The influence of clerics in politics

One of the most irritating and annoying statements you will ever make in Nigeria nowadays is "change is constant."  During the 2015 general elections, a political party sold the change mantra, many Nigerians bought the change, but, at what cost?

In the aftermath of the public endorsement of 2015 presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, by a Catholic priest, Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka, there is an urgent need to carefully appraise the nexus between the clerics and politics.

It might interest my esteemed readers to remember that during the 2015 New year message from Rev Fr. Mbaka, to thousands of parishioners at his adoration ground, He said; "In the year 2014, we had a lot of bloodshed in this country. People were dying like rats without anybody asking about them. This country suffered a lot of blood experience... The so-called democracy was a hidden autocracy. It was a deceptive and questionable quagmire. Nigerians suffered hunger unnecessarily. We heard about oil subsidies being removed and added, whatever is their jargon, nobody understood them. We heard about minimum wage, the civil servants suffered, the minimum wage was not paid and we were all calm. In 2015, Nigerians will not be calm again... By the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are announcing spiritually, change!

Listen, when you go home, tell anybody you see that from the Oracle of the Holy Spirit, we are announcing the change. Can somebody help me to shout change?!"

The crowd shouted change! They believed the prophecies, or rather, predictions of their highly revered cleric. In the light of recent happenings in the country, Some of the pertinent and germane questions in the minds of people (who heard and believed Rev. Fr Mbaka) and Nigerians at large are:

Did Rev Fr. Mbaka lie to us? Did he really hear from God? Should a priest or a leader of a religious organization publicly endorse a candidate for public office?

The sudden U-turn

Rev Fr. Ejike Mbaka, in a recent sermon, criticized the president (the same man he prophesied would bring positive change) for the increasing wave of insecurity in the country, calling for him to resign or face impeachment. He said, “Let me tell you; if it is in a civilized country, by now, President Buhari would have resigned with what is happening. Nigerians are crying because there’s no security in the country, the House of Representatives should impeach the president if he doesn’t want to resign.”

This recent twist of stand sparked mixed reactions from Nigerians both home and abroad. While some were of the opinion that the focus should be on the message and not the messenger, others were critical of the messenger, citing his past prophecies which failed. Some were rather indifferent.


Rev Fr. Mbaka's message, having trended in the Nigeria political space drew a response from one of President Buhari's aides, Garba Shehu. He claimed in a recent tweet that Rev Fr. Mbaka had demanded contracts as compensation for supporting Buhari. Wahala no dey finish!

To many Nigerians, Garba Shehu's response reeked of subtle gaslighting and complete deviation from the salient points raised by the cleric. Rather than address the issues raised by Rev Fr. Mbaka, emphasis was laid on damaging his reputation.

Firstly, what does the law say about clerics in politics?

Section 40 of the 1999 constitution as amended, provides for the right of persons to form a political party or association. It states that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with another person, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party. With the exception of persons who are mentally insane, members of unlawful groups, etc.

Hence, it is not illegal for a cleric to support a political organization.

After the prophecy, what has changed?

According to Rev. Father Mbaka, his golden message to his beloved country was, "we need change."

It is therefore important to juxtapose the condition of things during the Goodluck Jonathan administration with that of President Buhari. This would help us to clearly extract the change.

Under Jonathan's administration, Nigeria rebased its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time in over a decade to become the largest economy in Africa overtaking South Africa and Egypt. The Jonathan administration accrued over $486.8 billion. This is in contrast to the $442.9 by Buhari's administration. It is important to remember that one dollar sold at #195.5 as of February 9, 2015, while it was sold at #379.5 as of April 29, 2021.

According to Statista, the rate of unemployment was at 4.31% in 2015. This has "changed" to 7.96% in 2020. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. About 86.9 million people live in severe poverty. This is due to corruption, inflation, and unemployment, etc.

What about the killings in the country? There is absolutely no gainsaying the fact that there was a high level of insecurity, especially in some parts of the northern states during GEJ's administration, but what has changed? The security situation in Nigeria has deteriorated. Aside from the Boko Haram insurgency, the activity of armed Fulani herdsmen is an increasing menace. The recent abductions of schoolboys in Kankara community, Katsina state, and in Niger state, are testaments to the deplorable state of security in the country.

What's worse?  The presidency vehemently reiterated their support for the federal Minister of communications and digital the economy of Nigeria, Isa Ali Pantami, despite calls from a large section of Nigerians for his resignation, due to his sympathetic views to some terrorist groups.

Are you shocked? Even the president usually is.

On 25 April 2021, it was reported by several news agencies that 30 Nigerian soldiers were killed as Boko Haram attacked a military base in Borno state. Yet, 'repentant' Boko Haram insurgents are 'rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Sad, isn't it?

More shockingly, the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari subtly cited insecurity as her reason for relocating to Dubai. E shock you?

Are we now enjoying the dividends of democracy? The disrespect to lawful court orders, especially among public officers, is disheartening and pathetic. Prominent cases where this government flouted court order include those involving the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore; the Leader of the Islamic movement in Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. On October 20, 2020, men of the Nigerian army were seen on live video shooting at peaceful #EndSars protesters at lekki toll gate. To date, none of the perpetrators of this heinous and dastardly crime has been brought to book.

Our educational system is nothing to write home about. It would interest my readers to recall that on December 23, 2020, the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU), ended a 9-month strike. Nigerian university students stayed at home for nine months. Currently, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), has embarked on a strike. Every campaign promise of this government to bring about change in the educational sector has been a faux promise.


What should be the role of a cleric in politics?

To avoid descent to the warthog's arena, and muddy waters of abuse and castigation, a cleric must be careful not to meddle in politics. Clerics should, as a matter of fact, be more concerned with impacting morals and ethical virtues, and values on their congregation.

Every president Nigeria has had was either a Muslim or a Christian. If the clerics should focus on instilling the right values, promoting national unity, discouraging their members from election malpractices, They will manifest these values when in political positions. Consequently, resulting in more effective governance.

Furthermore, a cleric should not allow himself to be caught in the ugly and unpleasant web of partisan politics. Neither should he endorse a candidate for a public position on the premises of religious, ethnic, or gender prejudice.

Clerics, should, however, not fail to give unbiased advice to the government and those in public positions. They should speak up against the vices of the government devoid of party affiliations. They must speak the truth always, no matter how it would be perceived by people. A cleric has not only the right but the duty to pass moral judgments even in matters relating to politics for the defense of the rights of the common man.

What does the church say about clerics in politics?

Nigeria's Catholic Bishops have directed priests and people of consecrated life, not to be involved in active partisan politics. They charged them not to publicly support any politician or political party, as this was against the church's teaching, Canon law, and policy.

The Bishop's reiterated the need for the clerics to always be neutral while advocating for good governance as well as a free and fair election.

Conclusion

The clerics wield a huge amount of influence in the polity. They should not abuse such influence by meddling in partisan politics.

The masses, on their own part, should not take the words of the clerics (especially on political issues), hook, line, and sinker. They should be able to appraise the polity with discernment. This must be done without any form of prejudice.

Just like a wise man once said, "All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes." I hope my esteemed readers are more enlightened on issues pertaining the clerics and politics.

 About the writer

OGBONNAYA MICHAEL is a graduate of mechanical engineering from the Federal University of Technology Owerri. He hails from Abia State, Nigeria.

Having graduated with first-class honors, He believes in broadening his horizons. This explains why he is passionate about writing. Michael is a creative writer who tries to tackle societal problems with his writing.

He is currently serving his country under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

 

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