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When Religion Becomes A Tool For Campaign Strategy

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Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies” Groucho Marx

Whether we like it or not, we must concede that Nigeria’s current political leadership symbolises the typical Nigerian character of today: poorly educated but yet flouting academic qualifications that are obviously beyond their abilities; over indulged in a Nollywood-like culture of sub standards; entrapped by their gullibility to a puerile religious fanaticism that thrives on sublime rather than rational postulations; and tugged on by a misplaced belief in the superiority of this mindest.

Our leadership is a bare faced example of what Nigeria has become, egged on by the belief that the best opposition to a corrupt and trucullent system- supposedly controlled by a particular group for over thirty six years- is an even more brazen display of same traits by another. It is not unusual that the most likely response from cronies of the government to criticisms of its ineptitude will be “others have done the same thing for years, this government is not the first” They consider this a logical resolponse to critics.

We see the bare-faced display of confrontational crusades and antagonistic religious mannerisms and speeches clearly intended to provoke when the President went with his retinue of ministers and governors on holy pilgrimage, and the vehement defense of these seeming provocations by the president’s supporters. Even if my claims are hinged on the supposed implications of such moves in a multi-religious society where slight distortions in context could spark deadly clashes, I believe it is also important that we realise the greater implications of seeking Jerusalem’s help in fighting an insurgency that claims its roots- though questionable- in Mecca, or by asking the tomb of Jesus to help in ending graft or aiding personal ambitions come 2015. By doing this, we are clearly drawing a dangerous line.

The subtle retort that “it is good for the country because we need God’s intervention” may seem a sensible answer to criticisms of the drama in Israel, but it would only seem so to the kind of people earlier described as supllicants to puerile religious doctrines. When secular leadership becomes muddled in personal displays of religious obeisance, there is very little doubt what the implications will be. Stirring such sentiments at a time when several issues of national importance have clearly indicated tilts towards geo-political sentiments will only add fuel to the fire, this is not the time for such overt displays of religious fervor.

Israel is not the only place where this theatre of the absurd has been performed. The inherent provocation in the 2011 statement by the obviously truculent and unapologetically revolutionary Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, that Christians be armed in the north was a prelude to many suggestions that insurgency in the region was an officially sanctioned battle between religions, even if this has never been the case. We are now grappling with a federal executive that seems to have imbibed this notion. The huge crusade-like National Prayer event that was held at the State House chapel as part of celebrations to mark Nigeria’s Centenary seemed an over-indulgent religious event that showed conceit. From the way the event was organised, it did not attempt to hide its forceful Christian rhetorics neither did it show the slightest respect for the fact that the Presidential Villa represented a symbolic balance between Nigeria’s diverse ethno-religious groups. A stranger would easily mistake the event for a T.D Jake evangelical crusade, and this in a country struggling with a volatile political balance.

Beyond these considerations, there are also the cost implications of such charades. When newspapers reported that the President was leading a delegation of nineteen governors and ministers to Israel, the Presidential spokesman, Rueben Abati, denied this. He said the governors and ministers had made their own arrangements for the trip and were not part of any team paid for by the budget of the Presidency. He was right, but I do not think the papers implied that these men and women were being financed by the Presidency; rather, it was more the decision to abandon their official duties for a religious pilgrimage that seemed to be the issue.

I am not so sure that there are no political undertones here. Let us be rational. Fervent moves have begun to launch intense political campaigns for the 2015 elections. We are aware of the many challenges that Mr President faces within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the geo-political slant in the opposition to his return as the party’s presidential candidate. We are also aware that one of the strongest rallying point of his campaign in 2010/11 was the need for a shift in political power base and the insistence that the real impact of this shift would only be felt if power came to the South-South. This was achieved, but there is a grwater challenge now. Nigerians have grown beyond these ethnic submissions as we have seen that an inclysive elite exists within all groups. Now, it sems the decision has been reached to shift towards religious sebtiments rather than ethnicity. If anything, this.move will prove a terrible scheme because it would only stir bestial reactions tham anything else.

At a time when the debate should be focused on ending all government sponsorship of such religious expeditions, we are faced with a new wave of pilgrimage seekers who clearly have decided to take solace in sites far removed from their constituencies to seek solutions for the problems they left behind in these same constituencies. From Mecca to Jerusalem to Medina and on to Bethlehem and Gethsemane, we are constantly moving further away from the challenges we face at home at the expense of the public who have to deal with the brutal realities in their towns, villages and cities everyday. The whole show is an even greater affront on our sensibilities when public officials, whose conducts in office have been tainted by allegations of sharp practices, wriggle violently and spurt out inaudible babbles in insistent demands for some ethereal intervention in their secular functions. I guess we have reached a point where publIc officers no longer judge their actions by rational standards.

Suddenly, displays of religious sentiments in government offices are no longer given to subtleties and respect for diverse sentiments, even when it is obvious that only such considerations would save us from the dire consequences of our public officers’ unenlightenment. How these public officers have come to assume that the mandate given them is to seek solutions to our mounting social and political problems in distant lands far removed from the realities of their own is beyond comprehension.

To borrow from an article I read some time ago; “The imminence of meeting Nigeria’s internal contradictions with the national dialogue, the current feeling of despair and the Boko Haram hurricane... The headache also of striking varsity teachers and an almost comatose educational system, restiveness in the energy sector, the free ride that corruption is having, a seizure of the Nigerian State by a thieving and impunity-drunk political elite, the near total collapse of values, soaring unemployment and an avalanche of unemployable youth, the tension over 2015 elections and so on. The President could just have been seeking some breath of fresh air in Israel,” Afterall, He rode to power on the promise of that- whether he meant to bring it to us or seek it in far climes whenever there was tension is what we are still not sure of.

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