RELIGION AND CREDIBLE ELECTION IN NIGERIA

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TEXT OF LECTURE DELIVERED BY SAHEED OLUROTIMI TIMEHIN (PhD) AT THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS’ PEACE SUMMIT HOSTED BY THE ISLAMIC PLATFORM SOCIETY AND THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECTION OF THE US CONSULATE, NIGERIA, HELD AT ADEBOLA HOUSE, OPEBI, LAGOS, ON WEDNESDAY 26TH MARCH, 2014.
INTRODUCTION

It is a well-known fact that Nigerians rank among the most religious people in the world. It is also a fact that the identity of most Nigerians is defined by the faith tradition to which they subscribe. This is the reason why religion gets blamed for most of the atrocities its adherents commit. The responsibility for and ownership of heinous crimes almost always fall upon religion when in reality each social expression of religion depends on man’s volitional acts.

That Nigeria is plagued by lethal socio-political maladies that threaten its well being is a fact too glaring to be contested, and the fact that security is the greatest challenge to her corporate existence is too obvious to be reiterated. The sorry tales of pre and post-election violence, kidnappings, brutal killings, child trafficking, students’ cultism and persistent human rights’ abuses which adorn the pages of Nigerian Newspapers have smeared the nation’s image in the comity of Nations. It is sad to note that many of the major actors in several of these sad occurrences sought justification and legitimacy for their sub-human conduct in the sacred name of religion.

However much these negative events occur, religion is, and has been an agent of peace, reconciliation and rapprochement in various lands and clime. Unstained by human greed and callousness, religion is indeed a means of binding hearts and soothing pains. It is an elixir that cures all social maladies which plague the modern man. Religion therefore is a complete ethico-spiritual system designed by the Divine to restructure, redirect , reposition and re-orientate man as he plunges into the whirlpool of uncertainties in his daily life.

As 2015 general elections draw near, people are been implored again in their places of worship to vote along religious line. It is obvious that Nigerians hardly learn from history. Rather than emphasizing service delivery, they subscribe to the same old cults of mediocrity that brought the nation to where it is at the moment. Ethnic and religious considerations have combined to wreak havoc on the nation yet Christian and Muslim clerics are already telling their congregations:” a bad Christian is better than the best Muslim and vice versa”. What has the nation gained from the bad Muslims and Christians who have been ruling since its independence? Has their being adherents of specific religions impacted positively on governance and service delivery? Is it not becoming glaring that these politicians are neither Muslims nor Christians but adherents of a new pseudo-religion called politics which in reality an unholy syncretic fusion of Islam and Christianity with political merchantdom?

It is thus in the light of the complexity of this problem and the cosmopolitan many-sidedness of the challenge that it poses that I most humbly thank the organizers of this program for creating such an opportunity as this to reflect together on religion and its role in ensuring credible election in Nigeria.

Nigeria and the Search for Identity

On attaining independence in 1960, the Nigerian nation was looked upon as the “Giant of Africa” and a refreshingly promising experiment in parliamentary democracy. When on 15th January, 1966 a military coup struck only to be followed by another one in July of the same year, the whole world asked: “What is wrong with Nigeria?” It is however disheartening to note that 48 years after those coups, we have not stopped asking: “What exactly is wrong with us?”

Any attempt to answer this question must first take into consideration the ideological framework within which the Nigerian political psyche was formed. This is because what the nation experiences today has its roots in the ideals and idiosyncrasies of all the ethnic nationalities that populate it and how these ideals have received, interpreted, and adjusted to the inherited socio-political ideology of the colonial administrators.

The world order constructed after 1945 has almost collapsed completely. Liberal democracy and Keynesian economics have not been able to provide answers to the multi-dimensional problems assailing modern societies- inflation, unemployment, widening disparities between the rich and the poor with all the attendant tensions and conflicts caused by these. All known political theories have failed to establish equilibrium in our social universe. The welfare state as well as the Marxist alternative has also not succeeded in confronting effectively the challenges occasioned by the post-industrial society’s movement from social contract to the corporate state. Religion’s role as the custodian of public morality too has been grossly affected as it became a tool in the hands of shrewd political manipulators and politicians in clerics’ garb. It is glaring that ‘things have indeed fallen apart and the centre cannot hold’ to borrow from W. B Yeats’ The Second Coming.

