THE CHURCH/CHRISTIANS AND POLITICS IN THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT
Outline of Lecture presented by Rt. Rev. Prof. Dapo F. Asaju (Bishop Theologian of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and former Vice-Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, at the conference: The Forum, organized by Christ’s Church Port-Harcourt on 12th June 2021.
I hereby express profound gratitude to the organizers of this conference, the Officials of the Christ’s Church Port-Harcourt, for inviting me to participate at this crucial conference at a time when good minds are exploring ways to get our country out of the woods and prevent her from self-destruction due to careless activities of some segments in society who are bent on subverting her cherished ideals of unity, peace and justice.
Our first and the current National Anthems express the lofty ideals of nationhood conceived by the founding leaders, to forge a country where tribe or creed may differ, yet in faith and unity we stand.
Arise, O compatriots,
Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith.
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom,
Peace and unity.
Oh God of creation,
direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth and truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where
Peace and justice shall reign.
The Old National Anthem:
Nigeria we hail thee
Our own dear native land
Though tribes and tongue may differ
In brotherhood we stand
Nigerians all are proud to serve
Our sovereign Motherland.
Our flag shall be a symbol
That truth and justice reign
In peace or battle honour’d,
And this we count as gain,
To hand on to our children
A banner without stain.
O God of all creation
Grant this our one request.
Help us to build a nation
Where no man is oppressed
And so with peace and plenty
Nigeria shall be blessed.
The Nigerian Malady People of all indigenous nationalities, ethnic Groups and religions has equal stakes in the country, Nigeria. The country is an amalgamation of various people’s of different identities and with different religious backgrounds and orientations. These factors were recognized in the formulation of various constitutions which the country has had prior to and subsequent to the independence of Nigeria on 1st October 1960. The various constitutions of Nigeria : Order in Council over Crown Colony (1913); Clifford Constitution ( 1922), Richard Constitution ( 1946), Macpherson Constitution ( 1951), Lyttleton Constitution (1954), Westminster Constitution (1946), first Constitution upon Independence approved by British Order (1960), second Post-Independence Constitution (1963 until the first Military Coup, 1979 Constitution (changed to American Presidential System), 1993 Constitution crafted under oversight of the Military and the 1999 Constitution (also produced by the Military) The recent Constitutions have entrenched in the country certain provisions that have troubled the unity, justice and progress of the country.
Sixty one years after independence, it is disappointing and saddening that the country is yet to have its good bearing for peace, progress, development and justice. Despite fighting a devastating civil war, the country has learnt virtually nothing on how to harmonize the constituted parts of the nation in unity and with justice to all federating units. So has our moral and spiritual lives nosedived to the extent that corruption has become endemic, respect for and value for life has disappeared, impunity pervades the public and private sectors and one tribe is pursuing agenda to suspected to suppress and annihilate the others for extreme religious and ethnic reasons. Nigeria is a country where the fundamental rights of all citizens are not protected, where the military, police, judiciary and other major organs of government are dominated by appointees from one tribe in defiance of the federal character. It appears that the Christian population has been comparatively more adversely affected than others in the domination of power by ‘feudal lords’, who use religious and ethnic bigotry to upset peace, justice, progress and harmony of the country.
In the national discourse therefore, as state failure and security threats continue with wanton barbaric killings by Fulani militants in many communities from North to South of the country, there is likelihood that unless a radical change occurs, Christianity and Christians are likely to be more adversely affected by what seems to be Islamization and fulanization agenda which threatens the cohesive unity of Nigeria, hence giving vent to increasing calls for schisms, restructuring etc. This lecture is a voice added to the national discourse. It articulates the relevance of Christianity and the Church in politics and identifies what the Christians want, in and for Nigeria.
CHRISTIANITY, CHURCH AND POLITICS
Christianity and the Church make ample provisions for their active involvement in and participation in politics and governance. The common fear that politics is dirty is not a good ground for Christians as individual believers or the church as the established institution for their assembly, worship and agency, to avoid participation in electioneering and partisan politics. Politics is simply the running of society by elected representatives entrusted with governance according to the Constitution and other laws of the country. Ideally, it is a good venture for good people with good character, who have positive and progressive ideals and programmes for the good of the people. It is helpful for such people to avail the society of their wisdom, tact and expertise. Proverbs 29: 2 states that: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”
Darkness exists because of the absence of light, just as evil dominates because of the abdication of involvement, by the good people.
