POLITICS AND THE NIGERIAN CHURCH: THE NATIONAL CHRISTIAN ELDERS FORUM’S (NCEF) VIEW POINT
Politics affects the lives of all of us, it cannot become an Exclusive Preserve of a handful of Politicians
Neutrality of the Church at “TIMES LIKE THIS” is tantamount to “Leaving the flock alone without the guidance of a Shepherd (Mk. 6:34)
We have watched and followed closely the security and political developments in the Nation; as a result the National Christian Elders Forum is concerned with the seeming lack of unity and direction of the Church in the face of the critical issues at stake regarding the 2015 Election. There is the call on Nigerian Christians to “vote their conscience” at the polls. As good as this directive sounds it should be preceded by sound civic education on the issues at stake in the Elections. It is only when people understand the issues at stake that they could be depended upon to vote their conscience. The opposite would be to “vote according to manipulation.”
As Christian Elders, the Forum cannot remain neutral on key issues that affect both the survival of the Church and of the Nation. Such neutrality, in the light of the mountain of challenges facing the Church, particularly in Northern Nigeria, is an ill-advised position. Therefore, the Christian Elders seek to educate Christian adherents on key issues at stake in the Elections as a prerequisite to vote their conscience; no one should view such endeavor as partisanship or a meddling in partisan politics. The intervention of the Christian Elders at this critical juncture is not an option, but a duty.
It is important to make clear that the National Christian Elders Forum has no objection to a Muslim or Nigerians of other religions aspiring to the office of the President, or into any political office in the nation. Every Nigerian citizen of good reputation and qualification is qualified to lead.
The 2015 Elections far transcends the narrow partisan orientations of the PDP and the APC. The coming elections are not about which party is better, holier, or more saintly than the other. As a matter of fact, it is not about which of them can better deliver in the area of security or fight corruption better than the other. Neither of the two major parties is holy or saintly. Both of them have large dosage of deceit, hypocrisy and propensity to greed and avarice. They both stink.
At the heart of the security and social upheavals in Nigeria is the conflict between Liberal Democracy and Sharia ideology. As a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, Nigeria requires a democratic platform that will accommodate the various diversities within the nation. Such ideology will promote integration and peaceful, harmonious co-existence. Currently, Nigeria has two (National) laws, call them Constitutions if you wish, running concurrently for people of one Nation.
Nigeria does not require an agitation for the introduction of the full blown laws of any one Religion (be it Ecclesiastical law or Sharia law) in the Constitution of Nigeria (as it was surreptitiously done under past military dictatorships), but a Legal system that is made up of the “reducible minimums” of ALL existing religions and cultural orientations, into what is called a “Common or Civil Law”, that is applicable (equally) to all citizens, irrespective of Religion and Ethnicity.
Therefore, those seeking elective offices today, whose past actions, utterances and body language, have shown them to possess instincts of religious extremism, religious fundamentalism and religious bigotry, should not be trusted with exalted offices in our national life, for fear of them tampering with these fundamental principles of our quest for nationhood.
What is truly at stake in the 2015 Elections is the survival of Liberal Democracy in Nigeria. This threat to democracy implies that freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and fundamental human rights are facing extinction in Nigeria. For us as Christians Elders, the 2015 Election is about the future of the Christian faith in Nigeria. It is crucial for us, as Christian Elders, to leave behind a country where generations yet unborn will take their rightful places as equal citizens of Nigeria, with the right to live and practice their Religion in any part of Nigeria without being discriminated against.
We observe that the Church is under threat as we are witnessing today through violent terrorism flowing from radical Islam, we should therefore play politics in a way that will end intolerance and other forms of exclusivist and closed mentalities. The fundamental issue is whether we are committed to growing/building one Nigeria for all Nigerians, a truly democratic State grounded on the principles of Liberal Democracy. We want a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims will freely choose to live in any of its parts and practice their Faiths/Religions in peace and security, without any molestation or discrimination. We therefore insist on upholding the provisions of the Constitution which provides that Nigeria is a secular state.
The quintessence of “goods” that this election represents is the enthronement of religious liberty for all. While security and zero level corruption are values to be cherished and pursued, freedom to live in any part of Nigeria and practice your religion without molestation is for Christian Elders more important and should take primacy over all others.
