveyard homilies of Bishop Kukah and Sunday’s commentaries of Pastor Tunde, it’s self evident that the duo had maximized freedom of expression in the current dispensation to be as politically relevant than many state actors. The issue therefore is NOT the right of religious men to political expression , or right “to talk to power”, but the content and quality of their talks, the quality of their politics. There are critical questions begging for some answers. First who are the clergy men or better still “genuine religious leaders”? Can we always judge all books by their covers? Pastor Bakare is not just a serving Overseer of Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC). He has always been audaciously pastoral as much as a presidential activist! He was one time convener, Save Nigeria Group (SNG).
The Senior Pastor of Latter Rain Assembly, was the political running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2011 presidential elections. He has also expressed his willingness to contest for the presidency after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in 2023. At Calgary in Canada, he predicted he would succeed Buhari as “Nigeria’s 16th president or head of state”. He was even reportedly arrested in March 2002 following a dooms day prediction that never materialised and critical sermons critical of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Can a pastor who is part of a Praetorian Guard be said to be talking to power when indeed he is the one being talked at? Which then raises the question what platforms do the “genuine religious leaders” use to talk to power. To his credit, Cardinal Onaiyekan made his extensive comments on participatory democracy as a guest on AIT’s breakfast show, Kakaaki in Abuja, not on the pulpit. Many of us can relate and engage with the Cardinal, thanks to his chosen open media platform.
Bishop Kukah is credited as an initiator of the Kukah Centre, a Nigeria-based policy research institute, “..for the promotion of an active and engaged citizenry by providing support for inclusive dialogue and advocacy initiatives”. I had thankfully participated in a number of interactive by the center in which the inclusive voice of the Bishop was loud and clear. Regrettably, I could not make sense out of the recent Easter message entitled “Nigeria: Before Our Glory Departs” by the Bishop. For one, 3000 plus word overload with biblical quotes talk imaginations for a distant admirer like me. Second some questions posed by Bishop Kukah exclude the few optimistic compatriots like me. Witness this: “Nigeria must now ask itself: What is left of our glory? Where are the values that held us together? Day by day, Nigeria drifts irreversibly into a dark tunnel. Things are falling apart with unnerving rapidity because those who govern have only a pact to protect their interests. Politics is merely its conveyor belt of ambition. Nigeria has a date with destiny. If we do not turn around, The axe is already laid to the roots of the tree (Matthew 3:10).”
Notwithstanding these apocalyptic rhetorical questions with equal apocalyptic answers, the Bishop still sees self as a “a religious leader” who is ( not) afraid to say what is right”. Which then raises the question about “what is right” and by who?. According to him, “The nation has since become a massive killing field, as both government and the governed look on helplessly…. Our people seek solace and protection, but frustration and darkness threaten to drown them. Is their government on AWOL?”. My check shows that the comrade Bishop delivered the message in Nigeria NOT in Ethiopia’s Tigray region where senseless atrocious war of attrition is claiming thousands of civilians lives. I just witnessed the colorful opening ceremony of 20th National Sports Festival open in the ancient city of Benin. Many Federal and state officials were fully on duty not “on AWOL”. The energetic and wonderful Nigerian youths raised the banners of lands of “progress”, “excellence”, “power and knowledge”, heart of the nation”, among others NOT “ a killing field”. It’s time we all changed from the unhelpful “agonizing narrative” of Nigeria to a mutually rewarding discourses to uplift the country for challenges of development.