Moreover, God is the basic authority for any politics and governance or government. He created man and organized his society as well as gave laws and precepts in the Holy Bible, for good governance and ideal society. In fact, God ran a Theocracy before Israel demanded for democracy in form of monarchy. He chose both Kings Saul and David over Israel.
Democracy is commonly defined as “Government of the people by the people and for the people”. This excluded any role for God, in the sense of secularity. But if you examine our two past National Anthems, there is clear mentioning of God’s role in our nationhood.
In King Nebuchadnezzar’s confession, “reigns in the affairs of men”. He enthrones and dethrones”. In other words, He is the ‘King of kings and the Lord of lords’
- The governance structure of Executive, Legislative and Judiciary is Bible derived from (Isaiah 33:22 – “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King. It is He who will save us”).
- According to the messianic prophecy about Jesus Christ, “The government of the Universe is upon his shoulder and of the increase of His government there shall be no end (Isaiah 9:6). Recall that Europe and USA were raised upon Christian laws, principles, morality, hence their development and as Christian nations prior to their sad decline as post-Christian societies today, because of secular culture and rebellion against God and His Biblical precepts. Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace. He provides answer to the world’s and Nigeria’s search for true and enduring peace today.
- Biblical figures such as the Patriarchs and prophets intervened in the politics and affairs of the Israelite state as well as those of other countries. Abraham had a personal army with which he intervened in emergency situations; Joseph became a Prime Minister in Egypt and provided economic policy of saving in the rainy day which saved Egypt from famine; Moses led a struggle to liberate enslaved Israelites from the oppression of Pharaoh. He invented the clarion call for emancipation of oppressed peoples- ‘Let my people Go’; Elijah challenged idolatry and wicked autocracy of Ahab and his wife Jezebel; Jeremiah and Ezekiel criticized false prophets and shepherds who exploited the sheep; Esther intervened and reversed a promulgated decree engineered by an enemy of the Jews, Haman, to annihilate all the Jews (an example of advantage of Christians effecting deliverance through their being positioned in strategic location).
- The Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s Reformation of the Church opened up the world to freedom, education, enlightenment, democracy etc.
- The Church led the fight for abolition of slave Trade through the parliamentary efforts of William Wilberforce.
- The Church in Nigeria, like other parts of Africa participated in the vigorous fight against colonialism and for independence of African nations, through Ethiopianism. Names like Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop James Johnson, Herbert Macaulay etc.
- The Civil Rights Movement in USA was led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a fulltime Baptist Minister. The church leaders can lead a peaceful revolution in Nigeria and other African countries towards peace, justice, equality and fundamental human rights of all citizens without oppression by one religion or tribe, of others.
- Christian persons who were raised with Christian principles and educated in Mission schools, produced by the church contributed to the independence efforts and provided leadership over some African countries during the post-independence period. These included : Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, NnamdiAzikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria, etc. In Nigeria, there had been a number of Christian leaders who, with their Muslim counterparts provided good leadership in many ways. These included Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Doubtless, they also made their mistakes and contributed as well to the collective failure of the nation.
Unfortunately, the patterns set by these African leaders have been reversed all over Africa today. Politicians are the same everywhere; many of them (not all) are a bunch of selfish rogues. Unless we have good leaders, calls for restructuring or breaking up of Nigeria peacefully, may not guarantee a better lot for the poor masses; it may just be replacing a set of foreign rogues with local ones. Most of our leaders at the moment, from local government to federal levels have no ideologies, no sound educational erudition, no finesse of political charisma, no concrete developmental manifesto or agenda, no godly character nor integrity, no solid principles nor discipline. There are no more great thinkers and men of ideas in Nigeria. The authors of inspiring political ideologies are gone. We could count not less than ten books authored by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a typical philosopher-King ditto Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Our leaders today are mostly ignorant, intellectually empty-headed, diplomatically oblivious and incoherent and they lack persuasive ideologies of their manifestos for governance. Eventually they experiment with power, become tin-gods, unreachable by the poor masses, they steal from the public treasury, they squander the national wealth, they take foreign loans, incurring and leaving huge debts which they hardly ever pay back while in office. They empty government treasuries and leave huge debts for their successors. As a result, they inadvertently enslave and jeopardize the future prospects of youths and the unborn generations. Before we consider schism of any form, as many are currently clamouring in Nigeria, we must put our houses in order and undergo personal spiritual and psychological conversion and transformation to ensure that there are good and godly leaders trained to be selfless servant leaders.
