We are barely few weeks from the Presidential/National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) election and another two weeks after, there will be the Governorship/State House of Assembly elections. The closeness of the elections this season has resulted in various tactics to win votes. One troubling approach is the use of religion and ethnocentrism by various candidates. Most people are not aware that 2010 Electoral Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria prohibits campaign based on religion or tribe. Specifically, Section 102 states as follows: “Any candidate, person or association who engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal, or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, is guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction shall be liable to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for twelve months or to both.”
With that said, can a Christian vote for a Muslim? This point is probably answerable by citing the biblical mandate that a Christian should not be unevenly yoked with unbeliever. Specifically, 2 Corinthians 6:14 states “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” However, God has been known to use an evil king or unbeliever to teach believers a lesson and accomplish His will.
A more vexing problem is can a Christian decide to vote on purely ethnic basis? Recently, I received a call from a family member asking me why I was not supporting “my brother.” I inquired “who is my brother?” In both the twelfth Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and third Chapter of the Gospel of Mark, this same question was posed to our Lord Jesus Christ. His answer was that “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). My family member was talking about someone from my tribe (ethnic group). Ostensibly, she was saying I should vote for a particular candidate because we are from the same tribe. She did not say vote for him because we are both born-again since I am not aware of the religious persuasion of the other two candidates. I know that my candidate is a believer and he approached us at a Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) meeting some years back to solicit our support for another candidate.
In 2012, I wrote a piece titled “Pastors and Politicians.” I put a disclaimer or caveat that “I am a Pastor and also a person very interested in the politics of dear Delta State and our beloved country Nigeria. I also encourage Christians to be involved in politics because of my belief in the statement attributed to Edmund Burke that “all that is necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”
There have been a lot of controversies lately with allegations of “Men of God” (Clergy) supposedly receiving bribes to support a particular candidate. The allegation, while untrue and laughable, reminded me of the thin line that we must not cross when proselytizing on the pulpit as opposed to at a political rally. Christians involved in politics must be careful. Pastor must be more careful because teachers of the Word of God face harsher judgment than their listeners/students. James the half-brother of Jesus said, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1).
During the Local Government elections, I received a text from a fellow Pastor that his religious body was endorsing a particular candidate, who coincidentally was a Pastor. My reply to him was that a church or religious organization should never endorse a political candidate. In fact,, a Pastor has no business telling his congregation from the pulpit whom to vote for. This does not preclude him from asking his congregation to vote their Christian values. In fact, in civilized climes where there is separation of State and Religion, a church that endorses a political candidate will lose its tax exempt status.
Nonetheless, faith-based organization such as Christian Coalition of America, exist to research and provide valuable information to Christians and the general public about electioneering and the values of various candidates. Our problem in Nigeria is that most political parties have no clear cut ideology or manifesto, making it difficult to pin them down. Which political party is conservative and which one is liberal in Nigeria?
Our incumbent President has visited many mega churches to seek for prayers, which is understandable based on the current challenges facing Nigeria. A Muslim can go to the mosque, just like you can visit your native doctor if you so wish. Thank God that Nigeria allows us freedom of religion. Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution states that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion. Section 35(1) adds that “national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” Furthermore, Section 38 (1) then adds that “ Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
In the Body of Christ, there is no Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Efik, Bini, Ishan, Fulani, Calabari, Anioma, Ibo, Urhobo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko or Ukwanni candidate. So, I can emphatically and unequivocally state that a born-again spirit-filled Christian will not vote for a candidate based solely on ethnic reasons.