NIGERIA: Religion, Politics And Power


Throughout our country’s history, we have had to face some sort of chicanery, unpleasant, and oftentimes, some devastating truths about our existence as a people living in a so-called nation. One of the many truths we have faced and endured, is the role of religion in our politics, and how this element manipulates our lives and our actions without any compunction, empathy or understanding.

In our Constitution, as in most other Constitutions of other democracies, there is a clear seperation of religion from politics. There has always been religious neutrality in public affairs, despite the many pragmatic expediencies of politics and religion mixing in our political experiments. The ways politics is infused with values and in other concepts of our lives have become far more contemptuous now, than ever before in our country.

From my study and teaching of the science of politics, it has been abundantly clear that the virtue associated with religion has always manifested as being good for government, and that despite the associated concept of separation between religion and state, the role of religion in upholding virtue and morality in our societies, and in the functioning of government, is still perceived as necessary. If separation, however, was thought of as a measure to prevent the good essence and role of religion in government, I will presume that it was not the pure intention of the crafters and drafters of our Constitutions.

However, it is today evident, that religion and its various practitioners have polluted the affairs of the state. The possibility that our religions have exerted immense influence over public matters, is more prevalent now in many climes around the world, than ever before.

From as far as my memories can carry me, and to the present times, our politicians and religious extremists have continued to endanger our secular democracy. From America, Europe, around the world, and to Nigeria, religious

zealots are aggressively targeting, for prohibition and banning, laws and issues that do not square with their beliefs and extreme conservative ideologies. These attacks have put in jeopardy, the constitutional principle of the separation between religion and government; principle that shields our democracy and safeguards our cherished liberty and freedom. The big question now, is how to keep religion out of government?

In writing this essay, it is necessary to focus on the conflicts generated by religion-state dicotomy. In my opinion, there is something more worthy of the religion-state separation issue, in terms of the good/evil polarity and how our Constitutions view the justification and necessity of its practical structure. Realizing that the metaphor of a wall separating religion and state is written into our Constitution, it becomes intricately difficult not to see how religious beliefs cannot be established in schools run by religious groups or owned by government. The rights enshrined in the Constitution to the effect that everyone has a right to determine one’s own religious belief and also a right not to be force-fed a belief with which one might disagree, is sacroscant and cannot be abridged by any government. But the question does exist to probe this proposition, and I doubt if any self-evident truth holds strong here.

Many believe today, with anecdotal evidence, that the United States of America’s Supreme Court has sold its soul to the Christian Right and to the Conservative party. The court in its stride, is overturning precedents and shifting many old laws to the religious right. As in America, many religious issues in Nigeria have permeated the laws of the land. The sharia laws introduced by some state governments in complete override to the Constitution, is a case in point. It didn’t matter to the politicians propagating these religious laws that they could be harmful to, and damaging to the country’s constitution, in endangering the principle of the separation of religion from the state.

The theoretical wall of separation between religion and state is layed shakily with hypocricies. The wall is not as high and impregnable as our weak and feeble Constitution makes it out to be. The transcendent moral high grounds of the secularity in our Constitution insinuate much less than it says. In fact, there are conflicts waiting to be sorted out and resolved on this unprecedented experiment in religion-state relations. It is frightening that despite our constitutionally codified principle that the government should have or play no role in favouring or supporting any religion, our political actors are indulging in flouting this statue. Instead of this provision shielding the government from religious factionalism, what we experience in our country, is the constant whittling away at the wall of this separation by politicians and special interest groups.

Only recently, some of our political leaders with somewhat checkered history of religious bigotry, have deployed strong determination to entangle religion with the affairs of the state, ignoring the long-proven fact that each function better, if left untrammeled by the other. Without any doubt, these actions gravely impede the functions of government and distort national cohesion, unity and peaceful coexistence. To think that the salubrious religious culture and atmosphere that we enjoyed in the distant past have given way to a collapse that undermines and breeches this separation, is rather bewildering and utterly disturbing.

A certain Governor was caught on hot mic berating Christians from his State, and threatening and boasting that he has perfected a devilish strategy on how to ensure that his State will only produce Muslim governors and deputies. This Governor succeeded in polarizing this State that once boasted some semblance of parity along religious lines. The sins of this Governor did not stop with the feckless treatment of his citizens, but he took his insouciant hubristic noise further by announcing to the country that his, and his accomplices goals was to Islamize Nigeria. These pronouncements were not only disgusting but also mirrored the rise of religious nationalism, and shows that by politicizing religion, it has completely lost its revered and prophetic voice, required for nurturing and advancing human coexistence and world peace. The Governor, whether he realises it or not, has done an incalculable harm, through his privileged position, to national peace and democracy. His radical ethic of using his religion to promote his politics, I will assure him, will wither and die. I can also assure others here, or in America, who utilize their religious privilege in the pursuit of their political agenda by yielding to the seduction of political power, and the benefits of the alliance with state, that they have lost both their dignity as humans and honor as followers of the God they proclaim to worship and promote.

For those who have boasted and celebrated about how they have dispossessed Christians and others of their rights, they must know that their actions are nothing but shams and an unholy license to political power of dominance. That, also, their sounds of rejoicing over their evilness and gross injustice, are empty swelling vanities. We must remind them, that their impudence and victimization of those they are meant to govern, are bombastic impiety of hypocrisy and ignorance.