- The regional structure which emerged in the first Republic as well as the parliamentary system of legislature was an effective pattern of regional federalism which allowed each region to have considerable amount of autonomy to determine their policies, governance and economic advancements. We remain proud of the achievements of Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Western Region which remain unsurpassed in Nigeria till date, talk of infrastructure development, housing estates, road network, Free Education, Free Healthcare, First Television in Africa, Industrial Estates, Agricultural farms, etc. The Unitary government and the military destroyed all that and forced the country into federal government dominated power structure which has left states and Local governments at the mercy of federal allocations. This is a very dangerous and lazy system whereby all parts of the country looked up to Abuja for every important thing, feeding on Oil drilled from the Niger Delta whose proceeds are shared and stolen by the others. The country is unfair to the Niger Delta area who provide the main national wealth which have been exploited to develop Abuja and other parts of the country, who contribute little or nothing to the national treasury.
We abandoned other resources and neglected independent initiatives and development strides by the regions and states. We now have an ineffective civil service, and unproductive workforce, a compromised citizenry, and a preponderance of corrupt leaders at all levels.
- The federal government’s singular control over the police and the Armed forces have contributed to the ongoing internal colonization of other peoples by the Hausa –Fulani who deliberately by design have been appointed by the current president Muhammadu Buhari to dominate all vital organs of leadership including : Army, Police, Customs, DSS, Immigration, Judiciary at all levels, Finance, Internal Affairs, etc. The recruitment into the armed forces appear to have been compromised as terrorists are feared to have infiltrated the ranks. With this dominance in context of a much suspected agenda of Islamization and Fulanization of the rest of the country, the stage is set for the oppressors to stifle any major opposition to this awkward structure of the country. With a compromised leader who is alleged to be the patron of the Fulani Herdsmen terrorizing other localities, the criminals are protected, unprosecuted, and armed with AK 47 wantonly, while government issued directives dispossessing other legal possessors of arms to surrender them to government; this seems like a deliberate disempowerment of the other nations in favour of the Fulani expansionists who parade themselves and violate the peace, lives and rights and sanctity of other peoples with impunity. The nation is on edge at the moment, sitting upon a keg of gun powder, which may explode at the slightest spark.
- Bad faith on the part of the Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria has resulted in destroying the peace and harmony of the entire country. They have used open grazing of cattle to infiltrate all southern communities, most of which are full of old and vulnerable people, since many young ones have relocated overseas due to economic pressure attendant to the rural-urban drift. These invaders are reported to have been importing foreign Fulanis from neighboring African countries in the Northern area and have flooded the country through Nigeria’s open borders and now use migration as a tool and means of occupation. It is suspected that they camouflage as security guards, commercial motor cycle riders, petty artisans and alms beggars, etc. Yet, they live in isolation of their host communities and are likely to have armoury with which they have the capacity to inflict collateral hurt on their host communities. This is an abuse of traditional hospitality of the communities who truly believe in the unity of Nigeria.
WHAT THE CHRISTIANS WANT IN AND FOR NIGERIA
- A United Nigeria where peace, unity and justice is guaranteed and where no adherent of any Religion is discriminated against anywhere in Nigeria, on account of his or her faith, tribe , gender or class.
- Maintain the secular nature of the Constitution in the sense that adherents of all religions are free to practice their religions without let or hindrance and where religion is let alone as a personal matter, without state involvement or sponsorship, not influencing or imposing one particular religion over others by hook or crook.
- Freedom to evangelize in a peaceful and safe atmosphere . A situation where a Christian preacher in Kubwa Abuja and a Christian Christmas celebrant in Ilorin were both killed by Muslims for preaching Christianity and this was not punished, is a dangerous for the rights of Christians. ‘Christian Lives Matter’.
- Constitutional recognition of Christianity. There are several references to Islam, Muslims and Shariah in the 1979 Nigerian constitution.
- The right for the Church or individual Christians to establish and run educational institutions in accordance with Christian spiritual and moral teachings without imposition of government policy forbidding prayer and Christian instruction. Neither should Christian schools be compelled to embrace dress codes or worship practices of other religions in its schools. Since there are Muslim schools who cannot tolerate Christian dress codes and spirituality in their schools, neither should Christian schools be forced to have Islamic outlook by indulging Muslim students who choose to dress in hijab as is currently being done in Kwara State. There, Christian schools have had to shut down over government decision that Hijab (Muslim clothing) should be allowed in Christian owned schools.
- All the schools owned by Christian churches and organizations which were taken-over by government since the military era should be returned and the Churches are allowed to run their schools without government funding nor staff imposition on such schools. Several schools taken over in the North had their names changed to community or Islamic names. Such schools should revert to their original Christian names.