Despite the aforesaid, according to most political thinkers, liberal democracy still enjoys the goodwill of being the best political ideology. Francis Fukuyama for instance declared in an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2001 that his thesis remains valid twelve years after he first presented it in 1989. His main argument in the article is that after the demise of Communism and National Socialism, there can be no serious ideological competitor to Western-style liberal democracy. Therefore, in political philosophy, liberal democracy is the end of the evolutionary process.

Other thinkers are however more cautious in their pronouncements. They realize that the various merits of democracy do not in any way preclude its inherent imperfections. Authorities like Schumpeter, Dahl, Sartori and Popper, despite their apparent appreciation of democratic ideals, have done their best to induce disenchantment and demystification. They all embrace the irony of Churchill when he defined democracy as the ‘worst of political systems except for all the others’, a definition that has invoked a guarded attitude on the part of the more enlightened political analysts in marked contrast to the somewhat brash and imperious assumptions of some of our Nigerian politicians, who, having been educated within the binary limits of western information-fed academism, do not see the difference between the ‘most applauded’ system and the ‘most appropriate’ one.

There is no doubt that democracy is the most applauded system in the modern world, and so-called democracies are seen as models for all nations. It is however pertinent to note that despite the wide acclaim, it is increasingly becoming more vulnerable as a system of governance. Recent history has shown that the system, in both the well established democracies as well as the neo-democracies, favors those already in power.

In these nations, there is veiled leaning toward authoritarianism. The phenomenon of marginalization of masses and concentration of professional politicians naturally precede consummation of authoritarianism, which increases as a democratic system moves towards maturity. The people in whose name democracy is formed are often sidelined in favour of professional political merchants. The decreasing voter turnout from US to New Zealand is a testimony to this fact.

Leading political figures are therefore beginning to revisit their mythical views about democracy and its exponents. A politician in the US, Jerry Fresia, observes:

“Far from being a government of ‘the people’, ours is a government which rests on the assumption that ‘the people’, especially when they become politically excited, interested, and alive are thought of as subversive. Any serious student of political surveillance and repression in this country knows this to be true. But we seem to prefer to protect our moral high-mindedness by permitting elites, virtually at every chance they get, to persist in the lie that it is ‘we the people’, and not ‘we the largest property owners’, who govern this country. In so doing, we risk weakening our understanding of the ways, which systematically subordinate our lives to the interests of the rich and politically powerful. And in so doing, we invite our own destruction.”

Similarly, Ralph Epperson also declares:

“It is generally conceded that even a monarchy or a dictatorship is an oligarchy, or a government run by a small, ruling minority. Such is also the case with a democracy, for this form of government is traditionally controlled at the top by a small ruling oligarchy. The people in a democracy are conditioned to believe that they are indeed the decision-making power of government, but in truth there is almost always a small circle at the top making the decision for the entirety”.

Like other Nations of the world, Nigerians too see democracy as the best option yet their tales of woe under so called “democratic dispensations” compete with their lamentations under the military and the fact that their Nation has not been able to have at least one truly credible election in its tortuous history makes their case more pathetic.

Economically speaking, the world can be loosely divided into two main groups. On the one hand, we have the minority bloc of countries that have experienced industrial revolution and have evolved industrial systems with the capacity for self-sustaining growth. Most of these countries operate variants of the free-enterprise capitalism while a significant minority among them used to be members of the defunct communist clan. On the other hand, there is the majority bloc of countries that do not have developed industrial economies that have the capacity for autonomous growth. Most of the countries in the first bloc are rich while most in the second bloc are poor. In the second group are a relatively small group of extremely rich but industrially under-developed nations made up principally of the oil exporting nations. Vaguely located in the second group also is this richly endowed oil exporting nation called Nigeria.

