As much as Nigeria’s intelligentsia despises discussing or even acknowledging the influence of regional and religious sentimentalism in our politics, we all have to agree (not because we approve of it) that campaigns for 2023 general elections are going to tremendously leverage the instrumentality of such sentimentalisms as core campaign strategies.
We just have to brace for impact. Farouq Kperogi’s [in]famous diatribe is just a pacesetter in this game. And many would follow suit with the same methodology as adopted by Kperogi of blending accurate facts with mischaracterisations and sheer fallacies. And that is why the propaganda strategy might continue to be effective in infecting the minds of people with a blend of truth and lies.
Unfortunately, the actions of some religious bodies have started [in]voluntarily lending credence to such sentimentalist tendencies and rhetorics. An example is the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) memo notifying pastors of its substructures of the establishment of the Directorate of Politics and Governance and instructing them to step down same initiative in their respective domains. This initiative, the memo explains, is borne out of the need to coordinate the engagements of the members of the church that hold the intent of venturing into politics and mobilising support for them.
And although mobilisation for support for members of particular religious bodies by their clergy is not a novel concept – because I am sure many would make reference to Muslim clerics mobilising support for certain candidates or parties in mosques as it is done in many churches – the above referenced memo, however, brings forth a novel method of consciously integrating politics into religion through deliberate institutionalisation of such kind of policies into the bureaucracy of our religious bodies.
Interestingly, for every action, as described by a famous principle in physics, there’s equal and opposite reaction. Only in politics, the reactions tend to hold more magnitude than the actions. So we should naturally expect more in the days to come unless the situation is regulated.
For Osinbajo, I think beyond the many misrepresentations and fallacies presented by Kperogi, one fact stands out. Pairing President Muhammadu Buhari with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in 2015 was not an accident, it was very deliberate. Buhari is considered by some people as a religious fundamentalist even though not a member of the clergy of any religious body, and by virtue of the sensitivity of this rather uninformed but popular insinuation, a neutralisation effect was sought.
Resultantly, it was decided that a devout Christian would be paired with him just as the case in 2011. Osinbajo, by virtue of his track record as a professional lawyer, his political affiliation to Tinubu and religious affiliation to the RCCG, emerged as the perfect option. It has never been a hidden fact that Osinbajo is a pastor and an active member of the RCCG and other Pentecostal formations. Nor has it ever been hidden that he is a man with undiluted loyalty to the cause of his faith and his religious worship base and an unapologetic advocate, supporter, promoter and defender of the Pentecostal mission and all it entails.
The above mentioned attributes were Osinbajo’s comparative advantages over other contenders for the vice president position in 2015. They got him the vice presidency and, today, same attributes stand in his way of becoming the president of the federal republic.
Now, this evokes a lot of questions and gives way for some general assumptions as well. One of those assumptions is that Nigerians do not mind having people with characteristics like those of Osinbajo as running mates to presidential candidates or even vice presidents, as the case may be. But they are skeptical about having a person with such obvious attributes (on both sides of the extremes) as the president of the federal republic.
Is this concern valid? Are people like Osinbajo able to erect formidable demarcations between their religious advocacy and administration of the affairs of a supposedly secular state like Nigeria? What are the testimonials to such capabilities? Would Nigerians be comfortable with a ‘Pantami’, or a ‘Gumi’ or an ‘Alzakzaky’ or a ’Maqary’ or any other Muslim cleric (moderate or otherwise) as president of the federal republic? Would Nigerians consider meritorious credentials over such kind of staunch religious affiliations? How about the correlation of this issue to the much needed diversity management?
As a rational person, do not outrightly castigate Osinbajo and delist him from being an eligible candidate just because Kperogi has painted him as a religious bigot. Do not also demonise him for his personal convictions. Rather, summon your own convictions. Operationally define what an ideal leader means to you in Nigeria’s context. Define and agree on the level of religious presence you feel you can tolerate in your country’s politics. Agree on the level of religious affiliations you consider appropriate for a leader of a country like Nigeria. Create questions (like the ones listed above) and sincerely answer them with Nigeria’s best interest at heart. Be as rational as possible. Insulate yourself from religious biases as much as you can while performing this appraisal. And then finally decide!
The complexity of 2023 elections is increasing on a daily basis, and with the infusion of religious sentimentalism of this explosive magnitude into the already raging regional and ethnic chauvinistic tendencies being displayed in the political scene, one cannot but fear for the fate of this nation. But we hope and pray that Nigerians will rise above these distractions and sentimentalisms and make rational decisions based on real issues. Do not be party to ruining Nigeria. THINK!
Ringim, a political and public affairs analyst, writes from Zaria, Kaduna state via [email protected]