For anyone who has thoroughly read/studied Church history and the 30 years wars (1618-1648) that ended with the signing of the Westphalian Treaty of 1648, he/she will agree with me that mixing religion and politics is something that should be avoided because of its polarizing effect. In Nigeria’s post-colonial history, we have seen much of this. It is because of the polarizing effect of mixing religion and politics that the bastions of democracy like the United States and United Kingdom, to mention a few, took seriously the idea of separating the Church and state in their bid to forge a durable political order. This has greatly helped in stabilizing those societies.
Unfortunately, illiberal democracies like Nigeria’s where political entrepreneurs lavishly spend illicitly acquired wealth in Churches by turning them to arenas of political campaign during election have not learn any lesson from the innovative idea of separating the Church and state. Sadly too, clerics who are driven by pecuniary benefit as against spreading the gospel tend to encourage these political entrepreneurs. There are a plethora of such instances that we cannot venture into since we do not have the luxury of time. Incidentally, this partly account for the country’s challenge in its elusive effort to establish a viable political society.
In my understanding, separating the Church from the state does not imply it (that is the Church) should not have any role to play in politics. Not at all! The Church has every reason to be part of the political process, especially in climes where authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes have held sway. However, the role of the Church is meant to be limited to specific issues like civic education and speaking against corrupt and repressive regimes, most of which are found in the developing world like ours. It is in the former sense that Reverend Father Emmanuel Terkula Abela’s example is worth talking about.
While making announcements in Church last Sunday, Father Abela, the Cathedral administrator of Makurdi diocese unconsciously exhibited how the Church can participate in politics using the ongoing National Identity Card (NIC) and Voter Registration exercise.
Both exercises are being conducted within the premises of the Cathedral. Due to lack of power supply which occurred as a result of transformer problem in the past 3 months, these exercises have been badly affected. Power Holding Company needs N2 million to fix it. The Church does not have that kind of money even though it is not the responsibility of the Church to fix it. Sadly, the state cares less about it. By the way, expecting the state to fix ordinary transformer when it cannot protect the lives of those it swore to protect will amount to asking for too much.
In order to keep these important exercises ongoing, Father Abela has taken the responsibility of powering the church’s generator every other day (except weekends) in the past three months just to ensure that people are registered. This is at great cost to the Church as he has to supply power from 9am to 4pm. Given this painful incident, I am compel to ask if we really need the “kleptocrats” we elected to take care of situations like this in power beyond 2019. If the Church should perform the role of the government, why then do we have government??
When it became obvious that people were not turning up for the registration as expected, Father Abela took this concern to the pulpit. He appealed to parishioners by stressing the importance of these exercises to national planning (even though our governments at all levels do not plan) on the part of the government with respect to the NIC, and making informed decision at the polls by the electorate in the case of the voters registration. He ended by pleading with parishioners to come out en masse and register to be able to participate in the coming election and select credible leaders.
Aside generating revenue for themselves and living large through tithing as we have seen most pastors do, clerics should learn from Father Abela’s example, especially now that we are living in perilous moment. Now more than ever, the Church must step in and emphasis the need to protect democratic norms that undergird the survival of democracy. Implicitly, this was the message Father Abela was trying to communicate to his parishioners in a state that has been badly affected by bad governance both at the federal and state levels, which gave rise to senseless killings that would have been avoided, poverty, infrastructural deficit etc.
Our pastors who get rewarded handsomely by our thieving politicians after prayers for electoral victory, knowing full well that these are criminal elements waiting to loot our commonwealth should bear in mind that they are also part of the corruption chain which has shamefully left us with status of a criminal state. It’s about time prosperity seeking Nigerians learned their lessons from these pastors operating business centre called churches. We do not need these pastors in our religious and political spaces. The earlier we stop patronizing them the better for our country.
Those with resources who love this country and care about the future of their children and grandchildren should identify clerics like Father Abela and support them to continue the good work. Thank you padre for the good work. Your reward is in heaven.
Ihembe, Ayankaa Martin is a political scientist with research interests in political
Development, governance, public policy, and democratization.
He can be reached via07036396194