During this past Presidential elections, a certain Presidential candidate was captured on tape speaking to one of these Pentecostal Pastors. The essense of the conversation was the politician seeking the help of the magical Pastor to reach out to members of his congregation to vote for him. The implication of this taped conversation, if it was authentic, was a pandering of a Christian candidate to a priest to sway his Christian followers to him based on religious affinity.

The pursuit of political power and the desire for privileges by Christians have become rather degrading in my sight. I believe that as Christians we must submit to the tenets of our religion where the scripture enjoins Christians to pursue their goals, be it political or otherwise, through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, fasting and believing. The desperate and corrosive effects of seeking political powers through ungodly ways compromise the Christian faith. We must recall how Donald Trump became some sort of a salvific figure directed by the Christian God to save America and reclaim America’s Christian heritage. With the exposition of the mountains of scandals that followed his regime, it became apparent that God never sent him, and that his evangelical followers and their morality propositions, were nothing but hot air and unnecessary political privilege peddling.

Those who would oppose my opinion here, and believe that the church should deploy its moral authority or influence to seek political empowerment, must not fail to realize that the church itself and its practitioners are even more susceptible to the leavening and corrosive effect of political power. That is to say, that, instead of the church reforming or transforming the state, the corruptive tendencies of the state will transform and deform the church. Despite the avowedly overwhelming influence of religion in our political establishment, and the apparent unity between both, the existence of that extraconstitutional phrase

“separation of religion and State” still remains the guiding principle, or if you may, the governing documents. Even when we debate to the absence of this in pure and strict terms and letters, it remains infused in our innert constitutional thinking and values.

To be clear, I hold a strong view that Christian leaders as well as other religious leaders while seeking to participate in the political process through their alliances to their countries with a moral responsibility to reform and transform their political systems, must entrust their ultimate loyalty to God in propagating those virtues as enshrined in the holy books and scriptures. To do otherwise will degrade the basic known ethic of religion, and deprive us the glorious role reserved for our various religions in being the conscience of the world.

What is the business of our government in our religion? Is it to use it to secure national morality and cohesion, or for the basis of prosperity, life, or freedom? Isn’t religion a matter which lies solely between man and his God? Why is our government interested in sponsoring and paying for private citizens to go to Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome for religious pilgrimages? Is it to mend their minds, or to control their lives? Where are the positive effects of these government actions? It must appear that the more we visited God’s tabernacles and mosques on these pilgrimages, the more we perfected our acts of wickedness once we returned home. Specifically, the forewarned adverse effects of government intrusion into religion can only be imagined.

There are several rungs on the ladders of religious cruelties that have occurred in our country. To begin to mention them, will be to needlessly open up old, but festering sores. My fear hangs dangerously on an incurable pessimism which compels me and many other well-meaning citizens to question if we will ever turn the corner from this animality. Now, to behold our politicians and their accomplices saddling religion as a tool to (mis)rule us with deliberate degeneration, is abysmal to say the least.

For many Nigerians who can see deeply into our affairs, it is not difficult to know with certain level of certainty, that there has been a long-drawn-out intension by some political miscreants to falsify and distort the religious, and even the tribal and ethnic equilibrium that have for long been the stabilizing pillars in our body politic. What would one call the Moslem-Moslem partnerships and tickets in our political contests? Whatever happened to the balance in our political and religious process? The inclination for one religion to dominate the affairs of the State with sufficient instigations and temptations by taking the road of uncanny perilousness, portends nothing but danger for the growth and unity of the Country.

Someone sent me a blog purportedly written by the revered and erudite Bishop Matthew Kukah. I am not sure if he wrote it or not, but I will take the risk of quoting some of the contents as they represent certain feelings I habor on the subject. Bishop Kukah wrote: “After independence, in order to build a great nation, each country went to work… but in Nigeria… our people went to pray and fast… while we were praying, Malaysia came and took our palm seedlings and built great factories of it, …while we were praying Singapore went into investment in technology… India went into ICT, China went into massive industrialization. …while we were shouting Alakuba and going to Mecca, UAE went into massive infrastructural development… while we were mounting huge speakers and building gigantic mosques and churches, America was mounting man on the moon…”. I apologize in advance to Bishop Kukah if these quotes ascribed to him are not actually his, although I find in them, very useful narratives.

As we ponder roles of religion and politics in our affairs, we must recognize that there exists an inherent contradiction when citizens battle to figure out if they are under the authority of God or the state. Voluntary consent to God (religion) as the higher authority, compels citizens to require that public officials (politicians) govern in a manner reminicent and consistent with divine justice, equity, rightness and goodness. At the same instance, citizens will stand against the same state intruding in the affairs of their religion, no matter under whatever reasons or pretences.

The choice to write about this subject as simple as it may appear, renders confounding episodic attempt throughout our history to subvert our freedom and liberty. I see clear dangers of state interference in religion, and on the other hand, the potent dangers that religious interests pose to the political order (the state). I believe that political stability can exist alongside religious vitality in our society with each acting independently, but in synergy for the attainment of a stable and progressive human society. Our institutions will benefit from the mutual exclusivity of our religions and state, if our powerful politicians will learn to obey our Constitutions and obey God.