- Balanced representation in every sector of government. It used to be the norm for Christians to be well represented alongside Muslims in every sector of government. In fact, during electioneering campaigns deliberate efforts are made to ensure religious balancing as well as ethnic balancing. Today, this has been almost completely changed. We have in place at moment a government which is dominated almost 90% by Muslim Hausa-Fulan is in appointments to ministerial and parastatal positions, Military and Para-Military, Judiciary, educational regulatory bodies, etc.
- Freedom to evangelize in the society without let or hindrance. Recent cases of a female Christian preacher who was murdered at Kubwa, Abuja, and a Christian celebrant of Christmas who was also killed in Ilorin suggest impunity by Muslim assailants, who till today have not been prosecuted.
- Right to own land and build a church anywhere in Nigeria. In Northern parts of the country, it is rare for the state governments to allow Churches purchase land and be issued with Certificates of Occupancy. There should be no exclusive territories where Christians cannot formally be recognized to congregate in their own church buildings.
It is clear that we are running two different countries in one. Some practice the Common Law while some utilized their legislative majority to declare Shariah Law, where Christians often become victims. Meanwhile, Muslim Northerners have been making incursions and settling in southern parts of Nigeria, enjoying benefits which they do not grant to Christians in the North. This is similar to the freedom and rights claimed Muslim immigrants in Europe and America, who do not extend such freedom or rights to others in their Arab home countries.
- Justice, security and protection under the law. Christians who have experienced one form of persecution or the other have little room for justice in Nigeria, especially under a system where the judiciary, the legislature and the military are in the hands of Muslim Northerners, who often are biased against the Christians.
The plight of the People of Benue and Southern Kaduna is a case in point. For long, they have often been wantonly killed in large numbers and displaced from their ancestral homes in this same country, yet there is no reprieve and justice for them. The fundamental human rights to lives and security are no longer guaranteed to Christians in Muslim dominated territories today. Neither is it common for Christians to get good employment in the North unless they convert to Islam. It is a systemic persecution.
- The Church demands that Canon or Ecclesiastical Laws be allowed to govern Christian-dominated areas in Nigeria as counterpart to Shariah Law which has been operative in the North and even at Federal Level. A situation where the current Chief Judge of Nigeria is a graduate of Shariah Law, and where the Grand Khadis are constitutionally recognized alongside normal Judges, demand equal recognition for Christian Law. What is good for the goose should be good for the Gander. Christian Theologians and Lawyers are competent to develop Canon Law where and when the possibility exists.
- The Church and Christians should demand compensation from government for territories and properties destroyed by religious bandits who have killed thousands of Christians in Northern communities. If Nigeria were a country where individuals have easy access to sue government for their failure to protect and provide for the people, perhaps the leaders will be more careful to respect human lives and rights. It is the duty of government to provide security for the people, and where they fail to do so, they should be liable.
- Right to convert from one religion to another without been criminalized. Whereas Muslims seek to convert Christians to Islam, and do go extra miles in surreptitious ways by inducing Christians with money and opportunities of funding and scholarships to convert, and also deliberately get married to Christian ladies so that they can produce children for Islam, the Muslims do not allow their own children to convert to Christianity. The penalty for conversion Christianity under sharia law is death. Parents are in fact encouraged to kill their children if they convert to Christianity! Such injustice must be stopped. Conversion is voluntary and must not be compelled or prevented by law.
- The Christian Mission schools should make positive contribution to discipline and morality in general educational curricular. With moral depravity such as drug abuse, examinations malpractices, corruption, rape, cultism, sexual harassment, ravaging our youths today, the mission education alternative is the answer. It is disappointing that the takeover of the schools happened under a Christian Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, while States adopted Shariah in the North under a Christian President, Olusegun Obasanjo. Christian leaders who are opportune to be in office should actively protect Christians as they do others.
- Christian Religious instructions and moral teachings should be reintroduced in the curricular of schools and Universities (Through the General Studies programme), all over the country. Nigeria needs a moral overhaul. We train most times, clever devils that are intellectually brilliant but morally depraved. These cannot become good leaders of tomorrow. Learning and character must complement each other in human formation. Certificates issued by universities usually indicate that the bearer must have satisfied standards of learning and character. In fact the Church gave birth to traditional universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Havard, Yale, etc. University titles were all borrowed from the Church, such as Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Provost, Dean, Warden, etc.
