Church still has a long way to go in politics – Segun Okeowo

 

Segun Okeowo is the son of the popular student union activists who shook Nigeria in the 70s. He bears his father’s name. He is the coordinator of Believers in Politics Network. He spoke with Church Times on the body and the impact it has made so far

 

 

For how long has this body been in existence?

We have been on for seven years. But we fully got registered about two years ago. Our vision is to create a platform for all believers who are in politics and see how we can strengthen them and encourage them in politics. Politics though like any other profession has its peculiarities.  We hope that the body will be able to serve the entire body of Christ irrespective of denomination.

What informed the body in the first place?

Well I think my experience in politics informed it. I had been involved in campaigns and also vied for elective position. It was the experience I had while vying for election into the Ogun State House of Assembly that spurred me to start Believers in Politics Network. I was deeply involved campaigning to be elected but by the time the campaign got underway and I saw what politics entails and the nuances in politics, I did not want to win again.

 

Why?

I was just imagining what it would be like if I won and I would have to serve my constituency. During the campaign I had meeting with drug addicts, with pimps, with cult people and all kinds of people. I knew there was no way I would be comfortable with people like this around me. But then, if I won the elections I would have to defer to them and maintain them. I was thinking about this and just wondering how it would look like. I came to the conclusion that when a Christian wins elections it would be difficult for such Christian not to compromise.

 

But then you were supposed to be the light why were you afraid of darkness?

The truth is that I was a lone ranger. All my friends were praying for me. After the election I told myself if I had won I would be in a mess. I came to conclude that Christians fail in politics because they don’t have home support. Many of them are lone rangers. Many believers who go into politics had nobody to lean on. I came to the conclusion that Believers should go back to the church and really strategise and prayerfully get involved in politics. All this idea of asking people to go without backing them won’t work.

But what was your background before you vied for political position?

I was a drama minister and I am still a drama minister. I use drama to bring solution to the social problem of man. I led All Nigeria Conference of Drama Ministers. I have been having a burden to serve but because of the misconception about ministry I could not step out of the church world. I studied International Relations at the master’s level but my myopic understanding of what ministry is all about kept me away until I realized I needed to be part of the process.

How did you come to know Jesus?

I gave my life to Christ while at the Obafemi Awolowo University. During my undergraduate days at the Ogun State University now Olabisi Onabanjo University I was a kegite but when I got to Ife God used a lady who was a part one student to minister Christ to me. I was planning to go out with the girl but the table turned. She won me to the Lord. That was March 1992. When I became born again I felt I had missed a lot. So I got involved in a lot of missionary work and also in the drama ministry. I got involved with Mount Zion Ministry and later became so active in the art of soul winning through writing of plays. That is what I was doing before I thought I could extend my frontier of service. That is how politics came into the scene.

But why politics?

Perhaps it’s a family thing. My father, Mr. Segun Okeowo was involved in politics. He was involved in student unionism and was well known throughout the country. I use his name as my surname. I was the reserved type. I was more of kegite and I was into writing. When I became born again I began to have a longing to serve people. That informed my foray into politics.

But were you the only believer around when you contested the elective office?

I was not the only believer but we were very few. When I became the chairman of my party in Sagamu, 16 out of the 19 exco members were non-Christians. The three were not even committed believers. It was difficult lording some things over them. It is pathetic that believers are not involved in politics. But I am glad the little advocacy we are doing is opening a lot of eyes. We are glad people are now coming out. But I believe not every time Christians come up should they contest. We need more of Modecai in our political space.  Modecai was the one who installed Esther. We need people like that in the church who can give background support to believers who are on the field of play.

How would you trace the history of Christian involvement in politics?

The likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikwe were Christians and they were the ones who were the founding fathers of politics in Nigeria. Unfortunately there was nobody to follow up on what they were doing. The church ought to have embraced them and released some young men to follow after them and learn the art. It is sad that we have had to concede the political terrain to unbelievers in the name of “politics is a dirty game” We need mentors in the church who will train young people and put them in the right path. We need people like Modecai that would work in the background. There was a severance at a point between the founding fathers and the emerging church. Because there was no follow up people begin to read meaning to politics. To return back is now taking a lot of time.

You have shared your experience how you were involved and was overwhelmed. But why do you think believers lose focus when they get elected. Are you saying it’s not possible to hold to the confession of one’s faith?

Some of the stories we hear about believers going into politics and backsliding are not true story. When a believer does a good thing we don’t make noise about it. It’s only when the believer falls away from faith or misbehaves that it becomes a song in the mouth of the heathen. The chairman of Believers in Politics Network, Mr. John Obafemi was two-time LG chairman in Ogun State. He is a believer that I can vouch for any day. He was voted the best LG Chairman out of 774 LGs in Nigeria. If he had impregnated somebody out of marriage he would have made news. We kill our people instead of encouraging them.