The founding fathers of this nation had a clear picture of the kind of country they wanted to build though it was not sure that they all understood how they were going to do it. Nevertheless, their dream was to have a:

  • United, strong and self-reliant nation.
  • Great and dynamic economy
  • Just and egalitarian society
  • Land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens, and
  • Free and democratic society.

During the struggle for independence when these great men were fighting for self-rule, it probably didn’t occur to them that it was necessary to hold a national conference to decide and agree upon how the nation was to be governed and the sacrifices and adjustments the populace had to made. We therefore set out with no agreed upon national values to nurture our souls and direct our affairs.

Elections in Nigeria- Role of Religion

In the May 3, 2011 edition of the Daily Trust Newspaper, A.A. Abubakar quotes the former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) as declaring in 2010 at the Leon Sullivan Dialogue on Nigeria in Washington D.C that ” with all due respect, if Jesus Christ could come to the world and be the chairman of INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission), any election he would conduct will be disputed”.

We may like to pardon the subtle blasphemy in the declaration, but what Obasanjo seemed to be saying can be seen in two lights. One, he seems to be paying tribute to the skeptical nature of Nigerians and their readiness to doubt anything however convincing it may appear. Two, he also seems to be throwing up his arms in despair that credible election is almost impossible in Nigeria. He is right on both counts.

The electoral process in Nigeria is deliberately structured to accommodate all kinds of corrupt practices. A system that thrives on money politics cannot in any way expect sanity to reign supreme. From the formation to the registration of political parties, it is clear that only rich men can survive in the system. Our political culture has not evolved a system whereby a credible candidate can raise funds for his campaign from the citizenry. Those who paid for the party registration in the first place see their gesture as an investment. The best candidate will definitely not emerge since he is most likely not going to be able to fund himself and those who would fund him would most surely ask him to sell his conscience, thus the game of compromise begins.

This is almost always the case in societies where political culture is not self-subsisting. In his Political Primer of 1972, Dick Gregory writes:

There are two types of promises in politics: the promises made by candidates to voters and the promises made by candidates to persons and groups able to deliver the vote. Promises falling into the latter category are loosely called ”patronage,” and promises falling into the former category are most frequently called ”lies”.

Since one of the goals of true religion is to bring out the best in man and make him worthy of being the metaphoric image of God which is his destiny, it is necessary that teachers of religion know that there can be no true change unless there is a change in attitudes, and attitudes do not change unless proper education has taken place. They must see it as their heavenly vocation to teach the right ideals and values to the people, leaders and followers alike. They must not engage in compromise as that is the game of politicians not men of God.

Maximum happiness for all is the primary goal of religion and since only free men are truly happy, custodians of religion must strive hard to start ahead of 2015 to educate the populace on the right attitudes to life. Any compromise today means another four years of suffering. The power of the individual is in his vote. Whatever was wrongly done four years ago can be corrected by voting correctly. In his proclamation which was adopted by the Council of Massachussets Bay in 1774, John Adams declared:

As the happiness of the people in the sole end of the government, so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it, in reason, morality, and the natural fitness of things.

Empowered with the right values, members of the society can resist being used for election malpractices. It should be noted that most of those who are used for various electoral vices are poor people who cannot resist the lure of the peanuts which they are offered. It is therefore a well planned and pragmatically implemented aggressive moral campaign from pulpit tops and in the media that can really go a long way in bringing about a change in the orientation and attitude of the citizenry.

Notes
  • Michal Shanks, ‘What’s wrong with the modern world?{London: The Bodley Head, 1978} p.1
  • Francis Fukuyama, ‘ History Is Still Going Our Way,’ Wall Street Journal, October 05, 2001.
  • Lord Hailsham, ‘The Dilemma OF Democracy, {London: Collies, 1978} p3.
  • Abid Ullah Jan, ‘The End Of Democracy, {Canada: Pragmatic Publishing, 2003} p10.
  • Fresia Jerry, ‘ Toward an American Revolution,{ Boston: South Ene Press, 1988} p. 5
  • Epperson A, Ralph, ‘The Unseen Hand, { London: The Publius Press}
  • The Daily Trust Newspaper, May 3, 2011

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