After the new Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the election, he decided to break with tradition of conflating the rituals of religion and politics. Tsipras, an atheist, gently informed the Archbishop of Athens that this time, his clerical services would not be required in the swearing-in of the Prime Minister. There would be no Bibles, no crosses, no holy water and oath taken in the name of God. This is a highly significant move that aims to disentangle religion and the state
especially where the two concepts have been intertwined and deployed towards exploitative ends.
By separating both the religious and political spaces, both can maintain their integrity. But of course, that is only an ideal. There is no society – not even the acclaimed secular ones – that has successfully extricated religion from its social and political impulses. Whether Tsipras can retain the delineation in religion and politics he aspires for will unravel in the years to come. Who knows, the case of Greece – a society deeply steeped in religious influences just like Nigeria– might turn out to be a successful experiment in the secularisation of political process.
Nigeria, I believe, needs this separation of the spectacles of religion and the state. As an instance, when history sums the 2015 elections, significant research will apprise the role pastors played in the pentecostalisation of Nigerian politics. The quest of pastors to influence politics in Nigeria is not a new mania, but since the ascent to power of the “Christian President”, an unmitigated disaster by the “clergy” has gifted Nigeria a breed of self-seeking demagogues who abuse the privilege of the pulpit.
There is “Pastor” Bosun Emmanuel who careened on the so-called Islamisation of Nigeria to promote President Goodluck Jonathan as “God’s candidate.” He even advised us to embrace the corruption of his government along. Then there is Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka who should perhaps be labelled “God’s ventriloquist.” Mbaka’s God is a typical Nigerian politician who can declare for the Peoples Democratic Party after a visit by the First Lady and after falling out, bandwagon his affection to the All Progressives Congress.
Then, there are lesser known pastors who are all over the place declaring their affection for one political party or the other and yet claim to be hearing from the same God. Then, there is Pastor Enoch Adeboye whose role this time seems rather more benign than in the 2011 elections. Apart from being blatantly solicited by the APC candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, – a man who needs the pastor to whittle down his Sharia fundamentalist image – and also apart from the report of his meeting with Jonathan in ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s place in Abeokuta, Pastor Adeboye appears to have struck a balance between the stakes he has in which of the frontline candidates wins the election.
First, let me note that I no longer believe pastors and similar religious leaders can be apolitical. It might not be ever possible for them to ever be so considering the power they wield over the minds of people. Anybody with such a power cannot but be tempted to use it and that is why the arena of religion will forever seduce and be seduced by the arena of politics. Pastors will be politicians and politicians will turn towards religious ethos. In the days when the events in the Bible were recorded, prophets and priests played a critical role in political activities. They administered rites, advised the king and those who were social activists and critics “prophesied” against him.
In traditional African societies, priests serve as a level of government and these roles are by no means an insignificant one. Even in modern times and the so-called secular societies, mores are still largely influenced by religious ethics.
The blurring of religion and politics has a resounding impact on the Iraqi Christians who bear the brunt of the United States invasion of their country. Ex-US president, George Bush Jnr. claimed he was driven by God to start the Iraqi war and though warned about the consequences the Christians would suffer, he went ahead anyway. The same God that put voices in his head has “abandoned” the Christians he purported to liberate now that Iraq faces turmoil.
When politicians meet religious leaders, I find myself weighing them against each other. Are clerics more powerful than politicians or is it a match of equals? Which one of them uses the other to achieve their purposes?
On Sunday, the merry-go-round of Church visits by politicians took President Jonathan to the Winners’ Chapel, Ota, headed by Bishop David Oyedepo. Nothing is out of order if the President deems the Church as legitimate campaign stops. It is campaign season after all and the man needs all the votes he can get. He will not be the first neither will he be the last to solicit votes by caressing people’s emotion. What I find interesting is the exchange between the Bishop and the President. When the founding Bishop of Winners Chapel, Bishop David Oyedepo, would introduce the President, he said,
“I will like this congregation in this third service to join me and receive on this altar for a word of greetings, a blessing from the father of the nation, to this great congregation. Please, join me welcome Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as he brings us a word from the Lord.”
One needs to ask, is Jonathan also among the prophets? When did he start bringing a word from the Lord from Aso Rock to a church?
Jonathan got on the altar and told us the same old story he has been hawking for a while: That the nation is passing through the challenges of insecurity and which could have been worse if people had not been praying. And with prayer, we shall overcome etc. Each time he uses those lines, I want to roll my eyes. If the kind of restlessness Nigeria has witnessed in the past few years is the best prayers can do, we should stop praying and do something more meaningful. Lives have been wasted, people have been displaced and material goods destroyed and yet we are supposed to believe that prayer works?
Interestingly, Jonathan praised the Bishop for establishing two universities and the potential benefits of such a venture without acknowledging the huge costs that come with enrolment in these schools. After enjoining us to pray for the nation, Jonathan said,
“I didn’t (sic) want to say much so they will not say I come (sic) here to campaign…”
Now, that is funny, isn’t it? After all that drama, the President still boldly says he was not campaigning? What then was he doing? Preaching?