The problem with sentiments is that you cannot limit the ridiculous extent it could be pushed to since they not based on laid down rules. A good example of that is the attempt to bring religion into politics, starting with the question of the faith of the occupants of public office. This issue keeps creeping into public discourse whenever we approach presidential and sometimes gubernatorial elections. It comes like the issue of ethnicity, geopolitical zone or state of origin of contenders to offices. This argument drains the energy from not only the contestants but their political parties and by extension, the citizens. And in so doing, we lose the opportunity to raise real issues of governance and competence of candidates.
This unnecessary discussion is again attempting to upstage more important issues this electioneering season. As stated above, there cannot be a limit to the extension of the argument. Last week, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) in Enugu added its demand by questioning what it sees as the impending ‘Catholic-Catholic’ leadership of the state government. I know you are as confused as I was when I heard that. By this description, the Anglicans are saying that the next governor and deputy governor of Enugu State are likely to be Roman Catholics, meaning that an Anglican will not be in the Government House. Apparently they consider such a possibility as serious concern to the existence of Anglicans or the practice of their faith that their leadership had to address a press conference. So that is what we have reduced governance to? It is no longer about Christianity and Islam but since Enugu State is predominantly Christian, the division should now be one of denomination.
As ridiculous as this sounds on the surface of it, on deeper thought, I thank the Anglican priests for their selfish and narrow interest which has helped us reason further to show how so vacuous the whole discussion about religion in public office can be. As a matter of fact, the Anglicans, through the Archbishop of Enugu, Emmanuel Chukwuma are demanding at least the position of deputy governor in addition to at least three cabinet positions in Enugu state. And this point they mince no words about as according to Chukwuma: “we totally reject the intention (to field two Roman Catholics) and are warning that if they want peace to reign in this state and if they want our cooperation, it should not be Roman Catholic-Roman Catholic ticket”. They went ahead to say, “all those who want to become governor are Catholics and in the PDP, they are plotting to make their running mate a Catholic. We are saying give us an Anglican Deputy, otherwise you are looking for our trouble”.
By law, only political parties are qualified to sponsor candidates for election, not ethnic or religious groups. So there is no such thing as ‘Southern candidate’, ‘Muslim candidate’, ‘Christian candidate’ or ‘Catholic candidate’. But these are cheap points used by politically desperate citizens. I cannot therefore understand the argument of groups such as those represented by Archbishop Chukwuma, neither can I say this position reflects that of their entire church. What the church ought to do if it is bent on having its members in government is to encourage them to stand election not wait to be considered as running mate.
Besides, this whole talk about religion and politics seems to concentrate on and build upon a faulty premise that Christianity and Islam are the only religions in Nigeria. It is this same faulty foundation that emboldens the Nigerian state to set up Christian and Muslim pilgrims’ welfare commissions and spend public funds in footing the private interests of some privileged citizens.
I was just wondering, what if, for whatever that is worth, we agree with Archbishop Chukwuma that an Anglican should be made deputy governor and few other Anglicans appointed commissioners, what would happen if one of such officials changes his/her faith and denomination? Would the person thereby lose his/her seat, same way the Constitution requires legislators to lose their seat if they defect from one political party to another?
The time has come for religious and ethnic leaders to be told to limit their involvement in everyday partisan political contestations and allow the system to properly evolve.
Published December 28, 2014