- Constitutional amendments are necessary to balance up Christian interests for the huge Christian population in Nigeria. Whereas Shariah and Islam appear many times in the Constitution, there is no single mention of Christian or Church in Nigerian Constitution. This is unfair.
- There should be de-politicization of religion in Nigeria. Policies such as registering Nigeria as member nation of the Organization of Islamic Countries, adopting Islamic Banking, using the CAMA law to prevent registering churches with names which include Jesus Christ. Etc are subtle Islamization of the country in utter disregard to the rights of the huge Christian populations.
- The much speculated Islamization Agenda should be stopped. The aggressive migration of Northern Hausa Fulani Youths to the South and the fears that they are armed and have aspiration to attack and grab land which belong to Southern people, including many Christian-dominated territories is a sad tale to happen in the modern age. The lives of many Christians and their churches in Nigeria are in grave danger today.
- Government should allow restructuring in such a way that allow for state police, true federalism and a return to the old regional structure which will allow constituent parts of Nigeria to decide their preferences and actualize governance according to their cultural , economic and socio- political peculiarities and priorities.
- There should be constitutional rearrangement to ensure rotation of power among the various geo-political regions in such a manner that power will go round, and not for a segment to claim so-called majority in population which they claim, entitles them to be in power. We still do not have any credible population in Nigeria. The obnoxious philosophy that power belongs to the North, as economy is to the East and education is to the West must be jettisoned. Today, the wealth of the South has been exploited to the great advantage of Northerners, such that that excuse no longer exists that they are comparatively disadvantaged. Circumstances have been so designed today that have made all regions equal in suffering, unemployment, infrastructure decay and general poverty. All have educational institutions and similar facilities for training of manpower. We are all on same level playing grounds and must therefore be equitable in our policies.
In concluding this lecture, I make the following additional recommendations:
- The Christians and the Church are described as the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. We are commanded to let our light (of the gospel and good living and leadership so illuminate the dark societies) such that people may see our good works and thereby glorify our God. This can be best done through involvement in politics. As the 2023 elections approaches, we must stop the apathy and withdrawal syndrome of qualified and gifted Christians from politics at every level. There is nothing wrong if Christians who have good programs organize themselves outside the existing corrupted political parties. Mobilize their population, unite the various denominations, evolve a good manifestoes train and field credible pragmatic and disciplined people and sponsor them to contest the nest elections, That is how Power can change hands, not though combative [power must change Hands ] prayer alone!
- The Church must deliberately design means of training and raising credible leaders who are disciplined and God-fearing and knowledgeable enough to provide leadership at all levels and in all sectors of Nigeria. We are leaderless at the, moment. The Church is the Light of the World and Salt of the Earth. Bad leadership endures because of absence of the good.
- The Church must exit its indifference and lackadaisical attitude towards elections. They must register and vote, campaign and monitor elections to prevent rigging and god-fatherism. The church has for now sufficient population to affect positive change in governments at all levels. Note the populations of Roman Catholics (about 20 million?), Anglicans (about 18 million?), Pentecostals, Independent Pentecostal churches and proliferated churches here and there also have big populations. With proper political education, necessity of current insecurity and failed governance should compel all good Nigerians of all religions, Christians especially, to ensure that the next elections victory in 2023 does not go to those who are bent on bringing this country down to the grave.
- The Nigerian churches are too proliferated, disunited and materialistic. Some Pentecostal leaders live in too much opulence, being mentioned among the richest pastors in the world, preaching a wrong theology of prosperity theology at this time of national emergency! Of course they afford to own private aero planes and build many mansions and institutions in the names of their families, whilst there is abject poverty, killings, violence, joblessness, youth restiveness and refugees all over the societies. The church must first cure itself of internal errors before it can challenge similar exploitations in the larger society.
- There is the need for mass reorientation of the citizenry and re-educating the present and coming generations about patriotism, nationhood, nation building, civics, etc.New curricular should be designed for primary and secondary schools, to compulsorily include prayer and Christian religious education.
- Prayer is effective but it must be complimented by action. Faith without works is dead. The Church must organize, protest, speak truth to power and instruct her members in government to be accountable to God through the church, to do that which is just and right, and not to indulge in corruption or evil. Through prayer and divine intervention, God has the power to humble and deal with all Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzars who wish to make Nigeria ungovernable with peace, justice and liberty.
I believe the Church should actively represent Christ and His Kingdom by aspiring to political positions of influence in Nigeria and the international community.
Thank You all for your attention and May God bless Nigeria, the Church of Christ universal, especially in Nigeria, and God bless Christ Church Port-Harcourt for organizing this Conference. Amen.