In a highly populous and culturally heterogeneous society with a high touch of religious diversity like Nigeria, there has been some connection between politics and religion. In an article written by Francis Iyoha in 2019 titled “Politics and Religion in Nigeria: A role for religious leaders”, it was stated that: “politics often seek the support of religion and there have been no natural elections around the world where religion has not been covertly or overtly a factor of relevance”. The learned scholar cited examples from America’s democracy and how the 2004 Presidential elections involved the Republican Party employing the antics of religion to defeat John Kerry in what will later be known as the “religious victory”.
One might be swift to say that the foregoing could be true of United States of America because the American society has an historical connection with the Christian religion. However, this can also be true of any other country with one or two religious affiliations, and is in fact true of the Nigerian polity. Unfortunately, though, in this country, political leaders misuse religion to get power while the religious leaders are also mishandling it to get personal profits from those in political offices which in turn leads to persuasion of their audience in their place of worships to cast their votes for their own choice candidates not bearing in mind that although their audience in the places of worship are spiritually homogeneous, they could be socially heterogeneous. Religion has won for itself a mention whenever the subject of politics is discussed. The influence that religion has on a nation doesn’t stop at politics but affects other areas of life. Take for instance, religion dictates so many things for its followers, which include the dressing, what-and-what-not-to-eat and rules of social interaction.
Nigeria has three dominant religions which include African Traditional Religion, Islam and Christianity, and each of the religious affiliations dictates and governs the totality of life of its faithful. It has been observed over the years that the politicians openly espouse religious sentiments in campaigning for public supports and according to Kukah in 1993, he said, “it has been observed that no one can aspire to, or hold political office in Nigeria without pretending to be religious.” Invariably, religion goes hand in hand with politics, and it could be difficult to hold a public office without hold on religion. Politicians take advantage of power entrenched in religion not only to achieve their aims, but also to subjugate their opponents and to legitimize their religion. For this reason, the dominant religious groups; Islam and Christianity have been locked in a fierce battle for political control of the country (Bujra, 2006) and these wouldn’t have happened without the influence of the religious leaders on their followers.
According to Oluwaseun Olawale Afolabi of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan; “religion played an important role after the successful and proper handing over of government by the former head-of-state, General Abdusalami Abubakar, to the then democratically elected president Olusegun Obasanjo”. The two presidential contestants, Obasanjo and Olu Falae are not only Yorubas (from the Southwest) but Christians. It was said that Muslims from the North had been ruling for several years as military heads of state, hence, it was time for a Christian, from the West to take over the mantle of leadership. Though the choice of Obasanjo was more of ethnicity than religion, religion was considered a major factor in deciding/voting for contestants for the presidency. All of these couldn’t be behind the religious leaders involved.” There is an acceptable role religious leaders can play in election process, which is to give adequate education to their followers on the necessity of voting and not force or coerce their followers to cast their vote for candidates of their choice who might be less qualified. Likewise, religious leaders can use their sermons as a medium to give political education rather than campaign for political aspirants or sing praises of the politicians. The religious leaders must remember that, they must respect the social diversity of their congregation in making decisions as regards who-to-vote-and-who-not-to-vote, and ultimately remember the leaders in their prayers.
In an article written by Francis Iyoha, titled, Politics and Religion in Nigeria: A Role for Religious Leaders, he stated that “religion should give birth to all that is noble, expedient, lawful and essential in society”. Therefore, religious leaders should as a matter of course and fact, speak out from time to time but under no circumstances should they use their religious positions to ungodly influence the political direction of the country. The positions of religious leaders should be applicable and relevant to citizens, religious affiliations notwithstanding. This is the only way it is morally right and expedient to publicly intervene in the political process. Any religious intervention that does not seek to take our concern to our common aspirations as a people should be abhorred.
It is important to conclude this article with the words of Francis Iyoha, Professor of the Department of Accounting, Covenant University who called on religious leaders to “rise and lend credence to the soul of religion and spirituality by building divine norms and values into the political affairs of Nigeria”. Now is not the time for religious leaders to maintain social distance from political circles or proselytize the “cattle-through-the-needle” sermon. They could join hands with well-meaning political figures in remodeling the country, or stand as the seers rebuking the corrupt practices of the bad men in politicians. Either ways, they will be contributing to societal growth and thereby fulfilling their duties!
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