There is no doubt that Nigerians are experiencing different levels of hardship and terror. The statistics and realities are there. The economy has not been this bad over the last 20 years.
While supporters of the APC-led govt may offer different excuses or explanations, the fact is that there are obvious real-life reasons; sufficient to make most Nigerians angry with the APC-led government.
Apart from those who live in denial and perhaps those who have access to some free funds, there is hardly anybody that is not being affected by the indiscretion of the Buhari-led government.
Things are not looking up. The life of the average Nigerian is up for a penny. Those who watched the video of the train abductees and how they were being tortured in the den of kidnappers would not pray for another inefficient president.
There are indeed myriad calamities befalling the country. The economy has continued to sink deeper and deeper while the sanctity and safety of life can no longer be guaranteed. Indeed, we have had it up to our throats.
The MM ticket
As the 2023 elections beckon the prospect of continuity with another APC presidential candidate is slim. It is made worse by the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the party. This is not a welcomed development across the Christian community and even some non-Christians.
So one can understand why some clergymen are not leaving any stone unturned for Nigeria to get it right in 2023. Many of them have turned their pulpits to political podiums to canvass for their preferred candidate ahead of the 2023 elections.
In the process, some have thrown caution to the wind and would not just care what people would say. They have consistently told their congregation not to vote for a Muslim – Muslim ticket, paving way for the Labour party candidate Mr. Peter Obi as a natural alternative.
Indeed many pastors are not hiding their aversion to the Muslim Muslim ticket of the APC. For them, the affront of the ruling party should be resisted at all costs at the polls.
The Bishops of BAT
But the ruling party is also not sleeping either. While there was rage in the land over the MM ticket, the APC thought of a killer idea to earn the respect of the Christian community.
They got some clerics to show up at the venue of the unveiling of Senator Kashim Shettima, the running mate to the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential flag bearer, Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
The presence of the clerics at the event was to send a strong message to the world that there are Christians supporting the ticket.
Some of the pastors dressed awkwardly in Bishop regalia and were given a rousing welcome at the Abuja Musa Yardua Centre venue of the unveiling programme. But shortly after their appearance at the venue, social media went gaga.
They were dubbed fake bishops because there was something artificial about them. It was clear they needed some tutelage on how to wear the Bishop’s attire.
The spokesman of the APC, Mr. Bayo Onanuga however said some of the clergymen were upcoming Bishops. The pastors were soon emboldened. They held a press conference a day after where they declared their support for the MM ticket.
Given the personality of Bola Tinubu, one would have expected he would get some known Bishops to buy into his ambition and endorse his choice of a running mate.
That was not the case. He was only able to arrange pastors from the backwaters just to tell the world that the church was behind him. But it backfired.
APC and Labour Party
The point however is that some church leaders especially known names are campaigning frantically for the Labour Party candidate. There are church leaders that are spiritedly campaigning for the APC candidate too.
There was a viral video of some pastors praying tenaciously for Tinubu to succeed at the polls. There was another video of a Bishop who displayed uncontrollable emotion before the APC primary. He was literally rubbishing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for daring to contest in the primaries with Tinubu his acclaimed benefactor.
So if you look left or right the pendulum is swinging with almost the same velocity on both sides.
The reality is that the church is divided along party lines. There is deep suspicion among believers.
It was the same division that we experienced in the pre-2015 era that is playing out now. Nigerians are yet to survive the intrigues of that year. Here we are again.
Implication of brazen support
But what is at stake now is the integrity of the church. While church leaders are free to hold political views they have to be careful not to canonize those views.
It is true the nation is pained and groaning under the APC-led government. It is true, that the church has suffered great persecution, especially in the north in the last seven years. But then, there is a need to tread softly.
This brazen support for a particular candidate presents a two-edged sword. One, it may well be the game changer that would propel Nigeria to a new level of glory. On the other hand, it may backfire to drag the name of the church in the mud.
While many are justifiably angry with the APC-led government, there are some prominent church leaders who are still rooting for the party.
These pastors don’t see anything wrong with the polity and would prefer the party continues in power.
Some of them feel indebted to Tinubu because of their age-long romance with him or a nagging nudge that he would make a good president.
The point that must be made however is that wherever we stand, there is a need to be cautious of how we deploy the pulpit in pushing our cause.
Managing diverse interest
Since there is no Christian party in Nigeria as it were, there is a need for a great deal of wisdom to manage the diverse interests in the church.
It will be practically impossible to get every member of the church to tow the same political line. There are some church leaders who are already deep in the APC government. There is nothing anybody can do about that.
Vice President Osinbajo is a member of the ruling party and would have to decide whether to continue with the party’s MM ticket or pull out. As a matter of fact, many of the folks promoting the MM ticket on social media are professed Christians.
It’s also interesting to note that the people of other faith are also guilty of using their pulpit to promote the party of their choice. Some have been quite vocal about it. And have not been cautious in their utterances.
The electoral law
Unfortunately, it is when church leaders take sides that people go on social media to pass uncomplimentary remarks. They go as far as accusing the Church of being partisan. But they are silent when they see the people of other faith being brazen about their candidate. This is understandable because the church is a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.
Ironically the law of the land does not allow for use of the pulpit for campaigns. Section 97 of the Electoral Act, 2022 prohibits political campaigns based on religion or tribe. It states :
“97(1) A 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, commits an offense under this Act and is liable on conviction-
“(a) to a maximum fine of # 1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of twelve months or both; and
“(b) in the case of a political party to a maximum fine of # 10,000,000 “.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where the law only exists on paper. All the major parties are guilty of flouting this law. Many clerics both from Islam and Christianity have flouted this law on and on.
Balancing the political forces
Apart from the possibility of the law holding sway, the church must urgently find a way of balancing the political forces within it.
There are moles who are ready to sabotage whatever cohesion in the church. Pastors should not deceive themselves to think all are following.
Rather than blackmailing people to vote for a preferred candidate, there is a need to use a more persuasive and practical approach to make people see the reason why Nigeria can’t afford another lacklustre leader.
A force of reason will go a long way to convince people than pulpit bravado.
May God give the church more wisdom in these trying times.
By Gbenga Osinaike