We are alarmed at the violent terrorism which is an offshoot of radical Islam that is prevalent all over the world and symbolized in our Country by the Boko Haram Islamic sect and the Fulani Muslim Insurgents. What promotes this kind of intolerance that eventually leads to the persecution and systematic extermination of other Nigerian citizens with reckless impunity is the philosophy of dual ideology. Those who obstructs fundamental human rights in favor of their narrow world views, are advocates and sympathizers of this reductionist form of philosophy (Dual or Multiple National Ideology), which must be discountenanced in a plural and heterogeneous society such as ours.
Unfortunately, one of the Presidential Candidates for this year’s elections (by his utterances and body language) epitomizes this philosophy as was demonstrated when he reiterated his position on the Sharia in a speech that he delivered at a seminar organized by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria in August 2001 that “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria … God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country…” (The News, 19 January 2015), ThisDay of 21 January, 2002 also reported that this same individual called on Muslims to “vote only for the presidential candidate that would defend and uphold the tenets of Islam”. These are rather dangerous worldviews in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.
Our leaders at all levels of governance can be devout adherents of their religions of preference, but must have sound disposition to respect our diversity and common humanity as the basis for relationship in a complex and pretty heterogeneous society like ours. Those with extremist ideologies do not. On the contrary, they see others outside their religious and ethnic folds as second class citizens. They will first want to conquer, subdue and reduce them to the “dhimmi” status and then place them under their mercy or what they call “under their protection”. This is what advocates of the Caliphate society want to reduce us to. It does not matter whether it is a Shekau who wants to bring this about through the slashing of throats of innocent and vulnerable people, or a religious bigot in an exalted political office, who wants to bring this about through the ballot box. There are certain values which are non-negotiable in a pluralistic society and it seems advocates of the Caliphate do not respect this. A dual–ideology - driven Nigeria cannot be the Nigeria of our dream. We want a Nigeria, where citizens are treated equally before the law at all levels of our existence.
The decision of twelve States in Northern Nigeria to adopt full blown Sharia in 2000 contradicts the multi-Religious liberal democratic character of our Nation as enshrined in our Constitution.
The victory of a party that respects Liberal Democracy will give advocates of this ideology added time to continue the liberation struggle and consolidate liberal democracy both in our books, our psyche and in our socio-political life.
We should therefore vote wisely in this crucial election.
It should be on record after the election that we had a position based on certain principles that are sacrosanct, and not on expediency.
Therefore, the National Christian Elders Forum, counsel all Nigerians to:
- Vote for liberal democracy that guarantees level playing ground for adherents of every religion and not dual ideology sympathizers, who give preferential treatment to one religion over and above others;
- Vote for a National Ethic that promotes National Unity and National Integration with the Common Law made up of the “reducible minimums” of all religions and culture inspired by the “golden rule”. (Do unto others, as you will want them to do unto you);
- Vote for the survival of Christianity and any other religion that exist in Nigeria;
- Vote against an insidious agenda of the Sharialization and Islamization of Nigeria as hatched by Saudi Arabia, OIC, Islam in Africa Organization and D8 Nations in collaboration with willing cronies in Nigeria;
- Vote for the survival of Christian values which accommodate the interest of all irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations by its irrevocable commitment to principles of fairness, justice, respect for the dignity and inviolability of human life, respect for the family as cradle for civilization;
- Vote for the survival of the Christian Heritage and the heritage of other religions;
- Vote for the survival of Freedom of thought, Conscience and Religion,
- Vote against the enthronement of a theocratic state as is advocated by fundamentalist and people with religiously extremist instincts in their un-repentant commitment to the Sharialization of Nigeria;
- Vote for the establishment of ranches and their operation in the States of origin of nomadic cattle rearers as a way to ending fatal clashes between farmers and cattle rearers.
- Vote for the restructuring of Nigeria to give every ethnic group equal right and standing in the nation, as recommended by the National Conference;
- Vote for the dismantling of the pillars of corruption as recommended by the National Conference;
- Vote for a Nigeria that will remain united, peaceful and stable.
For, and on behalf of National Christian Elders Forum,
Mr. Solomon Asemota, SAN