But coming to your question, many believers mess up because they are lone rangers. The question we must ask is: Who brought them to the office? Does the church support people to go into elective positions. When Modecai approached Esther concerning the Jews it was the influence of Modecai in her life that informed her resolve to risk her life for the Jews and not because of the Jews. It was Modecai she knew. If for instance I won the election to the House of Assembly I won’t submit to the church because the church did not back me up during campaign and they have no right to tell me what to do and what not to do. The only way for us to make impact is to raise children that would show interest and participate. We must also not shy away from backing them up.

We must begin to ask ourselves: Do we have courses in seminaries that address politics? Do we have a mentoring process for believers who want to participate in politics? For us in Believers in Politics Network, we are already drawing a syllabus that would train Christians. If the church will not give political orientation and back Christians in politics it will be counterproductive for believers to go into politics.

 

From your experience do you think the church leadership should favour a candidate over the other?

It is risky. The church should orientate and encourage people. The church can emphasise certain personalities. These should be done strategically. Church leaders should not be directly involved. Nobody knew Modcai was sponsoring Esther. The important thing is result. The church leadership should not be seen to be supporting a candidate over another. It could backfire. We should follow the example of Modecai who worked in the background to see to Esther’s ascension to the position of the queen.

 

How then will you react to the reconciliatory role of Bishop Oyedepo, Father Kukah in the dispute between Atiku and Obasanjo. Some believe it was a subtle way of endorsing Atiku?

We can’t begrudge them for playing such reconciliatory role. If we do then we should criticize priests like Nathan who went to meet King David. Nothing wrong in their reconciliatory role. Church leaders should be able to guide. We should not be criticizing but we must also get involved. That is the right thing to do. All the Major Prophets we know in the Bible played positive roles in the lives of the kings. Some of them controlled kings

 

Would say the church has learnt some lessons judging by the experience of the 2015?

We have learnt some lessons. The right person came or so to say and we saw the way he went against the church. We see that believers are being decimated. Now, I believe we have learnt a lot from the 2015 election and there is a need to begin to look at candidates and vote for them on their own merit. We must not be too sentimental about a particular candidate but rather we should look at the quality of the candidate and how the candidate can impact the polity.

Presently we have a lot of believers wanting to be president. Do you see any of them winning or even causing a storm in the process?

I do not agree with many Christians who come up and say they want to contest for the presidency without having a base. Politics is not 2 plus 2. You don’t win election because you’re popular. You win through an established structure. It’s so everywhere. You get to leadership position through a structure. We must look at the indices on ground. In Nigeria today majority of the vote comes from the north.  If you are thinking of dethroning a northern candidate you will have to work hard. The best all the people who want to become president can do is to give the incumbent more opportunity. They would end up splitting their vote and give room for the incumbent to get more votes. In Osun many of the believers who came up to contest could not unite to form a common ground. That accounted for why they lost. There is a lot we still need to learn. But I also believe that we can still make impact without seeking elective positions. The movers and shakers in this country don’t even talk. Modecai was the hand that moved Esther but he was not in the frontline.

There are groups like yours in the church. What are you doing to form a synergy?

Yes there are groups like ours. What we need is for the PFN or CAN to work out a synergy for the groups so that churches will buy into them. I believe Christians who want to go into politics should start from the scratches. They should start from the House of Assembly and from there begin to build a structure. But they keep saying God told them but they don’t want to start gradually. There is a lesson to learn from Rochas Okoroacha. He contested the presidency twice and lost. He had to go back and contest for the governorship race which he won. All politics is local. How can you be contesting and nobody knows you in your local area. That is the problem with many of our brothers who are presently involved in politics. They want to start from the top rather than from the bottom. Even God followed process. Jesus had to be born and he grew to become a man before starting his ministry.

Do you see Christians making any inroad in 2019?

I don’t think so. The 2019 elections is already concluded. It’s all over. The greatest hurdle in the political process is the primaries. And that has been concluded. The church should be thinking of 2023. A lot goes into the primaries. 2/3 of my budget went to the primaries when I contested in Ogun State under PDP. This is because the party machinery would take up the campaign after the primaries. But even at that winning the primaries in some party is as good as winning election. As it is many of the believers are not in popular parties and they are not even getting the support of the church as it were.

 

Finally, what role does money play in politics and how should it handled by believers?

We are in a continent that is highly pauperized. We are suffering from mental poverty. Money plays a great role. As a believer you won’t want to be part of vote buying but you will have to print posters, pay your agents during elections, feed your campaign team and do some public relations. All that cost money. The people want to see you doing something for them before they can trust you with their vote. It will take a long time for us to pass the stage of where money plays a major role in politics. Sometimes I see politics like mission work. When you go on mission field you don’t go with just the word of God you also go with assistance. You want to meet the needs of the people on the field. A politician who wants to win the people to his side cannot but do some things to win the people.

 

About Gbenga Osinaike

Gbenga Osinaike is a 1992 graduate of Dramatic Arts from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He specialised in Play-writing. He also holds a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Lagos. He was Assistant Editor in Punch Newspapers from where he resigned having worked for 13 years to start Church Times Nigeria in March 2007. He is currently the Nigeria representative of US based Institute of Global Church Studies and also the Publicity Secretary of the Lagos, Nigeria Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. He is married and blessed with two children.

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